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Brooklyn public school teacher awarded $25,000 for excellence in education

Brooklyn teacher gets the ultimate surprise
Brooklyn teacher gets the ultimate surprise 02:15

NEW YORK -- A Brooklyn teacher got the ultimate surprise: a $25,000 award for going above and beyond.  

History class was in session in Kelly Preston's classroom Monday afternoon. Then students, staff members, and the superintendent suddenly filled into the room.

Preston looked up, confused. "Oh my god, my mom!" she said.

Her parents, carrying flowers, were followed by leaders of the FLAG Foundation for Excellence in Education, who were carrying the giant check for $25,000.

Preston created a safe space and helped students make friends

One by one, students and staff explained the impact Preston made on their lives. They said she created a safe space, helped new students make friends, and lent a listening ear to younger teachers as they adapted to a new job. 

Preston is one of six teachers awarded the grand prize: a personal check and an additional $10,000 grant to her school, the Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women, to be used for the arts.

"We believe that students are active agents of learning. They're not passive absorbers of information the teacher tells. So they learn history through analyzing artifacts and primary sources and figuring out for themselves what happened, why it happened, and then the impact that that continues to have on different groups today," Preston said.

"We're really looking for those teachers to have a tremendous impact, not only on their students but on the entire school community. So really going above and beyond, doing innovative lessons, reaching out to students of all abilities," said Laura Twersky, co-president of the FLAG Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Privately-funded award recognizes teachers in all 5 boroughs

The award is privately-funded for public school teachers, honoring an educator in every borough. Including finalists and semi-finalists, the foundation will hand out $400,000 in awards this school year.

Principal Kiri Soares said Preston was nominated, in part, for her commitment to highlighting diverse perspectives. Using student feedback, she implemented an African-centered lens to her social studies curriculum, which staff said led to a 50% increase in Regents Exams scores.

"When you're a teenager and you see yourself in history, it's so incredibly empowering. To be able to read yourself as a part of the world, and as part of a powerful part of world," Soares said.

Preston's parents came from out of town, and joined her grandparents to witness the surprise.

"When she was doing student teaching, she found out very quickly that this inner city school was the type of school she wanted to be in, where she felt like kids may not get all the resources that other kids get," said Dawn Preston, her mother. 

Preston also helped spearhead the AP African American History program at the school, and led an initiative to improve relations and trust between students and the NYPD.

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