Educator Melody Cranford has found a vivid way of inspiring youth. She dons the aviator's uniform of Bessie Coleman and meets youth in an after school program she's created called "Dare To Dream."
Bessie Coleman is the Atlanta, Texas, native who became the first African-American internationally licensed female airplane pilot 100 years ago this month in 1921.
Coleman's accomplishments inspired Cranford to create her Dare to Dream program, which earned her recognition from the National Black Aviator's Association during its national meeting in Houston in 2011.
Since then, Cranford — while earning awards as a classroom teacher — has also traveled to meet school boards, volunteers and students with her Bessie Coleman reenactment message of believing in oneself. She does this especially during February, which is Black History Month.
Dressed in her aviator costume, Cranford returned to Atlanta recently to be part of flight school for local girls ages 13 to 19 presented by the all-women's pilots' organization called The Ninety-Nines. They flew in with 10 members and airplanes to conduct a Bessie Coleman flight school for youth.
"The reception was wonderful," Cranford said. "It was a first for me to participate in a fly-in, but I think the field of aviation has embraced me. Our goals of recognizing piloting and young people by focussing on Bessie Coleman fit perfectly together. I think I can help the Ninety-Nines get their program in schools, that maybe we can work together and add to the educational component of their effort."
Adding to education by becoming a teacher of teachers is exactly what Cranford has found she wants to do as an educator.
Since graduating from Atlanta public schools and then Texas A&M University-Texarkana with a bachelor's degree in education and a master's degree in curriculum and instruction, Cranford has earned several achievements and certifications. Several of these are:
Liberty-Eylau Elementary Teacher of the Year 2013-14
Westlawn Elementary Teacher of the Year 2017-18
Certification of teaching specialties in reading, special education K-12 and English as a Second Language
Currently working to become a Nationally Board Certified Educator, which is an advanced teaching credential allowing her to teach in any state.
With her current employer, New Tech Cherokee Elementary School in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Cranford was named Elementary Teacher of the Month in January, and then Oklahoma Classroom Hero in February for her work creating a program involving parents as teachers.
For the classroom hero award established during the COVID pandemic, Cranford helped create a "parents' university" weekly meeting in school space with parents to assist them in teaching their children at home.
"We could just see relief in parents' faces when they would come to our school on Tuesday evenings to learn about the kids' curriculum and what they could do," Cranford said. "They would leave saying, 'I got this.'"
Cranford said her passion now in education is to be an advocate for literacy.
"That's why it is important for me to get out in the community. When I dress up as Bessie Coleman, young people can see there are possibilities for them. I dress up and am transformed. So can they be, too. Bessie's image can help open doors for them. I like to tell young people, if you've suffered, literacy and reading can be an outlet for you."
One person who nominated Cranford for the classroom hero award said of her, "She's what is called an educational disruptor. She positively alters the environment of a school and classroom she makes reluctant students want to learn."
One teacher's role Cranford never fails to leave off her resume is this, "I am," she says, "a Vacation Bible School teacher, as well.