NCTE and Penguin Random House Award CPS Educator with $10,000 Grant for Trauma-informed Poetry Work - National Council of Teachers of English

NCTE and Penguin Random House Award CPS Educator with $10,000 Grant for Trauma-informed Poetry Work


Press Contact: Natasha Lesser, Hatcher Group,, or Janelle Martin, NCTE,


BALTIMORE, MD (Nov. 23, 2019) – South Loop Elementary School teacher Rick Coppola was awarded the 2019 Maya Angelou Teacher Award for Poetry by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and Penguin Random House (PRH) at the 2019 NCTE Annual Convention in Baltimore, MD. The award, given to a teacher who inspires their students to love poetry, includes a $10,000 grant to fund Coppola’s project, Speak Yo’ Peace Poetry Lounge.

This marks the first time that the Maya Angelou Teacher Award has been jointly awarded by NCTE and PRH. One of the world’s largest publishing houses, PRH is partnering with NCTE to recognize excellence in teaching of literature and literacy, with the belief that teachers are key in instilling a love of reading and poetry in children.

Coppola, a 2019 finalist for Illinois Teacher of the Year and a two-time Golden Apple Teacher of Distinction recipient, has taught English language arts in Chicago Public Schools for 14 years. Over the last six years at South Loop Elementary School, Coppola has implemented a six-week poetry unit culminating in student spoken word performances and accompanying multimodal presentations. He sees the creation of the Speak Yo’ Peace Poetry Lounge as a next step to this work. It will serve as a dedicated, creative space in the school building in which students can engage with, compose, and perform poetry. Community partners will also use the space to provide workshops and supportive services for students facing adversity and/or trauma.

“Along with Penguin Random House, NCTE is delighted to support the creation of a safe space for students to tell their stories and express their truth through poetry,” says Emily Kirkpatrick, NCTE Executive Director. “Combined with the social support services, the Speak Yo’ Peace Poetry Lounge will be a healing space for the whole South Loop Elementary School community.”

The grant funding will also support travel for a four-stop local poetry showcase tour and defray costs of counseling and support services for students.

The award selection committee, comprising teachers and PRH representatives, chose Coppola’s project based on the anticipated effect on the entire school, the focus on trauma and mental health, and Coppola’s demonstrated commitment to his work and students.


The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is the nation’s most comprehensive literacy organization, supporting more than 25,000 teachers across the preK–college spectrum. Through the expertise of its members, NCTE has served at the forefront of every major improvement in the teaching and learning of English and the language arts since 1911.