Ocean County Educator Receives Award At Red Carpet Event

Jackson teacher Shaina Brenner (far right) poses with other educators who won awards from the Milken Family Foundation. (Photo courtesy The Milken Family Foundation)

  JACKSON – A township educator felt like she was accepting an Oscar when she walked a recent red-carpet gala in California receiving the Milken Educator Award and $25,000 in cash.

  Shaina Brenner, who teaches second grade at Elms Elementary School, received the award and check from Lowell and Mike Milken as the New Jersey 2022 Milken Educator Award recipient at a special gathering in Santa Monica, Ca.

  Thanks to Brenner, Elms Elementary School is a greener place as she helped lead the school’s Green Team, and through that role, spearheaded a new school-wide recycling initiative, acquiring recycling bins for every classroom and creating signage to show which materials can and cannot be recycled.

  She put in place a school-wide food share program, and each week she brings unopened, unwanted food to a local food pantry and a local equine rescue. The Green Team conducts classroom energy and recycling audits, leads school-wide energy contests, and helps maintain the school’s 500-gallon aquaponic garden and outdoor sensory garden.

  Brenner also helped rewrite the district’s second grade curriculum, adding green topics to it, including ocean pollution, beach erosion, and the importance of pollinators. Due in part to environmental projects, the U.S. Department of Education named Elms Elementary a National Green Ribbon School on Earth Day 2022, the only New Jersey school to receive the honor and the first in the county.

  “The Milken Educator Awards red carpet event was nothing short of amazing, and of all the red carpets in our country, I think it’s the most important. The Milken Family Foundation, including Lowell Milken, Mike Milken, and their impeccable staff, were exceptionally gracious and welcoming. I not only got to meet the other 2022 Milken Educators; I also had the pleasure of spending time with veteran Milken Educators,” Brenner told The Jackson Times.

  She added, “throughout the three-day forum I participated in workshops, roundtable discussions, panels, and presentations. I made lasting connections with Milken Educators from around the country and look forward to collaborating with them in the near future. Many of us shared similar stories of being completely stunned at our Milken Educator notifications.”

  Brenner said, “every single educator I met during the forum was inspirational and shared the same unwavering passion for education and unrelenting dedication to students as me. I am truly honored to be a member of the national Milken Educator Network.”

  “I think the powerful connections I’ve made will have an important impact on my ability to help more educators and ultimately more students. The Milken Family Foundation believes that the future belongs to the educated, and so they go to great lengths to honor and celebrate outstanding educators across the country,” she added.

  Last month, Elms Elementary was awarded a $10,000 grant from Sustainable Jersey for Schools to fund Brenner’s plan for an Outdoor Environmental Learning Center and Garden.

Jackson teacher Shaina Brenner and her fiancé Jose Santiago smile for the cameras on the red carpet during a gala event in Santa Monica, Ca. (Photo courtesy The Milken Family Foundation)

  “I had the pleasure of speaking at the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Grant Award Ceremony on March 9 and accepted the grant for the construction of the facility at the school. My goal is to create a pollinator and vegetable garden complete with birdhouses and nesting areas for insects,” she said. “The site will serve as an observation and education hub for our school, district, and community, allowing us to be an advocate for pollinators. Ultimately, I would love for our learning center and garden to be a model for other schools on a national level. Our state is so very lucky to have Sustainable Jersey For Schools.”

  Brenner noted the program continues “to champion the way for districts, schools, and municipalities in terms of sustainability.”

  Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, New Jersey Acting Commissioner of Education, said, “the Department congratulates Ms. Brenner on this outstanding career achievement. Her zest for teaching and understanding of the learning needs of each child is a gift to her students and an inspiration to fellow educators.”

  For the past three years, 70% of Brenner’s class ended the year reading above grade level, with 90% showing mastery of state math standards. She was named Educator of the Year twice during her seven years of teaching.

  This year she entered her school’s head custodian Doreen Merritt, into the Cintas Custodian of the Year Contest and Tennant Custodians Are Key Contest, securing the head custodian a finalist position in both national contests.