Position: High School Engineering Academy Teacher
School: Thompson High School
School District: Alabaster City Schools
City, State: Alabaster, Alabama
About the Nominee: Brian Copes was nominated by Cena Davis. Mr. Copes is the epitome of a LifeChanger who has the inborn desire to reach students far beyond the walls of his classroom. His classroom accomplishments are impressive.
In 2008, when he was a teacher at Calera High School, Mr. Copes taught eighth graders to reach far beyond their perceived ability by building basic utility vehicles capable of transporting goods/services in poorer countries. These students went through an amazing transformation, from struggling students to having a desire and thirst to go to school.
Mr. Copes entered these innovative students into a collegiate engineering competition, where they were the only non-collegiate team. His 8th grade students won first place, beating well known colleges and universities. The vehicles they built are now used in Honduras, including an ambulance, farm vehicle plowing fields and school bus. One of the vehicles was outfitted with a water-well drill that travels from village to village drilling life-giving water.
There is much more to the story. Mr. Copes’ students have also developed inexpensive prosthetic legs from automotive parts. The students' prosthetic legs have been refined and are mass producible at $40 each. He has led four teams of students and teachers to the jungles of Honduras, where they have not only delivered the basic utility vehicles, but have fitted twenty amputees with student-created prosthetic legs. In 2014, his students also constructed a hydroelectric power plant to generate electricity for a rural medical clinic.
Recently, Mr. Copes led a group of educators to Honduras to establish a sister school partnership. Education beyond elementary school is unaffordable to the people living in Jutiapa, where wages average $2.50 per day. During the 2013-2014 school year, he raised the necessary funds to add two rooms onto the Cefalu School in Honduras, thus allowing the offering of both middle and high school classes. Currently, 115 students are attending this school. In 2014, he and seven students traveled back to Jutiapa to install solar panels and build a basic utility vehicle that serves as a school bus.
In 2016, Mr. Copes led Information Technology (IT) students from Thompson High School to install computer labs in three different Honduran schools. These labs connected the Jutiapa schools to Alabaster City Schools. Teachers can turn on their web cams and share their lessons. The Earth Science students delivered and set up three water chlorinators. These chlorinators treat local water supplies by creating up to 30,000 gallons of safe drinking water per day. Students trained the Jutiapa community how to set up these chlorinators and use them to test their water sources. Health Science Academy students volunteered in a free medical clinic located at the base of the Cloud Forest. These students trained local Hondurans on basic emergency medical care. Many of the activities on this trip were filmed by students for a documentary that shows the students' life changing work.
The Sister School partnership prepares students to live and work in a twenty-first century global workforce. The project further develops students' hard and soft work skills, giving them a better understanding of cultural awareness and diversity. Most importantly, the students discovered a world outside of themselves and that they can change the world.
This summer, Mr. Copes desires to establish a sister school in "Olvidado," which means “forgotten”. Currently, Olvidado does not have a high school. His students’ goal is to build a small two room cement block building to be used for Olvidado's school.
The innovation and learning that Mr. Copes brings to his instruction is not limited to poorer countries. Other projects include: •development of inexpensive aquatic wheel chairs for special needs students •developing a side-by-side bicycle that allows a handicapped student to ride beside an adult •establishing a high tech green energy competition in Alabama known as Electrathon. Forty teams from four states participate in the Alabama Electrathon.
He has also developed a 501c3 non-profit organization named SKY (Skilled Knowledgeable Youth) to expand STEM programs.
Recently, Mr. Copes was recognized by the Varkley Foundation’s Global Teacher Award as one of the top fifty Teachers in the World. Not only is Mr. Copes a LifeChanger, but he is teaching his students and colleagues how to be LifeChangers, as well. His nominator, Cena, states that they are proud to have recruited him and worked with him, but most importantly, they are proud to call him a friend.