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‘I had no clue.’ Kelsey Cooper totally surprised by her Milken Educator Award

MADISON – Kelsey Cooper, recent recipient of the Milken Educator Award, experienced the surprise of a lifetime on Dec. 4 at Discovery Middle School.

Like other teachers and the students, Cooper was in the gym for a different award presentation. Dr. Ed Nichols, Superintendent of Madison City Schools, ‘supposedly’ had called an assembly to give Discovery its commendation from the Niche firm as the number-one public middle school in Alabama.

“I was sitting with my ‘Algebra 2 with Stats’ students. I was in complete shock,” Copper said about hearing her name announced.

Following Milken’s policy, no one in Madison knew – except Discovery Principal Jamie Hill and Nichols – that a Madison teacher was going to receive the honor. “I did not apply for anything. I had no clue, and I have yet to find out how Milken knew about me,” Cooper said.

In fact, Cooper was not even familiar with the Milken award. “I had never heard of it before. I understood the significance after (the Milken representative’s) presentation” at Discovery, Cooper said.

Cooper adheres to an educational philosophy that stems from one major component:  relationships. She suggests guidelines for other teachers . . . the standards that she follows each day at Discovery:

* “Get to know your kids.”

* “Set expectations and have procedures in place so that students know those expectations.”

* “All students can learn.”

* “Students need support and an adult in their corner, and their future is theirs to go get.”

* “I would not classify myself as ‘strict.’ I would say I am ‘fair,’ but I follow through.”

* “Consequences are needed to learn and grow, but grace in certain situations can teach us more than consequences in the end.”

In recent months, Cooper has used small groups to reinforce new ideas. “I pull small groups based on standards and formative assessments to make sure students understand the concepts and are comfortable,” she said.

“I provide real-world math problems that push students to extend their knowledge past the classroom. I also provide a classroom where every student feels safe so that they can take risks,” Cooper said.

“Relationships are key. You have to know your students before you teach them anything,” she said.

Cooper has expressed gratitude to the Milken employees. “Education is a job that you normally do not get recognized if you do your job. This award has inspired me to keep pushing through — even on the hard days,” she said.

“Whoever took the time to do this to honor me, I want to personally thank. This has changed my life, and I will continue to give back and change the lives of others because of this (award),” Cooper said.

In other honors, Cooper was selected “2001 Teacher of the Year” at Discovery. She is a National Board Certified Teacher. Cooper teaches Math 8 Accelerated, AVID and Algebra 2 with Trigonometry. She sponsors Fellowship of Christian Athletes and First Priority.

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