Anchorage gym teacher receives $25,000 national award

Jenna White, a physical education teacher in Anchorage, received a national Milken Educator Award at a surprise ceremony Friday and with it, a check for $25,000.

"I'm in complete and utter shock," White said after the event at Orion Elementary School.

The awards, distributed since 1985, have been likened to Oscars for educators. Each year, the Milken Family Foundation of Santa Monica, California, presents about 100 of them to teachers and administrators across the country based on various criteria including leadership, educational talent and accomplishments beyond the classroom.

White is the ninth teacher in the Anchorage School District to have received the award since 2000, according to a statement from the district.

Heather Mildon, principal at Orion, commended White Friday for her work incorporating staff and parents into the students' activities. At the school on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, White has introduced military children -- some who have never before experienced a long, cold winter -- to cross-country skiing and ice skating, Mildon said.

"She's really committed to helping all of us just live happy, healthy lives every day," she said.

White said she moved to Anchorage in 2008 after after earning her bachelor's and master's degrees in physical education from universities in her home state of Arkansas. For a year, she worked as a traveling physical education teacher in ASD before taking her current position at Orion.


White has made physical education fun at the school by transforming the gym into an obstacle course and adding a climbing wall, said a statement from ASD. She incorporates themes like the Olympics and the Iditarod into her lessons and maintains five sets of data for all of her students so she can evaluate their progress. White also created an annual 26-mile bicycle ride for fifth-graders and a basketball game that pits sixth-graders against the school staff, the statement said.

White said her favorite thing about working as a PE teacher is interacting with the students.

"They make every day worthwhile," she said. "They teach me something every day. They make me laugh every day."

When asked what she plans to do with the $25,000, White laughed and said she has "no idea."

"A lot of people are hitting me up to take them out to dinner," she said.

She said her students have also shared a few ideas on how to spend the check. One said she should purchase a new truck, another said a new bunny. But her favorite suggestion, she said, was that she should go buy Santa Claus.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.