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WGU Graduate Wins Prestigious Milken Family Foundation Award

Feb 13, 2023

Rejily Soriano was recently surprised by the Milken Family Foundation at a school assembly where Milken Educator Awards founder Lowell Milken presented the kindergarten teacher with the prestigious teaching award that comes with a $25,000 check. Soriano earned her bachelor’s in Elementary Education and her master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from WGU.

This article previously appeared here in the Elko Daily Free Press. Link here to see Soriano's bio and the Milken Family Trust videos of the emotional surprise award presentation. Photo and video courtesy of the Milken Family Foundation.

WGU Alumna Rejily Soriano Named Milken Educator

WEST WENDOVER – A West Wendover kindergarten teacher was honored as one of the three Nevada recipients of the Milken Educator Award on Wednesday.

Rejily Soriano was presented the award by Milken Educator Award Founder Lowell Milken and Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone M. Ebert during a school assembly.

It came with a $25,000 unrestricted cash prize that Soriano can use as she chooses, according to the Milken Family Foundation.

Soriano, a product of Elko County School District’s “Grow Your Own” teacher recruitment program, is the first Milken Educator to be awarded in Elko County School District since 2000.

Elko County School District Superintendent CJ Anderson congratulated Soriano on her award Wednesday.

“I congratulate Ms. Soriano for her excellent work that qualified her for such a prestigious educators award,” he said. “I have always known about the amazing quality and caliber of the teachers and staff that we entrust to teach our students, but this award simply shows just how much one teacher can have an impact on an entire school and community. Teachers truly are the greatest resource and have the biggest impact on students’ learning.”

“Principal Pat Dispirito and the leadership and staff at West Wendover Elementary are doing a fantastic job of growing their own talent for our next generation of educators. This award is the product of that kind of effort,” Anderson continued.

“I want to thank Lowell Milken and the Milken Family Foundation for choosing to invest in our teachers and students. They are the future of our communities," Anderson said.

“The State of Nevada is lucky to have homegrown teachers like Rejily Soriano leading the way in our schools,” said Gov. Joe Lombardo. “Soriano’s passion for teaching is inspiring, and I thank her for her dedication to our students.”

Talented Classroom Teacher, School Leader, and Mentor

Soriano’s emphasis on literacy and strong personal connections at West Wendover Elementary School ensures that her kindergarteners head into first grade prepared to succeed, the Foundation said.

Beyond the classroom, Soriano helps drive high-quality instruction at the school level by designing professional development and mentoring new teachers.

“Early in her career, Rejily Soriano has established herself as a talented classroom teacher, school leader and mentor,” said Lowell Milken. “Her dedication, care and compassion for her students and broader school community represent the qualities we seek in the profession. Our sincere appreciation to Rejily for instilling that same passion in others.”

“The early learning years are vitally important and Rejily Soriano is a shining example of what an early learning teacher can be,” said Superintendent Ebert. “I’m especially proud of the fact that she started her career in Elko County School District’s ‘Grow your Own’ teacher recruitment program and is now leading the way. She is proof the program is working and creating phenomenal teachers. I wholeheartedly thank her for her dedication and for bringing joy to our youngest learners.”

She said Soriano “holds high expectations for her kindergarteners at Nevada’s West Wendover Elementary. Soriano makes strong connections with her young learners, supporting them as they acquire new skills and grow both academically and socially throughout the year.”

“Literacy plays a large part in her classroom. Soriano helps students create their own books, a favorite activity. Most of her students are reading by the end of each year, and in May 2022, 89% reached grade level or above on MAP assessments in both math and ELA.”

Soriano is also the school’s Leader in Me coordinator, sits on the school improvement committee, and designs professional development for the building. She is the lead teacher for kindergarten, mentors, new teachers, and is a leader for the school’s social-emotional learning efforts.

Soriano started her career in education in Elko County School District’s “Grow Your Own” teacher recruitment program, working with preschool students in the Head Start program before moving up to kindergarten.

She builds strong relationships with students and families and communicates with parents often in both English and Spanish, keeping an “open door” policy for discussions about all aspects of students’ school experiences.

Soriano graduated from Western Governors University, earning a bachelor’s in elementary education in 2017 and a master’s in curriculum and instruction in 2020.

Hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching,” Milken Educator Awards inspire and uplift with the unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues, and communities.

The specific states and schools on the winners’ list remain a closely guarded secret until each award is announced. Recipients are heralded while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the award.

Soriano joins two other Nevada recipients, Jason Murray of Florence Drake Elementary and Liz Barnum of Katherine Dunn Elementary, who were both surprised Tuesday in Washoe County. The three are among up to 40 elementary educators to receive the recognition during the 2022-23 school year. They will join a national network of more than 2,900 Milken Educator Award recipients and other leaders from across the country dedicated to strengthening K-12 education.

Since 1987, more than $140 million in funding, including more than $73 million in individual awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.

Along with the financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a growing group of more than 2,900 exemplary teachers, principals, and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards, and others dedicated to excellence in education.

The honorees will attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles this April, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to increase their impact on K-12 education.

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