Following her mother’s footsteps


Jonathan Munroe, news-features writer

Tami Melton, special school district teacher, stands on the Essex parking lot at 7:30 a.m. awaiting the arrival of her students. As the buses pull up alongside her, the day blurs to mealtimes, reading activities, medications, physical education classes and career skills.

“I wanted to become a special education teacher when I was in high school,” Melton said. “My sister was labeled with a learning disability. My mom had always worked with mentally challenged individuals and adults. It is kind of a family thing.”

Prior to working in the St. Louis area, Melton worked for four years at Dawson Springs Community School District and the Trigg County School District, both in western Kentucky. This is her fifth year with the St. Louis SSD, having spent three years at the Neuwoehner School, a school dedicated to special needs children in Town and Country.

“Behind the cafeteria is the Alternative Learning Community (ALC),” Melton said. “We have children with lots of daily needs whether it is feeding or [going to the bathroom] on top of their educational needs. We take care of medicine, equipment, moving and transferring.”

Melton is in charge of seniors in the ALC. She works frequently with Mike Wade, associate  principal, for classroom requirements and senior activities.

“When a new student comes in, I might have to make adjustments to the classroom depending on their needs,” Wade said. “[Melton is] definitely a hands-on team player. The school where she was before was a full time SSD building, and she does her job really well.”

KHS uses a program called Community Based Vocational Instruction (CBVI) with on-site jobs where special needs students can mix with the rest of the students. These programs include Pioneer Perks, Pretzel Boy’s sales, stocking juice and milk in the cafeteria kitchen and wiping off tables which teach money counting skills, speaking skills and customer service experience.

“There are always areas of improvement on how Kirkwood helps accommodate special needs children, but overall [Kirkwood has] a good sense of family and community,” Melton said. “Mr. Wade, the administrators and the counselors step up to make sure that they get to know the kids.”

Andrew Nardi, special school district teacher, works alongside Melton every day. They share a passion for special needs children that helps them work toward the same goal.

“Tami and I complement each other pretty [well],” Nardi said. “We have a lot of fun working together. She has fit in here really well with the families and the staff.”

Melton’s multiple years of experience in the SSD help her each day as she works to improve the lives of the kids around her, ensuring they get the best education possible.

“I love these kids,” Melton said. “It’s hard not to love them. You get a kid that doesn’t like big groups, and they go in a gym filled with unfamiliar people and participate in Special Olympics. That’s huge. That’s a win for their social abilities. Every kid deserves the same education and love. Every day is something hard and every day is something rewarding, so you just have to look for both. It’s probably the best job I’ve ever had.”