Ex-Gang Member Wins Teacher of The Year Award in Missouri

After joining a gang in his youth, Darrion Cockrell has managed to turn his life around and excel in his career as a school teacher in his hometown of St. Louis. This week, Cockrell was able to celebrate a huge milestone after being selected by a committee of his peers and partners to become the 2021 Missouri Teacher of the Year. He is the first male educator to receive the award since 2015.

Cockrell has worked as a physical education teacher at Lindbergh Schools’ Crestwood Elementary School since 2015 and is affectionately known as “Mr. DC” to staff, students, and families throughout the school district.

“As a physical educator, I have the unique opportunity to prepare my students both mentally and physically by teaching them the building blocks of fitness and health,” Cockrell said in a press statement released by the state department of education. “Combining a fun atmosphere with music, fitness, and healthy life skills has truly become a recipe for success in my classroom.”

Since the pandemic forced schools to close back in March, Cockrell has been in virtual classrooms helping his students navigate through a difficult time. After being a gang member during his youth, Cockrell is just happy to have found a purpose through teaching and helping other people.

“Just having a job is something I’m so appreciative of because growing up, people didn’t have jobs,” Cockrell said in an interview with Good Morning America. “That’s why when people see me, I’m always happy and laughing and smiling because I get a paycheck every two weeks, and not only do I get to get a paycheck, but I get to get it by doing something that I actually, truly love.”

“Mr. DC is loved by all,” said Dr. Jodi Oliver, Cockrell’s principal from August 2015 to June 2020, in the statement. “Students look up to him and see him as a facilitator to their learning in physical education and as someone who will guide them to make the best possible personal decisions. He naturally builds relationships by showing his fun and silly demeanor, which makes him such a relatable person.”

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