Michael Tapee, educator at Hellstern Middle School in Springdale and recipient of a Milken Educator Award Milken Educator Awards

“Crying is just a thing. You just gotta embrace it. You might as well cry in front of people; it’s fine.” Those words were part of educator Michael Tapee‘s moving acceptance speech at Hellstern Middle School in Springdale, where Tapee teaches math and computer science to sixth- and seventh-graders. Tapee was accepting a Milken Educator Award, which will honor up to 75 recipients during the 2023-24 school year. The award is accompanied by a $25,000 prize.


“This place is incredibly special to me,” he said, after his students and colleagues applauded him as he paused to fight back tears. He gave a special shoutout to his students in Herobotics, a competitive robotics team Tapee co-created to encourage students to pursue STEM projects outside of the classroom. “His growing team regularly qualifies for state competitions and has won several championships,” a press release said.

“Lessons on proportional relationships are shared through video calls with a guest speaker from NASA,” the release added. “Geometric concepts, such as trajectory, are explored through a rocket-building project. Each year, he guides students through designing apartment floor plans and determining the appropriate rent after various composite area calculations, then 3D-printing their designs to take home.” And Tapee’s efforts have paid off; his students’ test scores “often reach a proficiency level of at least 85%,” and students in his classes demonstrate yearly growth on the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test.


What struck us most, though, is the connection Tapee seems to have made with his students, evident in the room at Hellstern this morning when Tapee received the award. “I created the Milken Educator Awards more than three decades ago to say in a public way that greatness in education should be celebrated, recognized and rewarded,” philanthropist Lowell Milken said. “Michael Tapee has not only exceeded academic expectations with his students, but has also instilled in them a deep sense of enthusiasm, curiosity and discovery that they will carry through their journey of learning and life. These skills are crucial to developing the talented STEM leaders our nation needs to compete in a global economy.” (Click here for adorable footage of Milken calling up Tapee’s parents to give them the news.)