Loudoun County elementary teacher wins Milken Educator Award

Sean Griffin, a fifth-grade teacher at Belmont Station Elementary in Ashburn, is mobbed by students after it was announced at an assembly Thursday that he had won a $25,000 Milken Educator Award.
Sean Griffin, a fifth-grade teacher at Belmont Station Elementary in Ashburn, is mobbed by students after it was announced at an assembly Thursday that he had won a $25,000 Milken Educator Award. (The Milken Family Foundation)
By Caitlin Gibson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 10, 2010

Before an audience of cheering students and staff members Thursday at Belmont Station Elementary School, fifth-grade teacher Sean Griffin, 30, became the first Loudoun County teacher to receive a prestigious $25,000 Milken Educator Award.

The purpose of the schoolwide assembly was a closely guarded secret that had been kept from students and staff members for weeks. Only the Ashburn school's principal, Patty McGinly, knew that a Milken Educator Award would be presented to one of the school's teachers.

The award, which recognizes exceptional elementary and secondary school teachers nationwide, was presented by Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation, along with Patricia Wright, Virginia superintendent of public instruction, and Edgar B. Hatrick III, Loudoun school superintendent.

Students sat cross-legged on the floor and packed onto the bleachers in the school gym, surrounded by red and blue balloons, as Milken took the microphone and built an atmosphere of suspense.

"I have some very significant and confidential news to share with you today," he told the wide-eyed children. The reason they had been gathered was a secret, Milken said, "but what's so exciting is that before I leave this room today, every one of you will know what the secret is."

After he asked the children to name the people on whom they relied for help and support every day ("My teachers!" answered a first-grade girl in a pink shirt), Milken revealed that one lucky teacher would be awarded $25,000, a sum met with awed murmurs from the audience. When Milken was handed the envelope with the winning teacher's name, the students provided a drum roll effect, pounding their feet on the bleachers and slapping their hands against the gym floor.

Seconds before Milken called Griffin's name, a handful of news cameras turned to focus on the teacher, but Griffin said he still he had no idea what was coming.

When he heard his name announced, "my mind went blank. I just sort of flatlined," Griffin said, laughing. "I had to just focus on breathing."

In his head, he said, he had been running through a list of his colleagues as Milken described the qualities of an outstanding educator. "There are so many great teachers on our staff who have more experience than I do," Griffin said.

The reaction in the gym was deafening. Waves of applause were punctuated by the screams of students bouncing up and down and shouting Griffin's name as he walked, stunned, to the microphone.

Griffin, a tall man with a deep voice -- he announces football games at Stone Bridge High School -- teaches fifth-grade reading, English and social studies, and coaches the varsity baseball team at Stone Bridge. He was described by his colleagues as an innovative teacher and role model who works hard to engage and motivate his students, offering a daily quote to students and writing personal notes of encouragement to students who don't make high school sports teams. Griffin also creatively integrates reading and social studies curricula, using novels to help teach students about the geographical regions of the United States, the Milken foundation said.

Griffin is one of 55 national award recipients this year. First presented in 1987, the Milken Educator Awards have linked a national network of more than 2,500 award recipients, the foundation said. It is the largest teacher recognition program in the United States and has awarded more than $62 million to Milken Educator Award winners.

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