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Brad Nicks (BSE 1999) congratulates Carly Bowden (BSE 2015) on her $25,000 Milken Educator Award. Nicks inspired Bowden to become a math teacher

An Emporia State alumna who was inspired in high school to become a math teacher won a $25,000 Milken Educator Award on Thursday.

Learning isn't a game in Carly Bowden's seventh-grade math class at Andover Central Middle School. Except when it is. Keeping things light to counter math anxiety and build student confidence as they learn and achieve, Bowden transformed her classroom into an escape room game where students solve equations to win.

Bowden grounds her lessons in practical situations, teaching students about percentages via shopping simulations or taking the class on a field trip to a local grocery store to understand household food budgeting. Project oriented and data-driven, Bowden does whatever it takes to help her class succeed, whether that's dressing up in a Bob Ross getup to teach a lesson about painting or spending extra time with students who need more support. Whatever she's doing, it's working. The vast majority of Bowden's students become proficient in math with most showing over a year's growth in her classes.

Yet it was Bowden who was earning high marks on Thursday morning at a surprise school assembly where she was presented with the award by Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson. Bowden was named a 2019-20 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. She is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Kansas this year, and is among up to 40 honorees for 2019-20.

Bowden, who graduated from Emporia State University in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in middle school math education, didn't plan to be a math teacher when she entered Shawnee Heights High School.

"I was not what I would consider good at math," Bowden recalled. "It wasn't until I got into Coach (Brad) Nicks' classroom that he showed me there are multiple ways that you can solve a math problem."

Nicks went on to let Bowden teach some lessons to her peers on days when substitute teachers were in the classroom.

"I realized I really love this," said Bowden. "In my senior year of high school, Coach Nicks created an opportunity for me to come back into his classroom and continue to teach before I went off to college, mostly to make sure that's still what I wanted to do."

Nicks, who graduated from Emporia State in 1999, himself won a Milken Award in 2009. Bowden was a student at Nicks' announcement assembly.

Connie Schrock, ESU math professor, taught both Bowden and Nicks as they pursued their college degrees.

"Brad told me he'd be sending me a major," said Schrock, recalling how she met Bowden. Schrock believes Bowden's background of math struggles helps her be a better teacher.

"Carly is innovative," Schrock said. "She cares about her students and understands them because of what she came through."

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."

Bowden brings that future closer for her classes by multiplying student engagement, stoking creative thinking and building a cooperative in-class environment. A strong advocate for project-based learning and a savvy technologist, Bowden also excels by mentoring fellow teachers and constantly striving to discover fresh pedagogical perspectives through her colleagues and professional associations.

"A creative and charismatic teacher like Carly Bowden knows that math is not only a gateway to higher education, but also a practical advantage in everyday life," said Foley. "Bowden is that rare teacher who really understands how to balance all the factors when teaching middle school learners, and her commitment and dedication show the kind of inspirational leadership we seek in our Milken Educators."

"Carly represents the exceptional educators here in Kansas," said Watson. "Her ability to engage her students in meaningful, personalized learning is what every educator should aspire to achieve. I want to congratulate her on being named a Milken Educator. I also want to thank the Milken Family Foundation for giving us the opportunity to recognize Kansas' outstanding teachers."

"Carly is an exemplary educator who inspires her students to love math," said Superintendent Brett White. "She engages them in hands-on lessons that are relevant and meaningful to their lives. Students appreciate the creativity that Carly shows and the thorough manner in which she teaches concepts. Carly builds outstanding relationships with students, and truly makes a difference in their lives."

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