Diana Lopez ’05C, ’11Ed does not seek recognition as a teacher. Nevertheless, recognition found her recently in the form of a $25,000 Educator Award presented by the Milken Family Foundation, one of the nation’s leading educational nonprofits.
Ms. Lopez, a resident of San Antonio, TX, was one of two Texas-based teachers honored by the foundation from among all of the state’s eligible educators. Far from career achievement awards, Milken Educator Awards instead recognize young teachers for what they have accomplished already and their promise of future accomplishments.
Teachers do not apply for the awards. Instead, candidates are sourced through a confidential process and reviewed by panels from each state’s Department of Education. Final selections are made by members of the Milken Family Foundation.
“To be honest, I’m still shocked,” Ms. Lopez, 39, said. “To be recognized like this at such an early stage of my career has given me the motivation to continue as a teacher. It confirms in me that what I do is important.”
Ms. Lopez, who earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in Philosophy and English and a Master of Science degree in Childhood Education from St. John’s, is a third-grade teacher at BASIS San Antonio Primary–Medical Center Campus, a charter school in San Antonio. She leads the third-grade team of English Language Arts teachers and mentors humanities and English teachers on campus. She has developed curricula now used by 30 schools in the BASIS Charter network.
As is the custom with Milken Educator Award winners, students, administrators and fellow faculty surprised Ms. Lopez with an award celebration at the school on February 10. She did not know she was even a candidate until then.
“It was an incredible moment,” Ms. Lopez recalled. “I love being in the classroom and working with these kids. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”
The Milken Educator Awards were created by businessman and philanthropist Lowell Milken in 1987 to honor America’s K–12 educators and to inspire new generations of college graduates to consider careers in teaching. Since their inception, more than $73 million have been awarded to more than 2,900 education professionals.
Ms. Lopez, a native of Rockport, TX, was drawn to St. John’s academic reputation and its location in New York City, where she had always wanted to live. In her master’s program, she was introduced to the cutting-edge instruction methods she would employ later as a professional.
“We had a cohort of about 15 students and spent nearly a whole year together,” she recalled. “There were people with different opinions and approaches, but we all worked together. I learned about team building at St. John’s and I transferred that to my team here.”
Currently in her sixth year at BASIS San Antonio Primary, Ms. Lopez is known for her innovative instruction methods. She has developed “book tastings,” where students can sample new stories in informal settings and check out items from the class library. To enhance language education, students sometimes dress in costumes representing abstract concepts such as idioms, metaphors, and hyperbole.
Of course, her work as a teacher is not all fun and games. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, she created presentations, worksheets, videos, and more for colleagues as her school transitioned to online instruction. Her school also includes a significant number of English-language learners whom Ms. Lopez supports with after-hours work and follow-up communication. In 2022, 97 percent of her students passed the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams in reading.
“I teach humanities and I know it can be a dry subject for third-graders,” Ms. Lopez said. “I’ve learned that I have to make it exciting. I really want the students to know I connect with them. That’s part of my job as an educator.”
As an award winner, she is welcomed into the Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,900 education leaders from across the country, whose expertise serves as a resource for lawmakers, school boards, and others in shaping the future of education.
Ms. Lopez and her fellow honorees will be celebrated at the annual Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles, CA, in April. “We’re honored to join the foundation in celebrating Diana Lopez,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said. “She is an exceptional educator in every possible way. Her service to her students and the San Antonio community is a shining example that a teacher’s impact goes well beyond the walls of the classroom.”