Coast teacher one of 15 in nation honored for making a difference

A Moss Point teacher, who has overcome financial barriers and built a high-tech robotics engineering program for his students, was surprised Tuesday to learn he has been named a national award winner.

Moss Point Career and Technical Education Center robotics and engineering teacher Billy Carroll is one of only 15 LifeChanger of the Year award winners out of 750 nominees from across the country.

The Moss Point School Board held a surprise ceremony at their meeting Tuesday night to break the news, where LifeChanger of the Year program representatives gave $1,500 to the school and a $1,500 check to Carroll.

The program recognizes and rewards education professionals — teachers, administrators or any member of a school’s staff — who work with kindergarten through 12th-grade students, and who go beyond the call of duty in their professions.

Funding challenges

Carroll teaches in a low-income area, where almost 100 percent of the student population qualifies for government-subsidized lunch. And funding for STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — instruction is hard to come by.

Undaunted, he has become proficient in writing grants. Since 2012, he has received more than $53,000 to support the robotics and engineering program and the Moss Point STEM Team, which he and former colleague Nikki Cunningham started.

The program has grown from six to 27 students.

“The program has grown dramatically,” Carroll said. “We’re entering more and more STEM events and a lot of students are now pursuing careers in engineering.”

Carroll’s students just got back from Jackson, where they won first place in two categories at the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s fifth annual TRAC Bridge Competition. The team won out over 91 other schools.

It’s the third time in a row the school won first place in the ninth-and-tenth-grade competition. The team will compete in the national bridge competition in Portland, Maine, in May.

None of it would have been possible if Carroll had not pursued and received a grant that allowed the school to buy specialized STEM equipment.

Pursuing his calling

Formerly an account manager at Biloxi Paper Co., Carroll decided to go into teaching because of his desire to be a mentor.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with youth. I wanted to find something where I could pursue my calling. I thought about teaching and that’s allowed me do that,” he said.

“When describing a teacher like Mr. Carroll,” student Devonta Watson said in a press release, “great is too light of a word for a man of his standard. He’s had a prominent influence on my academics and life as a whole ... He deserves this award more than anyone I know.”

In January, LifeChangers selected 12 Coast teachers as nominees.

The program selects educators nominated based on the difference they make in the lives of students, involvement in leadership activities at the school and in the community, and a record of excellent performance at the professional level. It is a program of the National Life Group, a financial services company.

Justin Vicory: 228-896-2326, @justinvicory