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Maryland high school teacher Keishia Thorpe wins $1 million Global Teacher Prize

A Maryland high school English teacher who has worked to open up college education for her students has won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize, the Varkey Foundation announced Wednesday.

Keishia Thorpe, who teaches at International High School at Langley Park in Prince George's County, was selected from more than 8,000 nominations and applications from 121 countries around the world, the foundation said. Thorpe said she was grateful to the foundation for putting teachers in the spotlight and telling their stories.

"Education is a human right, and all children should be entitled to have access to it," Thorpe said during a ceremony streamed online. "So this recognition is not just about me, but about all the dreamers who work so hard and dare to dream of ending generational poverty."

 "This is to encourage every little Black boy and girl that looks like me, and every child in the world that feels marginalized and has a story like mine, and felt they never mattered," she added. 

Thorpe redesigned the 12th grade English curriculum to make it culturally relevant to her students, who include first-generation Americans, immigrants and refugees, the foundation said. She also assists students with applying for college and scholarships, helping them win $6.7 million in scholarships in the 2018-2019 school year, according to the foundation.

"Every child needs a champion, an adult who will never ever give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the very best they can be," Thorpe said. "This is why teachers will always matter. Teachers matter."

Thorpe, who came to the United States from Jamaica on a track and field scholarship, founded the nonprofit U.S. Elite International Track and Field with her twin sister, Dr. Treisha Thorpe, to help "at risk" student-athletes around the world use their talents to pursue scholarships to U.S. colleges and universities, according to the foundation.

U.S. teacher Keishia Thorpe reacts after winning the Global Teacher Prize 2021 at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, on November 10, 2021. BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan awarded Thorpe the Medal of Excellence for her work in influencing equitable policies in education. She was also named National Life Changer of the Year for 2018-2019.

Actor Isabelle Huppert hosted the ceremony from the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and announced Thorpe as the winner of the main award.

Actor Hugh Jackman, who hosted the event in 2019, joined this year's virtual ceremony via video link, to announce the winner of the inaugural Chegg.Org Global Student Prize: Jeremiah Thoronka from Sierra Leone won the $100,000 prize money, for his work in trying to combat energy poverty.

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