Howard County teacher Mabrooka Chaudhry came to the United States 25 years ago as a 9-year-old immigrant from Pakistan who spoke no English.
Yesterday, she and Kiara Delle Hargrove, a 33-year-old chemistry teacher at Polytechnic Institute, learned that they each had won a $25,000 Milken National Educator award.
Chaudhry, 34, a history teacher at Atholton High School in Columbia, said she exemplified the American dream.
"My father told me to do whatever I want as long as I help others," said Chaudhry, who attended public schools in Howard and Baltimore counties and has degrees from University of Maryland, Baltimore County and University of Maryland, College Park.
Chaudhry and Hargrove were surprised with news of the honor yesterday during separate schoolwide assemblies.
At Poly, Hargrove ran a half-lap around the school's gymnasium, high-fiving random students like a Price Is Right contestant.
"This award is really dedicated to the alumni, teachers, faculty - those who laid the foundation here at Poly for me," said Hargrove, who teaches ninth- and 10th- graders. "Many of them are still here."
State schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, who attended both assemblies, said the award is prestigious. "It is almost the Academy Awards celebration for teachers," she said at Atholton.
The women are among about 80 teachers nationwide to be recognized this year, and will receive their cash awards in March at the Milken National Education Conference in Los Angeles. Recipients are chosen on recommendations from panels appointed by each state's department of education.
Criteria include: effective instructional practices and student learning results; accomplishments outside the classroom that provide models of excellence for the profession; long-range potential for professional and policy leadership; and an inspiring presence that motivates and impacts students, colleagues and the community.
"I love what I do," said Chaudhry, who teaches U.S. history and History of World Religions at Atholton High, where she has worked for her entire 10 years of teaching. "I love doing this for a living. I love kids."
During the 2005-2006 school year, 100 percent of Chaudhry's students earned at least a 3 on the Advanced Placement American Government exam.
Hargrove chairs Poly's improvement team, which recommends changes to administrators to enhance student learning. More than 90 percent of Hargrove's students earned at least a B in Chemistry II and Organic Chemistry. She is also the adviser to the cheerleading squad.
"I got into the classroom, and it just came so natural," said Hargrove, who grew up in Mount Washington and graduated from Morgan State University with a chemistry degree in 1996.
Lowell Milken, a Forbes List philanthropist, came up with the National Educator award in response to a lack of recognition for teachers.
"I believe that teachers and principals have the most important job in society," he said. "We entrust them with the enormous responsibility of preparing our young people with the skills, knowledge and experience needed to be successful."
The awards are being announced through the Milken Family Foundation's 21st National Notifications Tour. This school year, secondary school educators will be awarded up to $2 million in cash. By the end of the year, the foundation over the life of the program will have presented more than 2,300 educators more than $58 million.
Previous recipients have used the money to sponsor their students, put a down payment on a house or buy a car, according to Jana Rausch, spokeswoman for the foundation.
Hargrove, a mother of two, said that she plans to devote a good portion of her winnings to her kids' college fund.
Chaudhry plans to use the money to help pay for the liberal arts master's degree program at Loyola College of Maryland that she started this fall. "This will help," she said.