WINTERPORT — Third grade Leroy H. Smith School teacher Hillary Hoyt won a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for work that made her stand out as an educator.

The Milken Family Foundation award is given to early or mid-career educators for their impressive achievements and the promise of future accomplishments, according to the organization’s website. A total of $70 million has been issued through more than 2,800 awards.

The foundation holds a surprise assembly-style ceremony at the recipient’s school with students and faculty to announce the winner. When Hoyt heard her name announced at the April 12 ceremony, she she said, “I was completely shocked.

“I had no idea it was going to happen but it was such an exciting time! I got to share the excitement with all of the staff and the students at my school. It was just a really, it was a golden moment, one of those that you’re never going to forget as an educator.”

Teachers are selected through a process involving a panel appointed by the Maine Department of Education, she said. The panel recommends a teacher that the Milken Family Foundation than gets final approval over.

She is still unsure how she will spend the money, she said. The funds are not restricted in any way, recipients are allowed to spend it however they want.

The Frankfort native said she could not imagine working at any other school. It is a place where teachers help each other with how to teach children. Many of Hoyt’s teachers growing up inspired her to become the educator she is today.

When Hoyt was a young child she had a severe speech impediment, she said. Her third grade teacher showed her that with patience she could learn how to read.

Her fourth grade teacher reminded her of the Magic School Bus character, Ms. Frizzle, and got her excited about learning. She had a high school teacher who had high expectations of her but gave a lot of the support that was needed to achieve those goals.

“I think I really draw a lot on those teachers who made a really huge impact on me to show how I want to be for my kids,” she said. “I want to be all those teachers that made me aspire to be a teacher, I want to be that for my students.”

Some of the creative ways she inspires her students is by dressing up according to the lesson plan for the day, she said. She will dress up as a dinosaur to get kids excited about archeology, she will dress up in a weather suit to teach students about the weather and she will dress up as an FBI detective, giving students badges with their names on them. The children enjoy the theatrics and fellow educators support those efforts.

Hoyt was the Waldo County teacher of the year in 2021 and through that achievement was able to network with other educators about their teaching successes, she said. She tries to bring new ideas that she thinks will be successful back to her students.

She is also a mentor and enjoys helping other teachers grow their passion, she said. The pandemic gave her opportunities to learn new ways to teach lessons. She conducted a science lesson on The Learning Space through Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

The broadcast lesson meant she had to learn how to record video, but developing the ability to learn new skills has helped her with things that came after, she said. She encourages all teachers to be themselves, be passionate and not fear trying something new.

“As teachers we like to have a lot of the answers, but it’s also really important to learn along the way with our students and take on those challenges, take on those risks,” she said, “because they really do pay off and you get to see how it impacts your teaching and your students in positive ways.”