UNION CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The assembly at Union City High School started off like many others, with a color guard and the Pledge of Allegiance. But a few minutes in, it was clear this gathering was different, an elaborate ruse to present one teacher with an honor that’s described as “the Academy Award of teaching.”

Kimberly Moreno was surprised Tuesday with the prestigious Milken Educator Award, CBS2’s Elise Finch reported.

“It’s definitely a combination of both honor — because I’m so happy to be recognized in my profession — and just shock and awe,” Moreno said of winning the award.

Moreno teaches anatomy, physiology and other health science courses as part of a partnership with Rutgers University.

The goal is to get high school students interested in health care careers.

Her dedication to her students is what won her the honor.

“She’s the most passionate teacher I’ve ever came across in my 12 years of schooling,” said student Aleah Perez.

“She opens herself up during her free periods to always work with the students,” said Union City High School Principal Ryan Lewis.

The Milken Educator Award provides public recognition and a $25,000 check to teachers, principals and specialists who demonstrate excellence in education. Forty educators nationwide will receive the award this year.

People can’t apply for the awards. Their work must attract the committee’s attention, even if they haven’t been teaching that long.

“We are looking for individuals who are early- to mid-career who have distinguished themselves, but have the potential to do so much more,” said Lowell Milken of the Milken Family Foundation.

“I want to prepare my students for the college world,” said Moreno. “I want them to be prepared for their life after college. So to do that, I need to make sure they understand all of my content as well as understand what I’m asking of them, so I am available. I will answer emails at 9 o’clock at night.”

The Montclair State University grad, who has been teaching for seven years, is currently pursuing her Ph.D. She said the $25,000 will help pay for it.