Melissa teaches at Public School 48 Joseph R. Drake, Bronx, USA
Melissa’s journey towards teaching music started in fifth grade. Struggling with low self-esteem as a result of dyslexia, she found a huge source of support in her teacher, who mentored her, helped her improve her grades, and gave her a leadership role as a ͞Safety Patrol͟. Learning life lessons through music also guided Melissa’s path. When she joined the marching band as a pupil herself in high school, she found it very challenging and wanted to quit. However, after persevering, she learned that the more you do something the better you get at it – and eventually, Melissa was made the leader of the band. These experiences taught her the value of never giving up, trying to make the world a better place, and helping others. So when she became a teacher, she wanted to help her students in the same way.
When Melissa first started teaching at Public School 48, Joseph R. Drake Elementary School, the school hadn’t had a music programme for over thirty years. There were no instruments and no resources. School 48 is located in the South Bronx neighbourhood of Hunts Point, the most at-risk community for children in New York City: over 59% of children live in poverty and 29% percent of families live on less than $15,000 a year. However, Melissa entered contests, wrote grant applications, and eventually raised enough money and instruments to start the first ever Public School 48 band programme – which was a huge success. When she arrives at school there are seventy-five smiling faces eagerly waiting to start band rehearsal. Behaviour and discipline problems have declined among students participating in music, and attendance is up. So, in 2013, Melissa was named the Big Apple Awards & Lincoln Center Arts Teacher of the Year for her contribution.
In the spring of 2014, over spring break, Melissa’s programme lost $30,000 equipment through theft and damage. Melissa felt she needed to show the students that they could persevere despite the setback. They wrote a song, which they found brought them together and made them stronger, and then made a music video to share the story. It went viral and caught the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, resulting in an invite to her show, where she presented the school with brand new instruments and $50,000! Four years later this led to Melissa winning the 2018 GRAMMY Music Educator Award, selected out of three thousand nominees nationwide for contributions to the field of music education.
If awarded the Global Teacher Prize, the money would help Melissa build the foundation her students need for the future, and some of the funds would go to a youth performance group centered in the Hunts Point community to create more opportunities for her students.
The thing I love most about being a teacher is seeing my students grow. I love seeing their eyes light up when they accomplish something they thought was impossible. Music education teaches us more than the “right” notes, it teaches us to create, express, and it connects us all.
The Global Teacher Prize is a $1 million award presented annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession.