Throughout the years, Melissa Haupt has made a point of permanently displaying her students’ artwork on the walls of Riley Avenue Elementary School.
Upon entering the Calverton building, guests are greeted by mosaics depicting the four seasons and, in a nod to the Riverhead School District’s mascot, blue waves. A tree made from tiles that each child helped create adorns a space in the library, while large butterflies appear to fly up the walls near the courtyard.
That’s not all: Ms. Haupt created a yearbook cover design contest and frequently teams with East Hampton artist and author Joyce Raimondo to bring art programs and learning opportunities to students.
But she doesn’t just spearhead art-related activities. Ms. Haupt also founded Riley Avenue’s student council, runs food drives, hosts fundraisers and coaches a Police Athletic League cheerleading team.
“She goes above and beyond the call of duty by not only teaching art, but teaching the value of good character through art,” Ms. Raimondo said. “I don’t even know how she does it all. And she always does it with a smile on her face.”
For her dedication to her students and her community outreach efforts, Ms. Haupt is the Riverhead News-Review’s 2016 Educator of the Year.
Each year, Ms. Haupt tries to plan one large, collaborative project for students to work on. Most recently, she completed an anti-bullying mural in the school’s new cafeteria. As third-graders, students drew pictures depicting what respect meant to them. Ms. Raimondo used those ideas to create a sketch for the mural, which the children painted as fourth-graders.
“[Ms. Haupt] spearheaded the anti-bullying effort in the building,” Riley Avenue principal David Enos said. “She’s set such a positive tone. What she does is she’s positive, positive, positive each and every year and she brings us programs that are truly meaningful.”
Ms. Haupt also works with Ms. Raimondo on an annual Pollack Drip Painting project and recycle for art programs initiative. This year, the two hope to collaborate on another large-scale art project.
In order to offer these artist-in-residency programs to students, Ms. Haupt coordinates with the Parents Association of Riley Avenue and hosts fundraisers throughout the year. These include selling smencils, or scented pencils, and Square 1 Art — items such as ornaments, mugs and cards emblazoned with students’ artwork — and hosting gallery nights where children’s artwork is framed and available for purchase.
“Melissa is always really going out of her way and taking that extra step to arrange these programs for the benefit of the children and to enhance an already amazing art program,” Ms. Raimondo said.
Now in her ninth year at Riley Avenue, and her 19th in the district, the K-4 teacher also works with teachers in each grade to help integrate their curriculum into art projects.
For example, fourth-graders recently learned about Native Americans, so Ms. Haupt helped them make Iroquois masks. And first-graders often have lessons on astronomy and the environment, so artwork reflecting those subjects is also created.
“She’s an art teacher who goes way beyond the teaching of art,” Mr. Enos said. “She integrates the curriculum into art in a big way. And she goes above and beyond with regards to student council, which she established here.”
Three years ago, feeling that the school needed an increased “sense of community,” Ms. Haupt started the fourth-grade student council. Members participate in numerous community events, including a candy buyback event, anti-bullying day and Christmas tree lighting. They also donate to local food pantries, read announcements and stories to kindergartners and perform songs for all students during lunch. This year, they introduced Spirit Week, encouraging students and staff to dress in themed outfits every day of the week before the holiday break. And this month, they’ll launch Kindness Week and mail their first newsletter to parents.
“I feel like they’re learning a lot,” Ms. Haupt said. “Learning how to be responsible, learning how to speak in front of others and doing things they normally wouldn’t get to do.”
Ms. Haupt said the children’s excitement and growth has encouraged her to remain so involved in her classroom and with the school at large.
“I thrive and keep doing what I do because of what it means to them and what they get out of it,” she said. “As far as student council, last year I gave them a questionnaire so I could improve and one kid wrote, ‘I’ve never been able to speak in front of anybody. Now, I’m not scared to speak in front of anybody.’ So it’s their successes that help me continue to keep my hand in all these different areas.”
Top file photo: Riley Avenue Elementary School art teacher Melissa Haupt gives kindergartners instructions for a holiday project. (Credit: Krysten Massa)
2015: Robert Shilling
2014: Greg Wallace
2013: Keri Stromski
2012: Jeff Doroski
2011: Jim Schaefer
2010: Stacy Tuohy
2009: Laura Grable
2008: Vincent Nasta
2007: Marion Dorman
2006: Theresa Drozd
2005: Frank Rotenberg
2004: Kevin McAllister
2003: Leif Shay
2002: Bob Jester
2001: Jean Lapinski
2000: Pat Rose
1999: Pat Snyder
1998: Carol Masin
1997: L. Custer, J. Greenberger
1996: Terri Peters
1995: Jim Roth
1994: Tim Hubbard
1993: Dot Moran
1992: Dorothy Lipsky
1991: Willie Patterson
1990: Audrey Stupke
1989: Ray McKieghan
1988: Stanley Krouse