South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Hancock High teacher receives surprise of a lifetime with $25,000 Milken award

Photo by Erin Achenbach
Pictured above from left, Missouri Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven, Hancock High School Principal Shelly Vogler, Mark Garascia, Hancock Superintendent Kevin Carl and Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop.

A Hancock High School teacher was awarded one of education’s most prestigious honors, the $25,000 Milken Educator Award, at a surprise school assembly Friday morning featuring guests such as Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Margie Vandeven and state Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton. 

Mark Garascia, an alternative education teacher at Hancock High, was presented the award by Milken Family Foundation Vice President Stephanie Bishop, also a previous Milken award recipient, and Vandeven. He is one of two Milken Educator Award recipients from Missouri this year and is one of more than 60 recipients nationwide. 

Garascia has worked at Hancock High for more than five years, and established the Provide Alternative Ways to Succeed, or PAWS, program, to help students with academic and disciplinary challenges recover credits in order to graduate. The program has a 95 percent attendance rate. 

“This is something that I’ve always wanted to do. … There was a time in my life when I was nearing 30, I was working in the banking industry and just kind of realized that I wasn’t really happy with where I was. I just really wanted to be in a school where I could make a difference and I could do something that I love on a daily basis and Hancock has provided that opportunity to me,” Garascia said after receiving the award. “It’s been so great in so many ways and the biggest thing for me is really the relationships that I’ve built here with administrators, faculty, staff and obviously the students.” 

In addition to PAWS, Garascia is also a varsity soccer coach. 

“Mark Garascia is truly one-of-a-kind when it comes to high school educators,” Bishop said. “He sees the good in every single one of his students and relentlessly motivates them to reach their fullest potential. His strong, steady spirit guides his students to succeed in every area of their lives.” 

Garascia earned his undergraduate degree in social science education in 2007 from St. Louis University and a master’s degree in social science in 2009 from Webster University, and a master’s degree in reading and literacy in 2012 from Benedictine College.

“I am very humbled to be standing here. … I will represent this school and everybody here and I will continue to do my best and make you guys proud,” Garascia said.

Milken Educators are selected early to mid-career for their achievements and what they have yet to achieve. In addition to the unrestricted $25,000 prize and recognition, Garascia will get membership into the National Milken Educator network, a group of more than 2,800 teachers, principals and specialists who have received the award. 

The 2021-22 recipients, including Garascia, will attend the all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles in June, where they will network with new and former award recipients and hear from educational leaders. 

The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987, 35 years ago. Since then, more than $140 million in funding, including $70 million in $25,000 awards, has been dedicated to the initiative. In Missouri alone, $1.3 million has been awarded to over 51 recipients since the state joined the program in 1996. 

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