Yarmouth teacher to lead search for unsung heroes

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YARMOUTH — A Yarmouth High School teacher with a passion for project-based learning has been recognized for her work by the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes.

Melissa Noack, who has taught at YHS for 16 years, has been named a fellow of the Kansas-based organization. The program is a “merit-based development opportunity” that prepares teachers to help students discover people in history who have changed the world, but have received little attention for it.

“The idea of the Unsung Heroes project is to find unsung heroes and participate in project-based learning … and to create a lasting change in schools around the country,” Noack said.

Noack is a visual arts teacher at YHS who teaches photography, graphic design, drawing and painting. In 2008, she received her first master’s degree, in education; she is working toward her second, in art education. In 2012, she received her National Board Certification.

In 2005, she was named a Maine Milken Educator by the Milken Family Foundation, and was contacted in the fall of 2014 about becoming an LMC fellow. Being a nationally recognized teacher is part of the criteria for being a fellow.

On June 21, Noack spent a week at the LMC headquarters with other fellows to learn more about the Unsung Heroes project.

“They were helping us as educators to bring these values back to the classroom,” she said.

Noack said she plans to start an Unsung Heroes project in Yarmouth, by having students do research and interviews to learn about someone who’s made a difference in the world.

“Hopefully in some capacity it’ll be spread around the school, the town, and surrounding towns,” she said.

One idea Noack has is to have students in her photography classes research a photojournalist who uncovered a large story.

Noack said she is inspired by a 1999 LMC project called “Life in a Jar,” in which three students researched Irena Sendler, a Polish woman who saved 2,500 children from the Holocaust. Sendler was relatively unknown until the project was started.

“Life in a Jar,” which is performed as an educational play, is coming to Maine this fall. There will be two performances at the Hampden Academy Performing Arts Center on Nov. 8 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

LMC is also starting a new program, the Art Effect Project, as well as an art competition to bring more creative and visual aspects to the Unsung Heroes project.

“(LMC) thinks it’s another way to uncover unsung heroes,” Noack said. “The art classroom is just another way.”

Noack said she wants become involved with the Art Effect Project by being on a strategic planning committee and developing more curriculum for Unsung Heroes projects.

She said she hopes her interest in learning and in the projects will spark students’ interest, too.

“As an educator, I am passionate about learning, but I’m also passionate about making a change in the life of every kid,” Noack said. “When the educator is passionate, it’s contagious for kids.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.