From Doc Martens to Banana Pianos
Melissa Salguero is the Winner of the 2018 GRAMMY® Music Educator Award™.
By Lisa Ferber
This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Teaching Music Magazine.
“It all started with this little Casio keyboard when I was nine or 10 years old,” says Melissa Salguero, NAfME member and winner of the GRAMMY Foundation’s 2018 Music Educator Award. “I got it for Christmas, and I did not stop playing that thing.” Her dream was to be in a rock band. She taught herself how to play the Casio, her parents got her a guitar, and she wore “heavy metal and gothed-out and chains and Doc Martens.” She joined a band and was given the trombone, and eventually she was playing Strauss and Sousa marches around the house.
In fifth grade, she had a pivotal moment. “I always wanted to be a leader, and I was super jealous of the safety patrols who would raise a flag each day.” Her grades and behavior weren’t good enough, but her teacher, Deborah Bauer, wanted to make her a safety patrol. “In that moment, when she believed in me and gave me a chance to be a leader, I knew that whatever I did with my life, it would be to help others.” With the Music Educator Award prize money, Salguero flew Bauer in for the award night. “She is the kindest and sweetest teacher I ever had, and she really impacted my life and put me on the right course.”
“In that moment, when she believed in me and gave me a chance to be a leader, I knew that whatever I did with my life, it would be to help others.”
In high school, Salguero was given the baritone horn, which weighs about 15 pounds. “Imagine the girl in Doc Martens and JNCO jeans in the hot sun, like, I don’t want to do pushups. And my parents said, ‘You’re committed to this. Your word is your bond.’ It was probably the best decision of my life.”
She holds a B.A. in music education from University of South Florida in Tampa and an M.S. in elementary education at University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. She teaches third- through fifth-grade general music and fifth-grade band at P.S. 48 Joseph R. Drake in the Bronx in New York City, and she is a member of Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity.
In 2013, Salguero walked into school to find her desk upside down and instruments missing and broken—acts of vandalism that led to her appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. “And the thing that makes me so proud is my students brought me lyrics the next day: ‘You’re not gonna tear us down, ’cause we’re strong/We will rise from the ashes, ’cause we’re strong.’” People in the community sent her story to DeGeneres’s show, and Salguero found herself in a guest chair, receiving a bevy of instruments and $50,000.
Speaking of the Award, Salguero notes, “I think what grabbed the attention of the judges is my unique teaching style where I am not only teaching music: I’m teaching life, science, history, English, math, and it’s all incorporated into every single lesson. So, I’m hooking up bananas to my computer, and we are playing the banana piano, and we talk about circuitry and how to build a circuit, and that goes into computers, and it all stems from these science experiments. I’m an advocate of talk less, teach more.”
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