Rowan County is where Niki Cornett (09) was born, where she spent much of her youth, where she graduated high school, where she graduated college and is where she currently works as a fourth-grade math teacher at McBrayer Elementary School.
Recently that same county gave her one of its highest honors for educators. Cornett was awarded the 2020 Rowan County Chamber Educator of the Year award.
“I was genuinely shocked! While Mr. (Jason) Slone (00, president/CEO of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce) was talking about it, I was scanning the room wondering which of my colleagues would be recognized. I was so excited for them. When he said my name, I couldn’t believe it,” Cornett said. “I was flooded with emotion. I was so thankful. I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband and our boys. It is the best feeling in the world, especially in a year like this, to have your hard work recognized.”
“I want to make a difference! I want students to learn and grow and be successful. But I want them to leave my classroom feeling loved, feeling important and feeling like they matter.”Niki Cornett
Growing up in Morehead, Cornett grew up looking up to her grandmother, a teacher, and always admired educators. After graduating from Rowan County Senior High School in 2001, what she had in admiration she lacked in confidence.
“When I first graduated high school, I had a moment of uncertainty. I wasn’t sure I would be a good teacher. I worked at a daycare and had a parent, Jennifer Stewart, who encouraged me to pursue that goal. She was a teacher and gave me the confidence to enroll in the teaching program.”
When it came time to choose a college, her familiarity with Morehead State University made her decision easy.
“I remember basketball players coming to read to our classes, seeing cheerleaders in the parades, hearing the band play at games and having student-teachers in our classrooms,” Cornett said. “MSU has always been an important part of our community and I knew that I wanted to be an Eagle.”
Cornett earned a bachelor’s degree in P-5 elementary education with a math component in 2009. She later went on to earn a master’s degree as a reading specialist in 2012 from The University of the Cumberlands. Her first job in the field landed her in Bath County, where she taught kindergarten, first and second-grade students for five years. She later took her current position with McBrayer Elementary School, which was a promising and emotional move.
“I wanted to teach in Rowan County. I wanted to be a Viking and I wanted to raise my kids to be Vikings,” she said. “It is so hard to describe the feeling of getting to serve the community that raised you. It’s exciting and emotional, but I was also a little scared because it was a change. There was a bit of fear that I would disappoint those I admired.”
Cornett’s fear of disappointing her hometown students and families appear to be unfounded based on past and recent accolades. Before being named the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Educator of the Year, she was McBrayer Elementary School’s 2016-17 Teacher of the Year. She is currently part of a cohort with the Kentucky Math Teacher Leader Program and serves as an adjunct professor at Kentucky Christian University (KCU), where she teaches math and reading methods classes.
As an MSU alumna, Cornett still feels close ties to her alma mater and even reaches out to some of her former education professors for strategies, resources and advice. As much as MSU, Rowan County Public Schools and the people of Rowan County have poured into her, she pours an equal amount back into its students and families.
“By far, the most fulfilling part is building relationships with students and their families. Seeing students accomplish things they didn’t think they could do and falling in love with learning. Watching students grow and watching education break negative cycles in the lives of our students,” she said.
For more information about MSU’s Volgenau College of Education and its programs, call 606-783-2162 or visit www.moreheadstate.edu/education.