A Grassy Creek Elementary School teacher’s life changed Tuesday morning when she was chosen as the recipient of a $25,000 education award.

Angela Fowler, a fourth-grade math teacher with seven years of experience in education, learned of the surprise award during what she thought was a school-wide assembly focused on the importance of reading. Instead, officials from the Indiana Department of Education and Santa Monica, California-based Milken Family Foundation revealed the award amount through five number cards before revealing Fowler’s name in front of an auditorium full of her fellow teachers and hundreds of students.

The award, called “Oscars of Teaching,” comes from the Santa Monica, California-based Milken Family Foundation. The foundation, founded in 1982, has a secret process to determine who some of the best educators are in each state, with the winner receiving the $25,000 prize to be spent on whatever they desire. Fowler will also be flown to Los Angeles to meet fellow winners from around the United States.

The award is given to not educators who are not only innovative in the classroom but who have a positive impact on the community outside of school, said Jane Foley, the 1994 Indiana winner who now serves as the senior vice president for Milken Family Foundation and Milken Educator Awards. Foley served as a teacher for 17 years and a principal for seven years in Valparaiso.

“The educators who receive the award have already done a lot, but it gives you the feeling ‘I need to do more,’” Foley said. “It’s a national recognition so you feel like ‘I need to continue to earn it.’ The next day (after I won the award) felt like an epiphany. I’ve been doing a lot but I want to do more, and my inner voice tells me every day, every month, every year I want to continue to make my contribution to education.”

Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner, IDOE Director of Leadership and Innovation Rebecca Estes and previous Indiana Milken winners joined Foley in presenting Fowler with the award.

In a press release about the nomination foundation, leaders say Fowler uses unique strategies to help students understand number patterns and find different ways to solve problems. School data shows her work had paid off, last year her student’s fluency with math concepts grew from 8% mastery to 54% mastery by the end of the school year.

Fowler also serves on Grassy Creek’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) team, leads the school’s math professional learning community (PLC) and has delivered professional development and workshops on how students learn mathematical concepts. She also prioritizes relationships with parents and promotes the inclusion of students with disabilities, foundation officials said.

Along with her work in the classroom, Fowler has helped raise thousands of dollars for Riley Children’s Hospital through the school’s “Riley Week” and started a local chapter of the Girls on the Run club, meant to build female student’s self-confidence through physical activity and social and emotional development, foundation officials said.

Fowler said she was surprised by and grateful for the award.

“It’s about helping kids fall in love with math and their relationship with numbers, because we all know those jobs out there in the world are so open right now,” Fowler said. “I feel like all Indiana teachers deserve to be recognized, but this is beyond recognition, this is something that will mold me into the next stage of my life.”

Clark-Pleasant Superintendent Patrick Spray said Fowler’s impact on students is evident.

“Miss Fowler is a shining example of what our teachers can accomplish each day and the profound impact they have on students and communities,” Spray said. “The Milken Award is reserved as a very prestigious award for educators across the United States and we are very proud that one of our teachers was honored by this award.”

The award helps give important recognition to teachers who are often overlooked, Jenner said during the event.

“They called us all here to celebrate the impact teachers have on you. They love and care about you more than you could ever know,” Jenner said to the students before turning to Fowler. “We’re so thankful for your leadership and so proud of you.”

Over the past 35 years, more than $140 million in funding, including more than $73 million in individual awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers, according to the foundation.