Park City educator receives $25,000 award |

Park City educator receives $25,000 award

On Tuesday afternoon, an unsuspecting Park City community member was in for a big surprise. Melissa Bott, a language specialist at McPolin Elementary, received a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for furthering excellence in education. The award, which was kept a carefully guarded secret, was presented to Bott at a school assembly held adjacent to the McPolin playground. Surrounded by students, colleagues, community members, and local and state officials, Bott tearfully accepted the award for excellence in the field of education.

The Milken Family Foundation presents awards to up to 80 outstanding educators each year. Candidates are reviewed without their knowledge by a panel from each state’s department of education, and awards alternate each year between elementary and secondary educators. Bott is the only 2008-2009 award recipient in the state of Utah. In addition to an unrestricted financial award for $25,000, Bott received an all-expenses-paid trip to the Milken National Education Conference in Los Angeles.

Bott, a Park City native, says she is ecstatic to receive the award. Upon hearing her name announced by a Milken Family Foundation Executive Vice President Richard Sandler, Bott was instantly enveloped in a hug from her mother, a speech therapist at McPolin, who was sitting next to her. She accepted the award, saying, "The whole staff should be up here – I couldn’t do it all without you. And the students – you’re the reason I come here every day."

Bott works with students in kindergarten through fifth grade that are reading at a below-average level. She is part of a staff of six people that go from classroom to classroom conducting small-group instruction with what the district calls "at-risk" students. In a testament to Bott’s influence, after she received her award, a number of students fought their way through the crowd to hug and congratulate their teacher.

As for the monetary component of the award, Bott says part of it will go back into the school system. As a grant-writer for McPolin, she knows how hard it can be to get money that directly benefits the children. She also plans to finish her masters’ degree. "Like these kids, I’m a lifelong learner," she says.

Bott’s mother, Nancy Witt, who works with her on a daily basis, watched proudly as her daughter received the award. "She sets a really high bar," Witt said. "It’s never just about her – she’ll help anybody."

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