As teachers and students at Grace Norton Rogers Elementary School gathered together in the gym just like any other assembly, they did not know there would be a surprise announcement for one of their very own teachers.
With the roaring sound of excitement from students, fourth-grade teacher Taylor Trost heard her name called as she became the first national Milken Educator Award recipient from the East Windsor Regional School District (EWRSD) on Oct. 11.
Shocked and surprised she made her way from the bleachers in the back of the school gym to receive her award as students cheered loudly and fellow teachers and administrators celebrated.
“I could not believe it. It was the most astonishing feeling of my life,” Trost said. “I’ve never felt more surprised. I’ve never felt almost undeserving.”
She just thought of the teachers she works alongside of, her students, and all the wonderful things that have happened in her career.
“This is just the top of it all. Kids are the greatest humans in the entire planet and there is no other job you can come to and constantly laugh and make memories,” Trost said.
“For me it is about enjoying every single day of my career and also having an impact. Kids in this school and every school are going to be the ones running this world one day. To have a chance to have a hand in that is incredible.”
The awardee of the Milken Educator Award not only receives national recognition as someone furthering excellence in education, but is awarded $25,000. There are no restrictions on how the money can be used.
“Educators have the most important job in our country, because they have the responsibility of preparing all of you for a bright future and at the Milken Foundation, we do not think educators get thanked very often and get recognition,” said Jane Foley, Milken Educator Awards senior vice president.
Foley noted that the Milken Educator Award was created more than 35 years ago by the Milken Foundation, and people do not apply for the award and nominations are not accepted.
“You don’t find us, we find you. The Milken Award says in a very public way such as this that educators and outstanding educators should be recognized too,” she added. “One of the best teachers in the entire country is here … and the Milken Award is so prestigious they call it the Oscars of teaching.”
Kathy Ehling, Assistant Commissioner of Educational Services at the New Jersey Department of Education [NJDOE], EWRSD Superintendent Mark Daniels, State Sen. Linda Greenstein, members of the New Jersey Department of Education [NJDOE], and EWRSD school board members were just some of those in attendance for Trost’s award announcement.
“I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around how astonishing and incredible and how huge of an opportunity this is,” Trost said. “What a legacy this group of educators is and so to have my name mixed in there feels wrong.”
Trost has been an educator in the EWRSD for eight years and has been teaching at Grace Norton Rogers Elementary six of those eight years.
“I want my students to know they are loved, appreciated and seen every day and that the most unique parts of them are the most special and incredible parts about them,” she said. “Every day we read, we do math, we cover history and science, but that is not the most important thing to me.
“The most important thing to me is that they have a home and that they are safe, and somebody that cares about them beyond their family unit.”
Grace N. Rogers Elementary Principal Lori Emmerson expressed that in her 27-year career she has never met a person more committed, more dedicated, harder working, caring and compassionate.
“She is not just an exemplary teacher, but an exemplary human being,” she said. “I was thrilled when I heard she was going to receive the Milken Educator Award and cannot imagine anyone more deserving of winning this award.”
Emmerson said in her eyes Trost’s commitment to her students makes her stand out.
“Her commitment is] to every single one of her students, not just some of them,” she added. “Her commitment to making sure they have the resources, the materials, and that they are able to access the curriculum, and growing and learning along the way.”
Emmerson said it was “amazing” to see Trost’s reaction when her name was announced.
“… Especially considering she is out on maternity leave, and I have never called, emailed, texted a person who is out on maternity leave and I was actually harassing her about coming today,” she said.
“So just seeing her in the room I breathed a sigh of relief and just seeing her face was priceless.”
Trost is one of 75 nationwide who are receiving the Milken Educator Award and $25,000 during the 2023-24 school year.
She will get an all-expenses paid trip to the Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles next year in June and network with other Milken Award winners and also receive mentorship opportunities.