Joseph Pickell, Franklin STEAM Academy 6th grade Social Studies teacher, was surprised with the Mann-Hankel Teaching Excellence Award from the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation during his 6th grade social studies class on Friday, the last day of school. This is the first year for this award, established by Barbara Mann and her husband Steven Hankel. The award recognizes a Unit 4 tenured teacher who exemplifies the traits of Dedication, Integrity, Commitment to Every Student, Service, & Excellence.

A University of Illinois graduate, Mr. Pickell has made his teaching “home” at Franklin STEAM Academy since 2004. One of his nominators describes his commitment to “placing students’ learning needs, health, safety and sense of belonging at the forefront of instruction and planning. Joseph actively seeks out ways to work with students and support their families, knowing that the relationships and bridges forged with cooperation, are critical to student success and achievement.”

Franklin STEAM Academy Principal Sara Sanders describes Mr. Pickell, “students love him because he is creative, humorous, and tech-savvy. His colleagues love him because he supports them in instructional delivery and personal/professional development. Families love him because he is responsive, communicative, and cares deeply about their children.”

Another nominator mentions his dedication to the Franklin school community, “Joseph runs the 6th grade team meetings, is a National Board-Certified Teacher, uses his carpentry skills to build sets for the school musicals, heads the Franklin building council, serves as our Union representative, chairs the Social Studies Department and serves on the Magnet Steering Committee. He is compassionate, thoughtful and helps everyone to feel heard.”

A colleague of Joseph notes that “he knows his students well and reaches out when they have been absent or are having trouble at home. He goes the extra mile to help get services for students and families that need support. I love listening to him speak about his students. He is kind and caring and always wants the best for them.”

During COVID he invited a guest from NASA to speak to students about the Mars Rover. He has formed partnerships with the University of Illinois to provide extended learning about safe drinking water and invited the Spurlock Museum to bring highly engaged storytelling to his classroom.

Barbara Mann, a former CU Schools Foundation Board Chair and her husband Steve share their interest in creating such an award. “My parents were teachers and I grew up seeing their deep commitment to their students and firm belief that education was the path to success. Their own lives were deeply impacted by the teachers who believed in them during their very challenging childhoods. Steve and I created this award to acknowledge them and all the teachers who have touched our lives. Our children had wonderful teachers at Unit 4 who nurtured them, challenged them and gave them a firm foundation for success.  This is our small way of expressing gratitude to all of them.”

The Mann-Hankel Teaching Excellence Award will recognize Mr. Pickell with a monetary award of $2,000. This award honors a tenured educator with 10 years of teaching experience, and a minimum of 5 years’ service in Unit 4.