Local physics teacher honored with ‘Oscar’ of education

Kena Allison walks up to receive her Milken Educator Award of $25,000 Thursday at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Southeast Washington. She has spent nine years teaching physics at the charter school. (WTOP/Andrew Mollenbeck)

WASHINGTON — Getting high school students to love physics should be worth an award — and for one D.C. teacher, it is.

Kena Allison, a teacher at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Southeast Washington, has received the so-called Oscar of teaching, the Milken Educator Award.

But as she sat with students at an assembly Thursday morning, Allison had no idea what was coming.

“I thought it was going to be a school prize,” she said. “I just was overwhelmed and surprised.”

The students’ euphoric reaction to her selection illustrates what she means to the public charter school.

When the assembly finally calmed down, she took the mic and emphasized the roll of education.

“If you decide to be a doctor or an engineer, it doesn’t matter, but we want you to have the choice,” Allison said.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in biology, Allison attended one year of medical school at George Washington University. An educator with 13 years under her belt, Allison has taught physics at the charter school for nine years.

“Our students, when they graduate to college, come back and say, ‘I want to take physics in college because of Ms Allison’s class’,” says Principal Alexandra Pardo.

“Students are testing magnesium in cereal, dropping eggs from the roof of our building,” Pardo says. “Students are doing amazing experiments where they never thought they would be doing physics in real-world applications.

They also play Red Light, Green Light as part of their studies of the laws of motion. Writing lyrics and beats to learn equations are just some of the lessons Allison uses to help students understand and master the complex subject of physics.

The Milken Educator Awards provide public recognition and $25,000 financial awards to outstanding elementary and secondary school educators across the country. As many as 40 will be awarded this year.

In addition to the Milken, Allison has been honored with a “Dr. Phil Award” for being the staff member from whom faculty most often seek advice and a Harvard Fellowship for Enhancing Teacher Effectiveness in High Schools.

Watch the students’ and Allison’s react to the news of her award in this video.

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