What is your Hispanic Heritage: Cuban-American
What area of Florida do you live in: Tampa
What is your profession: Supervisor of K-12 World Languages and Dual Languages for Hillsborough County Public Schools (7th largest in the nation)
Meet Melissa and other Lideres at the Hispanic Heritage Celebration at 3rd Annual FORD Taste Of Latino Festival on Sunday, Oct 17th @ Centro Asturiano! (www.TasteofLatino.com)
Latin Times Magazine: Tell us about what you do for a living and how you got into it
Melissa: As the Supervisor of World Languages and Dual Languages programs for Hillsborough County Public schools, I am responsible for supporting teachers, and administrators by overseeing all aspects of the implementation and daily operations of the various languages courses and programs offered to students from kindergarten to 12th grade. While Spanish is our most popular course offering, we also offer students the opportunity to study Italian, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Chinese, Latin and American Sign language.
I have been a Hillsborough County Public School educator for 30 years. Fifteen of those years as a high school Spanish teacher at Leto High school and Blake high school and fifteen as an administrator in my current position.
Interestingly enough, I never dreamed that I would be an educator. I didn’t care for school and often felt disconnected. I went to college to please my parents and ultimately decided to major in Spanish education because as a Spanish speaker I figured it would be the fastest way to get out of college and start earning a paycheck. The intention at the time was to only teach for 1-2 years and then switch to a career in the corporate world. However, as you can God had other plans and I’ve never looked back.
Latin Times Magazine: In your industry, what would you say separates you from your competition
Melissa: My passion, creativity, and energy. I consider myself the Cuban version of the Energizer bunny. J A typical workday for me consists of 12–14-hours usually dedicated to working on existing projects or creating new ones. The long days don’t bother me because I truly love what I do. My father always imparted the importance of strong work ethic as well as selecting a profession that would be enjoyed even if you weren’t paid.
Latin Times Magazine: During Covid-19, tell us about your Biggest Challenge/obstacle and how you overcame it/or are overcoming it
Melissa: The pandemic has presented many challenges to education. The biggest challenge was the need to convert in person learning to a virtual platform, literally overnight. There brought a high level of stress to teachers, administrators, students, and parents. There were many questions on how teachers would continue to deliver a high level of instruction with little or no prior experience in the virtual learning environment, how to best meet the needs of students, parents and teachers who contracted the virus and the daily tension experienced by all as we navigated unchartered waters. I decided that the best thing I could do was to be available to teachers at all times (weekends/ nights included), be empathetic, listen and value their concerns and lend my unconditional support in whatever way was needed at the time.
Latin Times Magazine: Tell us about your biggest achievement, and how you achieved it (Covid or non-related)
Melissa: Honestly, I am most proud of the implementation of the 1st 2 way Dual Language program in our district in 2016 at Crestwood and Bellamy elementary. My dream has always been to offer a high-quality program that would provide children an opportunity to achieve high levels of bilingualism and biliteracy by teaching them their academic subjects in both Spanish and English. Our students are excelling through strong community support and amazing Dual Language teachers! In a little over 4 years the program has grown from just 2 schools with 4 teachers and 60 students to 9 schools with 63 teachers serving 850+ students!!!
Latin Times Magazine: What is next for you? What can people expect to see from you?
Melissa: I plan to keep expanding the opportunity for children to become bilingual and be proud of their heritage. I also look forward to continuing advocating for Hispanics in our community as well as other initiatives that embrace diversity and unite people from all cultures for the greater good.
Latin Times Magazine: What does being a U.S. Citizen mean to you?
Melissa: I was born as a citizen in the United States to Cuban immigrant parents who instilled in me the pride they felt when they became American citizens. They are eternally grateful to the U.S. for welcoming them with open arms when they fled Cuba in 1959.
Latin Times Magazine: What is your opinion of the state of affairs in our nation?
Melissa: I find that people living in the U.S. have become much more interested and involved in the things that directly and indirectly effect their lives. The percentage of Hispanics in the U.S. continues to increase causing them to have a greater impact on policy changes and overall decisions made at the federal, state, and local levels. The expansion and accessibility of advanced technology has increased the opportunities for people to become more educated, connect socially and advance economically
Latin Times Magazine: What words of encouragement can you offer?
Melissa: Education is power. Believe in yourself. Don’t let barriers get in your way. Remember, dream big because you are strong, you are proud, you can be anything you want to be because YOU… ARE LATINA!
Latin Times Magazine: Is there anything I didn’t ask that you would like to share?
Melissa: Yes, about my most important personal accomplishment, my family. I have been married 33 years to my high school sweetheart Randy together we have 3 amazing daughters and just welcomed our 1st grand daughter!
Latin Times Magazine: What is YOUR comida Latina favorita?
Melissa: Anything mami makes, although her arroz con pollo is to die for!