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2021 Prize Winner

Brian Copes

Construction & Manufacturing

Chickasaw High School, AL

“I enjoy leading students not only on the development of their skills but on the discovery of their talents. When knowledge is coupled with skill and ability my students feel that there is no challenge or problem that is too great for them. Not only does this set them up for success after high school but provides them with the confidence and social emotional learning that they need to believe in themselves.”

Brian Copes is in his 25th year of teaching construction and manufacturing at Chickasaw High School in Chickasaw, Alabama. His goal is to inspire students to use their heads, hands, and hearts to build products and improve the lives of others.

Copes credits his shop teachers with providing him a place to develop his skills and showcase his talents when he was in high school. During his senior year, his father went with him to tour a community college’s construction and drafting programs. Copes earned an Associates Degree in Construction and a degree in Vocational Education out of a desire to be a teacher who championed students. Copes also worked to improve the lives of others by doing missionary work across six continents.

Over the years, Copes has won several significant awards including People magazine “Teacher of the Year” in 2012, a Top 50 teacher for the Global Teacher Prize in 2017, and a LifeChanger of the Year in 2018; recognizing the innovative work he has done with students across Alabama and in various countries. Copes and his students have created inexpensive utility vehicles to transport people and goods, and also built a hydroelectric power plant that provides electricity to a medical clinic in Honduras. His class has fit 20 amputees with prosthetic legs invented out of used car parts and converted shipping containers into skilled trades classrooms, providing the community of Belfate, Honduras with an instant vocational school.

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, Copes decided to join the faculty at the school, which was struggling to retain teachers and to support students most in need. The 2020-2021 academic year was also the first that Chickasaw Middle/High School offered the construction and manufacturing curriculum. Copes has already made an immense impact on his students and the community. Students are staged up to earn their National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) core credential.

Through his teaching, students engage in project-based learning by creating prosthetic limbs and solar-powered computer labs for a community in Los Tablones, Honduras that has never had electricity. Several students have already received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for their after school work of manufacturing prosthetic legs for people in developing nations. Once COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, Copes plans to have his students travel to Latin America to fit amputees with prosthetic legs constructed in their classroom.

Many of his students at Chickasaw Middle/High School have struggled with generational poverty and other challenges. To build up students’ strengths and confidence and help them achieve their goals, they have partnered with Dr. Albert Allen, Lord of Crofton of Greater London in creating a manufacturing business called “Life Changer Manufacturing”. Not only do students learn modern additive manufacturing as they use a 3-D printer to create prosthetic legs, but students are paired with adult coaches who have pledged to help them in the starting-up of a business and mentor the students for life. Copes enjoys championing student success. He has implemented signing days and award ceremonies and works with four local media outlets to spotlight classroom achievements.

“As a teacher, I cannot be an expert in all things, therefore I help direct students in discovery as they work cooperatively to find simple solutions to complex problems. My teaching style challenges students to solve real world problems. Impactful learning takes place when students work on projects that would benefit and make the lives of others more productive.”