As a kid, Melissa Jellison didn’t particularly care for school. In fact, beyond the social aspects of high school, she hated it. So when her mother suggested she become a teacher, Jellison balked at first.
“I never considered myself smart, and I was often told I wasn’t by my teachers,” Jellison said. “The teachers that made a connection with me were the ones I looked up to. My mom suggested I could bring the change I needed when I was a student.”
Jellison took her mother’s advice, pursuing a degree in Childhood Studies at Plymouth State University and graduating Cum Laude. She has been bringing change and innovation to her work as a teacher for nearly a dozen years, first as a classroom and science teacher at Whitefield School, and now as life science teacher and the STEAM coordinator at White Mountains Regional High School. For her efforts in helping to develop and lead the Spartan STEAM Innovation Academy at White Mountains Regional and encouraging students to become leaders in their own education, Jellison was awarded the 2019 Louise Tillotson Teaching Fellowship. The $10,000 stipend recognizes excellence in public education and strives to retain outstanding educators in North Country schools.
Jellison was surprised — and honored — to receive the Louise Tillotson Teaching Fellowship.
“I hadn’t even known I was nominated,” she said. “Just the idea of being nominated was an honor in itself. It’s like this affirmation that you are good enough — something you don’t really believe until someone else notices.”
Teaching in the community where she grew up and now lives with her young family is important to Jellison.
“I am proud of the community,” she said. “My kids will attend White Mountains Regional , so it was my due diligence to be part of the change for not only the current students, but for future Spartans.”
During her first years at WMRHS, Jellison worked to develop a ninth-grade course called “Science Inquiry,” which encouraged students to select a problem interesting to them and research ways to solve it. Essentially, the course allowed students to take some responsibility for what and how they were learning.
“Students were asked to be curious, something they rarely get asked,” she said. “The curiosity has been trained out of students to better align curriculum to state testing.”
In an effort to boost students who were not thriving in the traditional school setting, Jellison worked with other teachers at WMRHS to develop the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) program in 2016, with an emphasis on inquiry, curiosity, and encouraging students’ passion. The central idea, Jellison said, was “to shift from a culture of teaching to a culture of learning.”
Last year, this educational evolution continued with the creation of the Spartan STEAM Innovation Academy (SSIA), a separate school within the walls of White Mountains Regional High School for students in grades 9-12. With five teachers and 63 students in its first year, SSIA encourages students to shape their education around their interests and future goals. Educators and students work together to customize projects and programs while meeting the necessary competency requirements.
“Melissa is an innovator in education,” wrote Jeannine LaBounty, in nominating Jellison for the Tillotson Fellowship. “Melissa’s belief in students being excited about learning has paved the way for a different way of ‘doing school.’”
For Jellison, the reward is in watching students excel, seeing them build confidence as they gain knowledge, helping to ensure these young people will embrace school in a way she had a hard time doing as a student.
“I work very hard to find a way to connect with every single one of my students,” she said. “Being curious never stops. There is always room to learn, improve, and try new things. I hope I instill kindness, humor, and thirst for knowledge. If you have those qualities, there is really no stopping anyone.”