WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) – A teacher in Waterbury received a prestigious national award on Thursday morning.

The roar of the “Lion Pride” echoed through the gymnasium as fourth-grade teacher Elaine Hill was presented the Milken Educator Award, which is a national honor presented to about 40 teachers each year. Hill is the only recipient from Connecticut and the honor includes a $25,000 prize.

The surprise of a lifetime brought some of her students to tears.

“I was in shock,” Hill said. “I thought I was dreaming.”

That dream was a reality for the Michael Wallace Middle School teacher. Her work includes a mentoring program, an after-school curriculum for kids to excel, and helping students raise reading and math scores to be among the highest in the district.

“I’m not really sure how this all happened,” Hill said.

You can’t be nominated or apply for the award. The Milken Family Foundation partners with the State Department for this top-secret process.

“They look at their talent pool and our criteria, which is very specific, and then they gather information confidentially on our behalf, never mentioning to anyone that she’s being considered for a national award,” said Dr. Jane Foley, Senior Vice President of Milken Family Foundation.

The foundation considers Hill to be a part of the top 1% of her profession out of three million teachers nationwide.

“It means everything that people are recognizing educators,” Hill said. “I’m just one educator, but all of what we do is so important for our students every day.”

Hill’s students say she has a big impact on them.

“Ms. Hill is just the best teacher and helps us learn a lot of new things,” said Matthew Allas.

Hill says she’ll use some of the money on her students and fellow teachers.