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Getting to Know ... Melanie Mobley

Mel Mobley, an art teacher at West Potomac High School, was born March 28, 1957 in Schuylkill (pronounced "skoo-gull") Haven, Pa. She has three daughters and two dogs. The wall behind her desk is covered with 20 years worth of graduation photos of former students.

Mobley began teaching at Groveton High School in 1980 and when it became West Potomac in 1985 she was the faculty adviser for the first issue the school yearbook, "The Cougar."

This year she will be flying to San Francisco to accept an honor for the Cougar's selection as one of fifty-five finalists in the 2005 National Scholastic Press Association's Pacemaker contest, often referred to as the Pulitzer Prize for yearbooks.

Why have you stayed at West Potomac so long?

What I like about the school community is the dynamic quality of the kids that go to school here. There is a sense of purpose. They want to learn; they want to achieve.

Kids from every ethnicity and social background coexist here. That's the key. They learn to work together.

Why did you become an art teacher?

I've wanted to be an art teacher since the fourth grade. I always like to draw. I also loved school and loved my teachers. I wanted to be one. I did consider going to seminary to be a Lutheran Pastor, but in the '70's my hometown church wouldn't support that because they didn't want women in the ministry.

But I've found teaching to be similar because you are making a difference in kid's lives and you have the chance to show them a better way.

How do you approach your work with students?

My motto is 'treat kids with respect because they'll be adults too someday and they will remember their teachers. Teachers are role-modeling for them as adults. If kids recognize that you're genuine and they know you love what you're doing, they will follow that. I've never met a kid who didn't want to succeed.

How did the yearbook become so successful?

The Cougar began as an after school activity and wasn't actually treated as a class until 1987. We started entering contests in the '90's. In 1995 we won a Columbia University Gold Medal [another major national yearbook prize] and we decided we would begin really pushing for rewards. In 2003 we made a decision we would not be satisfied with less than the best. We started going to a graphic design company to do our covers. The layout and the art of our books influence the stories we write. They don't look like the predictable yearbook.

What do you do outside of school?

I carry around a piece of paper to get ideas for yearbooks. I'm also my daughter's summer league swim team representative for the Northern Virginia Swim League. I've also started learning how to salsa dance. I'm a novice at it, but it's fun.