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Melissa Porter Parks

English Language Development (ELD) resource teacher
Gaithersburg High School

Teacher of the Year Finalist

Melissa Porter Parks is the English Language Development (ELD) resource teacher at Gaithersburg High School, the largest ELD department in MCPS. She oversees more than 800 Emerging Multilingual Learners (EMLs), including students who have experienced interrupted education.

Porter Parks grew up in poverty, received free and reduced price lunches, and worked several jobs while attending high school. She graduated with a 4.0 grade point average, and is a first-generation college graduate. She works diligently for and with her students from their first day of school through graduation, regardless of their background. She works alongside the Student Government Association to create a support experience; newly enrolled students receive a backpack of basic school supplies along with a Gaithersburg Trojans T-shirt, allowing them to assimilate quickly. She also created a student ambassador program, which matches newcomers up with welcoming experienced students by country of origin, first language and interests.

She has the extraordinary ability to connect with students on a personal level to understand their individual needs and learning styles. She consistently weaves multicultural literature and culturally relevant topics into the curriculum. She cultivates strong relationships with families and community partners, building a network of support that extends beyond the school walls. Staff and community partners have hosted drives to help families receive free clothing, household items and other items, such as baby formula, diapers and personal hygiene products.

Porter Parks’ support and encouragement have made a difference in the graduation rate of EML students since 2018; that rate has increased from 33.3 percent to 60 percent in 2022. More students are also meeting college and career readiness goals, and more students are accessing higher education opportunities. She organizes higher education financial aid information sessions for undocumented students and their families. She’s also involved in International Night, an event that helps students represent their cultures through song, dance, food and presentations.

Students say she has changed their lives. Porter Parks “has always motivated me to complete my goals no matter how tough they are,” one said. “She cares and she shows it every day.” Another added: “I have an IEP and she has always seen me as a person and not a student with a problem.”

 Porter Parks holds a master’s degree in teaching, and has completed the coursework for her doctorate in educational leadership from Drexel University.

The MCPS Teacher of the Year will be announced during an awards ceremony on May 1. The winner will go on to compete for Maryland Teacher of the Year.