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Newark Charter teacher wins $25,000 national award

A Newark-area teacher received some significant national recognition Wednesday.

Each year, The Milken Family Foundation honors up to 45 teachers across the nation for their work in the classroom.

This year, for the first time, one is from the First State.

Newark Charter High School science teacher Tami Lunsford was named a Milken Educator Award winner Wednesday, surprised with the honor and a check for $25,000 by the foundation’s co-founder Mike Milken at a school assembly.

"I can’t even being to describe it.  I am among so many great teachers here at Newark Charter and in the state of Delaware that it was a little overwhelming," said Lunsford.  "I love what I do.  The fact that its being recognized and teachers are at all being recognized for how hard we work is a little overwhelming.

Lundford teaches biology, AP biology and marine science at Newark Charter and says it is rewarding work.

“I’m not just teaching my content.  I teach the kids.  I get to develop a relationship with them," said Lunsford.   "We had our first graduating class last year, and I had been their science teacher in 9th grade, 1oth grade, and some of them even 11th and 12th.   To see them being successful in college and to know that I was even just a small part of that, I can’t imagine a better feeling."

The foundation seeks out early to mid-career teachers to recognize what they’re doing in the classroom now and for the promise of what they will accomplish.

Milken says Lunsford's marine science teaching work stood out, especially a class sustainability project that converted plastic bags into over 5,000 sleeping mats, which were donated to homeless shelters.

We’re so dependent on the quality of our oceans.  And all of these students are receiving this knowledge – think of it – in high school.  We might have taken a class in college, but never in high school," said Milken. "So, one, [this award is] a reinforcement of STEM education.  The other thing is it’s a reinforcement of the importance of marine life."

Lunsford isn’t sure what she’ll do with the $25,000  prize, but says she’ll likely do something for her own kids – and something for her students.

The Milken Family Foundation has handed out $68 million to individual award winners since launching the award program in 1987

Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for nearly three decades.