An Anchorage teacher was given a $25,000 national education award Thursday morning, becoming the only Alaskan this year to receive one.

Eagle River High School history teacher Valerie Baalerud was surprised with the Milken Award at a school assembly Thursday morning. Alaska’s education commissioner, Michael Johnson, had been set to deliver a speech at the school as a cover for the announcement.

Johnson said in a statement Thursday that Baalerud "demonstrates the high level of talent and dedication that creates the environment where students learn and thrive."

"As an Advanced Placement teacher, Valerie builds a learning community where she enthusiastically engages, helps, and inspires students and finds ways for them to succeed," Johnson said. "Her well-deserved honor reflects on all of our teachers and on the importance of having highly effective, dynamic educators in every classroom as we provide an excellent education for every student every day.”

Speaking moments after she received the award, Baalerud said her success was the result of a team effort by the school's faculty and students.

"There are amazing things happening at Eagle River, and I’m so proud to be a part of that," Baalerud said.

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Baalerud, who received one of 44 U.S. Milken Awards this year honoring excellence in education, is the 70th Alaskan recipient and the 13th in Anchorage.

A citation issued Thursday by the Milken Family Foundation celebrated Baalerud's achievements as chair of her school's history department. She has also coached flag football and track, as well as its Model United Nations and drama, debate and forensics programs.

"Valerie Baalerud treats her students like historians, demanding rigorous thought and analysis, emphasizing primary source texts and historical photographs, and helping them connect the dots between historical events and current approaches to geopolitical issues," foundation officials wrote. "She goes out of her way to infuse character education into her curriculum, harnessing students’ curiosity, exposing them to different points of view and challenging them to advocate for their beliefs."

In 2016, Chester Valley Elementary School’s Paul Campbell, a first-grade teacher, received the award during a similar surprise assembly.

Scott Gross and Rick Rysso contributed information to this story.

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