You likely wouldn’t know Brian Copes was named the 2017-2018 LifeChanger of the Year unless you heard the news from someone else. But that’s not a surprise considering he doesn’t work for praise and recognition like that. He loves working with kids, he says, and teaching them how to help others to make a difference in the world. Brian, 50, and his wife, Angel, live in Calera and have three children: Emily, Amy and Brianna Walton. Brian teaches Engineering, Engineering Applications, Foundation of Engineering and Research and Design classes at THS.
What was your reaction to learning you were named LifeChanger of the Year?
I was very honored and humbled to receive such an honor. It was shocking to receive the recognition for this is a national award given to anyone in the school system such as: administrators, teacher, bus drivers, cooks, custodians, etc. To be chosen as LifeChanger is very humbling and rewarding.
What does this award mean for you and your school?
Thompson High School received $5,000 for me being named LifeChanger of the Year.
What projects have you and your students been involved with in recent years?
Wow, there is so much we could list here. Please refer to skyyouth.org and globalsisterschools.com for a complete list of activities that my students have accomplished over the years. Two of our most recent projects are:
- Container Classroom – Upon Alabaster City Schools abstaining from getting involved in the Container Classroom project, Mayor Marty Handlon and the city of Alabaster volunteered to host the project at Limestone Park.
- Solar Suitcase: THS Engineering Academy students designed an inexpensive Solar Suitcase that can reliably operate a laptop and charge cell phones. This provides the school children reliable access to online learning.
What do you feel you and the students have gained from these projects?
My students learn how to apply their knowledge with action. Students who are equipped with both knowledge and ability can change the world. Book knowledge is theory; my students can apply their knowledge and put it into action. My students learn the importance of helping others, their community and their global community.
What are your plans for the new school year?
I am working with top teachers from around the world to create a national school safety summit. This summit will bring in key stakeholders such as former presidents, Hollywood, video game industry, teachers, students, psychologists, etc. to discuss the root cause of why students are acting out in such a violent manner. We hope that if we can identify at-risk kids we can also provide intervention for them. Another project would be the Global Sister Schools. I have met with the vice president of Honduras twice about this and she is interested in making this a nationwide project. In 2014 I escorted 10 of my engineering students to Jutiapa, Honduras. On this trip, the students fit 14 amputees with prosthetic legs they designed and built. They also constructed and delivered two Basic Utility Vehicles that travel from village to village drilling fresh water wells and cultivating fields. In 2016, four teams of Alabaster students returned to Honduras: a team of medical students that volunteered at the Clinic of the Angels, a team that outfitted amputees with prosthetics, a team that set up Water Chlorinators provided by WaterStep and an IT team that brought refurbished computers from THS and installed three computer labs in three schools.
Who are the “life-changers” in your life?
Both my father and my wife. My dad has been a great mentor, biggest cheer and advocate. Without his guidance and support most of the projects that I have done with my students would not have been possible. My wife, Angel … if it wasn’t for her loving support I would not have been able to commit time to working long after-school hours with the students. Angel not only supports me at the home front, but she has gone with me to Honduras, Dubai and Bermuda. She is my rock when things get tough.
What do you love about Shelby County?
I receive so much support from the citizens of Shelby County. I love the community coming together to help teach and mentor my students. I have several individuals and businesses that step up and teach my students their trades. This is remarkable and exposes my students to trades and opportunities beyond the school hours. I enjoy the friendly atmosphere, lifestyle and culture of Shelby County.