Danville teacher builds relationships with students to improve learning

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews
Mellane Crowe, middle school teacher at Sunrise Children’s Home, in the garden she and students planted, including the unusual amaranth growing behind her.

For Mellane Crowe, the middle school science teacher at Sunrise Children’s Services, teaching her students is all about relationships.

Crowe said she works to build relationships with her students, which can be difficult when they are sometimes only with her for a few months while they stay at the Danville facility.

“It can be hard to get them to open up. But you spend all day together,” Crowe said. “We’re doing things — I’m not just talking at them. We’re doing stuff together.”

Crowe recently got help in giving her students something to work on, thanks to a $4,000 grant from the Kentucky Educational Cooperative for State Agency Children, which paid for Crowe’s students to have a greenhouse. 

Crowe said she plans to have the students grow crops and study plant propagation this winter.

Even before getting the greenhouse, she had been working with the students on growing plants from seeds in a garden and then harvesting. She said working plants helps make science more hands-on for the kids.

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Students in Mellane Crowe’s middle school class at the Sunrise Children’s Services in Danville grew and harvested tomatoes, potatoes, seeds from sunflowers and more.

“They enjoy it,” she said. “It’s soothing for them. It’s very therapeutic for kids to dig in the dirt.”

Crowe laughed as she shared how amazed the students were when they harvested potatoes.

She’s also using the garden to teach them more about helping others; the students grew Tahitian melon squash and donated some to Grace Café, a pay-what-you-can non-profit restaurant in Danville that aims to end food insecurity.

“I wanted them to see happiness isn’t born through making themselves happy,” Crowe said. “They are beginning to realize it.”

Crowe has degrees in special education and secondary education. She taught in Lincoln County for several years before moving to Bate Middle School in 2001. There, she taught special education classes and alternative classes for about 12 years.

About four years ago, Tina Wray, special education director, asked Crowe if she wanted to move to Sunrise Children’s Services. Teachers at the Danville facility are employed through the Danville Independent School District.

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Centre College freshman visited the middle school students at Sunrise Children’s Services on Saturday to help build benches and tables for their greenhouse.

One of the biggest things she said she’s learned over her years in education, especially since being at Sunrise, is that consistency is key.

“If I say something, that’s the way it is,” she said.

There are some restrictions with students at the center that she might not have to deal with in a standard public school setting, such as a much bigger concern for ensuring student privacy and safety. There’s no posting of student photos on social media, for example, and there are some students dealing with more serious issues.

But, Crowe said there are a lot more freedoms, too — she can take more time to focus on a subject than she might be able to in a traditional setting.

“I don’t have to worry about second period,” she said.

Having the same nine kids all day also means they can easily just decide to go on a walk to look at trees, if that’s what they are studying. In fact, Crowe said, they did just that, comparing the various types of trees and their qualities.

It also means they can go feed the ducks.

“We talked about letting things roll off their backs, like water does on a duck. They had never heard that,” Crowe said.

So, they walked to the Millennium Park, fed the ducks, and talked about how the oil on their feathers enabled them to let the water roll off their backs.

Another time, they went to Hubble Park and talked about turtles.

Crowe has three major goals with her students: getting everyone close to their appropriate reading level; making sure the students know their math facts; and making sure everyone is maintaining good behavior.

And, they have fun, she said.

“If they get bored, we go outside, we do pushups, we do something to give them a break,” she said. “You have to be flexible. If they start getting tired or not listening, it’s time to change things up.”

Sometimes, they read outside.

That’s something she wants the kids to learn to love, too.

“I hope I can get them reading a book instead of playing video games,” Crowe said. Most of all, “I want them to see they have a future.”