DC literacy specialist receives $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards, tells the assembly that one of the best teachers in the country is at Seaton Elementary.
Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards, tells the assembly that one of the best teachers in the country is at Seaton Elementary.

Students react to news that one of their teachers is about to win the Milken Educator Award and $25,000.

 Reading specialist Jenelle Bryant can't believe it—she is the winner of D.C.'s Milken Award and $25,000!
Reading specialist Jenelle Bryant learns she won the Milken Award.

With cameras and microphones capturing every word, Jenelle gives interviews at her surprise Milken Educator Award notification.
Jenelle Bryant said she felt like she was in a dream.

Reading specialist Jenelle Bryant is the only D.C. teacher to receive the honor this year.

With D.C. Public Schools Deputy Chancellor Dr. Melissa Kim looking on, Washington D.C. Superintendent of Education Dr. Christina Grant congratulates Jenelle Bryant on her Milken Educator Award.
With D.C. Public Schools Deputy Chancellor Melissa Kim looking on, D.C. Superintendent of Education Christina Grant congratulates Jenelle Bryant on her Milken Educator Award.

Jenelle Bryant FaceTimes her husband to tell him about her surprise Milken Educator Award. She points her phone at the huge check, held by Washington D.C. Superintendent of Education Dr. Christina Grant (left) and Dr. Shavonne Gibson, OSSE assistant superintendent, to show him that it bears her new last name (the two married recently).
Jenelle Bryant, via FaceTime, tells her husband about the award. She points her phone at the huge check, held by D.C. Superintendent of Education Christina Grant, left, and Shavonne Gibson, OSSE assistant superintendent, to show him that it bears her new last name. The two married recently.

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Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards, tells the assembly that one of the best teachers in the country is at Seaton Elementary.
 Reading specialist Jenelle Bryant can't believe it—she is the winner of D.C.'s Milken Award and $25,000!
With cameras and microphones capturing every word, Jenelle gives interviews at her surprise Milken Educator Award notification.
With D.C. Public Schools Deputy Chancellor Dr. Melissa Kim looking on, Washington D.C. Superintendent of Education Dr. Christina Grant congratulates Jenelle Bryant on her Milken Educator Award.
Jenelle Bryant FaceTimes her husband to tell him about her surprise Milken Educator Award. She points her phone at the huge check, held by Washington D.C. Superintendent of Education Dr. Christina Grant (left) and Dr. Shavonne Gibson, OSSE assistant superintendent, to show him that it bears her new last name (the two married recently).

D.C. educator Jenelle Bryant brought home one of the nation’s top teacher recognition awards, $25,000 and praise from Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Oprah Winfrey during a Milken Educator Award assembly at Seaton Elementary School on Thursday.

Bryant, a reading recovery specialist, received the award for her work in helping her K-1 students master needed literacy skills.



She is the only educator in the District to receive the honor this year, with good reason.

“Nearly 90% of students who complete Bryant’s classwork no longer need her support by the end of the school year,” the award organization said.

The awards group added that Bryant’s “discontinuation rate” — how many students no longer need her help with reading — is at 88%, “significantly higher than both D.C. Public Schools and the nation.”

The reading specialist was surprised when she received the award, asking her students to give her a pinch “because I feel like I’m in a dream!”

“My family are immigrants, and I am my grandparents’ dream,” Bryant said. “You can do anything you want to do, just like I’m doing what I want to do.”

Watch what Oprah had to say:

The Howard University alumna also earned praise from State Superintendent of Education Christina Grant for her use of innovative techniques and mentorship of other educators.

“Jenelle’s expertise is vital to ensuring a strong recovery for our students after the pandemic,” Grant said. “Thank you, Jenelle, and congratulations on receiving the Milken Educator Award for the District of Columbia.”

Jane Foley, the senior vice president for the educator awards, presented the award to Bryant in front of her school’s student body alongside district staff and the school’s principal Suzie Jacobs. Foley praised the trust and respect that Bryant’s students and their families feel.

“Learning how to read proficiently is one of the greatest gifts a teacher can pass along to her students,” Foley said. “Jenelle Bryant works with young learners to give them confidence at an early age, setting them up for success throughout their entire education.”

Bryant earned her bachelor’s in human development at Howard University in 2012 and graduated with a master’s in early childhood education one year later. She chairs Seaton Elementary’s equity committee, leads professional development and anti-bias training and mentors other reading specialists in the region through the D.C. Reading Clinic.

More than 60 teachers nationwide received Milken Educator Awards this year. The Milken Family Foundation has been recognizing educators since 1987.

Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for WTOP.com. Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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