A US-based English teacher has won a $1m global teaching prize in recognition of her work to help low-income immigrant students access college education. Keishia Thorpe, a teacher at International High School Langley Park, Maryland, was selected from more than 8,000 nominations across 121 countries to win the 2021 Global Teacher Prize, the largest award of its kind.
“As a young girl coming from the circumstances that I come from, I would never have thought that something like this ever happened to me… I'm speechless, I'm overjoyed. I'm amazed," she said, on hearing she had won the prize.
Thorpe, who was born in Jamaica, escaped poverty and violence thanks to an athletics scholarship that took her to the United States. There, despite experiencing racism and discrimination as a black immigrant student, she graduated top of her class.
Struck by how non-white learners were underrepresented in the public school system and their schools under-resourced, Thorpe decided to train as a teacher and act as a mentor for low-income students to help them get to college.
At her school in Maryland, she has redesigned the 12th-grade curriculum to make it culturally relevant to her students, a mix of first-generation immigrants and refugees who have English as a second language, resulting in vastly improved reading and test scores.
In addition to serving with several teaching unions and advocacy movements, Thorpe runs a nonprofit offering at-risk student athletes access to college scholarships. She is the founder of the Hope Beyond Distance Foundation and Food4Change, providing support to immigrant students and their families.
“I want to be able to use this platform to gain a seat at the table to advocate at the highest level for my students because they deserve, every student deserves, the right to an education," Thorpe said. "I want to be that personal champion for them.”
The Global Teacher Prize was launched in 2015 by the UK-based Varkey Foundation, the charity run by the family behind the GEMS Education company. Its aim is to reward “an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession”.