MEMS teacher Melissa Rice a 'Master in the Middle'

MANCHESTER — Melissa Rice describes herself as "a life-long learner." It's a quality that has driven her to explore new methods of teaching and encouraging her middle school math and science students over 26 years at Manchester Elementary Middle School.

Later this month in Providence, R.I., Rice will be honored as a New England "Master in the Middle," a teaching award given by the New England League of Middle Schools.

She won the state award in May, which automatically entered her into the field for the regional honor.

The award honors middle school teachers with 20-plus years of experience who are passionate about middle-level education and serve as educational leaders and mentors.

Criteria include modeling best practices for the grade level, such as developing student ownership in learning, integrating higher order thinking and building relationships with students and families.

"Melissa is just very involved with so many things at so many levels at our school," MEMS assistant principal Kim Tenner said. "She is really a student-first kind of teacher.

That's always been what drives her and what makes her do the things that she does. She's also very passionate about parents and making sure they are up to date on what's going on with their child."

One of her strengths is recognizing that kids learn in different ways, and personalizing the learning experience for students.

"I do a lot in my class with personalized learning and letting kids determine the avenue in which they feel most comfortable learning," Rice said.

Her students develop their own personalized learning plans, which allows them to learn how to set goals, work towards their goals and show what they've learned.

"It's getting kids to own their learning," Rice explained. "They're starting to analyze their mistakes, figure out what part of the concept they're not understanding, and what they need to do to learn that concept. It''s not always teacher-driven."

Rice's involvement extends beyond the classroom to coaching, serving on number of school and district-wide committees and pursuing new learning opportunities for students.

A group of 10 students from MEMS was scheduled to attends an anti-bullying conference on Friday -- an initiative Rice kick-started.

And when students at MEMS release trout they've been raising from eggs into the wild this spring, that's her handiwork behind the scenes as well.

"I think the middle school really looks to Melissa as a model and a leader in best middle level practices," MEMS middle school guidance counselor Betsy Memoe said. "She's always on the forefront of research and innovation. A lot of her colleagues access her for advice or to bounce off ideas or figure out a way to meet a student need."

"I'm so honored [and] also humbled at the same time," said Rice, who attended MEMS as a student and taught at The Dorset School before returning to her alma mater as a teacher.

"I think what drove me to middle level is that kids are just forming and figuring out who they are," Rice said. "I like trying to be a role model and providing them with structure, and at the same time providing some guidance on what's expected. I have high expectations and I think they respond to that. Also, I have a lot of respect for kids and they have a lot of respect for me."

Asked about the satisfying part of her job, Rice didn't hesitate in answering.

"When a kid gets it," she said.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000.


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