Alumnus Chris Bessonette Receives Milken Educator Award

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January 11, 2019

Bessonette and others holding oversized check for $25,000.
From left, Greg Gallagher, senior program director for the Milken Family Foundation; Christi Roberts (WY ’05); recipient Chris Bessonette (WY ’18); Shannon Hill (WY ’17); and Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. -photo provided by the Milken Family Foundation.

Chris Bessonette, a 1998 Graceland graduate, has been named a 2018-19 recipient of the Milken Educator Award accompanied by an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. Bessonette received the award for his work with second-grade dual-language immersion students at Munger Mountain Elementary in Jackson, Wyoming.

Dual immersion boosts native English- and Spanish-speaking students at Munger Mountain Elemetary, and Bessonette’s students are thriving. Their state assessments showed a 20 percent growth in a single quarter from winter to spring.

A data-driven educator and grass-roots leader in the field, Bessonette has engaged in dual immersion research studies and shares developments with colleagues and school district leadership to expand and enhance education for all.

“Passionate and innovative educators like Chris Bessonette demonstrate that dual immersion education is a rising tide that lifts all boats,” said Milken Family Foundation Senior Program Director Greg Gallagher. “By empowering all students, Bessonette improves all of our futures.”

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher Magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching,” has been opening minds and shaping futures for over 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement.

The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America’s next generation of leaders. Milken Educators believe “The future belongs to the educated.”

Bessonette earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Graceland in 1998 and a master’s in curriculum and instruction from the University of Wyoming in 2011.

Known for his contagious positive attitude, Bessonette’s passion for supporting English Language Learners (ELLs) shines at Munger Mountain Elementary. He mentors teaching partners, leads professional development, participates in a professional learning community with other second-grade dual immersion educators, and helps build units for language and math at the district level.

Additionally, Bessonette led a collaborative effort with the University of Wyoming to pilot a new vocabulary initiative across the district’s second-grade dual-immersion classes, bringing together a cohort of educators across two buildings.

Bessonette is shown surrounded by excited students.Bessonette understands the challenges of his immigrant students’ families and advocates for them relentlessly – tutoring, attending soccer games and concerts, learning Spanish to improve his ability to communicate, and connecting families with community resources. In dual immersion, students learn leadership skills, grit, perseverance and the importance of supporting each other alongside academics, and Bessonette works hard to embed sociocultural competence in every lesson.

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, the honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top teachers, principals and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2018-19 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in New Orleans from March 21-24, 2019. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about maximizing their leadership roles to advance educator effectiveness.

The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Award is completely unique: Educators cannot apply for this recognition and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then are reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Graceland congratulates Chris Bessonette on such a tremendous accomplishment.


Information and photos provided by and adapted from a press release originally provided by the Milken Family Foundation.

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