Michael Conn

MILTON — A Milton teacher who inspired a group of his students to raise funds to build a school in Cambodia will receive the 2010 National Liberty Museum Teacher as Hero Award, sponsored by State Farm.

Michael Conn, a teacher of U.S. history and advanced placement history at Milton High School, was nominated by Larissa Luu, a 2009 graduate.

She was one of eight students who raised about $37,000 to build a school in Kampong Cham, Cambodia, which was named The Milton School.

“It was a remarkable experience I’ll never forget,” Conn said of the whole effort. “To show that a group of kids can put their hearts and heads together to accomplish something like this, that’s amazing.”

The project began when Conn shared the experience of his 2007 visit to Cambodia with his students, telling them of the country’s deep poverty and need for education.

The students did “everything imaginable” in terms of fundraising for the effort, Conn said.

That culminated in a December 2008 trip to Cambodia, where the Milton group got to see the school.

The school today, which covers grades seven through nine, has about 300 students “and virtually perfect attendance,” Conn said, except during harvest time when it’s understood the kids will help.

Larissa, now a pre-med student at Susquehanna University, won the 2008 Young Heroes Award from the National Liberty Museum for her leadership in the Cambodian school effort.

Conn had nominated Larissa for the award, saying he was “very moved by her efforts” then.

But when it comes to his own recognition, “I don’t care about the prize,” Conn said. “I’m pleased that Larissa chose to do this because it means it obviously meant a lot to her.”

And that it did.

“He nominated me as a student for same thing, and I actually won,” said Larissa, who just returned from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, where she spent time with others treating the sick. The daughter of Anh and Linda Luu, she is from Montandon.

“(Conn) said the most fantastic things about me, but he was the most inspirational teacher,” Larissa said. “I thought he deserved just as much recognition as me.”

The award recognizes “the outstanding work of dedicated educators who give their best every day to inspire, nurture and mentor the students who are the future of our country,” the museum said in a letter.

Speaking in his classroom — adorned with international flags, inspirational quotes and many mementos from trips and photos of students — Conn said he is honored, if not humbled, to receive the award.

However, he also said he doesn’t consider himself a hero.

“I have some idea of who heroes are,” he said, “but I am proud of what we did over there.”

Luu and Conn’s daughter Paige, herself a teacher at the Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem in New York, will attend the awards ceremony Jan. 27, at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia.

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