Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key was on hand to make the announcement and was joined by members of the state board of education, several legislators, Pine Bluff School District Administrators and others.

“I want to congratulate Ms. Thomas on being named a Milken Educator,” Key said. “Not only are her contributions to her students and fellow educators outstanding, her efforts to promote art awareness and education extend beyond school walls and into the community. Ms. Thomas demonstrates the need for students to embrace art education in an effort to be well-rounded and prepared for life beyond high school. I congratulate Ms. Thomas on achieving this honor — one of the highest available for teachers — and look forward to seeing her future accomplishments.”

Thomas received a Bachelor of Science in art education in 2012 from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and has been teaching for eight years.

Greg Gallagher, who is the Milken Family Foundation Senior Program Director helped to build up the suspense before Thomas’ name was announced, explaining that recipients of the award will attend an all-expense paid Milken Educator Forum in March, and receive a $25,000 prize, which has no restrictions on how the money can he used.

Asked what she planned to do with the money, Thomas said she would “put it in her savings account and then make some adult decisions.”

“Through art, Shalisha Thomas helps her students activate their senses, expand their imaginations, think critically and assert their voices,” Gallagher said. “These skills are critical to preparing young people for success in school and in life. I commend Shalisha on the richness she brings to her students’ lives and look forward to her contributions to the national Milken Educator Network.”

According to information from the Pine Bluff School District, Thomas partnered with the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas last year to display a collection of student work that “rivaled exhibits in big cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Thomas worked tirelessly with her pupils to make sure the works on display were of the highest quality. Students discussed their work and shared their inspirations in a gallery walk and presentation based on what those professional artists do at their exhibits. Thomas’ students will always remember the pride and positive self-esteem they felt as peers, families and community viewed their art.”

Unlike other teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Award is one that teachers can not apply for and do not know if they are under consideration. Recipients are selected in the early to middle parts of their careers based on what they have already achieved and the promise of what they can accomplish in the future.