Anthony McKinley, a teacher assistant at Turning Point Academy, has a never-give-up spirit. In 2018, he worked as an Exceptional Children teacher until he sustained a traumatic brain injury that changed his life forever.
"I was told I might not be able to return to the profession I loved. That was hard to hear, but it pushed me even more. I wanted to get back to it," said McKinley. "I didn't allow myself to think I wouldn't return."
Two years later, he returned as a teacher assistant. It was not uneventful. It coincided with the year the district pivoted to full-remote learning due to COVID-19.
"It was not what I expected to happen, but I have learned to take what life gives me and make it work. Whether I am in a physical classroom or not, my job is to make sure the students stay on task, to reinforce the lesson and support my students however I can," said McKinley.
McKinley sees the teacher and teacher assistant relationship as a team effort, especially now, when some students are virtual and others are in person.
The only one surprised about McKinley being named the Northeast Learning Community Teacher Assistant of the Year finalist was McKinley.
"I am here to do my part, so being honored like this never crossed my mind," said McKinley. "The principal and assistant principal acted like they needed to take my photo and then made the announcement. I was overwhelmed, shocked and grateful."
Teacher lead Crystal Johnson sees his contributions daily. She said everything he does is to support students academically, emotionally and behaviorally.
"The student population we serve needs a lot of emotional assistance and guidance on a one-on-one level. Mr. McKinley has encouraged many students, especially our male population, with empowering seminars and group discussions in virtual and in-person settings," said Johnson. "In the classroom, Mr. McKinley assists me with making sure students can maneuver through technology despite whatever academic level they are on. We encourage students to utilize literacy daily during instruction, peer-to-peer and group collaboration. Mr. McKinley is an intricate part of this process and the success of our scholars."
McKinley's work ethic doesn't go unnoticed. Assistant Principal Kristen Lanier said his relationship-building skills are critical to the work they do at the school. Everything he does extends into the community as well. He was an integral part of the school's Literacy Project 2000. It started as a way for students to express what they were going through during COVID-19. It has since expanded to a monthly "Youth Speak Out" talk show via Zoom with a wide range of topics. The most recent was about entrepreneurship.
"When the staff nominated Mr. McKinley, they overwhelmingly shared the following comments: 'Mr. McKinley is a team player, he is willing to help out in any situation, and he continually goes over and beyond to support the students and the team. He is always the first to volunteer for school events. His presence brings laughter and brightens any environment. Mr. McKinley thinks outside the box with ideas to empower students," said Lanier.