6:51 p.m. PST January 6, 2016
Ricardo Larios isn’t just one in a million.
He’s one in more than 3 million; 3.6 million to be exact.
Larios was honored Wednesday with the Milken Educator Award as one of America’s top educators, out of the nearly 4 million private and public elementary and secondary school teachers in the country.
Larios teaches at Waldo Middle School in Salem. Though he has worn many hats during his time there, he currently teaches for the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and ProTeen programs for underserved students, and teaches social studies. He has taught social studies specifically for eight years.
Larios was honored with the award at a surprise assembly.
With the award came a particularly special bonus — a $25,000 unrestricted financial prize.
The Milken Educator Award “recognizes exemplary elementary and secondary school teachers, principals, and specialists who are furthering excellence in education,” according to the Milken Family Foundation, which gives the award annually.
Larios is the 77th recipient of the award since Oregon joined the program in 1990, and joins a network of more than 2,600 K-12 educators from across the country. He is the only recipient in Oregon this year.
Larios didn’t appear to have any idea he was the recipient of the award. Throughout the assembly, he clapped and cheered along with the rest of the crowd.
When Jane Foley of the Milken Family Foundation announced his name, he froze. He covered his face briefly with his hands as his colleagues nudged him to go up front to Foley.
Larios, a Salem native and a bilingual educator, is widely known in the Salem community for his ability to connect and directly relate to students and families through his personal experiences growing up in the same area, according to the Milken Family Foundation.
“Mr. Larios is committed to developing the hearts and minds of all students – particularly those who are underrepresented and historically underserved – by teaching students that setbacks in life are merely setups for greatness,” said Waldo Middle School Principal Tricia Nelson in a prepared statement. “He can turn every moment into a lesson and every child into a learner.”
Ricardo was presented with the distinct navy blue envelope by Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards, and Oregon Deputy Superintendent Salam Noor.
“Ricardo is a shining example of what great teaching and learning is all about in Oregon, and I hope that this award reminds everyone just how much excellent teachers can impact our schools and communities,” Noor said in a prepared statement.
Larios, whose parents emigrated from Mexico, is the first in his family to go to college.
His value for education and opportunity, according to the foundation, has been integral in growing the AVID college-readiness program at Waldo. The program, which targets students who are could be the first in their family to go to college, is centered on developing the knowledge and skills students need to be successful in school and in life.
Recipients are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. They do not apply and they are not nominated. Rather, the foundation finds them.
Alternating yearly between elementary and secondary educators, the Milken Awards are sourced through each participating state department of education, which appoints an independent blue ribbon committee to confidentially review candidates for recommendation to the foundation.
Larios said it is important to him that the students are tough and that they know they can do what they set their minds to.
“When I became a teacher, I didn’t really know why,” he said. “But when I got older, I thought, when I die, I want 10,000 people to show up at my funeral and say, ‘That man changed my life.'”