New Hanover County Schools




Meet our Elementary School Educator of the Year 2022

Mrs. Allen sits with a student helping to learn

Meet our Elementary School Educator of the Year, Melissa Allen, SDA teacher at Masonboro Elementary School .

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One of Melissa Allen’s students at Masonboro Elementary is nonverbal, and until last year communicated only by gesture and expression.

Now she works with him with a specially-formatted iPad that will voice what before was silent.

For 10 years his inner life and thoughts were locked inside of him.

Mrs. Allen sits with a student helping to learn

Now thanks to his teacher, he plays games around the table with his peers and he’s as quick to “speak” with his device as his friends are with their voices.

"It’s my turn."

"I choose the blue piece."

"Justin won."

"Now it’s your turn."

Ms. Allen was a high school English teacher for years before realizing her passion was for special education.

Children who at the beginning of the year couldn’t hold a pencil are now writing sentences. Children who struggled with the structure and confines of a classroom are now independently checking their daily schedules, staying on task, learning and growing.

In her classroom, she said, it’s the gains that drive her.

Mrs. Allen lays her hand on her students hand focusing him on his work while sitting at a table.

“You always have something in each day that you’re cheering on your children for,” she said. “It’s not that that doesn’t happen in other classrooms, you just see it larger in here.”

The gains come because Ms. Allen is propelling them. A common refrain and redirect is “We’re working.”

If a child is gazing around the room during a reading lesson, a gentle hand-hold or tap of a worksheet comes with, “We’re working.”

If someone gets rowdy during instruction, the reminder comes again, “We’re working.”

It’s part of building resilience to tasks that can feel monotonous, she said, and showing students that they can complete something that felt out of reach.

“Academics can be a struggle so we have to find their access point, and apply grade-level concepts at a level that’s accessible to them,” she said.

The same goes for social skills, she said.

Playing games teaches turn-taking, paying attention to others, patience. When they take those skills out into the world, it gives them access to the full human experience of connection, participation, joy, and assimilation.

“Ultimately that’s what we want them to do,” she said. “We want them to advocate for themselves and to generalize in society.”

Spending her days with her students brings her, above all else, joy. When those same students sometimes beg to stay in the classroom at the end of the day, she knows they feel the same way.

“They’re happy to be here,” she said, “and we're so happy they're here.”

Mrs. Allen speaks with Dr. Foust in the hallway as she holds her apple award