Camelot’s Vaux surprised with Milken Educator Award, $25K


BROOKINGS – “Can we get a drumroll, please?” asked Tiffany Sanderson, secretary of education for the state of South Dakota.

It was the moment of truth. In front of a packed gymnasium at Camelot Intermediate School – full of area legislators, staff representatives from state legislators, school board members, students, teachers, other staff members and a video crew – everyone was about to find out which teacher would be receiving the Milken Educator Award.

That teacher was Camelot fifth-grade teacher Camrin Vaux, and her award comes with a $25,000 prize.

Started in 1982 by the Milken Family Foundation, the Milken Educator Award does not accept nominations. It seeks out award winners through a confidential selection process and reviewed by blue ribbon panels in each state to find exceptional educators across the country. The award has been coined “the Oscars of teaching.”

“You don’t find us, we find you,” said Greg Gallagher, the senior program director for the award, who traveled in from Santa Monica, California, to surprise the award winner.

More than 60 educators were selected this year, two of which were from South Dakota. The last time a Brookings School District educator won the award was in 2003.

Gallagher explained that the winner of the award gets an all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles for the Milken Educator Award Forum. The winner would also receive one other thing, Gallagher said.

“The teacher is going to receive a financial award,” Gallagher said. “Can anybody tell me what a financial award is?”

“Money,” said Breanne, a student at Camelot.

“She’s right – do you want to know how much?” Gallagher asked the students.

A resounding “YES” came from the students of Camelot.

Gallagher had a few students hold up cards with the numbers 2 – 5 – 0 – 0 on them. 

“Now how much is that?” Gallagher asked. 

“$2,500,” said Liam, another student at Camelot.

“That’s right. So Liam, I think this is one of the best teachers in the country, so I think they deserve more than that,” Gallagher said, who was then met with oohs and awes from the students in the crowd after another “0” card was given to the students to hold up.

“Liam, do you know how much that is?”

“$25,000,” Liam said.

“$25,000, and the teacher can use that money any way he or she chooses,” Gallagher explained. “At the Milken Family Foundation, we wish we could come to your school to give the Milken Educator Award to all the educators who’ve helped you, but we found an educator to represent your school, your state, and the entire country.

“You want to know who it is?” Gallagher asked the students. 


“This year’s Milken Educator Award goes to – Mrs. Camrin Vaux,” Sanderson said.

The students, staff, legislators and everyone else in attendance erupted in applause as a stunned Vaux approached the podium.

“Mrs. Vaux, congratulations, and thank you for all the work that you do to impact students’ lives every day,” Sanderson said.

“(Teaching) is what I’ve always wanted to do – I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, and I always knew that I wanted to spend my life around kids,” Vaux said. “That’s what is important to me. When you know what you are passionate about, whether its teaching or anything, make sure you put your all into it. That’s all I ask – that’s all we hope for you.”

According to a press release, Vaux leads Camelot’s fifth-grade team, mentors new teachers, and serves on building and district continuous improvement committees, as well as the principal’s advisory committee. At Camelot, Vaux has her students design their own experiments, conduct research, document their findings with videos and photos, and compile the resulting data into compelling presentations. Last year, Vaux’s students researched the effectiveness of mask mandates and shared their research at a city council meeting, impressing elected officials and community members.

“Camrin Vaux goes above and beyond to make science accessible to each of her students, crafting lessons that meet their individual needs,” Gallagher said. “Her drive to innovate STEM education at Camelot contributes to the success of students and colleagues alike. We are proud to congratulate and welcome Camrin into the national Milken Educator Network.”

On top of her work at Camelot, Vaux is also active in the community, directing a local volleyball club, teaching Sunday school at her church, and is also a member of the Brookings Fire Department Auxiliary. She is also Camelot’s staff wellness coordinator, organizing group exercise classes, wellness lectures and an annual 5K and 10K race. Vaux also raised more than $70,000 to equip a staff workout room on campus. Her efforts have saved the district considerable money on its health insurance premiums, much of which has been returned to staff members as bonuses.

“Camrin is deeply invested in the success and health of her students, colleagues and community,” Sanderson said. “She ensures her classroom instruction is engaging and challenging for students, helps her colleagues to live active lives, and supports the Brookings Fire Department as a member of the axillary. Excellent teachers are excellent role models. Mrs. Vaux sets high standards through her service and profession.”

The other South Dakota teacher who won the award was Nichole Bowman, math teacher at Pierre T.F. Riggs High School. 

Contact Addison DeHaven at