NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A New Haven teacher was surprised with one of the highest honors an educator can receive. Clinton Avenue School social studies teacher Lauren Sepulveda was presented with the Milken Educator Award Tuesday.

Students and staff were there to cheer her on in the surprise ceremony, which included a $25,000 check for Sepulveda.

“We’re looking for someone who’s a leader and will be a leader for decades to come,” said Jane Foley, Senior Vice President of Milken Family Foundation. “It’s not a lifetime achievement award. We know she’s going to do this work far into the future.”

Sepulveda said she tries to be that role model every day. “I just truly love these kids, I can see myself as one of the kids and I want be the adult that I would’ve wanted growing up for them,” she said. “They deserve nothing but the best.”

The award has been called the “Oscars of teachers,” meant to recognize innovators in education.

“We’re looking for people who are unsung heroes,” said Foley, “because they do this work without ever asking for recognition and we want to be there to say your work is so, so important.”

Sepulveda said she’ll use her prize money to keep doing what she loves most. “I’m going to continue to get an education for these kids, it’s gonna go to my student loans so I can keep doing whatever I can to make their lives better,” she said.

With 40 recipients all around the country, Sepulveda is this year’s only Connecticut honoree. “I’m so proud of our school, it’s such a team effort,” she said, “but I know that I’m gonna take this moment and give back, just keep giving back to these amazing kids.”