Students at Meadow Elementary celebrated Read Across America last Friday with the help of a special guest — The Cat in the Hat.
With her tall, red-and-white-striped hat, drawn-on whiskers and furry bodysuit, Meadow principal Melissa Becker certainly looked the part.
She read the whimsical Dr. Seuss story to kindergarten students with an enthusiasm that drew each child to attention.
"I can't tell you the enormous joy that is brought to my life by the kids at this school," Becker said after the reading, still decked out in her feline attire. "You can't get better kids than the kids at Meadow. I feel like I'm their mom on some level."
Becker is known to many colleagues and community members as a multi-faceted, compassionate educator and volunteer, and this year she was selected to receive the Petaluma Community Award for Excellence in Education. Presented by the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce and the Petaluma Argus-Courier, the Community Awards of Excellence highlight businesses and individuals who go above and beyond to serve their community.
Becker said the award is an acknowledgement of the work of everyone at Meadow Elementary.
"I'm surrounded by people who are charismatic, outgoing and have hearts for the world and for children," Becker said. "That makes it pretty easy for me to do what I love to do."
As Meadow's principal for the last nine years, Becker has strived to create a safe and progressive learning environment. She employed a substantial anti-bullying campaign and continually brings new technology and hands-on education opportunities into each classroom.
Beyond the traditional responsibilities of an educator, Becker led Meadow Elementary through some emotional challenges this past year. She helped students come to terms with the death of their teacher, Kim Baucom, and she encouraged them to band together to support classmate CJ Banaszek's long battle against leukemia.
Following Baucom's death, Becker and The Fabulous Women, a local service group, held a day focused on self-defense, personal safety and empowerment. To support CJ, Becker asked students and staff to wear orange to school every Thursday — a tradition they still carry on today even though CJ is now in middle school.
"She does all of these things just out of sheer goodness, and I think that's pretty exceptional," said Krista Gawronski, founder of The Fabulous Women who also nominated Becker for the award. "Melissa has a certain poise and grace that you don't always see."
Within and beyond the halls of Meadow, Becker is an avid volunteer. Her personal focus has been on education in Africa, and she sits on the board of The Rwanda School Project. When she travels to Africa this summer, she'll take suitcases full of hand-drawn pictures and cards from her Meadow Elementary students.
Becker ensures that the importance of community service is emphasized at Meadow, whether it's volunteering for a worthwhile cause, or comforting a friend through a hard time.
She wants each child to graduate with a passion for serving others, so she sends them along in life with a message — one derived from her favorite children's book, "Horton Hears a Who," which states: "One person, no matter how small, can make a difference."
The Petaluma Community Awards of Excellence will be presented March 27 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Petaluma Hotel, 745 Baywood Drive. For more information about the awards or to purchase tickets to the award presentation, call 762-2785.