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Maryland Teacher And Howard Alum Is The First Black Woman To Win The Prestigious Global Educator Prize

Maryland Teacher And Howard Alum Is The First Black Woman To Win The Prestigious Global Educator Prize

It’s considered the Nobel Prize for teaching!

Keishia Thorpe recently became the first Black woman to win the global educator prize, The Washington Post reports. She was born and raised in Jamaica by her grandmother alongside her identical twin sister, Treisha. The two earned track-and-field scholarships to attend college in the United States. The educator graduated from Howard University in 2003, majoring in pre-law and English. When she first landed in the U.S., Thorpe said she thought she had traveled to “the land of milk and honey.” However, those notions quickly faded when Thorpe began tutoring at night during college at a local D.C. charter school.

“I didn’t understand the American system, and how it works, and how some of the schools were flourishing, and some schools had students who were not making the grade. And so that really had an impact on me,” Thorpe explained.

She eventually gave up on attending law school, deciding to become a teacher instead. In 2018, she began teaching at the International High School at Langley Park in Prince George’s County, Maryland, serving students who mostly come from immigrant or refugee families. There, she became a 12th grade English teacher, charged with redesigning the senior English curriculum to give it “a global perspective and a culturally responsible lens.”

In the 2018-2019 school year, she was able to help college-bound students earn nearly $6.5 million in scholarships to 11 different colleges and universities. Thorpe and her sister also co-founded a nonprofit organization entitled U.S. Elite International Track and Field, which supports athletes from impoverished backgrounds, helping them compete internationally. The organization gives away international scholarships and has helped hundreds of student-athletes attend college without accruing any debt. Thorpe also created an annual scholarship and athletic convention where student-athletes in need can connect with coaches and admission officers to get more information on recruitment and college acceptance.

She was awarded the 2018-2019 National Life Changer of the Year award for her work by National Life Group, a collective of financial services companies who reward educators making a difference in the life of their students. Now, the public school teacher has also been awarded the Global Teacher Prize, worth $1 million, at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

“This is to encourage every little Black boy and girl that looks like me, and every child in the world that feels marginalized and has a story like mine, and felt they never mattered,” Thorpe said during the announcement.

Colleagues and students at her school watched the presentation via Livestream, shouting along with Thorpe and her family when she was announced the winner. 

She was chosen out of more than 8,000 educators from 121 countries, many of whom work in underserved communities. The Global Teacher Prize is the biggest award for educators globally and has been awarded annually since 2015 by the London-based organization Varkey Foundation. The company is the philanthropic arm of GEMS Education, which owns and operates private K-12 schools in partnership with UNESCO in several countries, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The award is given to emphasize the importance of teaching worldwide and is considered the “Nobel” for educators. 



Thorpe plans to use the funds to expand her initiatives and provide more services for immigrant children and families. She is only the second American to be awarded the Global Teacher Prize after Nancie Atwell, founder of the Center for Teaching and Learning in Edgecomb, Maine, in 2015.

Jeremiah Thoronka, a student from Sierra Leone, is the first winner of the new $100,000 sister award to the Global Teacher Prize, which is given to one student who has impacted learning, the lives of their peers, and society. Thoronka invented a device that uses kinetic energy from traffic and pedestrians to generate clean power. He is currently developing plans to expand into the healthcare sector in Sierra Leone, which needs the ability to chill medicines and vaccines and create sufficient light for treating patients after dark.

Congratulations on your achievement!

Photo Courtesy of Bertrand Guay AFP via Getty Images