Innovative Cobb Schools Educators Win First Place National Voya Unsung Heroes Award

Photo credit: Ralph Basui Watkins

Cooper Middle School science teacher Carol Mickus knows making the transition from elementary to middle school is tough for most students, so she developed a way to help ease kids into the change, and now, her program has won a national award.  Mickus’ “Moving Into Middle School Through A Science Portal” snagged the top prize of $27,000 in the national 2016 Voya Unsung Heroes awards competition.

Photo credit: Ralph Basui Watkins

“This is for you guys,” Mickus told an auditorium of students during a special assembly at Cooper Middle. “You’re teaching me how to grow.  The sooner I get you (in my classroom) the more I get back.”

Voya executives surprised Mickus during the assembly by bringing her onstage to receive the $2,000 prize she already knew she had received.

“What I want to tell you is you are actually our national first place winner!  You have won $25,000 for a total of $27,000,” said John Reilly, Voya Senior Sales, Operations and Business Development Executive, as students began cheering.

Mickus shares the prize with trhee others Cobb County School District educators at both Cooper Middle and Clarkdale Elementary, including Vanessa Watkins, Cooper Middle School Principal; Liss Maynard, Clarkdale Elementary Scjpp; Principal; and Mechelle Weddington, a Clarkdale Elementary School Fifth Grade Teacher.

Photo credit: Ralph Basui Watkins

“About four years ago, we began a collaboration with Clarkdale Elementary, right in our backyard, where the high performing fifth gradestudents would come over to our school about two days a week to receive 6th grade math instruction,” said Principal Watkins.

On average, 150 Clarkdale Elmentary fifth graders took math and science at Cooper each year, which gave them insight into what to expect in middle school, and for some, the program reduces their stress levels when they begin sixth grade.

“If I hadn’t done those things (middle school math and science) with Ms. Mickus, I would have been a little more shy” said Donovan Miller, a seventh graders who began taking classes with Mickus while in fifth grade at Clarkdale Elementary.

Photo credit: Ralph Basui Watkins

The program not only helps the students academically, but socially and emotionally, too. It bridges the gap between elementary and middle school.

“The kids, they struggle. Middle school is mean. The kids they have a hard time,” said Mickus. “They’re coming from being these cute little kids in elementary, they the transition to middle.”

Voya (formerly ING) received 1300 applications for the Unsung Heroes Award and gave 100 of the $2,000 grants to schools across the country, which made the CCSD educators also eligible for the top prize.

To learn more about this year’s winning projects, as well as those from previous years, visit the Voya Unsung Heroes website. Applications for the 2017 Voya Unsung Heroes Awards are currently being accepted through the website until April 30, 2017.