FARGO — Leah Juelke, who teaches English to refugee and immigrant students at Fargo South High School in Fargo, recently learned she had been named a Top 10 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize 2020, an honor that brings with it a $1 million award.
On Thursday morning, Dec. 3, Juelke and nine other finalists learned that Ranjitsinh Disale, a teacher in India, was named the winner of the prize, but that wasn't the end of the story.
In his acceptance speech streamed on a YouTube channel early Thursday, Disale said he would honor a pledge he had made earlier to share half the prize money with his fellow Top 10 finalists, meaning each of them, including Juelke, will receive $55,000.
It was the first time in the Global Teacher Prize’s six-year history that the overall winner has shared the prize money with other finalists.
Juelke, who watched Disale's acceptance speech around 5 a.m. Thursday, said she wasn't surprised by his plan to share the prize, as he had included the idea in his biographical information regarding how he would use the prize if he won.
According to Juelke, the Global Teacher Prize organization, which is partnered with The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, selected its top 50 finalists early in 2020 and started unveiling the Top 10 finalists in October, releasing one name each week leading up to Thursday's announcement of a winner.
After the Top 50 finalists were announced last spring, the group started to get to know one another through webinars and seminars, according to Juelke, who said she became good friends with Disale in the process.
Now, she said, the group of 50 have weekly Zoom sessions to discuss topics like education and the COVID-19 pandemic.
"That collaboration is probably one of the best things to come out of this," Juelke said, adding that last summer Disale was a guest speaker at one of her summer school classes, appearing over Zoom.
"He (Disale) is so selfless and such a great example of a giving teacher and a role model," Juelke said.
Had she won the big prize, Juelke said she had planned to use it to set up a foundation or scholarship for refugee and immigrant students in the Fargo area who wanted to someday go to college to become teachers themselves.
She had hopes such a program could eventually extend to students across the state and even though the amount of money she will actually receive is substantially less than $1 million, Juelke said she still intends to put all of it toward that goal.
"That's where it will all go, definitely," Juelke said, adding, "No details have been figured out, but it will eventually go into a scholarship fund and students will be able to apply for that."
Disale was selected the Global Teacher Prize winner out of more than 12,000 nominations and applications from more than 140 countries around the world.
The Global Teacher Prize was set up to recognize one exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession as well as to shine a spotlight on the important role teachers play in society.
On winning this year's prize, Disale said the pandemic has challenged education and the communities it serves in many ways, but added: "In this hard time, teachers are giving their best to make sure every student has access to their birthright of a good education."
He said he was sharing half of the prize money equally among his fellow Top 10 finalists "To support their incredible work. I believe, together, we can change this world because sharing is growing."
Thursday's announcement of the Global Teacher Prize 2020 winner can be viewed here.