Nevada’s Cooper receives state teaching honor

Ronna LawlessStaff Writer
Nevada’s Cooper receives state teaching honor

There are more than 34,000 teachers in Iowa, and last week an exceptional educator from Nevada High School was awarded the top honor from the Iowa State Education Association.

Kevin Cooper, an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at NHS, was awarded the 2016 Excellence in Education Award at the professional organization’s annual banquet May 3.

This isn’t Cooper’s first experience with awards from the ISEA, but it’s his first time receiving the first-place honor. He was a finalist for the award in 2003 and a runner-up in 2010; he said he is “honored and excited” to win the award this year.

One of the reasons the award is so meaningful to Cooper is because it’s based on nominations from other people — co-workers, students, parents and community members.

“Kevin received an unprecedented number of nominations from students, colleagues and administrators all praising his dedication, tireless advocacy and his strong work ethic, which translates to those in his classroom,” said Tammy Wawro, president of the ISEA.

As an agriculture teacher, Cooper’s classroom is geared toward helping his students grow in every aspect of their daily lives. As Nevada’s FFA advisor, Cooper works long hours during the year and into the summer with special projects, class trips and other opportunities that build confidence and leadership skills in his students.

Those who know Cooper, know that one of his favorite words is “opportunity.” In Cooper’s eyes, every experience is genuinely an opportunity of some type, and he instills this in his students

“Whether it is applying to be an Iowa State Fair Grandstand usher or entering a project in the FFA convention, Kevin encourages his students to make the most of their potential,” Wawro said. “He works with his students to understand that anything is possible as long as they set their minds to a task and work hard.”

“By networking with the community, demonstrating student success and leadership development, additional donations and support creates a stream of income for funding the FFA chapter and many parts of our ag education programs,” Cooper said in his acceptance speech. “Does this level of activity require extra time? You bet.”

Cooper got a standing ovation for his acceptance speech at the banquet. The speech is available in its entirety on the Journal website.

It’s common for Cooper to log 10- to 16-hour days, often working with students during the evenings and on weekends. “And my program does not stop with the end of the school year. We go right through the summer with FFA career development events, and one of our strongest areas, the rebuilt and restored tractor projects,” he said.

Affectionately known as “Cooper” or “Coop,” Iowa’s teacher of the year points to one of the major ways the extra hours and hard work has paid off.

“This year we just moved into an expanded ag mechanics lab and welding facility, and a new 32-foot by 75-foot commercial greenhouse,” he said. “The entire project totaled $1.1 million. This is a tremendous resource for students, school and community.”

Cooper credits his success to growing up in an environment of “expectations and being on task.” From an early age, he was surrounded by a multitude of educational opportunities. His family’s farm in rural Tama County gave him a “tremendous appreciation for hard work.” He said farm life gave him an appreciation for “machines, animal production, plant growth, insects, ponds, streams, fish, trapping, prairie and forestry.”

Cooper has quite a list of things that added to his education as he grew up. “My 4-H club, Toledo Wide Awakes and the project work,” Cooper said. “Cattle, hogs, gardening, small engines, crop production, livestock judging, and getting ready for county and the big show, Iowa State Fair. And if this was not enough, we had newspapers, magazines, and trips to the library for books.”

“This early childhood environment was filled with expectations and provided me with well-grounded work ethic,” Cooper said. “And, I have to say it was healthy. Today, young children should be provided at a young age with as much educational opportunity as possible. We need to support early childhood education and nutrition, so all children can have exciting and healthy environments.”

Cooper started teaching in Nevada in 1988 and for 12 years was in a shared position with Colo-Nesco. Over those years, Cooper made an impact on the lives of many young people.

“From Mr. Cooper we learned that without learning nothing progresses, that any new idea, no matter the size, was valuable, and that we could learn from any situation,” said former student Eric Henry, now of Ames. “I learned the importance of learning from Mr. Cooper.”

Cooper believes in the old adage that if you want to make yourself better, you should help others improve. “Teaching is about making choices to put your time and energy to make students’ lives better,” he said. “It’s about giving your life to others, like so many other humanitarian roles.”

The award came with a $1,000 cash prize. As the 2016 winner, Cooper will be the ISEA’s nominee for the 2017 National Education Association’s awards for excellence, which includes an all-expense paid trip to the NEA’s gala next spring.

“Showcasing how educators go above and beyond to help shape the lives of the students they teach is what this award is all about,” Wawro said.