NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A New Haven teacher was surprised with the Milken Educator of the Year Award at a school ceremony Wednesday morning.

Alyssa Basso, a STEM teacher at the John S. Martinez Sea and Sky STEM Magnet School in New Haven, also received a check for $25,000.

Milken Educator officials said that the award is described as the Oscar of the education world. It recognizes outstanding teachers and highlights their impact on students.

“The Milken Educator Award provides public recognition and financial awards to what we believe is the top 1% in the profession,” said Jane Foley, the senior vice president for the Milken Educator Award.

Unlike other award ceremonies, organizers said no one is nominated for the award. Instead, a committee selects one teacher who has made a difference in their students’ lives.

“We have certain criteria, and Alyssa exemplifies that criteria,” Foley said. “Engaging practices, innovative practices, that’s what’s happening in her classroom, and her students are gaining because of her instruction.” 

To keep the ceremony a surprise, students and staff were told they were being honored for the school’s perfect attendance record.

“I’m not going to lie, I think I put my head down in my lap and started balling,” Basso said.

The tears were flowing because Basso said teaching is a life-long dream come true for her.

“I always try to tell the kids, you know, ‘You have to live your dream, you have to work hard, it’s worth it just keep going, keep pushing, keep trying,'” Basso said.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker also praised her.

“Getting this award, it shows just how important the work is and the passion that our teachers have for our kids,” he said.

The next step for Basso is an all-expense-paid trip to Los Angeles to receive her $25,000 check.

Basso will be making the trip in June 2024, where she will meet and network with the other 74 award recipients.