MONROE, CT – Melissa Carter grew up in Monroe and embarked on a 19-year teaching career after graduating from Masuk High School in the Class of 1998. In the Monroe Public School District, she is one of the first teachers to establish the Jockey Hollow Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy 11 years ago.
Carter’s work has not gone unnoticed. This year, she was honored by the Connecticut Science Teachers Association with the 2021-22 Middle School Science Teaching Excellence Award.
The Connecticut Science Teacher of the Year Award is given annually to an elementary, middle and high school teacher.
“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Carter said during a recent interview in her classroom in Masuk’s STEM wing. “I played in school when I was younger. I always liked science and tried to build things myself.
Carter said her experience as a student in Monroe public schools inspired her to pursue a career in education.
“We are truly thrilled that Melissa has been recognized for this award,” said Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza. “What makes it even more special is knowing that Melissa is a Masuk graduate who thrived in her science classes as a student. It is very gratifying to see her instill in her students the same passion for science that she received from her teachers.
“She is the first science teacher of children in STEM,” said Julia Strong, principal of Jockey Hollow STEM Academy. “She puts them on the path to inquiry-based learning from their first day of school. Children make projects and learn with the five senses. »
Think like a scientist
Carter earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Quinnipiac University with a double major in education and law and earned an additional 60 credits at various institutions.
She started as a fifth and sixth grade science teacher at Chalk Hill Middle School, then taught at Fawn Hollow Elementary School for a year, before helping start STEM Academy in 2011. She now teaches students from sixth year.
White lab coats hang from a rack inside Carter’s classroom, a plastic skeleton is on display, and shelves hold microscopes and boxes full of other supplies.
“There are more boxes in the STEM supply closet with his name on them than any of us here in STEM,” Strong said, “and it shows his commitment to hands-on learning. Melissa’s course is not just about memorizing facts, but about thinking like a scientist.
“It’s inquiry-based, so kids ask questions and come up with solutions to their problems,” Carter explained. “Students collaborate, come up with ideas, build and design different projects and present them to the class.”
Carter said hands-on learning through experiences is what inspired her the most as a student, as well as knowing the need to innovate to develop new technologies, while following a world constantly evolving.
“I love when kids get really excited and discover great ideas and share them with their classmates,” Carter said of teaching.
“Completely in shock”
Over the years, Carter has earned the respect of his peers in the Monroe School District, including Jim Stoelzel, head of the science department for grades six through twelfth. In 2014, he nominated Carter for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education.
“I’ve always been a big fan of Melissa, so I wasn’t surprised when she won this award,” Stoelzel said of the Excellence in Middle School Science Teaching Award. “She sets up a very caring environment in her classroom and it’s all done in science.”
The person who nominated Carter for this year’s Excellence in Middle School Science Teaching Award did so anonymously, before the Connecticut Science Teachers Association Board of Directors chose Carter from among the candidates.
“I think Melissa could be our first teacher to win this award,” Strong said, “and we are very lucky to have Melissa at Monroe teaching our STEM students, giving them a solid foundation in curiosity and learning. doing like a scientist on their first day in STEM.
Carter said she was “completely shocked” when she received an email from the Connecticut Science Teachers Association, informing her that she had won the award and inviting her to its awards ceremony at SHU’s Discovery Science Center and Planetarium in Bridgeport on May 11.
“I’m very grateful, humbled and honored for sure,” Carter recalled. “It was a surprise. I found out six days before the awards ceremony. It all happened so fast.”
A solid support
The awards ceremony was hosted by the Connecticut Science Teachers Association, Connecticut Science Supervisors Association, and Sacred Heart University’s Isabel Farrington College of Education and Human Development.
“I want to thank my family and friends from the bottom of my heart for their unwavering support,” Carter said in her acceptance speech.
Carter’s proud fiancé, Chris Berardi, who is a freelance musician and artist, attended the ceremony along with Carter’s mother, Joy, his brother Tom and his wife Laura, and his mother. Carter also has a sister, Kimberly, who is a social studies professor in Florida.
Colleagues from Monroe Public Schools also came out to show their support, including Strong, some of Carter’s paraprofessionals, STEM teacher Susan Russell and Roseanne Haughton, an elementary science teacher.
“It was fabulous and really unique – really cool,” Carter said of the event.
The Science Center performed experiments and guests were treated to a show at the Planetarium, according to Carter.
She reflected on what it means to her to be part of Monroe Public Schools and a community with “incredible students and families.” Carter said the school district gives her full encouragement, flexibility and support, adding how lucky she is to work with “fabulous administrators and colleagues.”
Among those she mentioned by name in her acceptance speech were Kobza, Jockey Hollow Middle School Principal Mike Crowley, Fawn Hollow Elementary School Principal Leigh Metcalf Ances (former STEM Principal), Strong, Stoelzel, and retired Monroe educator Bonnie Maur “for being an incredible mentor” throughout Carter’s scientific career.
“In this ever-changing world, the challenges continue to grow,” Carter said. “As science educators, our goal is to prepare our students to meet global challenges, find solutions to problems, be independent thinkers, able to collaborate with others, and find or design ways to make this better world, while still being able to be compassionate, kind and caring people.
“Even though the prize bears my name, I believe it belongs to all of us who continually support and live scientific goals,” Carter said. “I’m very lucky and grateful to work here with such great people.”