We had the good fortune of connecting with Cori McCallister and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Cori, maybe we can start at the very start – the idea – how did you come up with the idea for your business?
Meliorist Co. started with a conversation I had with my students over a Zoom call when the pandemic hit. We had just hit this beautiful, magical stride in our class where students were giving input into the class in terms of what assignments looked like, what we were learning, how we were doing so, etc. During our call one student asked me, “Hey Mac do you think this (COVID) is going to change education?” and without a doubt I said yes. A follow up question by another student was, “What if we were able to get in front of it because you should teach teachers.” Another voice chimed in and said, “You are the most human teacher I have ever had and I only want to go through this weird time with you, because I feel safe.”

And that is when Meliorist Co. took off!

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
From a very early age I knew I wanted to be an educator. I loved everything about school, and would force my siblings and friends to play school with me over the summer. Getting to this point however, was not easy. In fact, it took me a while to reconcile that I was no longer in the classroom; we know the statistic is young educators quit around the three and five year mark, I never thought it was going to be me. My first assignment in Fort Collins I loved. Then when Trump won the presidency I read a post on Facebook that said something along the lines of, “Instead of moving to a different country, go teach in a red county.” So I took two years and I taught in Thompson School District; not because I wanted to change the ‘red county’ mind set, but because I wanted to understand. I wanted to see if humanizing our experiences through the vehicle of an English class allowed us to have empathy and kinder rhetoric.

My students helped co-create a lot of our class material. Wednesdays were dedicated strictly to wellness, and we did not focus on any curriculum. I chose not to teach the same thing that had been taught for the past twelve years and got a lot of backlash. When my school tried to host an Underground Railroad Day, in which they assigned students to be “slaves,” and the other students had to catch them in a game of tag, to show the experiences of slaves in America, I spoke out and was chastised for it.
When female students would come to my classroom crying because boys were harassing them (both in a sexual nature and not) I was silenced. Upon reporting my own stories of harassment, the HR director threatened me. My second year teaching at that middle school was so horrifying I ended up going on a medical leave of absences for my anxiety and depression. However, according to the data presented by my administration, the two years that I was there my students would outperform their peers on state tests both at the district and state level. I believe a lot of this has to do with the choices I made as an educator that centered social emotional learning and partnering with students.

After leaving TSD I ended up back in Poudre School District. This time my middle school students from the beginning of my career were now my sophomores and juniors. Perhaps it is romanticizing the past, but I cannot recall a bad day that I had in my classroom with my students. Instead, all of the heaviness of being an educator came from colleagues because I refused to adapt to a teaching style that was outdated, unfit for my students and not authentic to me. I would go into work, focus on my classroom, suggest ideas to other educators when needed (which wasn’t often as a young educator) and the magic was all around me. During the second semester, I had nine student aides — if I a student asked, I took them in no question — colleagues would roll their eyes at this, but they had no idea what it meant to be a student aide for me. It meant, they could rely on me to help them and it also meant that I had student feedback every day because I would ask them their perception of how class went.

How is it that our education system supports the idea of student “voice and choice,” but then right after goes and says, “but we can’t let the inmates run the prison”? It cannot be both.

Because Colorado is an at-will state to work, I was non-renewed for my contract the year I came back to PSD. The response I got from my administration was because “I did not fit in with my team.” However, the fact that my student perception survey results showed that I was favored by students, using a percentage, that outperformed my peers in the school and the district was all of the clarity that I needed to move forward with Meliorist Co. I truly believe my colleagues and administration was threatened by the fact that I was TOO human, because then that gives permission for our students to be ALL human, which includes the messy parts.

Meliorist Co. is all about encouraging educators and administrators to allow the educational experience to be more human. And believe me, the profession of being an educator does not give permission to other educators to be human, which is bullshit. How can a data producing being also be in charge of helping develop and teaching humans?

Part of our philosophy at Meliorist Co. which has been adapted by my education philosophy is: “Serve the human first, the system second. Do not abuse the impressionability of youth, the malleability of their spirits. Do not allow for education to be solely about the academics, the tests, the stoic letters scrawled in red ink that are reminders of oppressive policies. Instead, nurture the individuality, intelligence, open-mindedness and empathy in all young people.”

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If a friend was visiting for a week we would be hitting up RMNP at least three of the seven days! I mean, how could you not? After a day hike it is always important celebrate and take in the beauty of Estes Park either at the Barrel or Elkins for a refresher. In town, I am always impartial to taking friends to Old Firehouse Books/Lucky’s Tea or Wolverine Farmhouse to look at books and be inspired by the humanity that is held within those walls. Any trail along the foothills is my go to if I need a quick escape, and I love winding down at Emporium Wine Market. I love discussing hard topics so I would probably bring them to Vindeket and have a long conversation about food rescue for an hour or so. Who wouldn’t want a photobooth picture at Pour Bros?! Do a little dressing up at Sunday Supply Co. and enjoy the fire at the Forge.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Hands down Meliorist Co. would not exist without the support and my students believing in this mission. At the beginning of our crowd fundraising to make this all happen, students were pitching in their own money! Throughout the summer and even the most recent break they would reach out and ask how could they help? THESE ARE TEENAGERS! I mean if that doesn’t motivate you, what will?

I also have to give a huge heartfelt thank you to Cornelius Minor and Justis Lopez. They both saw in me something my educator team and administrators didn’t. They have been my professional rock.

Website: melioristco.com

Instagram: cordeliahart / melioristco

Image Credits
Meghan Blanton Photography

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