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Alumna receives $25,000 teaching award

UMD alumna Brittany Larson's students cheer at the news of the award.
June 4, 2019

Brittany Larson and her data-driven teaching skills pay off in the classroom.

UMD alumna Brittany Larson, a first-grade teacher at Century Primary Elementary School in Grafton, N.D., was awarded the 2018-19 Milken Educator Award that included a $25,000 award.

Innovative & Supportive Teaching

Brittany, a Grafton native, has been teaching first grade at the school for ten years. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from UMD in 2008 with master’s degree in differentiated instruction from Concordia University in St. Paul. The advanced degree taught Brittany how to use data to help her understand student’s individual strengths and weaknesses.

She said her main goal as a teacher is to make her students feel at home so they “know they are loved and they are safe.” Her primary focus is on emotional support, as Brittany believes it is a necessity for academic achievement with students.

Brittany says that according to the demographics in the school she teaches in, lots of children are impoverished, so making sure they know they're safe and welcome is a priority.

"Emotional support impacts everything," Brittany says, "every morning I tell them that I love them, I am here for them, and they are safe. I give them a hug or a high five but I make sure their emotions are good and their social and emotional behaviors are good."

One of Brittany’s priorities as a teacher is getting to know her students and their families, attending events and performances at the school, volunteering around the community, and creating a summer reading program to establish a strong sense of community and trust.

The Award

Brittany is one of the 33 other educators nationwide who received the award, which has been described as the “Oscars of Teaching” by Teacher magazine. She was presented with the award by Milken Family Foundation Program Director, Greg Gallagher, and North Dakota School Superintendent Kristen Baesler.

"I was super surprised," Brittany says, "I had no idea that the assembly we had was for me!" Brittany says she was told that the assembly was for reading month and people like the mayor were going to be there to address reading month. "It wasn't for reading month at all. It ended up being this grandiose thing for me."

With the award, Brittany was invited to New Orleans to meet the 32 other award recipients from around the country. "We all got together and made great connections," Brittany said.

Brittany says the best part of this award is that there wasn't any application; they sought her out. "It means I'm doing something right," Brittany says. "It shows me that I'm doing something good for these kids." Brittany also said that it was nice being appreciated.

Milken Family Foundation targets early-to-mid career education professionals for their already impressive achievements, and honor top educators around the country.

Brittany has also received Outstanding Teacher Award from the Grafton Chamber of Commerce in 2019. She plans to use the award to pay off her student loans from graduate school.

About the UMD Department of Education