International High School at Langley Park

Prince George's County Teacher Wins $1M Global Prize for Work With Immigrant Students

“I thought about how I got here and it’s because of my students, so that’s the first thing I’m thinking about. How do I use this to make them have better lives?” Keishia Thorpe said about winning the prize money. 

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A Prince George's County Public Schools teacher who won an international teaching prize of $1 million dollars was honored by her students and the school system Wednesday.

A video posted on YouTube captured the life-changing moment when English teacher Keishia Thorpe got word that she had won the award. 

“The work that I've been doing over the years is not because I was intentionally thinking that I'm going to win a prize for it,” Thorpe said.

News4 first heard students at International High School at Langley Park sing Thorpe's praises in 2019.

“I feel that she is really important for us in school. She is always trying to make us better than we are,” one of her students said then. 

Thorpe and her sister had just started their track and field foundation, helping immigrant students earn college scholarships. (It was an athletic scholarship that helped Thorpe herself get from Jamaica to America and Howard University.)

Three years later, she’s received the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize for helping students win millions in college scholarships, surpassing efforts of some of the greatest teachers in the world.

“I trusted in God that if this was my moment, he was going to let me shine and it turns out that this was my moment,” Thorpe said. 

Through the annual scholarship and athletic convention that she runs, coaches and admissions teams come together to help disadvantaged student athletes get into college. 

For each of her students, she pauses and gives them a hug. Senior Isatu Bah said Thorpe is like a second mom.

“Anytime I feel lonely or feel upset... I can tell her about my problem and she'll say, ‘Isatu don't give up. I know you can do this,’” she said. 

Comments like that make Thorpe emotional, because as a Jamaican immigrant herself, she’s familiar with her students’ journey. Now, she wants to use the moment and her cash prize to create more opportunities for her immigrant and refugee students.

“I thought about how I got here and it’s because of my students, so that’s the first thing I’m thinking about. How do I use this to make them have better lives?” she said. 

When asked if she’d consider leaving the school and her work now that she’s won the award, Thorpe says leaving the profession is not in the cards for her.

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