Middle school teacher at the head of the class
A Basehor-Linwood Middle School educator has received a statewide Veterans of Foreign Wars award for teaching excellence in the middle school division and will now move on to the national competition later this year.
Marina Cooley, a seventh-grade English teacher and educator of 20-plus years, received word in January that she was selected as recipient of the Kansas Citizenship Educator of the Year award.
"It was a nice surprise," Cooley said. "I was shocked. I'm very honored."
The Basehor Veterans of Foreign Wars organization nominated Cooley as their local representative for the statewide contest. According to a letter from Jim Oberg, Basehor VFW education committee chairman, Cooley exemplifies the characteristics members of his organization have fought for during conflicts overseas.
"Your incorporation of life skills in your curriculum will help students become the good citizens that we all encourage," Oberg wrote in his letter informing Cooley of her victory. "Many of the veterans in our post have fought for the very values that you are teaching."
Cooley, who's spent all but two of her 23 years in education working in the Basehor-Linwood School District, said she blends values such as perseverance and citizenship into her classroom lessons. An example Cooley cited was her class's work on studying Ellis Island in New York.
Cooley's students made a paper quilt displaying their own family's heritage and were given a test similar to the one immigrants take before becoming an American citizen.
"We talk about what it's like to come to America with very little material possessions, work hard and strive for success," Cooley said. "The kids are usually a lot more interested."
Katie Vandervelde, one of Cooley's students, agrees that her teacher's methods keep students interested.
"She makes every activity we do in English class fun," Vandervelde said. "It has been interesting to learn about all our heritage and the immigrants, things we didn't know before."
Middle school principal Mike Boyd, who nominated Cooley to the Basehor VFW, said her unusual lessons give students an interactive perspective into the English language.
"What is important about these units is that the English language is presented, researched, studied and explored in a setting that the students enjoy," Boyd said. "Students are allowed to experience and live the English language instead of sitting in a seat watching. Students become active learners."
Cooley also introduced students to projects such as writing letters to soldiers fighting in the Gulf War, making Valentine's Day cards for veterans and bringing in a Vietnam veteran to speak about his experiences during the war.
Because Cooley won the Kansas award, she will be entered into the national competition later this year.
She will compete against teachers from the 49 other states and if she wins, Cooley will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C., a $1,000 stipend for professional development and another $1,000 for programs at the middle school.