Year Honored: 2017
Milken Community High School
Los Angeles, CA
Melody Mansfield takes joy in helping students learn to express themselves with words. The director of creative writing at Milken Community Schools, Mrs. Mansfield designs and teaches high school courses that study and explore writers and writing. A working writer herself, she delights in bringing new writing techniques and approaches from her own work back to the classroom. “All writing is creative,” she tells her students. “We all begin with the same blank page and must fill it in with our most informed, authentic, empathetic, and imaginative selves.”
Mrs. Mansfield began teaching in 1993, the past two decades at Milken. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from California State University at Northridge and an MFA in fiction writing from Vermont College of Norwich University. Before entering the classroom, Mrs.Mansfield studied ballet and was headed for a career as a professional dancer. Though her passion for reading and writing eventually led her away from dance, teaching ballet taught her a lot about being an effective educator, especially “the importance of celebrating with students each incremental gain…and [how to] empower them with full ownership of their successes and failures.” Joining Milken introduced her to the beauty of Jewish traditions, with their emphasis on honoring the human experience and reading and interpreting texts.
In addition to teaching 10th-grade Honors English, Mrs. Mansfield oversees Milken’s student-owned creative writing program, including a monthly student reading forum, a guest author series, and the Spotlight Storyteller distinction for talented student writers. In her Literary Magazine elective, students learn to solicit, read and select submissions; compose tactful rejection and acceptance letters; design the magazine; work with the publisher; and manage launch publicity. In creative writing workshops, students learn analytical listening and critical thinking skills, but they also get practice in framing their comments with care and tact–a skill they will need for both college and career. They lead class discussions on classic texts like Macbeth, driving the content and bearing responsibility for eliciting participation from their peers. In evaluations, many cite these student-led discussions as the most impactful activity of the year. Mrs. Mansfield celebrates her students’ courage as they “share with others that which is buried most deeply in one’s heart…this may be the core of all I do.”
Note: This biography was current at the time this educator received the Award