Grammy winner Melissa Salguero is one of several NYSUT women we're profiling as part of Women's History Month. More inspirational stories are available on our NYSUT HERstories page.
“Well, I guess the simple life is not for me,” said Grammy award-winning New York public school music teacher Melissa Salguero.
Salguero, from Bronx P.S. 48, is now a Top 10 finalist for the 2019 Global Teacher Prize, which annually recognizes an educator for making an outstanding contribution to their profession and a positive impact on students. The $1 million award considers educators worldwide, and competing with Salguero for the honor are teachers from countries that include Brazil, Japan, the Netherlands and Kenya.
As a student with dyslexia, Salguero found music was the one place where her learning disability didn’t adversely impact her. As such, she has gone on to share the priceless value of music with countless students, who in the economically challenged Bronx climb over obstacles daily just to get to school to be in band or sing.
It hasn’t always been easy. Salguero — who teaches in the poorest Congressional district in the United States where 59 percent of students live in poverty and 20 percent of the young learners are homeless — has had to clear many obstacles to make sure music programs are available for her students.
But her nomination for the Global Teacher Prize is confirmation that her dedication has paid off.
“I'll be traveling to Dubai at the end of March to attend the Global Education and Skills Forum, and to find out who will win the big prize,” said the ebullient Salguero, a member of the United Federation of Teachers, which is affiliated with NYSUT.
“Big” is one of Salguero’s favorite words. She signs her emails: “Work hard, dream big, and NEVER give up.” She also has the same creed painted on the outside of her keyboard at school.
Salguero will be one of the speakers at the forum sponsored by the Varkey Foundation. The annual event hones in on classroom practice, education policy, and learning science. The program includes talks on best practices, debates and innovative educational technologies. The event highlight is the announcement of the foundation’s Global Teacher Prize. Salguero is the only teacher representing the United States.
“This is going to be huge,” said Salguero, who last January walked the red carpet as Grammy Educator of the Year, winning $10,000 for her school and $10,000 for herself.
For Salguero and the entire community at Bronx P.S. 48 Joseph P. Drake Elementary School, the hits just keep coming. Faculty, staff and students were recently wowed at the unveiling of a piano donated and autographed by music legend Carole King, who grew up in Brooklyn and attended the City University of New York’s Queens College.
When Salguero began teaching music at P.S. 48 in 2010, the school had no band or instruments. She has since won awards and secured grants and donations to build up the music program, and has started a school band, which meets before classes start.
While she said she has not yet received from the Department of Education her check from the Grammy win, she has her plans locked in place.
“I plan on repairing the instruments and to update the sound system in the auditorium. The whole auditorium needs a makeover.”
Salguero — who drives to school each morning in the pre-dawn hours —raises money for the music program because most students here cannot afford to rent instruments. She also works with them on using computers and tablets to play music, and has even taught them how to make music from a carrot.
Salguero’s hard work has paid dividends.
Her programs such as band have helped improve attendance at the school, and the music being made at P.S. 48 has provided her students both reward and pride.
In 2011, her students won a music video contest through “Glee” Give A Note, garnering a $50,000 prize.
And after vandals broke into the school, stealing and trashing most the program’s instruments, her students wrote a song, “We Will Rise.”
That built a following and earned Salguero an invite to the “Ellen” show, where Ellen DeGeneres gave the school $50,000 and Shutterfly donated more than $10,000 worth of new instruments.
“My kids,” she has said proudly, “deserve to be seen and heard.”