Former English Student Christina Andrade Melly Named 2023 Missouri Teacher of the Year – UMSL Daily

Christina Andrade Melly was surprised by students, teachers and district administrators last month. Melly, an English and language arts teacher at Ritenour High School, has been named Missouri’s 2023 Teacher of the Year. Melly attended the Ritenour School District as a student and her experience compelled her to pursue a career in public education. (Photo by Brian Munoz/St. Louis Public Radio)

Christina Andrade Melly was initially suspicious when an administrator at Ritenour High School told her that there was an impromptu meeting that she and her class were to attend.

Supposedly it was for seniors, but Melly was teaching sophomores at the time. Things weren’t quite going to add up, but Melly headed for the school auditorium anyway. When he arrived, the subterfuge ended.

Students, teachers, district administrators and her family had come together to celebrate Melly – Missouri’s 2023 Teacher of the Year. Margie Vandeven, commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, made the surprise announcement Sept. 19.

Melly, a University of Missouri-St. Louis English, a former student and teacher of English and language arts at Ritenour, was shocked by the victory.

“He’s still sinking,” she said. “At least I’m past the point where I wake up at night and shake myself thinking, ‘Did this really happen? It always seems unreal.

UMSL alumni have been well represented among Missouri Teacher of the Year winners recently. Melly is the third straight Triton to win the top honor.

James Young, a sixth-grade musical theater teacher at the Johnson-Wabash Sixth Grade Center, was the latest winner, while Darrion Cockrell, a physical education teacher at Crestwood Elementary School, won the honor during the year. school year 2020-21.

The award is especially meaningful for Melly, who attended the Ritenour School District from kindergarten through high school. Even as a young student, she was interested in teaching and leading others.

“I would manage my two younger brothers and we would play at school – I would be in charge, of course,” Melly said. “But any time I’ve had the chance to work with younger kids – babysitting, tutoring, working in summer camps – I’ve loved it and just turned to that.”

As well as a penchant for working with children, Melly was also drawn to writing from an early age. She loved hearing people’s stories and felt there was an innate power in words. This inspired her to pursue journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia after graduating from Ritenour.

However, his foray into journalism was short-lived.

“I called my mom in tears after my first semester,” Melly recalled. “She was very worried about why I was calling crying, and through the sobs I told her, ‘I have to move on to education. I must be a teacher. That’s what I’ll be. I was really mad at her at the time because she said, ‘Well, that was it? That’s all?'”

Melly left the journalism program and earned a bachelor’s degree in education and English at MU. She completed her education at Ritenour while earning her certification and returned to St. Louis after graduating in December 2010. Her bond with Ritenour continued as she sought full-time employment.

She taught GED classes and was a substitute in high school during the spring semester, and the district hired her as a full-time teacher for the 2011-12 school year.

For Melly, it was important to work at a school like Ritenour and to give back to the public school system that shaped it. At MU, she met people with different educational backgrounds who had attended less diverse schools. In many cases, they had much closer interpersonal experiences than her.

“I wanted to teach in the public schools in St. Louis because I was fresh out of that system and had so many valuable experiences,” Melly said. “I felt much richer having them.”

She began her career teaching English to first-year students and initially focused primarily on the literary components of the curriculum. But after two years, it became clear that something was missing in the class when it came to writing.

Melly struggled to explain certain aspects of the writing process and what she wanted her students to take away from the exercises in class. After the school year ended in 2013, she began looking for professional development opportunities as well as graduate programs.

A summer program organized by the Gateway Writing Project at UMSL caught his eye. GWP promotes exemplary writing instruction by providing professional development, supporting teachers’ own writing, and promoting teacher leadership. Its mission is based on the premise that teachers of writing should write and see themselves as writers.

Melly enrolled in the GWP Writing Institute, where she joined teachers at all levels to compose, revise and prepare their own writing for publication and discuss best practices for the classroom.

“I was able to come in and focus on teaching my students to write by getting to know myself as a writer,” she said.

In addition to bolstering her own writing, Melly earned six graduate credits for completing the program. The positive experience motivated her to pursue a graduate certificate in teaching writing and a master’s degree in English composition and rhetoric at UMSL.

In the master’s program, faculty members such as Associate Professor Suellynn Duffey provided a grounding in the theoretical concepts behind writing and the pedagogy of writing. Melly was able to immediately apply these lessons to her students.

“That was probably the best part: being able to use classes to pull that layer off,” she said. “I know it works or it doesn’t, but now I can explain why. It made me a better teacher in many ways.

The graduate school also brought Melly closer to her students, empathizing with them as a student herself. Katie O’Daniels, GWP director and assistant professor, praised Melly’s dedication to her students and her development as an educator.

“She is curious, passionate and dedicated to improving her students’ engagement and learning,” O’Daniels said. “She’s a true professional, and we’re thrilled to have her as a lead teacher in our Gateway Writing Project network.”

After several years at Ritenour, Melly transitioned into teaching sophomores and seniors and also coached the school’s debate team for a time. No matter who she teaches or coaches, she reminds her students to stay open to the world and the people around them.

This was often difficult during the 2020-21 school year when the Ritenour School District transitioned to virtual instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Melly’s students got through the tough year with her support, and the seniors were able to graduate in person. The moving ceremony testified to her impact as an educator.

“We got through this year together and we had an outdoor graduation,” Melly said. “I was able to be there in person with them, read their names, hug them, see some of them for the first time in years. The joy, the relief and the ability to reconnect with them makes me clenching their throats. I can’t explain how important it was to be with them at this point in their journey.

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