Teaching Profession

Maryland Teacher Wins $1 Million Global Prize

By Madeline Will — November 11, 2021 2 min read
This photo provided by the Varkey Foundation shows Keishia Thorpe. The 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, Nov. 10, 2021, that Thorpe, who teaches at International High School at Langley Park in Prince George’s County in Maryland, was selected from more than 8,000 nominations and applications from 121 countries around the world.
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Keishia Thorpe, an English teacher at an international public school in Maryland, has received a $1 million international teaching award for her work with immigrant students.

The Global Teacher Prize, which is organized by the Varkey Foundation and UNESCO, has recognized one accomplished teacher every year since 2015. Thorpe was chosen from more than 8,000 nominations and applications for the award that came from 121 countries. She is the second teacher from the United States to win the prize.

“This [recognition] 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,” Thorpe said in the virtual award ceremony on Wednesday.

“This is also for every teacher across the globe who shows up every day in the classroom to teach their students and transform their lives,” she continued. “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 possibly be. And this is exactly why teachers will always matter.”

Thorpe, who has been in the classroom for 17 years, teaches 12th graders at the International High School at Langley Park in Bladensburg, Md., which serves English-language learners from immigrant and refugee families. Thorpe has redesigned the school’s English curriculum so that it is culturally relevant for her students, who are mostly from Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and South and Central America. Her English-learners have shown measurable improvements in reading, according to the Varkey Foundation.

Thorpe herself immigrated to the United States as a child from Jamaica.

“The students I teach remind me so much of myself,” Thorpe said in a video produced for the award. “I can relate to their experiences. Their stories are my stories.”

Thorpe walks her students through the college application process and helps them access scholarships. Thorpe received a track-and-field scholarship to attend Howard University, and she and her twin sister have since founded a nonprofit that helps student athletes from impoverished backgrounds access full athletic scholarships to college.

She also founded Food4Change, a nonprofit that assists immigrant families who are experiencing food insecurity.

Thorpe plans to use her prize money to continue her work helping students attend college without debt, according to an interview she did with the Washington Post.

In the video, Thorpe’s students spoke about her impact on their lives. “She’s not just a teacher, she’s an awesome person,” said Silvia Flores, who is one of Thorpe’s advisees.

The 2015 winner of the award was Nancie Atwell, a veteran language arts teacher who founded the Center for Teaching and Learning, a K-8 demonstration school in Edgecombe, Maine. Last year, the prize was awarded to Ranjitsinh Disale, who teaches at an Indian village school and was recognized for transforming the outcomes for young girls in tribal communities.

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