“My feet will never forget it.”
That’s what Bronx music teacher Melissa Salguero recalls about walking the red carpet last night at the GRAMMY Music awards, where she was honored as GRAMMY Music Educator of the Year.
Yes, that red carpet. And that black dress with bling, and those shoes, the ones with moxie and high heels — something she never, ever wears.
Except when she’s on the red carpet.
“I’m not a girly girl by any means,” said Salguero, a busy vocal and music teacher and bandleader who has favored pants, jackets and practical shoes for school and community events, and even prior TV appearances.
But not for the GRAMMYs. She had her makeup done, and her long, brunette hair styled.
On the red carpet, where celebrity nominees were wearing white roses in protest of sexual harassment (Salguero never got that memo), she was asked about her political action.
“I’m an educator,” she told the interviewer. “I teach my students about social change through music.”
Salguero is the first woman to win the award, now in its fifth year, and the first elementary teacher to win. She is a member of the United Federation of Teachers, and she remembers the teacher who helped her gain a sense of self when she was an elementary student like the ones she now teaches. She honored that teacher, Deborah Bauer, a few nights before the GRAMMYs in an event where her own award was announced.
Once inside glittery Madison Square Garden on Sunday, the show’s host, James Corden, stood next to her on live television and spotlighted her during the star-studded musical ceremony where history was made for best album of the year, best song, best musical artist and more. She sat on the aisle and was in a section with Cindy Lauper and Hailee Steinfeld, among other rockers and celebs. Salguero was also on the A List for other GRAMMY events prior to last night’s live show, including a nominee reception in the Ziegfeld Theater Ballroom where each nominee was presented with a medallion. The GRAMMY Jazz Band performed — made up of 18 high school musicians who audition for the event. Late Night bandleader Jon Batiste got his start in that very band and he was there with the students.
Several nights before the televised GRAMMYs, when her award was officially announced in a ceremony at the theater in the New School, Salguero was with a different kind of celebrity crowd. Her fifth-grade students were there, sending out spontaneous cheers into the air. She told them: “You make me feel like a rock star every day!” Officials from the GRAMMY organization were there, as were her teaching colleagues from P.S. 48 Joseph Drake. So were her family and a special former teacher, Deborah Bauer.
“Not only were my parents and my girlfriend there, but I flew up my fifth-grade teacher who I had in Florida. She’s now a principal in South Carolina,” Salguero said today.
BEFORE AND AFTER. Salguero and her fifth grade teacher Deborah Bauer. In the class photo below, Melissa is in the top row in dark blue. Photos provided.
It’s about more than honoring those who came before. It’s about recognizing a teacher who gave her a place inside herself to call home.
It was 1995, and Salguero was struggling in school. “I didn’t believe in myself. I had a difficult time.”
Her parents were called in. Bauer found a spot for her; she decided to make her a safety patrol student in the hall. “She really sparked that passion inside of me for helping others,” Salguero said. “The leader I am today — I can pinpoint that that’s where it started. It really was a pivotal moment.”
She went on to become a teacher in Florida, and then moved to New York seven years ago to start a music program in this once-weary South Bronx school, where poverty punches high percentages in the student population. This morning, Salgeuro said the phones were ringing with people offering to make donations. Just months ago, she was told there could be no band this year because the budget was too thin. The field was barren. A campaign finally led to restoration of the band just weeks ago.
Several years ago, the school was broken into and instruments were stolen and smashed. Salguero was invited on the "Ellen" show and the school was given money. Previously, the students, directed by Salguero, also earned $50,000 for their school by winning a video contest on GLEE Give A Note. Now, the school will gain $10,000 from Salguero’s big win. She will also earn $10,000 and she’s earmarking it to pay off college loans. Perhaps some will go for the cost of gas — she commutes two hours to school, leaving at 4:30 a.m. to get to the building in time for band practice before classes.
When she was one of 25 finalists for the 2018 GRAMMY Music Educator of the Year award, Salguero was with fellow public school teachers Drew Benware, a music teacher and member of the Saranac Lake Central Schools Teachers Association, and Amy Steiner, a music teacher and member of the Buffalo Teachers Federation. They will each receive a $500 honorarium and a matching $500 school grant.
Salguero will return to classes later this week, getting those instruments warmed up and leading young voices through scales. In the summer, she is a self-professed science geek who teaches creative science at festivals and workshops. Even in the classroom, she has been known to drill into a carrot so it can become a recorder. She made paper cones and used them with a sewing needle to get music to play on a vinyl album. She likes her kids to understand the science behind how things work, most notably music. She watches science videos online.
Salguero is far more grit than glitz.
And as for those heels she wore on the red carpet? This morning she confessed that they “were as bad as I thought they were going to be. You gotta pay the price.”