Munger Mountain teacher Chris Bessonette wins Milken Educator Award

JACKSON HOLE, WYO –Students at Munger Mountain Elementary were not told why a special assembly was called this morning. School principal Scott Eastman simply promised them someone big would be attending.

Teton County School District superintendent Gillian Chapman said students at the K-5 dual immersion school made wild guesses as to who they thought would be the morning’s surprise dignitary.

“Michelle Obama?” one student speculated.

“Jennifer Aniston?” guessed another, after the celebrity was spotted recently in Jackson Hole.

“A wolf?” wondered another student.

Even the teachers, especially the teachers, were kept in the dark, told only to dress nice for the occasion.

And the star of the show never saw it coming.

Chris Bessonette was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Milken Family Foundation Senior Program Director Greg Gallagher and Wyoming Department of Education Superintendent Jillian Balow. A fired-up Bessonette was named a 2018-19 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. He is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Wyoming this year, and is among the up to 40 honorees for 2018-19.

And the place went wild.

Students from Bessonette’s second grade class raced toward their teacher and hugged him once Balow announced his name. Bessonette appeared truly surprised at hearing the news.

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

Bessonette, a second grade teacher at the dual immersion school, teams with a Spanish-language teaching partner to help lift all of his students. The numbers bear it out: Bessonette’s students’ state assessments skyrocketed 20%…in a single quarter.

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.

Bessonette and his son pose with check for $25,000. (Buck)

Balow added, “What struck me during a September visit to Munger Elementary was how easy the students flowed between English and Spanish in all their interactions. That ease of learning among students takes dedication—and you won’t find a better ESL champion than Chris Bessonette. His enthusiasm is contagious. His students are thriving. His passion to pass on what he has learned is firmly rooted in a belief that being fluent in two languages opens doors. Chris is a Wyoming treasure.”

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.

Chapman says Milken found a good one with Bessonette.

“Chris Bessonette is a fine example of the expertise of Wyoming educators and the relationships that Wyoming educators have with their students,” Chapman said. “Chris activates the learning in each student through his hands-on and personal approach. Chris is a leader in dual immersion education and actively pursues best practices to help his young learners thrive and launch them into a lifelong love of learning.”

Students oohed and aahed when they learned how much money their teacher would be getting. (Buck)

About Milken Educator Chris Bessonette

The dual immersion program at Munger Mountain Elementary School in Jackson is growing—in large part due to second-grade teacher Chris Bessonette. When the district board of education was deliberating the expansion of the program, they turned to Bessonette as an expert to help guide their decisions.

Bessonette, an English-language teacher paired with a Spanish-language partner, serves on the school’s ELA committee, dual immersion leadership committee and building leadership team, and he has participated in research studies to enhance the district’s dual immersion programming.

Bessonette provided the board with data and input to show that the dual immersion program has been a positive option for all learners. In the fall of 2018, the district opened the first dual immersion elementary school in the state.

Bessonette’s passion for supporting English Language Learners (ELLs) shines at Munger Mountain Elementary, in both second grade and his former role teaching kindergarten. He focuses on vocabulary development, a skill critical to his dual immersion students’ academic success.

Known for his contagious positive attitude, Bessonette 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.

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

About the Milken Educator Awards

The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 31 years ago in 1987. The Awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish.

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