Not everyone stays in their hometown, but for Miah Cooper, doing so gave her the opportunity to succeed and inspire others.
As one of the few African American teachers born and raised in Bay City who returned home to teach, Cooper said she believes it is her responsibility to serve as a role model for her students. During Black History Month in February, the achievements of African Americans such as Cooper are recognized.
Cooper, a Bay City Central High School and Saginaw Valley State University alumna, has been teaching at Cramer Junior High School in Essexville since graduating from SVSU’s College of Education in 2018. Her teaching, volleyball coaching and mentorship won regional attention in 2019, as the NAACP Bay City Branch honored her with a community service award for her outstanding teaching.
Darold Newton, president of the NAACP Bay City Branch, said Cooper also earned the Roxie McCullough Financial Assistance Fund in 2013. The $1,000 award is given out annually to four Bay County high school graduates who exemplify high academic achievement and commitment to community service, Newton said. Cooper also previously won an NAACP’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship in high school.
“We required a written essay about Dr. Martin Luther King for both scholarships about what she hoped to use King’s philosophy for in her future, and she nailed that,” Newton said. “She does exemplify and exude the qualities of Dr. King and his dream.”
Cooper credits these scholarships for her ability to live on campus as a freshman.
“The local NAACP played a huge role in allowing me to stay on campus at Saginaw Valley when I first began school,” she said.
As a young professional, Cooper continues to capture attention. She received the Bay City NAACP’s Outstanding Community Service award for her teaching during the NAACP’s Freedom Fund Banquet in November 2019.
Jeff Dinauer, Cramer Junior High School principal, said the recognition was well-deserved.
“Ms. Cooper has been an outstanding addition to the Essexville-Hampton family,” he said. “She is dedicated to her profession, builds positive relationships with students and is willing to be part of the community. Our school district is very fortunate to have Ms. Cooper educating our students.
Newton said the NAACP was happy to recognize Cooper for “doing great things” in her hometown.
“A lot of people don’t stay in their hometowns because of economics, and where their career path takes them usually leads them away from their hometown,” he said. “But she is one that was able to come back, gain employment, and do great things for the area. We’re proud of her.”
Craig Douglas, who served as the SVSU College of Education dean when Cooper attended SVSU, said Cooper deserves recognition for her work as an educator.
“Miah Cooper knew what she wanted the first time I met her,” he said. “She wanted to become a world-class teacher. Her drive was relentless, and I recall a passionate essay Miah wrote about her pride in SVSU. She will have a terrific impact upon her students and teaching colleagues now and long into the future.”
Cooper, now in her second year as a sixth-grade English teacher, said getting a “quick start” to her career after graduating college has been one of her proudest accomplishments.
“The first year as a teacher is scary and hectic and exhausting, so getting through that is definitely at the top of my list,” she said.
Dinauer said Cooper has excelled since beginning her teaching career.
“Ms. Cooper’s ability to create relationships with students has been very impressive,” he said. “From day one, she has made every student feel welcomed in her classroom. Due to those positive relationships, Ms. Cooper’s classroom is inviting and conducive to learning.”
Newton echoed Dinauer’s sentiments, stating that he is proud of her work as a teacher.
“She is using her platform to inspire others and do great things, which is the whole premise of our NAACP goals and objectives,” he said. “One of them is education and empowerment, and she’s covered both by teaching.”
Cooper, who bought her first home last year, said she is proud to live in the Bay area. She said it was important to her to stay in the area since her family is still local.
“They mean the world to me, and being close to them is something that has always been important to me,” she said.
She said she hopes her students “look for reasons to stay before they start piling up a list of reasons to leave” the Great Lakes Bay Region.
“The winter sucks the life out of me every year,” she said. “But, of course, that’s not something we can change. I just wish people had a greater appreciation for the region. Sometimes, it’s hard to know there’s a great big world out there, and I’m here, but I don’t think you always need to leave your hometown to experience the world.”
Newton also said he believes it is vital to keep talented individuals in the Bay area. He said he is thankful locals such as Cooper stay in the region to teach and educate students about the positive aspects of the region.
“What she’s doing in terms of mentoring, teaching and coaching youth in the area - you can’t get any better than that,” he said. “She’s impacting and empowering them on so many levels, which includes team work and education. It’s a wonderful thing she’s doing with the youth, inspiring their greatness.”
Using her platform, Cooper said she hopes to teach her students the importance of diversity and community service.
“I think in the city that I live in and teach in, it’s important to use myself as a means of representation,” she said. “There are so many ways to be involved in your community than you realize.”