Andrew Franz was not expecting national recognition for his efforts in helping students realize their dream of launching a science project into outer space.
But he certainly deserved it for his hard work, vision and professionalism. Even if he didn’t have on his best clothes when he was surprised with the honor.
He was dressed in a polo shirt and khakis for what he thought was to be a routine assembly last Monday afternoon at Hamlin Park School 74.
The assembly turned into something special when a representative from the Milken Family Foundation announced that she had traveled from California to honor the Buffalo teacher and give him $25,000.
Franz is one of two teachers in New York State to win the Milken Educator Award. It is, as a News article stated, described as the “Oscars of Teaching.” Only 45 educators from around the country won the award for 2017-18.
The State Education Department nominated Franz for the award, but only the superintendent and school principal were in on the secret of Franz’s win, which allowed them to get his wife, Rosemary, to the school for the ceremony.
Up to that point the focus had been on the three students Franz guided to their own well-deserved bit of local fame: Gabriella Melendez, Toriana Cornwell and Shaniylah Welch. Back in 2015, the three girls – who called themselves “spud launchers” – were Hamlin Park middle school students.
They started a potato farm project to investigate whether space travel affects a potato’s ability to grow. The project was among the winners of a national science competition sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.
The potatoes orbited for 28 days back in February aboard the International Space Station. Back on earth, Franz continued supporting the girls in their scientific quest, planting three of the out-of-this-world potato plants in his own backyard, where they sprouted.
Franz travels that extra mile for his students. So it was touching and true when he told the assembled students: “You are my children, you know.” He represents countless teachers who believe the same and prove it every day in the time and resources they devote to the job and the genuine love and caring they have for their students.
Gabriella, in ninth grade now, attended the assembly and summed it best: “He didn’t give up on us. That’s exactly why I feel like he deserved this.”
Congratulations to an outstanding teacher.