The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) presented the 2023 Robinson Award for diversity and equity in public education to Melanie House, the gifted and talented itinerant educator for Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), at its April 12 meeting.
House said she was momentarily in disbelief when she heard she won the award. Then she said she thought of the lessons she teaches her students, “about belief in self.”
“At times you can wonder if what you do is truly seen, heard and impactful,” she said, adding that she felt blessed and humbled by the award.
“Thank you for this honor,” House said.
Each year, KBE gives the Robinson Award to a Kentuckian or a Kentucky organization demonstrating extraordinary efforts and contributions in the area of educational diversity and equity. The award is named for Samuel Robinson, a member of the KBE from 1991-2004 who made diversity and equity in public education his life’s work. He was a well-known community figure as Louisville navigated the Civil Rights era.
Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass noted that House has “dedicated her life to education, to enacting change and to empowering students.”
“It was an honor for the Kentucky Board of Education to be able to recognize her efforts.” he said.
After an experience she had in elementary school, House vowed to become an educator who empowered students who looked like her.
The daughter of Amelia Blossom Pegram, a participant in the fight for freedom in her native country of South Africa, and Master Sergeant Charles Lenford House, a recipient of a Bronze and Silver Star and two Purple Hearts, House credits her family for teaching her the importance of fighting for those who are oppressed.
While serving as the only minority teacher on the arts faculty at a performing arts school in Kentucky, House noticed that minority students who had high academic aptitudes or talent in the arts were not getting their educational needs served. These students were Black, Brown, in Exceptional Child Education, English learners or economically disadvantaged.
This motivated her to go back to school to get her gifted and talented certification to help students like them.
Today, House is a gifted and talented educator and advocate who incorporates theater to help reach her students. She also has written a play about gifted and talented students that attempts to empower marginalized students and highlight overlooked voices.
“I believe that dauntless, dynamic engagement with diversity, equity and inclusion is necessary to broaden our future horizons, so as an educator, I will always strive to be a facilitator for positive equitable educational social justice experiences,” House said.
She serves as president of The Murrumbo Theatre Ensemble, a collective of African-American women who endeavor to bring theatrical experiences to African-American students, and created professional development seminars that highlight Afrocentric, African-American and multi-ethnic theater.
House and her husband, William R. Mansfield II, have brought three policy and educational summits to Louisville focusing on positive educational change for minority and marginalized groups. The seminars were made possible by their nonprofit organization, the Mansfield Institute for Public Policy and Social Change Inc.
House also has served on several boards and committees in Louisville and currently is a member of the Jewish Family and Career Services for Louisville Board of Directors.
She said she and other teachers hope to instill in their students the ability to be resilient, as well as a positive self-image.
“Yet, as we all know, it sometimes helps to be told you’re seen, you are heard and you’re continued contributions are valuable,” House said.
Recent recipients of the Robinson Award include Jason Reeves (2022), a professor of education at Georgetown College; Kyri Demby, a teacher at Jacob Elementary (Jefferson County); and Diane Porter, the first African-American woman elected to chair the Jefferson County Public School Board. Demby and Porter were 2021 co-recipients.