A teacher at P.S. 48 Joseph E. Drake School in the south Bronx who helped rebuild the school’s music program is in the running for a major national prize.
Melissa Salguero is one of 25 semifinalists in consideration for the 2016 Music Educator Award presented by the Grammy Foundation.
The winner receives $10,000 and another $10,000 is slated for the school. The nine semifinalists each get $1,000.
Salguero was nominated for the award by assistant principal Sandra Zadrima.
In addition to being the general music teacher for grades 3 through 5, Salquero also leads the band and chorus.
The music program at P.S. 48 hasn’t always been so robust.
When Salguero arrived at the school six years the music program had been dormant for 30 years.
“There were broken instruments that were horribly maintained – the instruments were falling apart,” she said. “It was basically just me with a guitar in the room with the kids starting with bare bones.”
Salguero said that budget cuts made purchasing new instruments impossible, so she turned to grants and contests.
To date, she has raised $150,000 for the music program, starting with a contest held in association with the former FOX television show Glee.
“You had to make a music video and explain why you deserve to win the prize,” Salguero said. “We made a video and put it up on YouTube and we didn’t know what to expect but when the public voted on the best video we actually won then grand prize of $50,000.”
Salguero spent that money on equipment to begin a sustainable music program that could withstand budget cuts.
Unfortunately, the program had a major setback when the school was broken into two years ago and $30,000 worth of instruments and equipment was stolen.
Community members wrote to comedian and daytime talk show host Ellen Degeneres, who invited Salguero to a taping of her Los Angeles show. She also donated $50,000 to the school’s music program.
“It was surreal to be sitting in the audience and then hear her talking about a music teacher that works in the Bronx, and you start thinking, ‘wait a minute, that’s me,’” she recalled.
The music teacher later hid the giant ceremonial check on the stage, along with new instruments, behind a curtain before presenting it to her students to loud applause.
“The thing I loved the most was getting to share the experience with my students – seeing their reaction, which was absolutely priceless,” she said.
This year, Salguero has recruited more than 50 percent of her music students to participate in the band that practices in the mornings before class starts, causing a jump in participation from approximately 25 to around 70.
The band is using all the instruments the school owns.
She said if she wins, she would use the Grammy prize money to further expand the school’s music offerings.
Salguero said music education has far more value than many people realize, and can even be used to help other subjects like science and math.
“Music and the arts change the way your brain works,” she said. “There are so many scientific studies showing it teaches creativity, lateral thinking, problem solving and evaluation. There are studies that show reading music actually helps increase literacy. The list is endless.”