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Two Pitt State grads win elite national Milken Educator Award

Two Pittsburg State University graduates — Alex Lahasky (Master of Arts in History ’16) and Matt Mayeske (Master of Science in Education ’20) — were awarded the elite national Milken Educator Award for 2023-24 in surprise ceremonies at their schools.

The award comes with a $25,000 cash prize that the teachers can use for any purpose.

Lahasky teaches history to juniors at Blue Valley West High School in Overland Park, and Mayeske teaches history to freshmen and sophomores at Gardner Edgerton High School in Gardner.

Lowell Milken, the award’s namesake, and Kansas Commissioner of Education Randy Watson praised them for their creativity, engagement, innovation, and dynamic approach.

Lahasky: Creativity and engagement

Enter Lahasky’s classroom and it’s easy to see creative ways students are delving into history. He follows the Socratic method, using open-ended questions to stimulate conversation and higher-order inquiry. Activities like a spy simulation during the Cold War unit bring history to life. He uses a flipped classroom approach to address learning targets, with students studying his videos at their own pace.

As a musician, he creates AP U.S. History Mixtapes of his renditions of pop and rap songs that illustrate historical events and meanings they evoke.

Lahasky has seen a nearly 90 percent passing rate on the AP exam based on the scores of more than 150 students during the past five years. His overall test average surpasses the state, national, and global averages. Students earning college credit increased from 60 to 90 percent between students taking the AP exam and those choosing dual enrollment through his partnership with Baker University.

He actively engages with incoming freshmen, introducing them to high school life and instilling the school’s cornerstones — pride, excellence, grit, and family — and serves in leadership roles in his department and school.

He initiated and continues to oversee biweekly meetings for new teachers, equipping them with essential tools for success in their roles. Lahasky also serves as the school’s assistant baseball coach, leveraging his experience as a high school and college athlete to influence and mentor student athletes beyond the classroom.

A graduate of Blue Valley West himself, he said teachers who once inspired him there are now his colleagues.

“I am inspired daily by the teachers that I work with,” he said during the surprise award ceremony at his school. “For every teacher that does get recognized, there are 10 or 20 or 50 behind the scenes that work so hard, and are so talented, that don’t get the recognition. I’m so humbled, and I wish we could recognize more.”

Mayeske: Games and dynamic approach

Also now teaching at the high school he once attended, Mayeske breathes life into world history and geography with a dynamic teaching approach to engage students and position them for success.

His methods include the integration of real-world scenarios and collaborative, inquiry-based instructional practices. He implements a yearlong roleplaying game in which students create a family and participate in simulation activities for each unit.

He orchestrates a French Revolution simulation, and a strategy-style conflict activity modeled after the popular board game Risk, to illustrate World War I diplomacy. In geography, students study interactive maps using GIS technology that allows them to analyze data and trends.

Mayeske has created an inclusive environment that draws students — even those not in his classes — to visit during breaks. He has taken on extracurricular responsibilities, heading a variety of after-school clubs including Diversity Club; Link Crew (a leadership program of upperclassmen who mentor younger students); Geography Club; Table Gaming Club; Anime Club; and the Ping Pong Club.

He also leads the Climate and Culture Committee and actively participates in leading school and district level committees. His influence extends to the playing field, where he coaches track and serves as an announcer for football, soccer, and wrestling.

During the surprise award ceremony at his school, he said he was thankful and grateful for his students and colleagues, and said he wished “every teacher could get an award.”

“I had really good teachers when I was in high school – some still work here – and when I got to college, I decided I wanted to work with people. I thought what better way to give back and be able to provide the same thing that was given to me,” he said.

Referring to his unique teaching style, he said “I’m big on every person in the classroom has to learn. Every person has to be involved. One way I learned is that games matter. History can be great, it can be boring. And I thought ‘Why not make it a game, turn it into something that’s relatable, and try to get every kid excited about it?’.”

About the Milken Educator Awards

The Milken Educator Awards were created in 1987 by philanthropist and education visionary Lowell Milken. The Awards represent the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition program, often hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching.”

Nationally, up to 75 teachers are recognized and along with the financial prize become part of the Milken Educator Network, a growing group of professionals across diverse roles and disciplines working to shape the future of education.

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