Delco science teacher surprised with prestigious award — and $25,000

Marple Newtown High School science teacher Elizabeth Landes, fourth from the left, poses with school board members.
Photo credit Hadas Kuznits / KYW Newsradio
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — A Delaware County teacher received an important award Thursday morning. She had no idea it was coming.

"This is absolutely the biggest gold star I’ve ever gotten as a teacher," said Marple Newtown High School science teacher Elizabeth Landes. "I mean, I don’t know if there’s a bigger gold star. This an incredible honor."

Landes received the prestigious Milken Educator Award during a surprise school-wide assembly.

"I was shocked," said Landes. "It was surprising. It's a very nice surprise."

Science teacher #ElizabethLandes @marplenewtown receives “Oscars of teaching” #MilkenAward and $25,000 more soon @KYWNewsradio WATCH:

— Hadas Kuznits (@hadaskuznits) October 3, 2019

Dr. Jane Foley, with the Milken Family Foundation, says the award is often referred to as the Oscars of teaching.

"We believe this is given to educators who are the elite of their profession," Foley said.

She says about 40 teachers typically receive a Milken award each year. And this year, only one is in Pennsylvania.

Joe Downs, a 10th grader who was a student of Landes’ in honors 9th grade biology, was in the gym when her name was called and she was given a $25,000 check.

"Well, before they called her name, actually, I was thinking, 'Mrs. Landes deserves this,' " Downs said.

Landes says all she’s ever wanted to do is teach.

"Like, in first grade, I thought I wanted to be a first grade teacher. And then in second grade, I thought I wanted to be a second grade teacher. And like, all through my life, every time I progressed a grade level, I was sure that’s what I wanted to teach," she said.

While Landes' teaching is award winning, 11th grader Amanda Ly says it’s the connections she builds in the classroom that inspire her students to learn.

"I love her so much, and I’m so happy for her," Ly said.

Both students explain what makes her a special teacher.

"It’s so important to her that her student gets the content," Downs said.

"It’s like a safe haven for us (in the classroom)," said Ly.

"When she cares, she shows that effort, and you want to give that effort back," he said.

"Like, you’re not afraid to ask questions," she said.

"You’re in it together. When you pass, you’re so happy, but she’s happy with you," he said.

Asked how she plan to spend the no-strings-attached award, Landes said, "I have no idea right now. I’m going to have to think about that. This is all just a big surprise,"