Jul 31, 2014 04:00PM
● By Dia
Melissa Bailey’s students aren’t just learning about the world, they’re changing it. Her goal as an educator at Durham Intermediate School is to inspire her fifth graders to not only learn about Social Studies, but how that knowledge applies to their lives and our world today. “I want my students to be productive members of society and good stewards of our environment now and in the future,” she says. Even though they’re still young, Melissa knows her students can still make a lasting impact on their school, community and the world.
Growing up, there were many experiences that influenced Melissa’s decision to become a teacher. Volunteer work with her church preschool and vacation bible school, plus the North Texas Special Olympics, revealed her love for children. Today, service learning — a method of teaching that combines classroom instruction with meaningful community service — plays a big role in not only inspiring her students, but making learning fun. And it’s a mission of the Social Studies program at Durham. “I want them to understand that their culture needs to be one of caring, and of looking and seeing other’s needs. Because that’s how societies grow,” Melissa says.
This year, she worked to secure an AP Boosters grant to fund a project with KIVA, a nonprofit that empowers people around the world through a $25 loan. “They might need a loan to purchase things for their food stall in the Philippines to support their family,” Melissa says. Working in small “businesses,” students held a position such as financial advisor or marketing director, and researched the loans being requested for both feasibility and relevance in terms of the borrower’s culture and geographic region.
“Some groups were very business minded and wanted to pick someone who really wanted to be an entrepreneur, whereas another group was really trying to help someone who just needed to help their family survive. Others wanted to fund a loan for someone trying to go to school. We left it up to them,” she says. Melissa served as the “board” ap-proving the loans. In the end, students granted 45 loans and increased their social and global awareness in the process.
Another year, through a generous grant from the Carroll Education Foundation, Melissa received 13 iPod touches, which allowed her students to correspond with students in England. “We called it Geography Across the Ocean,” Melissa says. Fifth graders on both sides of the Atlantic swapped stories about their lives and cultures. A modern twist on the pen pal concept, her students and their European “email pals” collaborated on environmental research. “They worked on a project about how geography affects alternative energy sources. They were able to see that they had the same concerns that we did about using alternative energy versus fossil fuel,” Melissa says.
This past Valentine’s Day, her students partnered with Meals on Wheels to add student-made Valentines and books to each delivery. “My father delivers Meals on Wheels on Fridays in the Dallas area, so we were able to get the Valentines to that chapter, so that each person on Valentine’s Day received a Valentine with their meal, just to know somebody else was thinking about them,” she says. During the class party that day, in lieu of the typical craft, Melissa’s homeroom decorated fun care packets for the kids checking in to Cook Children’s Urgent Care center in Southlake on Valentine’s weekend. “That’s what they chose to do,” she says. “It’s the idea that even though you’re young, you can still give back, you can still make a difference in somebody’s life by serving others.”
At the school level, Melissa sponsors Durham’s Recycling Club, which now works with Terracycle, an organization that provides free waste collection programs for hard to recycle materials, then turns the waste into affordable green products. In return, Terracycle helps support the club and donates recycled items for repurpose.
Melissa’s also a part of Durham’s Spokes 4 Hope, a nonprofit that donates bicycles with a mission to brighten the lives of children victimized by abuse. To earn money to buy the bikes, students purchased donated bears for $5 each, decorated them, and resold them at auction for as much as $150 each. Then came bike build “day,” which turned into just a couple of hours due to an outpouring of local support. “We had so many volunteers from the community, from our Southlake EMS departments and police departments. They all came and we set up an assembly line in the gym. The kids were helping, parents volunteered, teachers volunteered, and we built bikes for kids to receive at Christmas. It was neat for the kids to see that they were able to do that,” she says.
At the classroom level, Melissa modifies that George Santayana quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” but, she adds, “those who do learn can change the course of history.” She wants her students, too, to bring their own perspective to historical events and figures and think outside the box (What if Abraham Lincoln never existed?). With no limits or preconceived notions, their responses astound and inspire her every day.
As important as it is for Melissa to make connections between her students and the world around them, she knows it’s even more important for her to connect with her students as individuals. Her guiding principle being John C. Maxwell’s thought, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Her goal each day is to be the kind of teacher she would want for her own daughter. “I want my students to know first and foremost that I love and care about them as children, not just as students.”
In everything Melissa does, she feels a tremendous amount of support from the Carroll ISD. What she appreciates most is the level of community involvement and the culture of giving back. “Everybody really is a Dragon,” she says. “They want the best for our kids and our district.”
In the end, Melissa wants her class to be the one that children remember because it changed how they viewed life or an event and they are better for that change. “There are people out there in need, and needs are different, needs are not always financial. Sometimes it’s an emotional need that you can fill just by doing something nice for somebody else. I tell them all the time to be the reason someone smiles today. I tell them they have the power to change the world, and to go out and do just that.”