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Slippery Rock High special education teacher wins coveted award — and $25,000

Natasha Lindstrom
| Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017, 6:51 p.m.
Slippery Rock High School teacher Melanie Cole was the only teacher statewide to win the 2017 Milken Educator Award, which comes with a $25,000 check. State Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera surprised Cole with the award at the school on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017.
Courtesy of Pennsylvania Department of Education
Slippery Rock High School teacher Melanie Cole was the only teacher statewide to win the 2017 Milken Educator Award, which comes with a $25,000 check. State Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera surprised Cole with the award at the school on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017.

A Slippery Rock High School special education teacher is the only person in Pennsylvania to earn a coveted 2017 Milken Educator Award — a distinction that comes with a $25,000 check, Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera announced Tuesday.

Melanie Cole, transition coordinator and special education teacher at the Butler County school about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh, learned that she won the award and accompanying prize money when Rivera joined students, teachers and administrators in a surprise ceremony.

“Melanie's expertise and dedication as a special education teacher have made a profound impact on the lives of her students, and this award serves as a testament to her character, perseverance and commitment to the teaching profession,” Rivera said in a statement.

Slippery Rock High School Assistant Principal Kristen Czubiak told the Trib that Cole is “a tireless worker — one of the first ones here and one of the last ones to leave.”

Administrators credited Cole with implementing the school's Interscholastic Unified Sports program, which pairs special education students with mentors to participate in track and field, bocce ball or soccer.

Cole also advises the National Honor Society and coaches girls' soccer.

Principal Cory Hake described Cole as an outgoing and motivated teacher who “never says no to a challenge.”

Cole works with a team of teachers on Rocket for Kindness, a way for students to send each other anonymous compliments vetted by the staff.

She also has helped organize the school's annual 5K — galvanizing not only runners to participate but also singers who perform Christmas carols along the course and volunteers to play games with younger children.

“It's always about including as many people as she can,” Hake said.

Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards, praised Cole for “creating a culture of inclusion and understanding all students in her school and community.”

“She's ‘all-in,' and we are excited to witness the impact her vision and can-do attitude will have on the state and the nation as a future leader in special education,” Foley said in a statement.

Since 1987, the California-based Milken Family Foundation has recognized more than 2,700 teachers with the honor.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or on Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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