#MNPSVoices: Melissa Gordon, Restorative Practices Specialist

Everyone strives to have their voice acknowledged and heard. That hardly happens even for adults; not to mention students. Melissa Gordon, a Restorative Practice Specialist with Metro Nashville Public Schools, is hoping to change that by heading to the “big screen” with a new documentary - “Words Caught in My Throat.”

Gordon’s film documentary centers on seventh and eighth grade African-American girls and the way society addresses student voice.

“As a culture we are used to talking to and talking down to students. We are not centered in building their leadership capacity,” Gordon said. “You can learn just as much from young people as they can learn from adults. That is an exchange.”

MNPSVoices Melissa Gordon

Gordon, a teaching artist, poet and author strives to bridge her passions, which center on inter-generational collaboration and the recognition that middle school students do not often have an opportunity to have their voices heard. She searches for answers to the questions: “What are the gaps in services for our student and their communities? What do they need?” This is how Gordon became a long-time collaborator and partner with the historic Belcourt Cinema, Nashville’s only independent movie theater, working with their community education program in which she was co-creator of a film seminar for middle school girls with Allison Inman, Community Education Coordinator at Belcourt.

“There were a lot of MNPS students interested,” according to Gordon who said 13 students were ultimately accepted into the program from Jere Baxter, McKissack, Rose Park, Goodlettsville, Donelson and Meigs Middle Schools.

The program offered students the opportunity to write narratives and poems based on stories that they want to share. Students also wrote individual pieces about the things that challenge them and what they want the world to know as it relates to the title of the film. Gordon also directed students through collaboration on a Choreopoem, a subject spotlighting how students feel their voices are in the shadows everywhere.

“The message from this work is that everything they (students) do is in the shadows of America and the shadows of their classrooms,” Gordon said.

Gordon has been with MNPS for three years. Her primary role is working to strengthen and build relationships in school communities and also serves as an implicit bias trainer for the district. She is a Nashville native and Hillsboro High School alumna and has a strong background in social work and community organization.

Gordon’s biggest goal from her documentary project is to see the conversation continue with action from the students words.

“We want to set an example for the district and show ways in which we can encourage, support and create opportunities for student voices to be heard,” she said.