Alumna Melissa Salguero ’15 is a finalist for the $1 million 2019 Global Teacher Prize

Latest honor for University of Bridgeport music education alumna
Melissa Salguero, University of Bridgeport alumna and music teacher

University of Bridgeport alumna Melissa Salguero, whose passion for music has enriched the lives of hundreds of students in the South Bronx who have very little to call their own, has been named a finalist for the $1 million 2019 Global Teacher Prize.

The Global Teacher Prize recognizes just one teacher a year who is making outstanding contributions in education. Given for the past five years, the prize most recently drew over 30,000 applications and nominations.

It is awarded by the Varkey Foundation, a charitable foundation dedicated to improving education, under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai. 

Fifty finalists, including Salguero, were named this month. Top 10 finishers will be flown to Dubai in February. The 2019 Global Teacher Prize winner will be named in March 2019.

In 2015, University of Bridgeport alumna Naomi Volain '83 was named a Top 10 finisher for the Global Teacher Prize.

Being named a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize is the latest, and possibly highest honor, for Salguero ’15.

In February, she was named 2018 Grammy Music Educator of the Year.

"We're talking the world--all teachers! This is such an incredible honor. When I found out, I was flabbergasted; the caliber of all the other educators who are finalists just blows me away," Salguero said. "This changes everything for my students. Now the world will know about my tiny little school in the South Bronx!"

Salguero's interest in education was inspired by her fifth grade teacher at Birdy Elementary School in Boca Raton, Florida. At the time, an insecure and quiet Salguero struggled socially and academically due to dyslexia. Everything changed the day that teacher Debra Bauer invited Salguero to be a school safety monitor.

“That really lit a passion in me to help others,” Salguero remembers. “That’s when I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I just didn’t know what kind.”

Her parents’ gift of a Casio keyboard would provide the answer: music. 

Delighted with the present, Salguero remembers playing the keyboard late at night until its batteries ran out.  As an adult, she moved to Manhattan, drawn by the city’s music: in concert halls, clubs, subways—seemingly everywhere.

She began teaching music at Public School 48, Joseph R. Drake Elementary School in the South Bronx in 2010. Located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York, the school didn’t have a music program. So Salguero applied for grants and built one, purchasing instruments that she put into the hands of children who sometimes slept in homeless shelters. They played at school for their parents and in Times Square for a delighted public. They joined Salguero at Lincoln Center in 2013, when former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented Salguero with the “Lincoln Center Teacher of the Year Award.”

They continue to play music with Salguero.

"I have kids who come to practice an hour before school starts just to participate in the band," Salguero said. "I've had students who in the beginning of the year were constantly getting into trouble. Now that they have some musical training and some leadership training, they're becoming leaders in the classroom.  I know that not all of my students will become musicians. If they do, bravo! But the reality is they will eventually have jobs where they will need skills that set them apart. What my music program does is teaches them determination. It gives them the ability to focus. It shows them that there is a great big world around them."

Yet the music program at P.S. 48 could have collapsed all too easily.

In 2014, thieves broke into the school, taking off with $30,000 worth of saxophones, flutes, drums, and other band instruments. It was a devastating blow, but Salguero used the theft to teach her students about resiliency. She invited them to help her establish a GoFundMe campaign to replace the instruments and created an online music video to share their story. The fundraiser resulted in $2,600—a massive sum in a community where one in three families lives on less than $15,000 annually--and the video went viral.

When it reached daytime talk show host Ellen Desgeneres, Desgeneres invited Salguero to her show and surprised her with a check for $50,000 and new instruments.

Meanwhile, Salguero was about to finish her MS in Music Education at the University of Bridgeport. She maintains close ties to the program’s director Frank Martignetti and other professors.

“If it’s just me working with my students, my impact is limited. But if I can help other music teachers, if I can inspire them and their students, then that’s really far-reaching,” Salguero said.

When asked about her Grammy Award earlier in 2018, Salguero marveled, “When I was on Ellen, I thought that was the peak of my career. ‘How in the world can I possibly top this?’ And then this Grammy thing happened. I have no idea what’s next.”

Salguero still may not know, but as a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize, the future continues to dazzle.

 

Media contact: Leslie Geary, (203) 993-0380, lgeary@bridgeport.edu