Melissa Lesser is a native of Northwest Ohio who originally had aspirations to become a doctor in high school. Her initial focus was on other academic courses with little room in her schedule for anything art related. It was only after taking a drawing class that a teacher encouraged her to explore the possibility of a career in the arts. Ms. Lesser applied and was accepted into The Columbus College of Art and Design where she majored in Graphic Design. The diverse and creative student body gave her a sense of belonging that she had never experienced before. However, after feeling disheartened by the commercialism and consumerism in her chosen field, Ms. Lesser decided to re-evaluate her career goals to choose a path where she could apply her passions to better serve the community.
When re-entering the academic world Melissa balanced life as a single mother while trying to complete her Bachelor’s in Art Education at the University of Toledo. On nights and weekends she waited tables to stay financially afloat. Before graduating Ms. Lesser was hired as an arts instructor at Maumee High School in Maumee, Ohio. She immediately began pursuing her Master’s Degree in Art Education from the University of Toledo while also teaching during the day. While at the University of Toledo Melissa initiated the institution’s own chapter of the National Art Education Association and worked with community outreach through a Children’s Art Workshop working in conjunction with the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio.
Ms. Lesser then got married and relocated to Dallas, Texas. She began working at Duncanville High School as a visual arts instructor. The extremely large and diverse student body offered new challenges as well as new opportunities for growth. While at Duncanville, Ms. Lesser instituted a District-wide Art Show to bring the community together and celebrate the gifts and talents of the students. She also had great success with student entries at the regional Visual Arts Scholastic Events despite intense competition and additionally had students win at the state level. Melissa then became certified to instruct AP Studio Art 2D, 3D, Drawing and AP Art History and worked with the O’Donnell Foundation to develop fine arts exhibitions at the Dallas Museum of Art. One of the greatest gifts from her culturally stimulating experience in Texas was to learn that the arts translate no matter what language a student speaks or what socio-economic status they originate from. The transition from merely teaching technique and developing skills became secondary to student freedom of expression and personal growth. Artistic technique can be taught to anyone, but the invaluable aspect is in each individual student’s voice. The appreciation and celebration of each student’s cultural heritage and personal journey elevate their artistic creations and allow the students to find their voice and let their story shine.
Ms. Lesser moved to Connecticut following her husband’s promotion in 2017 and is currently working at Bulkeley High School. Her interactions with the many extremely talented and creative students within the Hartford Public School system motivated Ms. Lesser to bolster the Arts Program within the district by adding AP Studio Art 2D, 3D, and AP Art History. She also is currently working as a teacher leader to help strengthen the district curriculum as well as entering student work into numerous competitions to garner recognition for the talented students within the community. Her students have won the Hartford Creative Contest (clean sweep 2019, 2020) and the Hartford Youth Art Renaissance Portfolio Competition in partnership with the Wadsworth in 2018, 2019 and 2020. The HYAR Portfolio awarded the winning students free classes through the Hartford Art School. Ms. Lesser’s students have also been awarded Silver Keys at the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition for the state of Connecticut and her student’s work exhibited at the Hartford Marathon in 2018 and 2019 with recognition at the Governor’s Mansion in 2019.
An essential part of Ms. Lesser’s adaptability has been the integration of technology into the classroom. Currently she is working to help develop a Computer Science Pathway at Bulkelely High School applying creative problem solving to a variety of platforms and new media. With an ever-evolving approach to teaching Ms. Lesser encourages students to embrace their own unique narrative, no matter what path they choose, and develop a sense of pride in what they offer to the world today and in the future.