Islander Alumna Lisa Moody ’11 Wins National Educator Award, $25K Cash Prize

Lisa Moody’s Islander Impact extends far beyond the Coastal Bend. As a special education teacher for Jefferson Elementary School in Omaha, Nebraska, Moody ’11 focuses on student strengths and works diligently to see challenges as an opportunity. 

In addition to being a passionate teacher, Moody’s students also see her as a role model who works through her own set of daily hurdles right alongside them. 

Having been born with cerebral palsy, I have had to grow up living in a world that wasn’t designed for me. Whether it’s figuring out how to get into work on a snowy day or navigating through large college campuses, there is always an added layer of complexity,” said Moody, who earned a Master of Science in Special Education from the Island University. “Sure, some days are harder than others, and what may appear to be a simple task to many often can prove to be quite challenging for me, but those obstacles never stopped me from achieving my goals.” 

For her amazing can-do spirit and her ability to inspire her students, Moody was presented with a national Milken Educator Award on Jan. 20 at a school assembly filled with cheering students, colleagues, local and state dignitaries, and the media. Each year, the Milken Family Foundation selects a group of K-12 educators across the U.S. to honor for excellence in education. The national honor includes an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. 

Moody hails from a family of educators. Her father, Dr. Michael Moody, served as an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Research at the Island University for five years. Her mother, Anne Moody, was a special education teacher for the Corpus Christi Independent School District for four years.  

Moody moved to Corpus Christi from Omaha in 2010 after earning a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology education from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. 

I moved to Corpus Christi to be with my parents,” she said. “I knew at the time that I wanted to continue with my professional preparation and attending Texas A&M-Corpus Christi was the most logical option.” 

Moody said she appreciated the level of field experiences – she completed field experiences at Berlanga Elementary School where her mother worked as a special education teacher and served as a student teacher at Galvan Elementary School in fall 2011 – that were associated with the program.  

“The opportunity to work and learn from exceptional teachers in the field, like my mom, set an informed standard as to what ‘good schooling’ looked like. I also appreciate that the climate and culture of the TAMU-CC College of Education and Human Development was predicated upon the philosophy that teaching and learning is a uniquely personal endeavor,” Moody said.  

Moody credits numerous Island University professors with providing positive impact during her time in the program.   

In general, I found the quality of instruction to be exceptional. Specifically, I found Drs. Karen McCaleb, MaryAnn Zipprich, Corinne Valadez, and Martin Ward to be motivational as well as inspirational. Their guidance, support, and instruction have had an immeasurable positive influence on the trajectory of my professional career,” she said.  

Moody also made the most of her experience at Galvan Elementary, where she got to work alongside several inspirational teachers.  

Along with my mom at Berlanga, the staff at Galvan, specifically Carolyn Detmer and D’Nette Grant, were incredible examples of strong, passionate, dedicated educators,” Moody adds.   

At Jefferson Elementary, Moody launched a new hybrid, inclusive education program that mainstreamed students in her Alternate Curriculum Program into general education classrooms. Special education students learn basic social skills in the classroom while working with Moody on academic subjects and life skills. The program has proved successful and has now expanded to several schools in the Omaha area, according to the Milken Family Foundation.  

Moody said her advice to future special education teachers is to remember that you are oftentimes the voice for the voiceless.   

“Special education teachers work with the most vulnerable population of students in schools, so your ability to advocate for their needs and rights can make all the difference in their education,” Moody said. “It’s important to teach students not to let their disability define who they are or what they can achieve. Teaching them to work hard to overcome their disability is instrumental to their future successes.”