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Fox Chapel School District’s Mairi Cooper named PA Teacher of the Year

Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan
December18/ 2014

It’s been one week since Mairi Cooper was named Pennsylvania’s 2015 Teacher of the Year during the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Keystone Awards of Excellence program in Hershey. Cooper, an educator in the Fox Chapel Area School District, was one of fifteen finalists who underwent a year long selection process.

“It’s pretty exciting. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet,” Cooper confesses.

Cooper is chairwoman of the Fox Chapel Area High School music department, director of the school’s orchestra and a teacher in the Advanced Placement Music Theory, Orchestra, Piano and World Music classes. She has been with the district for 14 years and her passion for teaching young musicians has been felt far and wide.

“Mairi is a teacher that defies gravity,” says Gene Freeman, Ed.D., Fox Chapel Area School District superintendent. “When you think she has lifted her students to the highest degree, she inspires them to go even higher.”

During last week’s award ceremony, Cooper was introduced to the crowd by Fox Chapel Area High School senior and orchestra member Eli Ziff. His words reflect the admiration shared by many of her students. “I believe Ms. Cooper is nominated for the wrong award,” says Ziff. “Ms. Cooper is not my Teacher of the Year, she is my teacher of a lifetime.”

During her tenure at Fox Chapel Area High School, Cooper has forged a promising new path for the music department. She has crafted innovative curricula, piloted courses and even ensured continuity in musical education throughout the District.

But for Cooper, the best moments of teaching teenagers are the small ones. “There is so much energy and optimism. They challenge me. And people always forget that kids are really funny,” Cooper says. “They also keep me so grounded. When I won, my cell phone started exploding with texts. My students were sending me their congratulations but also complaining that this was keeping me away from them.”

Although Cooper acknowledges the important role that teachers like herself play in the lives of their students, she also knows that kids need more. “It’s not one person who changes any child’s life. It’s a whole school of us,” Cooper says. “If a banker decided to help a family learn how to balance a check book, if a freelance journalist spent two hours a month helping a kid write stories, if every single member of society took two hours to share their knowledge, it would help our children so much.”

Cooper also had high praise for her fellow finalists, especially three other educators from western Pennsylvania including CeCe Kapron who has taught one of the few dance programs in the state at Mt. Lebanon School District for 42 years, James Nagorski of Carlynton School District and James Lucot of Seneca Valley School District. “For me, it’s really important for all of the unsung heroes to get sung,” Cooper says. “This award is really an amalgamation of all the finalists. We’re all in it because we love the kids. That’s what drives teachers every morning.”

Cooper will now go on to become Pennsylvania’s nominee for National Teacher of the Year.

Featured Photo: Mairi Cooper receiving the 2015 PA Teacher of the Year award, Photo courtesy of Fox Chapel Area School District

Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan is a writing mom on the run from Pittsburgh. She is a freelance writer for children and adults and has written for Highlights for Children, Odyssey, Family Fun and more. She hosts workshops for kids and adults and is the author of several self-published books including My Food Notebook.