StoryCorps: Melissa Sawyer

Oct 28, 2010

Melissa Sawyer came to New Orleans from her native Canada through "Teach for America" in 1998, and was assigned special education students at Booker T. Washington High School. She later discovered that she didn't really like the classroom-teaching part of the job. She was much more successful in after-class contacts and activities. She often made home visits and took her students on field trips, forming strong emotional ties that she cherished.

In this conversation with her friend and colleague Kathleen Whalen, Melissa Sawyer talks about her decision to leave New Orleans at the end of her two-year assignment to pursue a degree at Harvard graduate school of education. And she recalls exactly when and why she decided to come back.

ALSO: In this extended conversation with friend and colleague Kathleen Whalen, Sawyer talks about working to get incarcerated juveniles out of state custody. She worked in the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and was very successful. But she noticed that just getting her clients released was only the first step in making sure they stayed out of custody. Sawyer also talks about forming the Youth Empowerment Program to assist re-entry into society. She also recalls the switch in relationship with state agencies she had fought with on behalf of her clients, to making the state a partner in keeping kids out of jail - including during the chaos after Hurricane Katrina.

StoryCorps New Orleans interviews were recorded by StoryCorps, a national project to record and collect stories of everyday people. This excerpt was selected and produced by WWNO producer Eileen Fleming, with support from the WWNO Productions Fund and from Villere & Co., managing the investments of New Orleans' families for almost 100 years. Listen again at or at