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Tacoma Teacher Wins Milken Educator Award

Courtesy of Milken Family Foundation

A high school social studies teacher in Tacoma was caught off guard when he received a national award for his exceptional work in the classroom.

Nate Gibbs-Bowling was called out in an assembly on Tuesday at Lincoln High School to receive a $25,000 Milken Educator Award.

“It was really overwhelming. I was actually complaining about having an assembly to my students,” Gibbs-Bowling told KUOW’s Lisa Brooks, just a few minutes after he won. The 34-year-old teacher initially thought the assembly was about improving graduation rates. “When I got there and the assembly started, I became very surprised, very quickly.”

The video captures Gibbs-Bowling being congratulated by his students, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, state Representative Jake Fey and Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland before accepting the award from Milken Family Foundation co-founder Mike Milken.

Each year, the foundation hands out up to 40 of these awards, and "Mr. Bowling," as he's known by his students, is the only teacher in Washington to receive the prize this year.

Gibbs-Bowling said he wasn’t exactly sure why he was selected, but he credited his students and fellow educators for the prestigious achievement.

[asset-images[{"caption": "As the students and VIPs like Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland kept applauding, newest Milken Educator Nathan Gibbs-Bowling — still shocked and full of emotion at the honor — took a moment to compose himself.", "fid": "28528", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201404/Nathan-Gibbs-Bowling-emotional-with-Mayor-Marilyn-Strickland.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy of Milken Family Foundation"}]]“I’m part of a teaching team, and I’m able to have really great results with the kids because I work with a dynamic group of young people and I work with a dynamic and committed staff,” he said. “The team allows me to have expectations. The team allows me to hold students more accountable. The team allows me to expect more from students because we’re all in it together.”

Gibbs-Bowling, who teaches Advanced Placement government and politics, said he assigns unique activities, like mock Congress, to get his students interested.

“All seniors in my program are in AP government, whether they want to or not. So we spend a big chunk of our time looking at the institutions of the government,” he said. “We do Supreme Court showdown where the kids select a Supreme Court case and then they have to explain to the other students and prove why their case is the most important case in American history.”

He said he hopes his students learn the importance of being curious and engaged about the world. “I want them to walk away from my classroom passionate about learning and about being a life-long learner,” he said. “It’s dumb to me to basically be as smart as you’re ever going to be when you’re 17 and never get smarter. I want them to be smarter every year going forward and want to pursue intellectual development in life.”

[asset-images[{"caption": "Ebullient students join Senator Patty Murray in a group photo with Nathan Gibbs-Bowling.", "fid": "28529", "style": "placed_left", "uri": "public://201404/Nathan-Gibbs-Bowling-students-and-VIPs.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy of Milken Family Foundation"}]]Gibbs-Bowling, who plans to use the un-restricted $25,000 prize to pay off his student loans, explained he already has his dream job.

“I teach in the city where I grew up. A lot of the students who I have are from the community that I live in,” he said. "I’m doing what I feel like I was born to do. My professional goal is to get better at what I’m doing and to graduate all of my kids on time and to make sure my kids are ready for college.”

Produced for the Web by Akiko Oda.