Melissa Tracy’s passion for service and dedication to ensuring success for younger generations is part of the reason she was one of 10 charter school teachers in America to win the 2022 Changemaker Award.
The award, presented by The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, is given to individuals who positively influence their charter school, bring innovation and creativity to solve problems, and consistently lift voices around them.
“It’s been very challenging teaching during COVID,” Tracy told Delaware LIVE News. “To be recognized, particularly at a national level, definitely helps uplift my spirits and makes me feel appreciated.”
Tracy said the award is more a reflection of her students’ efforts than her own.
“As educators, everything we do is not for any sort of recognition,” she said. “It’s all for serving our students.”
A native of Orange County, California, Tracy began her career teaching history, but now focuses on STEM and social studies.
She teaches six classes, including AP Human Geography, Human Geography and Civics, and a dual-enrollment U.S. history course in partnership with Delaware Technical Community College.
Tracy also runs the food studies career pathway, where she teaches students about food through the lens of culture, environment, power and history.
The program also provides students an opportunity to work in Odyssey’s Hydroponic Learning Lab.
“Ms. Tracy is a changemaker because she single-handedly brought the hydroponics learning lab to Odyssey and helped develop an entire career pathway,” said Noelle Jackson, a senior in Tracy’s food studies pathway. “She’s a self-starter and really believes in lifelong learning and focuses on the journey of learning.”
When Tracy isn’t gardening, cooking, and spending time with her family, she’s getting her students out and about in the community.
During the pandemic, Tracy and her students identified a need in the community that their garden could help address: hunger.
Since the pandemic began, the garden has produced more than 5,000 pounds of fresh vegetables for donation.
On average, they were able to donate 3,500 leafy greens per month to community members in need.
Tracy and her students also began packaging meal kits that included veggies and other ingredients.
“If you are food insecure, one of the major hurdles that one might encounter is that it’s great if we give them bok choy, collards or lettuce, but if you don’t have other ingredients in your pantry to pair it, there’s limited value assigned to that original ingredient,” Tracy said.
During the holidays, her students also donated about 100 goody bag kits for children living in motels.
“Service-learning helps us learn better because we’re able to take the concepts from class and connect them to real-world problems, all while leaving a positive impact on the community around us,” Jackson said.
Jackson said Tracy helped her realize she doesn’t have to spend a lot of money to help those who are less fortunate.
“I just realized how much I can do myself,” she said. “I don’t have to go out and spend a lot of money. I can just simply donate my time to help out in her lab to create the meal kits for someone who’s in need.”
She arrived at Odyssey in 2017 with no gardening experience, but that quickly changed.
Upon her arrival, she campaigned for a local garden. Both students and community members would benefit from one, she believed.
The community garden started with just eight beds but has since grown to 36.
Once the garden expanded, Tracy realized there was no way the school’s students could consume all the produce.
Food studies students spent about four months completing an action project studying food insecurity in the community and determining how to address the issue.
Odyssey started partnering with a number of organizations, from local churches to the Food Bank of Delaware, to get their produce out into the community.
As a first-generation college graduate, Tracy received a history degree from Tulane University in New Orleans. She then entered an alternative teacher certification program, with the option to stay in New Orleans or go abroad.
She chose abroad and did her student teaching in a British school in New Delhi, India.
Tracy has come to identify her teaching style as teaching with a sense of urgency and determination while keeping high expectations and standards for her students and valuing interdisciplinary and service-learning.
She believes both interdisciplinary and service-learning can translate into higher test scores for students.
“When you can get them out of the classroom doing hands-on activities and connecting different subject areas, students tend to perform well academically,” Tracy said.
Jackson said Tracy shapes her teaching to any style of learning that her students need, especially when it comes to creating classroom discussions through hands-on and visual learning, something Jackson says is “admirable and inspiring.”
Tracy will also be teaching the very first AP African American Studies course in Delaware during the next school year. Odyssey, along with 49 other schools across the nation, is piloting the course in 2023.
“Ultimately, I want my students to have as many options available to them as possible,” Tracy said. “Whether that means they immediately enter university or they go to a trade school or join the military, I need to do whatever it takes to set them up for a successful life.”
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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