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Sparks teacher receives $25K Milken Educator Award

A woman and a man are smiling while standing behind a podium. The woman is holding a microphone, and the man is looking toward her.
Sophia Holm
KUNR Public Radio
Yamilet Lopez (left) receives a Milken Educator Award presented by Lowell Milken on March 14, 2024, at Alice Maxwell Elementary School in Sparks, Nev.

A teacher at Alice Maxwell Elementary School in Sparks received the Milken Educator Award and a substantial cash prize for her exceptional work with her kindergarten class.

Yamilet Lopez was surprised when her name was called by Lowell Milken, founder of the Milken Educator Awards. She couldn’t believe that she was receiving $25,000 for her outstanding work as a kindergarten teacher.

“When I heard my name, I was just super shocked and just got really nervous all of a sudden, and then I just saw the kids and then I started feeling a little bit better,” she said.

Lopez said she was extremely grateful for the recognition that comes with the award, and that it’s important to recognize teachers for their work.

“I think teachers don’t get a lot of recognition for a lot of the work that they’re putting in and just recognition like this makes it a little more meaningful and we feel really appreciated,” she said.

Lopez wouldn’t have come to the Milken Family Foundation’s attention if it weren’t for the other great teachers at Alice Maxwell Elementary School. Milken congratulated all the teachers for their work.

“We’re here today, because the teachers in this school have done such an outstanding job. And the students really stand out,” he said.

As well as teaching kindergarten, Lopez is a mentor to other teachers at the school. She enjoys helping people whose position she was in not too long ago, and learning to teach in a new environment can be challenging.

“When you first get into your classroom, it’s a little overwhelming sometimes, just navigating, even setting up your classroom, getting to know the curriculum, getting to work on a team,” she said.

Lopez plans to use the money to further her own education.

“I am going to use it to get a master’s degree,” she said.

Along with the financial award, Lopez is invited to Los Angeles in June to connect with other Milken Educator Award recipients.

Sophia Holm (she/her) is a Lake Tahoe resident with a deep passion for nature and an even stronger love for storytelling. She strives to provide KUNR’s listening region with strong stories about climate news, issues, and solutions as the station’s Summer 2023 Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science Intern.