Keishia Thorpe jumped up and down and then burst into tears when she learned she had won $ 1 million Global teacher award.
Her students gathered in Bladensburg, Maryland on Wednesday to watch the virtual ceremony and shouted with joy as their teacher’s name was revealed.
The high school teacher received the award for mentoring and providing college education to first generation students who are Americans, immigrants, or refugees.
“Education is a human right and all children should have the right to access it,” said Thorpe, 42, in a taped video message during a ceremony broadcast online by the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) . Headquarters in Paris.
“Every child needs a champion, an adult who will never give up on him, who understands the power of connection and insists on becoming the best he can be,” Thorpe said in the video.
“That is exactly why teachers will always be important.”
Thorpe, who teaches English at the International High School in Langley Park in Bladensburg, was selected from more than 8,000 nominations and applications from 121 countries around the world, according to the Varkey Foundation, which organizes the annual award.
Thorpe grew up in Jamaica and came to the United States on an athletics scholarship.
“When I think of the students and how much their parents sacrifice for a fair education, it reminds me so much of my own journey,” she said to Kate Snow of NBC News in Paris.
Thorpe found out she had won last week and was in the French capital on Wednesday to pick up her award.
“And that’s why I’m so committed to my students – because my story is their story,” added Thorpe.
Thorpe redesigned the 12th grade English curriculum to make it culturally relevant to their students.
She also spends countless hours assisting her students with college applications and grants, and helping them win over $ 6.7 million in scholarships to 11 different colleges in the 2018-2019 school year alone, according to the Varkey Foundation.
Thorpe also founded with her twin sister Dr. Treisha Thorpe the non-profit US Elite International Track and Field. It aims to help “at-risk” student athletes around the world obtain scholarships for US colleges and universities, the foundation said.
To date, she has helped over 500 students earn full athletics scholarships, she added.
Thorpe told NBC News that she plans to use the $ 1 million award to help more students worldwide access higher education.
“My students are why I’m here, and if I don’t think about how it can improve them and create a better future for them, who am I without my students?” She said.
Thorpe was congratulated on her victory by Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education and former UK Prime Minister, and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“Keishia’s inspiring story reminds us of the vital importance of teachers and education, especially in these troubled times,” Brown said in a video statement during the ceremony.
Ban said Thorpe’s “incredible achievement” is testament to her hard work and sacrifice over many years.
“You have changed the lives of your students who are first generation Americans, immigrants and refugees,” he said in a video message. “You showed them the life-changing potential of a good education and opened the door to their future.”
The Global Teacher Prize is awarded annually by the UK-based Varkey Foundation to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession.
Last year the award went to the Indian teacher Ranjitsinh Disale, who changed the lives of young girls in his village. Thorpe is the second American teacher to win the award after Maine educator Nancie Atwell won the Inaugural Award in 2015.
Associated press and Kate Snow contributed.