Buckland Mills Elementary School teacher Angie Wytovich beams as she is given the National Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation. (Sarah Lane/The Washington Post)

Angie Wytovich’s approach to teaching is simple: She does whatever she can to help each child in her class succeed.

On Thursday, Wytovich’s dedication was rewarded when she was named as one of only 40 educators across the country to receive a $25,000 Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award this year.

The surprise announcement came at an all-school assembly at Buckland Mills Elementary in Gainesville, where Wytovich teaches second grade. The students and staff members who filled the gym thought the assembly was a celebration for Buckland Mills being named a School of Excellence by the Prince William County School Board for the sixth time.

The television cameras, photographers and state and local officials — including Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples — hinted that something more special was afoot.

Philanthropist and former financier Michael Milken, co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation, invited children to talk about the meaning of excellence and how it is rewarded. Just as the best athletes receive gold medals and the best actors are rewarded with Oscars, it is important to recognize the best teachers, he said.

“Being a teacher is the most important job in America,” Milken said, before revealing that he would be presenting a $25,000 award to one outstanding teacher in the room.

Holton then announced the winner as the room erupted in cheers and a stunned Wytovich received hugs from her colleagues.

The Milken Educator Awards recognize exemplary teachers and principals who advance excellence in education, according to a Virginia Department of Education statement.

Buckland Mills Principal Connie Balkcom said Wytovich is a deserving recipient.

“Angie Wytovich absolutely does whatever it takes to ensure that every child succeeds in her classroom,” Balkcom said. “She never gives up. Every day’s a new day to build that continuous growth model, and she absolutely models what we value: making every minute count.”

Wytovich, 32, of Gainesville said the award took her completely by surprise.

“I just do what’s best for the students, and if I can’t personally help them, I find somebody [who] can — even if it is another student — who can help translate it or teach it a different way,” she said.

Wytovich said she is particularly interested in teaching students who are learning English. She has been working on a master’s degree that would lead her to a career as a reading specialist or teacher of English learners.

Milken said Wytovich has achieved impressive results in a school of about 700 students where 26 languages are spoken.

“Angie tailors her curriculum to each student, often involving parents through inventive means including translators and on-line forums,” he said in a statement. “The results of this level of attention are striking.”

Wytovich’s methods have been proven effective by the progress her students have made, especially in reading, the Virginia Department of Education statement said. Last year, 75 percent of her students started the year below grade level, and half a year later nearly all were able to meet the grade-level benchmark, the statement said.

“It’s incredibly important to recognize high-quality teachers, [who] besides home and family are the most important part of students’ success,” Holton said. “We don’t always take time to tell our teachers how much we appreciate and value and recognize what they do.”

Barnes is a freelance writer.