Starkville High School head teacher Cynthia Milons looks through work materials in her office. Milons was recently selected for recognition by former student and current Ole Miss football standout A.J. Brown through the Extra Yard for Teachers initiative. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
November 20, 2017 9:41:19 AM
For Cynthia Milons, one of teaching's greatest honors is knowing she's made a difference in someone's life.
Recently, she received confirmation of that when her former student A.J. Brown selected her to receive national recognition through the Extra Yard for Teachers initiative, through which Starkville High School will receive a $10,000 grant. Brown is a former SHS football standout and currently plays football at Ole Miss.
Milons is Starkville High School's head teacher, which means she helps with supporting other teachers at the school. She's in her first year at that position, but came to Starkville High School in 2009 to teach English. During that time, she taught Brown, who she said was a "good kid" and always eager to participate in her lessons.
The Southeastern Conference, of which both Mississippi State University and Ole Miss are members, works with the College Football Playoff Foundation for the Extra Yard for Teachers initiative. Through the initiative, the conference has $150,000 to distribute among its 14 member institutions. Each school can select a student athlete, who in turn selects a teacher who made an impact on them.
The selected teacher is recognized on the "SEC Nation" broadcast, and the SEC awards its school a grant through www.donorschoose.org. DonorsChoose is a website that allows individuals or groups to donate what they wish to various education projects.
Milons said she learned about her selection a few weeks ago, when Brown attempted to reach her in the middle of the day.
"He FaceTimed me in the middle of school, and I was like 'Why is A.J. calling me?'" Milons said. "I was busy at the time, so I called him back later after school."
Milons said Brown told her about the award, and that he'd immediately thought of her when asked to pick a teacher. She said she was thrilled to learn of the selection.
"It's a great feeling," Milons said. "He could've chosen anyone at Starkville High School because there are so many great teachers here."
Earlier this month, the SEC recognized Milons' selection on its SEC Nation show. During the segment, Brown said he remembered Milons as a guiding hand who influenced him for the better.
"I took her English I class, and she really looked out for me, helped me when I needed help," Brown said. "She guided me -- even gave me a little discipline whenever I needed it. I just loved her."
Since Milons no longer works in the classroom, she said she wants the other teachers at the school to use the grant money.
"I just saw it as a gift for someone else," she said.
SHS Principal Sean McDonall said he's sent out an email to teachers asking for projects. The school will review and select the projects. He said SHS is also considering using some of the funding to create an outdoor classroom.
McDonall said Milons' selection is "exciting" and a prime example at how good she is at building relationships with her students.
Brown, who selected the Rebels over his hometown Bulldogs, might not get the warmest welcome home on the football field Thursday night when arch-rivals clash in the Egg Bowl at Davis Wade Stadium. Still, Milons said she'll cheer for him to do well -- even while she roots for MSU to beat Ole Miss.
"I'm just thrilled," Milons said. "I thank God and look forward to seeing him Thursday."
McDonall, likewise, said the rivalry dynamic is "amusing" but it's good to know Brown remembers his home.
"A lot of the time when we have student athletes go off, they'll come back and visit or hang out on the sidelines," McDonall said. "But it's good that A.J. remembers where he came from."
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