RICHMOND, Va. -- A Richmond middle school teacher broke down in tears after he was surprised with a prestigious $25,000 award.
Ryan James, an 8th grade civics and economics teacher at Lucille M. Brown Middle School, received The Milken Educator Award during a surprise assembly. The Milken Educator Award program honors, celebrates and recognizes the great work teachers do across the nation.
"I've come here to present a Milken Educator Award to a teacher characterized by compassion, commitment and dedication," Lowell Milken, co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation, said prior to announcing James as the winner.
James, who began his teaching career after earning a bachelor’s degree from James Madison University, has been an 8th grade teacher for five years. He is also the school’s football coach and boy’s basketball assistant coach.
"I'm glad I've stuck it out during the years. There’s been plenty of times where the work I’ve done after hours, before hours and I wondered if was I really getting to the students," an emotional James said. "I feel like this just refocuses me. Not just for my students but to what I do every day."
Overwhelmed with gratitude, James said the award is a reminder that he’s on the right path.
"[I] just allow myself to be like I would be with my friends and my family. It’s worked for me the past few years. Students’ scores started going up, they started coming to class more regularly, homework is turned in, they’re excited to come to class," he said.
James dedicated the award to his late grandfather, the man James said made him who he is today. He also thanked his mother, who told him he should be a teacher when he was in the 8th grade. James said he may use the money to go to grad school and to travel.
Governor Terry McAuliffe, Secretary of Education Dietra Trent, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, Board of Education President Dan Gecker and board member Anne Holton were among some of the distinguished guests at the announcement.