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New St. John’s teacher to bring real world experience to classroom

Principal Mike Strommen hands over the keys to Melissa Dunlay’s classroom at St. John’s. (Submitted photo)

Melissa Dunlay graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in graphic design, but after four years of work in the real world she discovered she had more enthusiasm for something else.

“I just started to realized my passion was more in teaching,” she said.

Once she found her new passion, she quit her job in graphic design, started taking prerequisite classes and then began a masters program at the University of Minnesota.

She graduated from the University of Minnesota in May with her masters in teaching and will be teaching fifth and sixth grades at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Vermillion this fall.

Growing up in the Catholic school system in Rochester, Dunlay said she is excited to bring some of the experiences she remembers to her teaching career at St. John’s.

“(The Catholic school system) was really wonderful; the biggest thing I loved about it was the sense of community,” she said.

Dunlay said everyone knew her and her family and her family knew everyone else at the same time. She said it was an experience that she looks back on with great joy, and she is excited to bring that community aspect into her teaching to give her students a great experience, too.

In preparation for the school year, Dunlay said she has been doing a lot of reading, familiarizing herself with the curriculum and of course organizing her classroom. She decided to keep tables in the classroom instead of desks for a more collaborative work environment.

“I really love the collaboration concept of (the students) being able to interact and learn from each other is very important,” she said.

Dunlay said there will likely be less distraction for the students in the table environment, too, because they won’t be distracted by the school supplies in their desks. All their notebooks and supplies will be in cubbies somewhere in the classroom and they will have to be mindful of going to get exactly what they need to work on.

Dunlay will have 10 students in her classroom this year and she hopes to encourage them to have a lifelong interest in learning, just like her teachers had done for her.

“I look back and there’s things that I’ve learned that I’ll never forget, and that’s because a teacher taught with so much excitement about a concept or subject,” Dunlay said.

In addition, Dunlay hopes to make learning fun because she believes learning shouldn’t feel like a chore. One way she will be able to do that is by incorporating her background in graphic design. She said she wants to incorporate art projects into her lessons as a way of introducing concepts in another format.

“It’s great that I can do teaching and then apply art to teaching,” she said.

Mike Strommen, principal at St. John’s, said the school is very blessed to have Dunlay on staff and he thinks she will be a great role model for the students.

He said she has demonstrated her ability to thrive in a corporate environment, but “then (she re-dedicates her) career to education, particularly a Catholic education, that’s a one-in-a-million person.”

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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