For all the challenging news around pandemic-related learning, there’s something really fabulous developing in Ceres, California.
Thanks to Renee Melo, a 25-year teaching veteran and a local Teacher of the Year, 160 students will learn anatomy while practicing distance learning at Central Valley High School. All 160 students will have their own Anatomy in Clay® Learning System model at home.
Thanks to additional, COVID-19 funding for her district—made available through the federal CARES Act (The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act)—Melo was able to order extra models for her many students.
“I’m super excited,” said Melo. “Not only will the students be learning anatomy, but their little brother, their parents will be, too. Everyone in the household is going to be learning and be part of this.”
Melo teaches anatomy and microbiology and chairs the science department at Central Valley, part of the Ceres Unified School District (CUSD). She credits administrators and staff for being forward-thinking as they adjust rapidly to remote learning and, in the near future, hybrids of remote and school-based learning.
“They have been constantly thinking, putting together teams of parents, students, and teachers to ask, ‘How do we do it better?’ Not just crisis teaching. We haven’t just thrown things together.”
The result is a supported staff with multiple layers of professional development, including Zoom tutorials, other distance teaching strategies, and funding avenues.
That’s how Melo acquired another 60 models to add to her inventory.
“It was a big ask,” said Melo. One of the reasons it was readily approved, she said,
was the models’ sustainability. Unlike dissections, models can be reused every year. Indeed, some of the models have been used in classrooms for more than 20 years. Now they’re finally getting to take their first field trips to students’ homes.
Meanwhile, in this new remote world, Melo is constantly providing feedback online through virtual classroom, email, text, or video chats, she said.
This year, she was awarded Employee of the Year honors among CUSD Certificated Employees, grades 9-12.
“Students love the models. They are naming muscles. They can see where muscles attach. They can follow attachments and see how they work,” she said. “It’s the best way to learn anything: to build it yourself.”
It’s been quite a journey for Melo, who recalled a less than ideal educational experience when she was younger. She struggled at home and in the classroom, eventually moving to live with her grandparents during her high school years. Then a biology teacher told her, “you’re going to college,” she said.
Melo hadn’t even considered it before then. With additional encouragement from her grandmother, she said: “My potential opened up.”
The teacher attended University of California-Davis and earned her Bachelor of Science degree at California State University, Stanislaus. She now regularly pays her gratitude forward as one of those teachers spurring young people to love and pursue higher education. She loves hearing from former students who have pursued careers in the health care following the anatomy classes in high schools.
They include nurses, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, firefighters, and veterinarians.
“Medicine is not for the elite,” said Melo. “Anybody can be successful.”