Today’s interview takes me to the Integrated Day Charter School in Norwich where I am privileged to meet and chat with 5th/6th grade teacher Melissa Dearborn. In November, 2007, Melissa was honored to receive a $1000 grant from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“I received this Teaching Tolerance award to support my “Use Another Word” program,” explains Melissa.
“Encouraging tolerance and understanding of other students, family and community members is very important in my mind. We can not teach anything to students until we establish a climate of mutual respect. This comes from politeness, respect of others and our choice of words when we talk with those around us.”
Melissa’s “Use Another Word” campaign goes well beyond her classroom.
“Small group discussions are being held in every grade from preschool through eighth grade,” Melissa states. “ The first thing that happens is students listen to the negative words they hear spoken to others on the school buses, in families, out in the community and in school. We discuss the meaning of the words and more important, how they make others feel inside. We find that words of intolerance are used against others based on their gender, race, ability, socio- economics or against people who are gay or perceived as being gay. It is my hope that our students will “use another word” and that a better understanding of how we are all connected will spread from our students out into our families and community.”
Students, staff and parents all sign a pledge that they will say, “Use another word, please,” when they hear words of intolerance spoken. The pledge also encourages increased awareness to the influence of music, movies, and other media and a commitment to speak up for others when necessary.
Melissa further shares, “The students in my class were asked to design a button. We voted and the chosen design says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will always hurt me.”
The grant money Melissa received is being used for teaching tolerance resources and the buttons. Parents and teachers can find tolerance resources on the website for the Southern Poverty Law Center: www.splcenter.org.
A major highlight of this school year for Melissa was the collection at school of puppets, balls, math games, science materials and all kinds of school supplies for children and orphans in Kenya, Africa. This collection was made through the American Friends of Kenya organization which has a chapter in CT. This July Melissa and her daughter traveled to Kenya delivering boxes of supplies for the children.
“We visited the children in their schools, orphanages and in the slums. I learned so much from this trip. Many children in Kenya have so little and we are in a position to help,” cites Melissa. More information about the American Friends of Kenya comes from their website: www.afkinc.org.
Melissa Dearborn started teaching at the Integrated Day Charter School of Norwich when it opened in 1997. She grew up in Old Lyme and graduated from Goddard College in Plainfield, VT. When her son Will sustained an injury at birth, she had the strong desire to learn about child development and to go into teaching. She is loved and respected by school staff and students. We are all fortunate to have this gifted, dedicated teacher in our midst.