Ms. Cox, a teacher at the Blackstone Elementary School, is our recipient of the 2021 Betsy A. Nelson Educator of the Year Award. Ms. Cox is recognized for her outstanding use of community partnerships in the classroom.

Last week, we were proud to present Ms. Kurshan Cox, Blackstone Elementary School teacher, with our 2021 Educator of the Year Award. Ms. Cox receives this recognition for creatively integrating five volunteer mentors into her online classroom in order to provide additional support to students during this challenging school year.

An educator at Blackstone Elementary for five years, Ms. Cox spent her first three years as a paraprofessional and is now rounding out her second school year as a lead teacher. Ms. Cox has continued to look for ways to provide students with more individualized attention, and she is adept at understanding how to identify students who would benefit the most from the additional support. She believes that mentors have been the perfect addition to her first-grade classroom.

“The kids really appreciate that one-on-one help,” says Ms. Cox. “Hearing them say they’re happy with getting extra help is a memorable moment for me. I’m only one person and I can’t split myself in several different ways – so for the students who need that extra academic support or motivation right then and there, someone is able to step in and give it to them.”

“As a teacher, knowing that you have someone else who also has your back supporting the kids, I think it’s just wonderful” – Ms. Cox, first-grade BPS teacher

Despite only meeting her mentors over Zoom this year, Ms. Cox received multiple nominations for the Educator of the Year Award from volunteers who raved about her relationship-building skills and ability to make them feel like a member of her classroom.

“Ms. Cox promotes the right mentees and gives these kids a chance,” said Kara Merry, a mentor in her online classroom. “She prepares mentors for what they have to face and is very helpful. She goes above and beyond teaching kids and working with mentors. She has taught me so much.”

How has Ms. Cox managed to build such strong connections from a distance? She says communication and compassion are key. “For building relationships with mentors, I just check in with them. I’ll ask, is there anything that I can explain more? Is there anything that you’re struggling with? Any other additional materials that I can give you to work with the student?”

It’s clear Ms. Cox does more than check in – she provides feedback and offers support so everyone benefits from the partnership. “Giving mentors feedback and checking in with their concerns is good for building a relationship. So they know that they’re doing a good job – they need that feedback as well.”

Ms. Cox has seen what one-on-one attention can do for a student – even in just a one-hour session – and she encourages other teachers to embrace academic mentoring as a resource.

“As teachers, we like to think that we’re superhumans, but we can’t do it all,” she explains. “Teaching is not just a one-person job. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and in school it’s the same thing. It affects the whole community. It’s not just individual effort, it’s a community of educators and a community of people coming together to shape and teach the kids.”