When Melissa Edwards was 8 years old, she wrote a story called “The Ice Cream Dream.” She submitted it to Popcorn Magazine, in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and it was accepted. Her photo appeared in the local newspaper, her name was mentioned on the radio station, and, maybe best of all, she won some ice cream.
This positive reinforcement made a huge impression on the young child. “I’ve never forgotten that, my entire life,” she said.
Indeed. Nurturing young writers has been a guiding principle of Professor Edwards’ professional life. She teaches journalism and English composition at Middlesex County College, and she is also the owner of City Kidz World, a company in South Brunswick that teaches creative writing to children and publishes their efforts in City Kidz World magazine.
Professor Edwards received a degree in journalism from the University of North Texas, and also a teaching certificate. She taught in public schools in Texas and Illinois.
“For years, I went back and forth between journalism and teaching – sometimes I was doing both at the same time,” she said. “Just after I had completed my master’s degree in communications, I discovered community colleges, first at Mercer County Community College.” She was working for the Princeton Packet newspapers at the time, but would sneak out to teach one class.
“I thought I would teach there during my lunch hour and nobody would notice,” she said with a laugh.
Professor Edwards became the advisor to the Mercer student newspaper, The College VOICE. She increased the number of issues and made the effort more professional and serious.
She joined Middlesex County College in the spring of 2004, teaching reading, one journalism class and English composition. She also became the advisor of Quo Vadis, the student newspaper. She sought to increase the number of staff working on the paper, and to double the number of issues.
“I got terrific cooperation from Student Activities, the English Department, and the Registrar’s Office,” she said. “I attempted to reach students not in the journalism program and make the paper more inclusive.” She also created a magazine, The Blue Colt Vibe, which includes current events, literature and photography.
“This is the best job ever,” Professor Edwards said. “I get to teach and do journalism.”
She also helps direct the College’s writers’ workshop, a one-day effort that draws people from all over New Jersey to learn how to become better writers. It is a fundraiser to support the printing of the MCC literary journal.
While Professor Edwards loves teaching and working with students on the newspaper, the other half of her life was calling: teaching young children. She founded City Kidz World, which started as a creative writing program two summers ago with only four pupils.
But enrollment grew and today she has 80 children being taught by Professor Edwards and five staff members. It also includes the magazine, so that today some 8-year-old girl can get the recognition she deserves for writing a great story: her photo in the magazine and website, and the publication delivered to her class at her school.
Oh, yes, and some ice cream.