Picture of Melinda Richardson, Elementary School Teacher Achievement Award winner, Clay City Elementary School (Powell County).

The kindness and encouragement from one of her former teachers inspired Melinda Richardson to pursue a career as an educator.

A 4th- and 5th-grade math teacher at Clay City Elementary School (Powell County) since 2006, she said her greatest accomplishment is encouraging students to create positive change in the world by giving back to their communities.

Richardson said that with 83% of her students at or below poverty level, it is especially important to teach them that they don’t have to be wealthy or famous to make a difference in the world.

This year, she partnered with her sister, a 1st-grade teacher, to create the Kids Who Care Club. The club empowers students to change the world for the better through service. They’ve made blankets for children in need, created Valentines bears for nursing homes and raised money for children in Africa.

“My role was to allow students to brainstorm ideas about ways that they could make a difference. We asked them to choose ways they could help their school, community and world,” Richardson said.

She said these service projects have greatly motivated her students, both during their club meetings and also in the classroom.

The Kids Who Care Club is just one way that Richardson makes learning transcend the classroom. Students participate in Morning Meetings each week to ask and answer discussion questions and explore careers. Her 5th-grade students also write pen pal letters to local nursing home residents.

“Students are learning valuable life skills and important lessons that will help them be successful in the future,” she said.

Richardson said she plans to continue working for the good of her students and the world.

“I will let the public know that public education is striving to create better schools, better communities, and, in turn, a better world,” she said. “I will communicate that our children can be the change that this world so desperately needs.”