Friends, Students of Chicago Teacher Say Her $25K Award is Well Deserved

Amid a frenzy of cheering kids, television cameras and gymnasium lights, two teachers at a South Side school stood and watched as a news reporter interviewed their dear friend, a rare sight in any building. 

Watching and waiting, Alicia Jean wiped a small tear from her eye before it trickled to her cheek. Standing beside her was Andrea Little, who clasped her hands tightly, suggesting anxiousness and excitement. They were unmistakably proud. 

“I am so happy for my friend. She truly deserves this,” said Jean, in a voice crackling with emotion. I’m so happy because, as educators, we don’t often get recognition, and she definitely deserves it.”

This energy, this palpable love, was all for their dear friend Comfort Agboola, a reading, language arts and math teacher at Edgar Allen Poe Classical Elementary School in Pullman.

Out of an estimated 135,000 educators in Illinois, Agboola was the only one in the state to receive this year’s $25,000 Milken Educator Award, regarded as the Oscar for teachers. 

“Comfort Agboola provides a welcoming, stimulating learning environment where every student feels seen, heard and valued,” said Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Jane Foley in a statement. 

Chicago Public School CEO Pedro Martinez echoed Foley’s praise:

“I am thrilled to join the Milken Family Foundation and the Illinois State Board of Education in celebrating the incredible work of Comfort Agboola,” said Martinez. “Ms. Agboola’s exceptional efforts to ensure her students receive individualized support exemplify the extraordinary efforts by our educators at Poe and throughout the District.”

A Big Day That Began as a Huge Surprise 

Comfort Agboola accepts her Milken Educator Award

The ceremony to honor Comfort Agboola began as a carefully orchestrated surprise. Initially, students, teachers and staff gathered at the Edgar Allen Poe gym to celebrate the school’s exemplary report card. 

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly was in attendance alongside Martinez and other Illinois State Board of Education and Chicago Public Schools officials. 

Organizers identified Agboola to media members before the event began. They instructed them not to take photos until just before the big announcement.

The program began with a rendition of the Black National Anthem sung by Poe’s United Voice of Chicago School Choir. Then, about 20 minutes into the program, Foley, who traveled from the headquarters of the Milken Family Foundation in Santa Monica, California, was about to unleash the surprise. 

When Agboola’s name was announced, the entire room erupted in cheers and squeals. Her students embraced her, along with Jean and Little, who were right there. Edgar Allen Poe Elementary principal Eric Dockery was among her loudest cheerleaders. He shot bubbles into the air with two bubblemaking devices as Agboola headed toward the front of the room to accept her award. 

At one point, Principal Dockery silenced the audience so that Agboola could call her mom on speaker to tell her about the award. 

After the ceremony, the lady of the hour spoke to The Chicago Defender about the moments leading up to the announcement. Spoiler alert: she had no idea it was going to be her.

“I was thinking about the math lesson that we have coming up. It didn’t dawn on me until I heard my last name,” she said, still shaking her head in disbelief.

Her Approach to Teaching Begins With Her First Name

Comfort Agboola with Congresswoman Robin Kelly

Amid her exhilarating, career-defining moment, Agboola took the time to share where her love for teaching originated. For her, it is all tied to her very identity.

Let’s begin with her first name. Agboola, whose father is Nigerian, was named after her great-grandmother. Comfort isn’t just a moniker; it’s a guiding principle of a passionate educator. 

“It’s really part of my personality — comfort and providing a comfortable place for my students to learn and grow. Embracing that as part of my spirit,” she said. 

Agboola is also the daughter of her educator. At 17, she started out teaching three-year-olds at Mother McAuley little school. An encounter with a non-verbal student is what sealed her ambition to follow in her mother’s footsteps. 

For most of that school year, that student would not speak. But then, she started speaking because I was talking to her consistently, Agboola recalled. 

“And that’s what really pushes me as an educator, having that growth and seeing students really even surprise themselves at what they’re capable of,” she said.

At Poe, Agboola has distinguished herself as a 6-8 grade teacher devoted to lifelong learning and meeting the academic needs of every student she encounters.

“She’s always looking for new and innovative methods to bring to the classroom, each and every day with every class,” said Principal Dockery.

“We talk about personalized learning. She is the queen of that. She knows every student. She knows about their family, she knows about their academic performance, and she’s able to tailor her instruction to meet their needs. That’s her magic,” he said. 

Agboola’s popularity as a teacher was evident among current and former students. They held up signs congratulating her, one bearing her photo and the other the word “Boo!’ in large, bold letters — a term of endearment for their beloved teacher.

They hung around after the event to share their thoughts about her. 

“Miss A has significantly increased my math and ELA skills,” said Poe seventh-grader Daniel Beasley. “She has helped me with a lot of work that I have been struggling with.”

Eighth-grader Evan Smith said, “Miss A is the best teacher I’ve ever had. The first year she was here was my sixth grade year, and ever since, I’ve loved the way she’s taught.”

When asked why she was a good educator, Smith added, “I think it’s her kindness, her passion and just her ethics.”

Along with the $25,000 cash prize, Agboola now has a lifetime membership to the distinguished Milken Educator network. Later this year, she will also be among the 75 Milken honorees nationwide who will be feted at a red-carpet celebration in California.   

Her Friends on What Makes Her Special

Comfort Agboola accepts her Milken Educator Award

As Jean and Little took in the scene of Agboola’s television interview, they shared how they came to know her and why no one is more deserving.

For Jean, her time with Agboola dates back to college and later at another school.

“We’ve had the pleasure of working together at two different schools, and so I have seen her just grow as an educator,” she said. “The love that she has for her students is really unmatched. The amount of time that she puts into her work is just like none other.”

Little, who is her teaching partner at Poe, referred to a recent classroom moment as a testament to Agboola’s prowess. 

“The students just took a test this past week. And as soon as Comfort got the results, she went to the back of her closet, and she got a binder out,” said Little. “It wasn’t a full 24 hours, and she already had the solution to what they needed.”

“She serves the students. She serves the parents. She sends students gifts. She gave them everything they needed to feel a part of the learning community, so that’s what makes her special,” Little said. 

About Post Author


From the Web

Skip to content