From the way Lexington Middle School students cheered for Kimberly Freeman on Tuesday, one might mistake the mild-mannered Latin teacher for a rock star.
In the education world, that’s not too far off. Freeman is the latest recipient of the Milken Educator Award, which aims to recognize early- to mid-career educators for excellence, according to the Milken Family Foundation website. She accepted that award, along with $25,000, in the middle school’s auditorium Tuesday morning.
“This is home – I went to middle school here,” Freeman said. “I learned to love learning here. I learned to recognize the importance of education in this town, in this community.”
Freeman said she never expected to put down roots where she grew up but decided to stick around after marrying a local resident. She now teaches Latin to students in grades 6-8 – school officials credit her with reviving a struggling program. And she designed and teaches a project-based learning course in which students use social media tools to learn about local and global issues.
Though she was the one in the spotlight Tuesday, Freeman praised her students for inspiring her to push on when facing obstacles.
“They remind me that I’m human,” she said. “You can’t teach middle school and not know that. There are a lot of children that walk into our classrooms every day wearing baggage that I can’t imagine as a grown adult. They shake it at the door, and they learn and they laugh and they love, and they do it so beautifully.”
Everett Fowler, 14, is a student in one of Freeman’s classes. He’s working with a group of other students to learn social media strategy, and he says Freeman sets a good example.
“She’s a really good role model,” Fowler said. “She has her own blog that she posts on. During the flooding (in October of last year), she got tons of views on it.”
Molly Spearman, S.C. superintendent of education, praised Lexington Middle’s teachers for their dedication.
“There’s no other job in the world where you can have such an impact on so many young lives every day,” she said.
Freeman is the fourth Midlands educator to win the award since 2008. The most recent recipient was a Dutch Fork Middle School teacher in 2013.
The award launched in 1987, and since that time, the foundation has awarded more than $66 million to teachers across the country, according to the foundation’s website. Educators cannot apply for the award, and the foundation does not accept nominations – each recipient is presented with the award as a surprise.