When Casey Grier Blades ’09 was offered a position at Cypress Lakes High School coaching soccer and teaching art just after graduating from Southwestern, she had landed her dream job. Although she had multiple job offers, she chose to work at the district’s lowest-income high school. Title I schools often suffer from high teacher turnover or are used as stepping stones to more prestigious jobs, but nine years later, Blades is still loyally committed to supporting all her students at Cypress Lakes. Principal Sarah Harty says, “Our students come from poor, often frightening backgrounds, but Casey is able to get them to see beyond their circumstances and recognize their possibilities.”

Blades’s commitment to social justice began at Southwestern, where she first learned about the inequalities in America’s K–12 system. A studio art and education double major, she highlighted the disparities in education stemming from differences in race, gender, and abilities in her capstone project, an exhibition titled Shades of Inequity. Giving voice to the voiceless was also the focus of an exhibition on ableism that she created for her master’s in art education, which she earned at Texas Tech in 2014. In the classroom, Blades has demonstrated the same fearless, loving dedication to underrepresented students. For example, when the mobility of one of her former students with spina bifida was limited by the arrangement of the classroom, Blades worked to equip her with an Easystand Evolv, which allowed the student to collaborate and study with the rest of her classmates. Blades’s commitment creates a classroom environment that nurtures inclusivity and creativity.

As a teacher, Blades continues to use art to promote inclusion. She would take her AP Art History course on a field trip each year, which was often the first time those students had been to a museum. In her much-anticipated annual graffiti project, students develop artwork centered around a word that takes a stance, such as ignorance, chaos, and dignity. And unlike many veteran teachers, Blades still asks to teach introductory-level art classes so that she can mentor students from a mix of grade levels, abilities, and backgrounds. “As a teacher,” Harty says, “Casey excels in helping students find the artist in themselves. … Our students become lifelong lovers of the arts, and … these students would not have had this opportunity had Casey not provided it.”

Blades’s passion for championing students extends to her role as a coach: she is currently head coach for girls’ soccer, but she has also coached volleyball and cross country. She is always encouraging her players to focus on both academic and athletic achievement, and she has advocated systemic changes in high school athletics to remove barriers, building programs that give low-income student-athletes opportunities at the collegiate level without requiring them to participate in expensive club teams. Blades was recognized for these efforts when the United Soccer Coaches named her to their 30 under 30 Program as one of the few high school coaches ever selected. She serves as a member of the United Soccer Coaches High School Advocacy Committee, and she was selected as the District Co-Coach of the Year in 2014 and 2018.

Cypress–Fairbanks ISD Athletic Director Ray Zepeda says that Blades’s greatest contribution is what she does each day to model and teach integrity and personal ethics: “Whether she is working with her kids on the soccer field or in the classroom, her students get to learn how to treat people and to do the right thing. … She has been recognized as one top soccer coaches across the country for the impact that she is making on her sport and her athletes.”

This year, Blades was chosen as the Teacher of the Year for both her campus and district. Her accomplishments make her a role model in the eyes of her loving husband, Aaron Blades: “The stories of Casey’s positive influence are too many to count … The obvious respect and admiration that Casey commands in the community make me proud to be her husband[, and I] attempt to follow her example.” Because of her exemplary achievements, the Southwestern University Alumni Association proudly presents Casey Grier Blades with a 2018 Distinguished Young Alumna Award.

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