Educator Spotlight: Melodee Strong

 A Latina woman, Melodee Strong has worked hard to make sure that her classroom, her curriculum, and her art represent the diversity of her students and her adopted community of North Minneapolis.  Photo by Cirien Saadeh

A Latina woman, Melodee Strong has worked hard to make sure that her classroom, her curriculum, and her art represent the diversity of her students and her adopted community of North Minneapolis. Photo by Cirien Saadeh

Melodee Strong grew up in St. Francis, MN, a rural Minnesota community, wanting to be an artist. A graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Strong has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration. She has published nine children’s books and her illustrations can be found in 18 children’s books. Strong has taught at Franklin Middle School since its re-opening in August 2015. Her murals and her student’s artwork can be found all over the school and all over North Minneapolis. Strong has lived in North Minneapolis for the last 22 years.

By Cirien Saadeh | Staff Reporter

Tell us about yourself. I’m a community teaching artist. I include community and their voices, that is very important to me. I’m a catalyst for community to express themselves in a way that they probably can’t. I think that is where my illustration background comes in handy. I am used to getting a problem and then expressing that visually.

Why teach at Franklin Middle School? I don’t want to be anywhere else. I want to be here, because it’s in my neighborhood. I’m a Northsider. It’s really important to me that Northside kids get what other schools get that they haven’t gotten here in a long time. I think North Minneapolis is undervalued, underappreciated, disenfranchised, labeled, and I think our kids are too. We had a conversation about this today in the classroom. I asked my students, “How do people react when you tell them you live on the Northside?” A lot of them had really negative responses, and I was like, “well is that true?” and of course they all say “no.” And I tell them, that is exactly why I have such high expectations for them, because they need to be representing 110% on their best game all the time, because however they interact with you in the classroom is what they are going to tell the rest of the world when they leave the room. And even if they are just being normal kids, they are still going to be labeled. Is it fair? No. But unfortunately it’s the situation we are in.

What is your favorite thing to teach? I’ll tell you which one I don’t like to teach. Perspective. It’s the hardest thing to teach, because people get lost in all the guidelines and they just have to understand that they are guidelines.

Why does your classroom matter? It’s not just about finding a career in the arts. Some of these kids are infused with trauma when they walk into the building, from police brutality to bullying to poverty. There is trauma in their life and they have been exposed to it since they were little. And if I can give them an outlet where they can just come into my room and just relax for an hour, just get some peace from the world, that is valuable to me.

North News has launched a new column to highlight the work of Northside educators doing innovative and socially just work in our North Minneapolis classrooms. If you have any recommendations for our upcoming spotlights, you can email North News at ciriens@pillsburyunited. org. If possible, please include contact information for the person you are recommending.

Cirien Saadeh