Former Gang member changed path in life, now awarded Missouri’s Teacher of the Year

Former Gang member changed path in life, now awarded Missouri’s Teacher of the Year

February 2, 2021 by Cathy Stack

Missouri, St. Louis - Darrion Cockrell was awarded the high honor of Missouri’s Teacher of the Year.  He has come far from the troubled kid who joined a gang at the age of 10.  As a child he hated school and was locked in the foster care system.  It was with the care and guidance of special teachers that he was able to overcome all the obstacles he faced.  Darrion is now a beloved physical education teacher at Lindbergh Schools’ Crestwood Elementary whose students affectionately call him, Mr. DC. His determination propelled him to not only become a teacher, but one of the very best. 

“Mr. DC is loved by all,” commented the school’s principal, Dr. Jodi Oliver. She added that his joyful personality is contagious and that he has a unique ability to connect with students. She praised him for being a positive role model and the person students can rely on for guidance. 

What makes Darrion’s teaching so unique is that he understands students are extremely diverse in the way they learn.  He also knows from personal experience that it only takes one person to make a student’s educational experience transformative.  He wants to be that special person for his students in order to pay it forward.   As successful as he is now, he wants people to understand that he didn’t do it alone.  He said that he owes his life to the many teachers who guided him in the right direction toward the path of success.

Darrion recalled growing up thinking that he had no future ahead of him.  He felt destined to end up like his friends, "dead or in jail."  "I was born to a drug-addicted mother who had two of her six kids by the age of 16. My father was murdered when I was 4, and I began my journey in and out of the foster care system not long after my 6th birthday," he recalled.

Darrion credited his caring teachers for making him excited to come to school.  “Those hugs, those high fives, knowing that I would be doing a different sport or activity every day, made all the difference,” he said.  He recalled how his teachers helped create a different world inside of the bleak one he knew.  School became a place he could escape to, where he could simply enjoy life. 

In middle school he stayed in a boy’s home for a time.   It was there that he met an influential educator named Ken who served as a father figure.  Ken taught him the value of discipline.  "He taught me it's okay to be tough, but at the same time it's okay to be compassionate," Darrion recollected.   He now wants to teach his own students the value of empathy and respect.

Another positive turn in Darion’s life came in the 7th grade when the football coach and his wife recognized his potential and decided to adopt him.. Their encouragement led to him finishing high school and later graduating from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Darrion also credits Maureen Huneke, his supportive school counselor, with helping him reach his full potential.  He fondly reflected back on how she would motivate, engage and encourage her students to value education.  Maureen recognized the potential in young Darrion and vigorously pursued every resource to put him in the right situations that allowed him to thrive.  Maureen sent a touching message to her former student which brought him to tears.  She said that being part of his journey was the highlight of her teaching career and that she was incredibly proud of him.

Darrion believes that we all have the power to change the trajectory of another person’s life.  “All it takes is one person, one interaction, one kind word to make the world a better place,” he said with conviction.

Pass It On and The Foundation for a Better Life is also impressed with Darrion’s fierce determination to overcome the odds.  With the help of special teachers, he transcended his life circumstances and awakened to new opportunities.  He worked hard and transformed his life into one filled with hope and a brighter future.  He perfectly represents the value of second chances. Please help us celebrate, Darrion Cockrell as ‘Missouri’s Teacher of the Year' by sharing this hero's inspiring story.

Watch video here: https://youtu.be/6F4etON2YvY

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Your Comments
Donna FD from Prescott Valley, AZ JUNE 11, 2022
Never stop working to improve! Awesome job!

Susan Tenorio from Sac., Ca. JUNE 10, 2022
That is such a wonderful story+so true! Kindness+empathy can make such a difference in one's life. I appreciate that story!.

Anissa from Georgia JUNE 10, 2022
Anyone can change given the chance. Good for him!

Lynise from Hilo, Hawai'i  JUNE 9, 2022
Thank you, Darrion for giving children the reality of life and the direction to go. God Bless you and keep planting those positive seeds of life.

betty ciesla from baltimore mad.  JUNE 9, 2022
Dear Darrion, No one ever know what destiny has intended for them . You have shown that your miracle can happen. With the influence of just a few , you have become the individual who can influence many. Your life is fulfilled

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