Picture of a woman talking excitedly with her hands to a classroom of students. A large touchscreen monitor is behind her.

Charlotte Buskill, a 3rd-grade teacher at Newton Parrish Elementary (Owensboro Independent), was the latest Kentucky educator awarded the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award. Raised in a family of educators, Buskill said her growth as an educator is impacted by the community of people around her. Photo courtesy of the Milken Family Foundation, Nov. 10, 2022

With Charlotte Buskill’s mother, great-grandmother and two sisters all educators, she felt she was destined to join the “family business.”

“My whole younger childhood was filled with the love of being in a school building,” she said.

Now in her sixth year as an educator, Buskill has been at Newton Parrish Elementary School (Owensboro Independent) since 2016.

Her ability to ensure the success of every student was recognized by the Milken Family Foundation, which honored her as a Milken Educator Award winner in a surprise ceremony on Nov. 10 at the school.

Buskill said the award is still a shock to her and feels “it’s reflection of me, but also the people that have influenced me and I currently work with.”

An important part of Buskill’s path was her experiences with her teachers early on growing up in Pennsylvania. In kindergarten and 1st grade, Buskill’s mom and educators noticed she had learning difficulties. Her mom knew the signs of dyslexia and became Buskill’s biggest advocate for early intervention. She began to receive tutoring throughout the school year and throughout the summer.

Even though she struggled, Buskill said she has fond memories of the special education teachers that helped her.

“As a young child, I could see how much love was being poured into me,” she said. “Even though it was difficult for me to learn to read, it was always a happy place to me. People were always trying to get me to where I needed to be.”

Buskill also was encouraged by support staff. She vividly remembers her librarian, Mrs. Westmyer, who she saw once a week and instilled a love of literature in her. In high school, Buskill received a scholarship from her and, as a gift, received the first chapter book she had ever read. She still has the book to this day.

“In order to get your first chapter book, you had to read the first page and show you could read it to take it home,” she said. “I remember standing with her, reading it and she gave me the biggest hug and said ‘You get to check it out. You did it.’ That was a big deal for me because I could go into the chapter book section.”

Buskill received learning services from 1st through 5th grade. She said although it doesn’t happen for all students, she was able to stop receiving the services by the time she went to middle school.

“They empowered me to overcome to challenges I faced,” she said. “Just seeing how much they poured into me, I can do the same for a child.”

Buskill said from the time students walk in on day one until they leave on the last day, she wants each of them to have a connection to her.

“I want them to know they are loved and they have someone who is going to cheer for them, no matter what decisions they make in life,” she said. “When you have those connections, the academics come naturally.”

A picture of a woman standing in a school gymnasium holding a small envelope with students crowding around her smiling and laughing.

Charlotte Buskill, Kentucky’s newest Milken Family Foundation National Educator, has taught at Newtown Parrish since 2016. Her colleagues praised her ability to individualize learning to each student’s needs. Photo courtesy of the Milken Family Foundation, Nov. 10, 2022

Buskill landed in western Kentucky because of her husband’s mother, who had taught at Newton Parrish and encouraged her to interview there.

“I knew after being able to meet with everyone that is was an incredibly warm and welcoming and totally student-centered building,” she said.

Buskill and her fellow 3rd-grade teachers work to build connections in the classroom via room transformations. During each unit of study, the students transform their classroom into what they are learning. Past rooms have been themed around farms, frog habitats and escape rooms. The teachers led the initial transformation in the fall, and the students took over in the spring.

Last spring, each 3rd-grade class picked a chapter of the book “Peter Pan.” The students oversaw representing the themes in their chapter and the classes toured each of the rooms to guess which chapter they picked. Buskill said the students really get into the process and can be competitive.

“Their ideas are enormous. They wanted to bring in a pool,” she said. “That learning process is so real for them because they are able to get into the story and bring it to life.”

In addition to connecting with students in the classroom, Buskill sponsors the Student Technology Leadership Program (STLP) after-school club alongside two other teachers.

“Its very student-led. I call myself a facilitator. The students work really hard,” she said.

Students spend the first few weeks learning about the engineering process and how to overcome challenges and work as a team. In the second semester, students come up with a problem, from bullying in the classroom to large-scale issues like global pollution. The students evaluate all the problems and pick the one they believe technology can help solve.

Buskill said students gain confidence in working together, presenting in front of an audience and thinking creatively about problems.

“In the last few years, with the pandemic, we haven’t had those interactions to truly look at those problems and work together,” she said. “Social skills have really suffered and we can grow them through a program like STLP.”

Her teaching methods and dedication to her students led to her selection as one of the Milken Educator Award winners honored during the 2022-2023 school year.

Buskill said when somebody asks her what kind of educator she is, she reflects on the people around her. She is especially grateful to her fellow 3rd-grade teachers.

“I wish they had been able to stand up there with me,” she said. “They push me so hard every day every single day out of anybody I’ve ever worked with. You are who you surround yourself with and I am blessed to be on the same team as them.”