2024 Mann Hankel Photos 05Melissa Luffman, a Special Education teacher at Stratton Academy of the Arts, was surprised with the Mann-Hankel Teaching Excellence Award from the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation (CUSF) during her class on Thursday morning. This is the fourth year CUSF has provided this award, established by Barbara Mann and her husband Steven Hankel. The award recognizes a Unit 4 tenured teacher who exemplifies the traits of Dedication, Integrity, Commitment to Every Student, Service, & Excellence.

Melissa Luffman is a 30-year veteran of teaching special education. A Southern Illinois-Edwardsville undergraduate and Master’s graduate of Eastern Illinois, Ms. Luffman has made her teaching home at Stratton for the past 18 years. Stratton’s Principal, Zipporah Gwin says “Melissa Luffman is an amazing educator who always goes above and beyond for all students, staff, and families.” Another nominator notes, that “Melissa develops strong relationships with families by communicating advance notice of special events, engaging in polite and respectful conversations, and sharing positive feedback as well as situations of concern. Her colleagues say she brings open, collaborative, and energetic advocacy for her students every day by engaging with classroom teachers to help support all the Stratton students and families.”

Finally, one of her nominators notes, “Due to the varying impact of their disabilities, many of Ms. Luffman’s students often struggle with comprehension of new ideas and terms. Melissa creates lessons that incorporate general education concepts using art, technology, and collaborative group experiences which help students to complete the lessons with a sense of accomplishment and high self-esteem.”

Her nominators further note that Ms. Luffman has a “long history of involvement and leadership on many school and district committees. In addition, she has dedicated herself to improving her professional practice, completing multiple courses of study to build her knowledge and experience as an instructional leader. She is an amazingly helpful individual who anyone would want on their team. Ms. Luffman helps plan and produce opportunities that benefit students and their families; including filling book bags with school supplies, creating special baskets for family involvement activities, and supporting food drives before long school breaks.” Another nominator continues, “On the school social committee, Melissa is an integral part of the culture and climate at Stratton and helps to develop activities that create a sense of family. She is thoughtful and intentional in planning events and activities that bring joy to those around her.”

Barbara Mann, a former CU Schools Foundation Board Chair, and her husband Steve shared their interest in creating such an award. “My parents were teachers and I grew up seeing their deep commitment to their students and firm belief that education was the path to success. Their own lives were deeply impacted by the teachers who believed in them during their very challenging childhoods. Steve and I created this award to acknowledge them and all the teachers who have touched our lives. Our children had wonderful teachers at Unit 4 who nurtured them, challenged them, and gave them a firm foundation for success.  This is our small way of expressing gratitude to all of them.”

This award honors a tenured educator with 10+ years of teaching experience, and a minimum of 5 years of service in Unit 4 schools. The Mann-Hankel Teaching Excellence Award will recognize Ms. Luffman with a monetary award of $2,000.

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