Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Corey V. Sapp, a Social Studies teacher at the Community School for Social Justice (CSSJ), a NYC Outward Bound School in the South Bronx, will be presented with the R. Gaynor McCown Excellence in Teaching Award at the 2024 Gala on Monday, May 20.

We met with Corey Sapp on the morning of Eid al-Fitr, a public school holiday — but that didn’t mean he was taking the day off. Not only is Corey a 9th and 10th grade Social Studies teacher at CSSJ, but he’s recently taken on a new role as Dean, he serves as the school’s videographer, and he’s earning his second master’s degree by way of New York State’s School Building Leadership program. Busy is an understatement.

A Bronx native himself, Corey admits that he didn’t always have such drive. When he was the same age as many of his students, he says he was undisciplined, unfocused and failed off the football team due to poor grades. As he sat in the stands and watched his teammates play without him, Corey promised himself to never fail another class. And he didn’t.

Now a teacher at CSSJ, Corey speaks to his students not only with a sense of urgency, but with empathy and vulnerability, as well.

“We are all human beings, and we have all made mistakes. No one is born as a finished product,” he says. “But you must take your life seriously and have a vision. It is your vision that will help you navigate through whatever darkness you’re experiencing.”

“He has high expectations for all students — regardless of their backgrounds, skills or abilities,” adds Jaime Guzman, principal of CSSJ. “His students are expected to persist when things feel difficult, accept feedback and use it to improve upon their work.”

Corey starts the day by greeting every student at the door with a handshake, expressing his gratitude for their efforts and participation in class.

“This may seem like a simple gesture, but it is extremely impactful for a population that often holds negative views about teachers and the public education system in general,” says Jason Schwartz, a fellow member of the CSSJ social studies department.

“As a product of public education in NYC, coming back to this community and being a role model as a man of color is important for me,” adds Corey. “It’s important for young people of color to see educators with similar backgrounds who are pushing them and giving them a sense of what’s possible.”

In his Social Studies classroom, Corey ensures that his units are infused with culturally relevant topics to which his students can relate. His sequenced unit on revolutions, for example, spans the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, but also includes the rarely taught Haitian Revolution, during which the enslaved people overthrew French colonial rule. 

“I didn’t want to teach a unit where students of color just saw themselves historically suffering,” Corey says. “These people overcame an adversity that we can’t even imagine. Conversations around this topic inspire cultural and ethnic pride among my students.”

Hear from Corey’s students:

Corey says he’s grateful to have landed at CSSJ, a school community where the administration emphasizes collaboration, cohesion, support and growth. A lifelong learner, he acknowledges that he’s not just there to help students learn, but he’s there to learn from everyone and every interaction.

“I’ve been mentored by quality teachers and learned from exceptional leaders here,” Corey says. “They see the best in me.”

“And I see myself in my students,” he continues. “Part of education is planting seeds for decades down the line, even if we won’t be able to witness those seeds blossom and flourish. My students represent a better future for our urban communities and our country.”

About the Award

The Gaynor McCown Award was established to honor the memory of R. Gaynor McCown, a former public school teacher, longtime Board member of NYC Outward Bound Schools, Executive Director of the Teaching Commission, and champion of the profession of teaching. The Award recognizes a teacher or other staff member from NYC Outward Bound Schools’ network of schools who exemplifies the qualities that Gaynor herself exhibited as a teacher and that she sought to nurture and support in others.

This year’s nominees and award winner will be recognized at the 2024 Gala on Monday, May 20.

Congratulations to all of the outstanding teachers who were nominated for this year’s award!

  • Shikira Chang, Kurt Hahn
  • Charene Chapman-Santiago, Brooklyn Collaborative
  • Jana Fears, Launch
  • Adam King, MELS
  • Marie Lewis, James Baldwin
  • Brandon Lotti, Leaders
  • Cheryl Manne, Channel View
  • Evan O’Connell, A School Without Walls
  • Corey Sapp, CSSJ
  • Christine Sloan-Ward, Gaynor McCown
  • Nicole Zernone, West End Secondary School


Back to top