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Darrion Cockrell wins Missouri’s Teacher of the Year Award

Darrion Cockrell, a former gang member, was able to turn his life around with help from his mentors and former educators.

Darrion Cockrell Darrion Cockrell

Darrion Cockrell, a former Crip member, has been named Missouri’s Teacher of the Year — the state’s highest honor for educators. He was chosen by a committee of peers and educational partners from Missouri, becoming the 52nd person to receive the honor, and the first male since 2015 to capture the state’s top award.

“I started from the bottom,” Cockrell said in his recognition speech. “Six-deuce-87 Kitchen Crip gangster, yep. Your 2021 Teacher of the Year used to be in a gang.”

Cockrell — the child of “a drug-addicted mother” and a father who was killed when he was four years old — was in and out of the foster care system and eventually became a gang member. In his speech, he shouted out the special people who helped to steer him down the right path when he was going off track.

He thanked his former mentor Ken who provided him with life advice while he lived in a boys group home. “He taught me it’s OK to be tough, but at the same time, it’s OK to be compassionate,” Cockrell said. “He was like a father figure to me.”

The teacher — affectionately known as “DC” — also expressed his gratitude for the football coach that adopted him when he was in the 7th grade and helped to change his whole perspective on life. “When I changed the way I looked at things, the things around me started to change,” he said. “I had a lot of struggles and a lot of hurdles, and if not for those educators, I would not be here today.”

Now, Cockrell hopes to make an impact on the students at Lindbergh Schools’ Crestwood Elementary in St. Louis, where he’s been teaching physical education since 2015. Among his manys accomplishments at the school is his implementation of the “Crest-Fit” training program for teachers, students and parents.

Missouri is fortunate to have so many high-quality educators, and Darrion will be a wonderful representative as our state’s Teacher of the Year,” Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said in a statement. “He guides his students towards long-term physical and mental wellness, and the connections he has established will impact Crestwood children for years to come.”

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