Kami Collins, an assistant principal at Hamlet Elementary, was named a LifeChanger of the Year by National Life Group recently in a surprise ceremony at her school.
LifeChanger of the Year is an annual program funded and run by National Life Group and its foundation that recognizes and rewards K-12 educators and school employees from around the country. Collins was named one of 18 winners out of 850 nominations considered for the award.
Collins was recognized as a positive role model to her students as a behavior and academic mentor. As a winner, she will receive a $3,000 prize with $1,500 to her as an individual donation and $1,500 donated to a nonprofit of her choice.
“I understand how it feels to live paycheck to paycheck, but that is a luxury for some kids. I want my students to see the value of education,” Collins said. “As often as I can, I share my story, hopes, and dreams so my students know they, too, can achieve greatness with their education.”
According to the National Life group website, a LifeChanger of the year is chosen based on the following criteria:
• Make a positive impact in the lives of students
• Enhance their school or district’s atmosphere, culture and pride
• Demonstrate exemplary leadership at the school and/or district level
• Possess a proven record of professional excellence
• Show commitment to building a nurturing environment that supports learning
• Adhere to the highest moral and ethical standards
Melodie Graves, a member of the board for the Reader Leaders Network, which nominated Collins, spoke about the educator and her work in the community.
“I have known Kami or about three years and during that time, she has been one of the hardest workers that I have known,” Graves said. “Her heart for the community and for kids is unmatched and she is very deserving of this award and many more.”
Collins said the nomination process started more than a year ago and after not hearing about it for a while, she felt honored for the nomination but did not expect to be named a winner. She said one of the reasons she was nominated was her work with the Leader Readers Network whose mission is to equalize access to quality education for all students. The network works with teachers in underserved communities to help deliver books and school supplies to students in need.
“It was a nice nomination, but I didn’t think anything of it after a while,” Collins said. “Getting this award was a very nice surprise.”
She also cited her work with Braids and Fades, an annual event that provides free haircuts or hairstyles to students to start the school year, and her work with her church and car club as part of her impact on students.
“You know, for the first day of school, everyone wants to look nice and have a little confidence,” Collins said. “I love anything to do with helping kids.”
She has been with Hamlet Elementary for three years and previously was at Sam Houston Middle School for 11 years, where she was a science teacher and taught a leadership class. At Hamlet Elementary, she started as a behavior and academic mentor who worked with kids struggling emotionally in school and helped give them tools to be successful in class. In her capacity, she worked with Rita’s Network to help get books for her kids.
Collins, who has no children of her own, says she uses her own personal losses as an impetus for her giving all the energy that she gives to making lives better for children.
She talked about how her mom’s experience with a teacher named Miss Lary helped to change her trajectory in life.
“I think about my legacy, but I think about my mom’s legacy as well. My mom was one of 13 children and the reason she was able to change her life was the work of one of her teachers in growing up in Mississippi,” Collins said. “The reason that she was able to change her life was the work of that teacher working with her. With the change she made in my mom, she instilled these same principles into our family. I have a passion for teaching because of the change. I know a good teacher can help make a change in the world.”
Collins said she thinks that kids need a positive influence in school and at home and she always strives to be that influence at her school.
“This whole award is very humbling because I really wasn’t expecting this,” she added. “I believe it’s important to give back and be a positive influence for children to look to.”