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NEA News

People and Places Summer 2018

Meet New York’s Melissa Salguero, the 2018 GRAMMY Music Educator of the Year and Heidi Plyler, a certified athletic trainer.
Published: June 2018

Key Takeaways

  1. Melissa Salguero brought back to life the music program at P.S. 48 Joseph Drake, a public elementary school in the Bronx, N.Y. Her amazing efforts were rewarded when she was named the 2018 GRAMMY Music Educator of the Year.
  2. As the only athletic trainer in her school district, Plyler teaches anatomy, the foundations of sports medicine, and athletic training to nearly 100 middle, junior high, and high school students.

New York’s Melissa Salguero Named GRAMMY Music Educator of the Year

What sound should celebrate New York City teacher Melissa Salguero, winner of the GRAMMY award for Music Educator of the Year? Horns? Intense drum rolls?

Or, perhaps trumpets of resurrection, since that’s what Salguero did when she brought back to life the music program at financially beleaguered P.S. 48 Joseph Drake, a public elementary school in the Bronx, N.Y.

Salguero bested 2,300 other contenders for the national honor. She teaches vocal and music classes to P.S. 48’s students 22 percent of the students are homeless using a mix of science, creativity and circuitry. She also restarted the school’s band in 2011 when she first arrived it had zero instruments and no funding and she has won many grants and awards to build the school’s inventory of flutes, trumpets, and more.

Melissa Salguero

In January, Salguero’s students, parents, girlfriend, and the former fifth-grade teacher who inspired Salguero’s career, were among a New York City theater audience who saw Salguero become the first woman, and the first elementary school teacher, to win a GRAMMY. In her acceptance remarks, Salguero told her students, “You make me feel like a rock star every day!”

A few days later, she walked the Madison Square Garden red carpet in a black sequined dress. Inside, she took a seat near Cyndi Lauper.

“I’m an educator,” she told a red-carpet interviewer. “I teach my students about social change through music.”

Salguero, a member of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers, rises at 4:30 a.m. every day to commute nearly two hours to her school, where she meets with her 35 band students for a pre-dawn rehearsal. During school hours, she has been known to drill holes in carrots to make recorder-like instruments. She likes her students to understand the science behind how things work.

Just months ago, Salguero was told that P.S. 48’s band would be canceled for 2018. The budget was too thin. At her urging, students wrote letters and campaigned to save their band. It wasn’t their first time facing adversity.

When vandals broke into the school in 2013 and stole, damaged, or destroyed many musical instruments, Salguero urged her students to write a song. They wrote, “We Will Rise.” The tune built a following and earned Salguero an invite to “The Ellen Show” where Ellen DeGeneres and Shutterfly gave the school $50,000 and about $20,000 worth of new instruments.

With her award, Salguero will receive $10,000, which she’s earmarked to help pay her student loan debt. P.S. 48 will receive an additional $10,000.

— Liza Frenette, New York State United Teachers Communications

She Works Hard for the Athletes

While rare, NEA’s membership includes athletic trainers, too.

NEA represents English, math, social studies, and science teachers, librarians, school counselors, and nurses, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers. And did you know NEA members are also principals and college deans? In fact, there are more than 300 categories within NEA’s membership, and no matter their classification, these education professionals share a commitment to their students and their profession.

Just look at Heidi Plyler. She is a certified athletic trainer (AT) — another category of educators represented by NEA. As the only AT for the Lake Hamilton School District in Arkansas, Plyler teaches anatomy, the foundations of sports medicine, and athletic training to nearly 100 middle, junior high, and high school students.

Heidi Plyler works with athletes

The fact that Plyler is a rarity in her district is mirrored by statistics from The National Athletic Trainers Association, which indicate that while 70 percent of U.S. public high schools have athletic training services, only 37 percent have full-time athletic trainers.

In her role, Plyler cares for nearly 700 student-athletes and works with physicians to provide preventative services, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention, and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions. She meets with athletes and parents to discuss nutrition and writes the district’s emergency response plan for every sport. She also trains athletic coaches on CPR and works with the town’s emergency management system officials to ensure they know the proper procedures to follow when an injury occurs.

Plyler also works to boost the overall number of ATs. Recently, she helped to organize the Arkansas Athletic Trainers Association’s symposium. At the event, students networked with local surgeons and physicians, and learned about the athletic training profession.

A hard-working building representative at her school, Plyler helps to provide much-needed support to new and early career educators through SPARKS, a program created to connect new teachers to their association. She helps educators improve their practice and management style, and helps them set goals for their students.

Asked why she’s so dedicated both in and away from school, Plyler says, “I’m deeply involved in my profession because it not only provides an avenue for students to get hands on work in an ever growing medical field, but it also provides sincere joy when returning those athletes from initial injury to their specified field of play.” 

— Brenda Alvarez

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.