Melissa Oberg Finds Passion in Teaching Special Education

Special Education Teacher  //  Cook County School District


A career that chose her

After leaving the corporate world searching for something more meaningful, Melissa Oberg fell in love with the hard, but rewarding work, of teaching special education at Cook County Public Schools in Grand Marais, Minnesota.

Sue Nelson, a former teacher, co-worker and parent at Cook County Schools nominated Melissa for the Educator of Excellence award saying “We may be one of the most isolated districts in the state, but thanks to Melissa Oberg we are the most inclusive.”

Melissa spends her days at Cook County schools pouring into students with significant disabilities, helping them reach their goals and potential and feel a sense of belonging.

In her decade at Cook County Schools, Melissa has developed many programs that focus on helping special education students feel included, safe, and that they belong. A few of these programs are the Unified Club, Special Olympics bowling, Unified Gym, Cathy’s Coffee Cart, daily Staff errand runs by special education students, Common Ground Curriculum, and Special Education Track and Field Day at University of Minnesota Duluth. Melissa has also spearheaded a successful program within the school where mainstreamed high schoolers are paired up with special education students. This program helps foster a school culture of inclusiveness, empathy, and relationships.

Rural community involvement

One of Melissa’s passions in serving her students is preparing them for and helping them find meaningful employment within their small community. That often involves including the local community to support the efforts of her classroom.

In her reflection statement, Melissa shared, “When students were showing up without basic hygiene completed, I was able to find a donor to fund a “Feel Good Cart” for students to access when they didn’t have necessary hygiene supplies. I found mentor students to assist with combing and braiding hair, trimming nails and giving reminders that everyone is beautiful. In recognizing the need for and importance of transition and work skills, I found a local donor to purchase start-up supplies for a Coffee Cart. Now, my classroom has its very own student run business where my students can focus on communication, social and work skills, reading, following task instructions and more. Sometimes you can even find us taking our Coffee Cart into the community to help establish community relationships and spread awareness of inclusion in the workplace. As a Minnesota rural educator, I am proud of how my community has shown up for my students.”

2023 Educator of Excellence

MREA honors Melissa as a 2023 Educator of Excellence for her innovation, dedication, and commitment to get results for her students. See more stories of Educators for Excellence.