PORTAGEVILLE - Some honors are big enough that everyone shares in them.
For Portageville, it was the presentation of a Milken Award to elementary art teacher DeLois Booker.
Announced in October by Missouri Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Kent King and Missouri First Lady Lori Holden in an assembly at the Portageville Elementary School, Booker was in Los Angeles Saturday through Monday to officially be honored by the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Awards program. The program included the opportunity to meet other honorees and a $25,000 unrestricted financial award for each recipient.
"It couldn't have happened to a better person," said Sandy Mudd, Portageville Elementary principal, about Booker, who is a 16-year member of the school district's staff. "She represents our school well, speaks highly of public education and highly of children. She is always positive and upbeat and keeps us that way."
Mudd called it an honor for the Portageville School System to have one of its own recognized for excellence in education. "I think it speaks well for the level of teaching we have here," said Mudd. "We've ridden on the excitement of it all year long - the kids, the staff and a lot of people in the community."
Booker wouldn't have it any other way than to share the honor bestowed on her. "One of the best feelings behind this experience has been the genuine support from my colleagues, my family, my students and the community," said Booker. "The support from them is unbelievable."
After all, she continued, these are the people she credits with her success as a teacher and an individual. "I would like to say I thank God first, then my mom, Mary Fonda, and my family, my friends and family here at school, my students and the community. Why if it wasn't for them this would not be possible."
The Milken Conference brought Booker together with current and former award winners along with Michael and Lowell Milken, who are behind the program that encourages excellence in education. According to Booker, there were teachers from every state and even some from overseas.
Admittedly a bit timid about being from a small Midwestern school district, Booker said she soon found herself welcomed. "Everyone was really down to earth. It was almost like an extended family gathering. We were taking pictures, asking questions. I made some life-long friends in a very short time."
She also had the opportunity to attend seminars and learn about other programs available.
Those who know Booker talk about her enthusiasm and high energy level. The conference, she said, was one filled with high energy people.
"Can you imagine hundreds of those people together? A highly energetic meeting of people who love their job?" she said with a laugh.
Booker said the conference helped her discover her school district and her peers are doing a lot right in meeting today's educational challenges. "We do have one of the better systems around - a strong administration in our school, involvement of our parents. I found we are blessed here at Portageville."
Monday evening's award presentation was described by Booker like the "Oscars for teachers." Although anticipating the handshake from Michael Milken, she said he made her feel relaxed. "I just felt such sincerity from him," she said, adding she also took the opportunity to encourage his family's support in disease research for minorities, telling him about her 8-year-old son, Caleb, who has sickle-cell anemia.
Now that she is home, Booker is busy back in her classroom. She is also thinking about how she will spend the $25,000. Of course, some will go to her church and her family; there are student loans for her master's degree she plans to pay off. "And I plan to do something in our school something long term that for years to come will be remembered," she explained.
While always believing in the power of positive role models, Booker said she believes she has an even bigger role to fill.
"Now it makes me feel like I need to live up all the more to that role model image. Students look at you just a little bit differently," she said.
Even without the Milken Award, Booker insisted her career in education has already had its rewards. She encourages others to consider careers in education, too.
"People are starting to take note of the education field and education will be thought of more highly in years to come," insisted Booker. "Anyone who is going into education should realize and recognize that this is a profession, not something you just do. It is a lifelong career and if you have a love of working with children it will give you lifelong rewards - maybe not monetarily but as far as seeing the difference you make in the lives of others."