Melissa Koronka, a science teacher at the Accelerated Learning Academy (ALA) in Flint, was chosen to receive the Cranbrook Institute of Science 2022 Outstanding Educator Award. Every year, Cranbrook hosts the“Women Rock Science” gala, which recognizes three individuals who are making a difference in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM). The award recipients will be recognized at the fifth annual gala held on October 12 in Bloomfield Hills.
The ALA is an alternative high school in the Flint Community School system (FCS). With a student population of 150 and eight teachers, the academy offers alternative learning for students in grades 9-12 who have not been successful in other classroom settings. “I really love working with the alternative students!” Koronka exclaims. She has been a science teacher for FCS for 26 years.
I see students thrive after watching them struggle – that is amazing to me. That is what makes my job worthwhile.
About 11 years ago, Koronka began chaperoning the Flint students who were selected to participate in the internship program offered by Cranbrook. Her position at Cranbrook evolved and she took a leadership role in designing a virtual program for the school.
Although the selection process for the Outstanding Educator Award is unknown to her, Koronka does know that she loves teaching. “The students in my class are amazing,” she shares. One of her students, a former Cranbrook intern, graduated from Michigan State University and became a veterinarian. “My greatest joy is seeing students believe in themselves, reach their goals and become successful,” says the science teacher.
Many ALA students have suffered some sort of social or emotional trauma and it is important to Koronka to cultivate a climate that isn’t overwhelming. The school is dedicated to providing the students with a safe space to learn, and ensuring that they have access to the resources they need. The school day begins with the playing of soft music and the students practice a mindfulness exercise. “The brain needs a break,” Koronka explains, adding that the exercise actually helps to promote learning.
ALA students often have trust issues and Koronka strives to promote a place where they feel welcome. And the students help promote that climate, she notes. The number of fights has dropped significantly. If a student is having a bad day, there is a social worker on staff who talks to them and helps them resolve their issues.
Koronka was very surprised when she was notified that she was selected to receive of this year’s Outstanding Educator Award. “I’m pleased and very honored,” she says. But what’s most important to her is the role she plays in her students’ lives. “I see them thrive after watching them struggle – that is amazing to me. That is what makes my job worthwhile.”