Sioux Falls teacher surprised with $25K as a top US educator

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Alison Ter Horst meant to be a guidance counselor, not a teacher, but once she tried student teaching she couldn't bear to leave the classroom.

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On Wednesday, Ter Horst was surprised with a $25,000 check at Washington High School in Sioux Falls as one of the nation's top teachers, recognized in part for helping create a dual credit program that lets students get college credit if they enroll in a teacher preparation program after graduation.

Ter Horst was one of only 40 teachers selected nationwide — and the only one in South Dakota this year — to receive a 2019 Milken Educator Award, the Argus Leader reported. More than 20 South Dakota educators have been honored with the award since 2002.

The Milken Family Foundation uses the awards — dubbed "the Oscars of Teaching" — to recognize inspirational teachers who encourage others to join the field.

Ter Horst has been teaching for about 12 years but originally wanted to be a guidance counselor. She was on her way to earning a master's degree when someone recommended she spend time student teaching in a classroom while she finished her courses.

"I loved it and I never had the desire to get out of the classroom," Ter Horst said. "I do have my master's, but it's in education, not in counseling."

The psychology teacher said she was in "pure shock" winning the award. Chosen teachers can use the money any way they want.

More than 1,000 students, administrators and state officials filled the high school gymnasium as Ter Horst was presented with a giant check.

Jane Foley, a senior vice president of the Milken Family Foundation who presented the money to Ter Horst, said the award is not someone can apply for or be nominated for. The award is based on the teacher's ability to further excellence in education, and award officials seek out those educators, Foley said.

"Great teachers like Alison Ter Horst change lives," Foley said. "Sometimes, a gifted teacher like Alison can also inspire students to want to change the lives of others through teaching."

South Dakota Education Secretary Ben Jones said too often, teachers "are unsung heroes, quietly going about their important work, inspiring young lives."

"I hope we all remember the celebratory spirit of today with its schoolwide assembly and musical numbers and strive to always be vocal with our appreciation of educators," Jones said.

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com