Melissa Kovac, a second-grade teacher at Amy Biehl Community School, occasionally comes to work dressed as Wonder Woman; other days she dons a bee costume, complete with stripes, wings and antennae. For a school talent show, Kovac surprised students by organizing the faculty to dance to a hit song from the 1980s. Kovac's positive attitude and infectious optimism make her a favorite among students, parents and peers.
Kovac engages her students at Amy Biehl, a high-need K-6 school, with a multitude of hands-on activities. In the fall, the class dissected pumpkins, recording their observations about the skin, seeds and flesh in their science journals, then traveled to a pumpkin patch to see the pumpkins growing on the vine. With help from the Northern New Mexico Inquiry Science Education Consortium, Kovac and her students grew beans in the classroom and outside in the school garden, using different soils, light, and watering patterns, recording their observations and predictions. For a unit exploring the biographies of famous Americans, students fashioned three-dimensional heads of the person they were studying, wrote a five-paragraph essay—no small undertaking for second-graders—and then presented their research to the class while wearing their subjects' likenesses.
Kovac uses consistent procedures and techniques to keep students' attention and accommodate their learning styles. She puts lessons on the SMART board, sets daily learning objectives, and uses reading response journals, data binders, math journals and close-reading strategies. Kovac's students have posted significant gains in test scores under her tutelage: In 2015-16, proficiency rates rose more than 45% in math and almost 35% in reading.
Kovac has taken a leadership role at Amy Biehl and within the district. She is known to attack new initiatives with gusto, mentor student and new teachers, and incorporate and model state-of-the-art instructional techniques, including measurable learning targets. Other teachers from the school and district often visit Kovac's classroom to learn from her methods. Kovac assists the principal with the school's master schedule and volunteered to improve after-school pickup procedures, making the end of the day run more smoothly for students, staff and parents. She led professional development around the use of reading response journals for the district's principals, following up with specific teacher training at schools throughout the district.
Kovac serves on Amy Biehl's leadership team, the school advisory team, and the district's literacy committee. She has also coached the cheerleading squad, participated in events with the local Audubon Society, and helped organize Walk & Roll To School Day to encourage families to walk, bike and rollerskate to school instead of driving. Kovac makes parental involvement a priority: More than a dozen parents accompanied the class on a field trip to the 18th-century Rancho De Las Golondrinas, an important stop on the historic El Camino Real.
Kovac pours her heart and soul into Amy Biehl. Two years ago, a student in Kovac's class passed away suddenly. Counselors visited the class, but Kovac wanted to do more. She led the effort to name the school garden after the student; as an art project, Kovac had each student make and paint a tile, then hung the tiles in a heart shape. The students dedicated the ceramic mural to the memory of their classmate.
Kovac earned a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education from New Mexico Highlands University in 2005.
"I know I'm succeeding as an educator when the relationships I've built with students remain years later. When I see them graduating..." (read more)