2023 NSDA Coach of the Year Nomination Letter for Maryrose Kohan
To the Voting Committee,
To capture the impact of Ms. Kohan, aka “Koko”, over the past 15+ years is not possible in 1500 words but we will try; because we are the living, breathing, thriving outcome of her hard work, dedication, and skill. We are the George Washington Speech and Debate program and we believe Koko is the coach of the year.
At the most basic level Koko took an after school club with a handful of members and transformed it into an honors level elective that continues to be a cornerstone of our school’s academic draw to potential students. Additionally, it is now the largest program, with one of the highest retention rates, in our school. Both the administration and parents of our community support and celebrate S&D due to her tireless efforts to showcase the value it holds for all students. Within the walls of her classroom, you will find a non-traditional educational environment that creates student-led conversations, and peer to peer teaching. This progressive approach has earned her many accolades including “The 2022 Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation Educator of Distinction Award” and the “2023 US Navy Impact Influencer Award”. These massive honors highlight her successes but they do not tell her full story. So we will humbly attempt to do so.
Koko did not plan to be a speech and debate coach, nor a teacher. However, after pursuing a career in law she realized how little the world needed another corporate attorney. Instead, she saw how desperately it needed adults who cared for, and invested in, future generations. So she set out to do just that. Over the years, she dedicated herself to creating a class that explores the issues concerning our society. She allows students space to work through their revelations, and process the deep grief of learning how truly unfair our world can be. She inspires them to be the light: to not step aside as evil and injustices are measured out; but to stand in the gap and speak truth to power. She practices what she preaches in many ways. First, by extending her talents to the greater S&D community. Koko hosts an invitational every year and has held both the NSDA district chair and committee member positions. She has sat on both the NSDA PF wording committee as well as the TOC PF committee. On top of all of that, she presents every year at the Colorado Coaches conference, in order to share her institutional knowledge with the other coaches in our state. However, one of her most endearing traits is that she is the fiercest reduce, reuse, recycler you will ever meet. She continually encourages others to incorporate sustainability into their everyday lives. She has created a donation based “Competition Closet” in her classroom to combat the fast fashion impacts on the environment; as well as ease the financial burden of westernized business wear in order to help make our team more inclusive. Moreover, her personal activism has sparked our former and current students' understanding that the efforts of one are indeed powerful. Inspired by her example, students have spoken at the State Capitol working to pass laws that bring free menstrual care products to public schools, and bolster minor’s rights when under police interrogation. Her support and encouragement have also resulted in student-led reproduction rights marches, multiple Ted-X talks, and ongoing volunteerism with the Innocence Project.
High school competitive speech and debate is founded on celebrating thoughtfully researched ideas and arguments. Yet that goal is often overshadowed by the hunt for measurable success. Therefore, it is notable when students and alum were asked to share the impact Koko has on their lives, trophies were never mentioned. Instead, countless students spoke of the safe space and chosen family they found in the team she continually nurtures. They praised her ferocity, and protection when they found themselves in vulnerable situations. They described someone who gives of her time and personal resources to meet the needs of her students both educationally and emotionally. Above all they referenced the joy and laughter she brought to the years they spent under her care. Yet these brief summaries can only say so much––so we have decided to let you hear it directly from us. Below is a collection of quotes from current students and alumni of the GWSD program on the mark Koko has made.
“Koko holds such a special place in my heart because she made an effort to get to know me online my freshmen year. She spent one-on-one time learning about me as a person. It was so special, because no other teacher had made this effort. But she did, and has continued to make an effort like that for every student.”- Anna Seaman, Class of 2024
“Last year when I lost at State, Koko took the time out of her incredibly busy day to help me through my frustrations. She told me that the reason I was so upset was that I cared, and that she believed in me. She didn't mind that I was loudly sobbing, or the fact that she had a tournament job to do. Her priority was making sure I was okay. What she told me that day has stuck with me and has stopped me from giving up. I will be forever grateful to her for believing in me, when I did not believe in myself. -Meg Parent, Class of 2023
“When I think about decisions that have most formatively shaped who I am, I know that joining S&D and having Koko as a mentor is unparalleled. She is guidepost, a light, and has fostered a community so exquisitely rare, that I thoroughly cannot imagine what my life would have looked like had I not had the privilege of being on this team. During our most vulnerable years, her support is boundless. I am grateful and proud to be one of the countless students who cherish her.” Kathryn Swan, Class of 2017
“There are so many memorable moments with Koko, But if I HAD to choose, I would tell the story of her forcefully making me take deep breaths and say affirmations in the middle of a crowded hallway. Picture a five foot tall woman in a neon pink sweater adamantly yelling "BREATH IN.... I believe in myself..... BREATH OUT.... SAY IT WITH ME!". While moments like these are so incredibly on brand for Koko, they show the extent to which she cares for her students. They remind us that there will always be someone who believes in our potential, both in and out of round.” - Ivan Levitt, Class 2024
“One of Koko’s greatest strengths is that she meets her students right where they are. Be it at the hospital when their mental health has made it too difficult to be out in the world. Or late at night in a diner as the student admits that their absences are due to being temporarily homeless. But most often you can find her in an empty classroom working one on one with a struggling student long after the school day has ended. -Devin Sarno, Assistant Coach
“When COVID hit, I was struggling not only in speech and debate, but with my mental health. Koko would plan google meets just to talk, in order to help reduce stress and make my days a little bit brighter. She was an integral part of getting me through the COVID school years with hope. Koko has not only inspired a love for speech that I never imagined, but she has become an adult to look up to, count on, and remember long past high school.” -Jenna Bryant, Class of 2023
“Koko inspired me to become a teacher. Her encouragement allows students to take on leadership roles and take ownership for the success of the team. The combination of those roles and her deep connections with students (like myself) create alumni who want to return and give back to the program. Through conversations with her about teaching and what she saw in me, I completely switched my career path and now have been teaching in the same district for the past 8 years. As a high school student, she showed me the importance of public speaking; as a college student, she saw things in me that I did not see in myself; as a young educator, she has been the constant support that any new teacher needs. Truly, she has been a life-changing mentor for me.” - Hope Yingst, Class of 2012, English Teacher at North High School.
“Koko has become an expert at managing students, coaches, and parents while keeping the magic of speech and debate alive. Recently she said that she's been doing this since long before us, and she will still do this long after we leave. I feel hopeful for the future knowing that Koko will still be coaching, inspiring new classes, and bringing joy to everyone throughout the entire S&D community.” - Josh Dupree, Class of 2023
The Current, and Former Members, of the George Washington Speech and Debate Program