A Hermon elementary school teacher was surprised recently as one of America’s top teachers. In front of a vibrant schoolwide assembly of cheering students, appreciative colleagues, local dignitaries and media, Sarah Collins, a fourth grade science teacher at Patricia A. Duran School, received the $25,000 Milken Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation. Collins is the first teacher to receive the award in the Hermon Public School District since the initiative began in Maine in 1990. The cash prize is unrestricted.
The Awards will recognize up to 40 elementary educators in the 2022-23 school year. Over the past 35 years, more than $140 million in funding, including more than $73 million in individual Awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.
Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop was joined by Maine Commissioner of Education Pender Makin in presenting Collins with the Award and welcoming her into the national Milken Educator Network. Both Bishop and Makin are members of the 2001 Milken Educator Award class.
“Sarah has found ways to create a ‘living classroom’ for her students, creatively combining innovative technology practices with outdoor experiences that teach young learners about our world,” said Stephanie Bishop, a 2001 Virginia Milken Educator. “Through virtual meetups with international scientists and online field trips around the globe, Sarah has inspired her students to connect to science in real and meaningful ways, and for that, we honor her as Maine’s newest Milken Educator.”
Hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching,” Milken Educator Awards inspire and uplift with the unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues, and communities. The specific states and schools on this year’s winners’ list remain a closely guarded secret until each award is announced.
“Sarah brings her passion for science and learning to her students each and every day by providing them with engaging, immersive, project-based experiences. Her interdisciplinary approach connects science and technology across content areas and allows her students to apply the deep inquiry, critical thinking, and research and design, and other foundational skills they learn in her classes to other parts of their lives. She is a true innovator and a lifelong learner in every sense of the word, constantly seeking opportunities to strengthen her practice, support her colleagues, and build connections with her community. The Maine Department of Education is so proud to join the Milken Family Foundation and the entire Hermon community in honoring Sarah with this well-deserved recognition,” said Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin.
More About Sarah Collins
Using Technology and Ecology to Teach Science: Collins secured a Maine Environmental Education Grant to develop an outdoor classroom and garden “lab” where children learn about soil quality and plant growth. Students found fallen trees that became raised beds, and Collins solicited donations of soil and seeds from the community. Growing vegetables helps cement students’ understanding of where their food comes from, and produce from the garden ends up on the menu in the school cafeteria. Because Duran School is in a rural area near Bangor, Collins uses technology to expand students’ experiences beyond the classroom, arranging virtual meetings with scientists in a multitude of locations and occupations. Her young scientists have learned from a wildlife ecologist studying coyote behavior in South Carolina, a Hawaiian volcanologist, and a scientist from a local university as she performed experiments in Antarctica.
Multi-pronged Approach to Learning: Dedicated, empathetic and determined to reach every student, Collins uses multiple methods of assessment to encourage children to express their scientific reasoning and understanding. Students write focus questions, record and discuss observations, make drawings, analyze data, and perform self-assessments using notebook entries and checklists. Collins works with the University of Maine’s Research in STEM Education (RiSE) Center, bringing research-based, hands-on learning experiences back to Duran. She worked with Duran’s media specialist to develop a 3D computer design club and has presented at the Maine Science Teachers Association’s annual conference on the use of student notebooks in the science classroom. The project-based learning module on habitats Collins developed for the Maine Department of Education’s MOOSE (Maine Online Opportunities for Sustained Education) platform has been used by students across Maine, around the U.S. and internationally.
Meaningful Partnerships with Parents: Collins partners with parents to keep families involved in their children’s learning. During the pandemic, she researched avenues to get resources into students’ hands, led frequent virtual field trips, and found accessible, hands-on science lessons students could execute at home.
Education: A graduate of the University of Maine, Collins earned a bachelor’s in elementary education in 2008 and a master’s in literacy education in 2014.