NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- In a surprise assembly on Friday, Sarah Mae Lagasca, a high school music teacher at Arts High School in Newark, received a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for connecting her students to the world of professional music through a variety of opportunities.
Her students performed at Lincoln Center and the Newark Museum of Art, using state-of-the-art technology in her classroom, and she introduced her students to professional musicians to help inspire a career in the arts.
Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and New Jersey Acting Commissioner of Education Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan surprised Lagasca with the honor before cheering students, colleagues, state and local officials, and the media.
Lagasca is among more than 60 educators nationwide to receive the recognition during the 2021-2022 school year and only one of two recipients in New Jersey.
Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," the Milken Educator Awards celebrate, elevate and activate the American teaching profession and inspire young, capable people to join it.
"Sarah Mae is not only one of our nation's best teachers, she is also an accomplished singer in her own right," said Dr. Foley, who herself is a 1994 Milken Educator from Indiana. "She has used her professional network in the arts to introduce her students to a variety of professional musicians, further inspiring and motivating them to pursue their own careers in the arts. Lagasca is an exceptional example of excellence in arts education, and I am proud to welcome her into the national Milken Educator Network."
The Milken Educator Award is not a lifetime achievement honor. Recipients are heralded while early to mid-career for what they have achieved - and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the Award.
"We are honored to recognize Ms. Lagasca today," Dr. Allen-McMillan said. "She is dedicated to her students and has greatly impacted their lives by sharing her passion for the arts. Ms. Lagasca is as committed to her students as she is to her vocation, which is evident in her classroom. She is a trailblazer who emotes in a variety of ways that translates her passion and energy to her students, her colleagues, and the entire community she influences."
Oprah, a longtime education advocate, shared her congratulations to this year's winners in a video message shared earlier this year thanking "the most incredible educators around the country" and acknowledging her deep appreciation for the "tireless work" they do.
For more information, visit MilkenEducatorAwards.org or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772.