Reciting the pledge of allegiance alongside her students, Clover Avenue Elementary School Teacher Jackie Bonilla had no idea she was the guest of honor for an assembly. Neither did the students.
The ruse was well-played by the school's principal and staff. LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy and more than a dozen invited guests were all supposedly there to celebrate the school's national Blue Ribbon Award. But they were actually there to watch a special second-grade teacher receive quite a surprise.
Jackie Bonilla is the latest local teacher to receive the Milken Educator Award, presented by Lowell Milken. The national honor has been called the "Oscar of teaching." It comes with a $25,000 check. The recognition brought Bonilla to tears.
"Teaching is truly my passion," said Bonilla. "I don't look at it as a job. I absolutely love it. It's a true, true privilege to do what I do every day."
Last year 97 percent of the students in Bonilla's class scored proficient or above in math in the California Standards Tests, and 87 percent in English language arts, an impressive accomplishment considering the school's students speak some 30 different languages at home.
"She really gets it. She makes it motivating for the children to learn, she makes it cool to learn," said Clover Principal Sharon Fabian.
"She does lots of math with us and she reads lots of books," said student Elizabeth Foreman.
"She does it in a way that she makes it fun so we want to do it," said student Kenna McConnachie.
Some of the past Milken Award winners have left the classroom to help improve education on a national level. But Jackie Bonilla says she hopes to never leave the classroom setting. And Bonilla says that $25,000 will go back to the school and to her classroom.