Saturday, March 8, 2008

Homage to my hero, my friend

Pin It I want to talk about a friend of mine, the kind of person that comes around once in a lifetime. A person who is constantly giving to others and never takes the bows or accolades for what she does. When I started teaching for the Provo School District in 2000, I met Melanie. At this time she was the Art teacher at Sunset View. However, I soon discovered that she was much more than that. Over the years we’ve worked together I’ve seen a woman who is nothing short of incredible.

Melanie’s youngest son was in my class my first year and it didn’t take long before she was volunteering in my classroom whenever she wasn’t teaching a class of her own. She was willing to help edit students’ writing, tutor them in Reading and Math, and would also spend countless hours helping students after school with the presentations they were required to put together. I can remember one such occasion with a boy whom I’ll call “Joey.”

Joey’s parents were uninvolved with him, and they would never help him with his homework. Melanie stayed after school and helped this boy research rockets, organize his information, write a report, make cue cards, build a model of the rocket, and put together a poster for his presentation. In order to help his parents feel “involved” Melanie sent home the pieces for the poster so his parents could help him glue them to the poster board (which, consequently, they didn’t do…Melanie helped him glue them the morning of his presentation). At Joey’s presentation the next day another parent had commented on the quality of his report. I listened to Joey’s mom who carried on talking about how hard they’d worked on it. Melanie was there but simply smiled and didn’t say a thing about the hours she’d worked with Joey, not his mother. This is how Melanie Bliss is, quietly working in the background and never saying a thing, never taking credit, yet always giving. The spotlight is not where she wants to be…she just wants to help kids.

These items, however, are just the tip of the iceberg.

Melanie Bliss took over the after-school program for Sunset View in 2000. During that time she started to write grants for funding for the program she named, “DragonQuest.” This was an after-school (as well as an off-track) program for students at our low-income school to get homework help, tutoring, and where fun classes were offered they could take part in--opportunities many of these kids would never get. She started off with a musical production of Tom Sawyer. It was this which led to a musical every year thereafter. 

I watched as Melanie rewrote portions of the plays to make them better for elementary-aged students, write new songs for the productions to upbeat, popular tunes, and spend countless hours designing sets and costumes as well as working with the kids. In essence, Melanie Bliss was the after school program. However, she did all of this quietly and never drew attention to herself. She would always focus the spotlight on the kids she loved so much, never on herself.

During ensuing years, Melanie directed 7 more plays, all of which required hundreds of hours to prepare. Many of these hours Melanie worked without pay. For the last three productions, Melanie started something called, “Stories on Stage” where the kids wrote stories, turned them in, and Melanie would rewrite these stories into a play format. The students at Sunset View would then perform these short plays for parents and students alike. Once again, though Melanie would spend at least a hundred hours of personal time creating sets, designing and making costumes, writing the scripts, and working with the kids, many of these were unpaid and unknown to the patrons and employees of the school.

In 2004, Melanie became involved with Provo High’s Ballroom Program. She has worked in fundraising for the kids in that program ever since that time. Melanie has helped put together activities, organized their schedules, taken over the BYU football game concessions so the kids could raise funds for their competitions, gone as support to competitions, and helped in the organization of “Dancing with the Athletes.” All this she has done from the wings, never stepping center stage to take any of the bows she most certainly deserves.

Three years ago, Melanie started a program at Sunset View called, “Swing Pups.” This is a program for elementary-aged students to be taught swing dances by the students of Provo High. When Melanie took another job in the district with more hours - as well as starting her college degree - she kept a hand in Swing Pups. Because of scheduling conflicts at the school, Melanie has since moved the practices for this program to Provo High, and to make sure that the kids can still make it the distance, has set up a carpool between parents to ensure that every child that would like to attend has a way to get there.

I was having lunch with Melanie one day and I asked her why she spent all of this time on activities when her own, personal time was so limited as it was. In essence, this is what Melanie told me:
“When I was a kid my parents would never take me to any extracurricular activities—dance lessons, plays, nothing. It just wasn’t a priority to them, as a result, I didn’t get to do a whole lot. There are kids here at Sunset View who have the same problem I did…their parents won’t drive them to Provo Center Street Theatre or up to the Hale Theatre to try out for a production. However, if I bring these and other programs to the children—at their school—it’s close enough for them to walk. They’ll get the chance to do these things they may not have otherwise been able to do. That’s why I do it; I do it so the kids can be exposed to the arts and have experiences they may not have otherwise had the opportunities to take part in.”

I could go on for pages and pages about Melanie Bliss, and I haven’t even begun to touch on some of the things she has done for countless others. However, just know that Melanie has made a larger impact on students than any certified “teacher” I have ever seen in my life. I have never seen a greater commitment to children, or someone who has given up more of their own, personal time for the students they love.

Why am I writing this? You might ask. The answer is simple enough, I just wanted everyone to know what I know about a very special woman who would never tell anyone about these things herself (and who will kill me if she ever finds out I did this). A person I respect, a woman I admire, my hero, my friend.

If you're interested, here is a short documentary of sorts I put together about the after-school drama program:

Two of my favorite plays from the third year of Stories on Stage:


Julie said...

Amen. She certainly is amazing. I'm glad that she was able to touch my life as well.

annette said...

I knew she did a lot, but I truly had no idea! What a truly amazing person. And what a great friend you are to dedicate a blog to her.

Tara said...

Beautfully written tribute. It makes me want to be a better person, not just serve more, or do more but to do what I do with a pure heart. Thanks for the inspiration to be a better person.

Gerb said...

I agree completely. She is definitely an amazing woman, and well loved by the kids. We were sad she had to leave SSV.

Teachinfourth said...


She really is...


Most people don't know, that's why I have to spread the word.


She puts me to shame, to be honest.


I miss her there too...

K.J. said...

I'm glad you still keep in touch with her. School sure is different without her!

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