April Person of the Month: Melissa Erberti
Melissa Erberti, a fifth grade teacher and teacher leader at P.S. 226 – The Nadia J. Pagan School in the Bronx, is Turnaround for Children’s Person of the Month. Renee Prince (Turnaround’s Manager, Student Support Services) reported that “the positive connection Melissa has with her students is immediately apparent when you enter the classroom. Melissa is a complete educator. She is dedicated to the success of the school overall and takes a proactive approach to accomplishing tasks for the greater good. She is an active collaborator and a living example of all the elements of relational trust.”
THE 180: What inspired you to become a teacher?
MELISSA ERBERTI: This is my seventeenth year teaching. I have always had a connection with children and teaching, so I decided in high school that was something I wanted to major in. I got my master’s in reading, so I’m also a reading specialist, but I felt I would make more of a difference in the classroom. It’s my love for children, I’ve never given that up, and I feel like with a good mentor and a good teacher that children can learn. I see that every day in the classroom, year after year. I feel like I am going to retire as a teacher because of my love for children. I want to see them do well. I want them to know there are teachers in the world that care about them.
THE 180: Was there a special relationship with an adult as you were growing up that helped you become who you are today?
MELISSA ERBERTI: Yes. My parents were very supportive, still are in my “old age.” They pushed me and they are still a big part of my life. I actually bring them into my classroom to meet my students every year, so that they see that I have that strong family connection at home, that my parents pushed education, and that they showed me the love and support that I needed to thrive in this field.
Also, I had an amazing sixth grade ELA teacher, and that is when my love for reading and writing really blossomed. That is why I have geared myself in my later years of teaching towards the ELA aspect. She was the type of teacher that strove for perseverance in her students and that is just something that I give off in my classroom. “Never give up” is the quote that I tell the kids all the time, and “strive to be your best.”
THE 180: How did you learn that you had to create relationships and relevance for children in order for them to gain your trust?
MELISSA ERBERTI: Honestly, I learned that from my parents. My dad works with children a lot, coaching baseball and soccer. They just gave off that vibe: treat a child as though you would want to be treated the same way. In high school, I was very close with my teachers, as well — I gained respect from them and vice versa. I bring my own family and my own experiences as a child to my students in my teaching daily.
I am up with all of the latest fashion, music, TV shows, sneakers, things like that. I get that connection with the children right away, and then we earn each other’s trust. And I usually have no problems ever in my classroom, because the students know they can come to me for anything.
THE 180: P.S. 226 has been partnering with Turnaround for two years now. What have you been working on together?
MELISSA ERBERTI: Myself and three other teacher leaders in our building are on the TSI (Team for Schoolwide Initiatives-Ed.) for Turnaround. We set everything in motion in the school, get buy-in from the staff, and do a lot of modeling for the teachers and a lot of professional development. We are the literal movers and shakers that work closely with Turnaround in our school building to try to make everything happens as far as rules and norms and helping new teachers along. We’re a big support system with Turnaround’s help. We meet monthly and talk through email — we are in constant communication. We have a lot of resources set up for a new teacher — or any teachers that need things that Turnaround has brought in — right there at the teacher’s fingertips. We’re always doing Turnaround things in the school building, literally every day.
THE 180: Have you been able to identify positive changes from your partnership with Turnaround?
MELISSA ERBERTI: Turnaround has been a very big help with behavior management in our school building, especially. Big changes in classroom management. We put something into play at the end of the school year last year called a behavior matrix — basically, how students should be behaving and walking in the hallways, in the cafeteria, in the classrooms, in the bathrooms, outside on the padded area, so everyone would know what behaviors are expected. All five of those places were big areas of concern. We were seeing a lot of incident reports and fights and arguments among students happening during lunchtime, either in the cafeteria or the padded area, or in the hallway, or during a prep class. So we put this behavior matrix together with all of the work we did last year with Turnaround and it has been a night and day difference in our school building this year. The incident report numbers are down — half the number vs. last year, all because of the behavior matrix and all of these systems and structures that we now have in place. So that is a big part of Turnaround working with us. We saw the growth between last year and this year.
Turnaround is a tremendous support system. They gave us every resource that we would possibly need to see a change in the school. We have had nothing but success stories come out from Turnaround.
THE 180: Is there something that people might not know or understand about what is needed to be successful in a school like P.S. 226?
MELISSA ERBERTI: Our school is very culturally diverse. We need teachers to understand that our children can be successful. They are very loving and caring once you get to know them. They are very fun to be around, on any grade level. Some are sarcastic and they make you laugh, and they just make you think, “Wow, this is what it’s like to be a kid, I wish I could go back and be a kid.” We need teachers to come to our building with an open mind and an open heart, and to understand that the children in our building can do their best with a motivated adult or staff member behind them.
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