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Jessica Cooney

Inspiringly Unexpected

When Jessica Cooney began her education career, she says she never dreamed it would turn out the way it has. As an English language acquisition teacher back in 1999, her students were primarily Spanish-speaking.

These days, Jessica is part of the team running the Newcomer Program at Greeley West High School. She helps to not only educate, but also assimilate a much more diverse group of students new to the United States—many of whom were refugees, have never been to school, and speak no English. Jessica also directs El Teatro, a student-led theater troupe in which, she says, 13 different languages are spoken.

Tutoring before and after school, assisting families—it’s all part of the job as she sees it. For students like Adiam Tesfaselassie and Ifra Osman, though, it’s a lifeline: an opportunity where none had previously existed. Their academic accomplishments—and Jessica’s dedication to ensuring their success—led to the Colorado Department of Education’s Office of Language, Culture and Equity naming Jessica the 2014 Colorado Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Educator of the Year.