A fifth-grade teacher at North Bend Central Elementary School was surprised Monday with the Milken Educator Award, one of the most prestigious educator awards in the nation.
Becky Streff, a former Lincoln Public Schools teacher, was presented the award during a school assembly. She is among 33 honorees this year and the only Nebraska educator to receive the award.
The recognition comes with $25,000 and an invitation to attend a Milken Educator Forum in New Orleans on March 21-24.
Awards officials commended Streff’s ability to engage students with projects that combine various subjects into one lesson. Case in point: a persuasive writing unit she called “Got Chocolate Milk?”
Nutritionists visited her classroom to talk about added sugar in common beverages, the students performed additional research on their own and then presented their arguments to parents, community members and media.
The lessons integrated nutrition, civics, rhetoric and science, technology engineering and math concepts, awards officials said, and such creative thinking is one of the reasons Streff’s students consistently exceed grade-level averages in math, reading and science.
“I love learning with the students and working with them,” Streff told the Fremont Tribune on Monday. “I don’t have all the answers. They give me answers. We talk. I truly believe that teaching them is a teamwork process. We’re learning together."
Streff mentors first-year teachers, promotes professional development in her building and has upgraded the school’s STEM curriculum.
She is a strong proponent of project-based learning, technology integration and savvy data deployment.
Streff developed a classroom project for the district called Writer’s Café, in which adults visited school to hear the personal writings of her students. She continually develops grant proposals, introduced a fifth-grade graduation ceremony to the school, and presents student achievement data to her colleagues on her own volition, according to North Bend Central Superintendent Dan Endorf.
Part of the reason North Bend Elementary was named a Blue Ribbon School is Streff’s commitment to continuous improvement and innovative instruction, the awards officials said.
She coaches the Future Problem Solvers team, a small group of high-achieving students, as well as junior high track and volleyball.
“Becky is a great example of what it means to be an outstanding teacher,” said Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt. “She always engages her students and her fellow teachers to be the best they can be both inside and outside of the classroom.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2004 and a master’s of teaching, learning and teacher education in 2008 from the University of Nebraska, plus a master’s in educational leadership in 2013 from Doane College.
Streff taught three years at the former Hawthorne Elementary in Lincoln.