Former gang member named 2021 Missouri teacher of the year


ST. LOUIS – A physical education teacher at Crestwood Elementary in the Lindbergh School District has been named the 2021 Missouri Teacher of the Year.

Darrion Cockrell is the first male since 2015 to receive the “state’s top education award.”

“As a physical educator, I have the unique opportunity to prepare my students both mentally and physically by teaching them the building blocks of fitness and health,” Cockrell said. “Combining a fun atmosphere with music, fitness and healthy life skills has truly become a recipe for success in my classroom.”

It’s an accomplishment of a lifetime but that’s not what he’s always dreamed of being.

“I always wanted to be a Power Ranger. That’s the first thing I ever remember wanting to be,” he said.

But he is a superhero of sorts to his more than 400 PE students at Crestwood Elementary.

To his students, staff, and Lindbergh families he is known as “Mr. DC.” He has been teaching at Crestwood since 2015 and has implemented the “Crest-Fit” program. It started with students, but “progressed to a weekly after-school workout activity for teachers, and culminated weeks later with parental involvement.”

“Mr. DC is loved by all,” said Dr. Jodi Oliver, Cockrell’s principal from August 2015 through June 2020. “Students look up to him and see him as a facilitator to their learning in physical education and as someone who will guide them to make the best possible personal decisions. He naturally builds relationships by showing his fun and silly demeanor, which makes him such a relatable person.”

“I mean, even to this day; I can’t believe I won this award,” he said.

But that’s far from where his life started.

“I joined a gang before I was 10-years-old,” he said. “Six dudes; 87 Kitchen Crypts Gangsters.”

After being sent to a boys’ home and meeting some instrumental mentors that recognized his knack for sports, his drive, and his ambition, he took a different path.

That would eventually have him shaking hands with the governor and embracing the families whose lives he’s impacted.

Cockrell has also been recognized nationally when he received a 2020 National Box Tops for Education Twilight Award, presented by Grammy-award winning rapper, singer/songwriter, and activist Chance the Rapper.

“I’m happy as a Black man that I won this award because, coming from what I came from, things like that don’t normally happen,” Cockrell said. “I’m glad that I can make other African-American males look good and be a positive role model for all people, not even just in the state of Missouri, but this country.”

These days, he’s a mentor and not just on school days. He opens up the gym so staff and parents can take part in his CrestFit program, building strength while building relationships.

“Everything we do as educators should be in an effort to make connections, build trust, and make sure all students find the success that lives within them,” Cockrell said. “Students are extremely diverse in the way they learn, but all it takes is one person to make sure their educational experience is great!”

Now Cockrell is Missouri’s representative for the National Teacher of the Year program.

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