CEDAR HILL, TX- Melissa Tyler of Waterford Oaks Elementary does not wear a superhero’s cape.
She’s never stood on a podium and received medals like Jackie Joyner-Kersee or heard the roar of a Texas Stadium crowd the way Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman did each Sunday.
But ask any of the parents or scholars who had the opportunity to interact with Tyler, and they’ll swear to you that her contributions to Cedar Hill ISD are even more heroic than the aforementioned individuals.
Becoming the 2019-2020 Cedar Hill ISD Elementary Teacher of the Year is important, but not as much as the impact Tyler’s had on her scholars and their families.
Just ask Ms. Paula Sheikh. Her daughter, Sumer Sheikh, is 27 now. But the Sheikhs still remember how Tyler found a way to ensure that she had a positive high school experience, including being named Honorary Prom Queen in 2013.
Sumer has Down Syndrome and is on oxygen. Tyler worked with the Cedar Hill High Cheer Team, so that Sumer could participate in a specially-designed routine with them on the sideline.
“Sumer got such joy out of that,” Paula said. “All of the cheerleaders loved Sumer. The whole school stood up and cheered for her. There’s no way that would have happened without Coach Tyler. She’s an extraordinary teacher who’s one in a million. She wants to be there for these kids because she loves it.”
And her former scholar, Sheddrick Wilhite, sang in Tyler’s wedding and has returned to Waterford Oaks to volunteer with scholars.
“She basically took me under her wing as a nephew,” Wilhite said. “I performed a rap song that I recorded myself. She taught me things beyond PE, like having good table manners and how to live independently.”
Wilhite’s mother, Tomika, appreciated Tyler’s efforts, too.
“She went that extra mile to make sure my child received everything he needed that the District offered,” Tomika said. “ “She later became one of the Special Olympics coaches.”
Veronica Wady said her son, R.J., has become more sociable, after working with Tyler.
“She’s always so welcoming, happy and positive,” Wady said. “He’s come out of his shell.He looks forward to every Thursday having a Google Classroom meet. That’s all he talks about during the week is seeing Ms. Tyler.”
During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Tyler and her Special Education colleagues still make it a point to visit their scholars each week, with social distancing, of course.
“We go to the curb, drop something off and say ‘hi’ to them,” Tyler said. “Our scholars are always very happy. They always see the best in everybody.”
Flossie Luckey, a PE Aide at Waterford Oaks who is retiring next month after 23 years on campus, saw all of the wonderful things that Tyler has done on campus, and then some.
That’s why she recommended her for Waterford Oaks Teacher of the Year.
“When I wrote, I wrote with her heart and it made me cry,” Luckey said. “She speaks for kids that sometimes cannot speak for themselves.”
The Class That Changed Tyler’s Life
Tyler’s story started in Cedar Hill and continues here today. It was in the Cedar Hill High School Gymnasium – the same spot where District championships were achieved – that something prolific transpired. Few knew that it would impact CHISD nearly two decades later.
Tyler was a student in what was then a new program – Partner Physical Education– which pairs special needs students with their general education peers. It builds camaraderie and shows that interaction results in mutual understanding.
Tyler initially took the course because she needed an extra elective in her senior year of 2003-2004.
“I immediately thought, ‘This is my jam’,” Tyler said.
More than that, it led to her life’s calling.
Tyler’s teacher was Heather Parks, who is now CHISD’s Adapted PE & Special Olympics Coordinator. Tyler met Parks, who was also the head girls soccer coach for the Lady Longhorns.
Parks remembers how well Tyler, then known as Melissa Guevara, gravitated toward the Partner PE Program. The program requires scholars to submit an application. It includes an essay on why they wish to be part of the program.
“She was remarkable with the kids,” Parks said. “You could tell by the looks on their faces. It’s really neat to see her grow up into the young lady that she is today. She truly loves our scholars, and she goes above and beyond. “With Melissa, the answer is never ‘no.’It’s always ‘how can I help you?’ She has a true passion for what she does.
Tyler’s mother, Rebeca Guevera, remembers that her daughter was also interested in becoming an educator, while she competed in soccer and played the trumpet at CHHS.
Tyler comes from a family of educators, and always looked to extend a helping hand. But Guevera remembers the Partner PE Class being the turning point that prompted her daughter to hone in on Special Education.
“Melissa was determined with whatever she did,” Guevara said. “When they paired her with a Special Education student, in the Partner PE, I saw the excitement, and I saw a lot of joy. I could tell that was the direction that she would take her career.”
Guevara said it’s been great to watch her daughter grow up in the community where she started Kindergarten in August 1991 at High Pointe Elementary and returned to teach at CHISD after graduating Magna Cum Laude from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
“She looks at every scholar as an individual, and she figures out what motivates the scholars to help them accomplish their goals,” Guevera said.
Tyler played soccer at Cedar Valley College, and went on to play NCAA Division II Soccer at Northeastern State. She said her time north of the Red River was exceptional, because student teaching involved working with special education students at the elementary, middle and high school levels. It also required learning about different aspects of Special Education.
Aside from college and two years in a neighboring district, Tyler’s been in Cedar Hill her whole life.
“It was a good experience working in another district, but there was always something missing,” Tyler said. “I missed the kids and community in Cedar Hill.”
Humbled To Be Teacher Of The Year
Even though she receives a great deal of compliments from supervisors, colleagues and relatives, Tyler is very humble. She’s proud to be a CHISD Educator, a Cedar Hill resident and parent to a fifth grade scholar at Bray Elementary.
“Receiving the Teacher of the Year honor was a shock because I know a few of the other Campus Teachers of the Year,” Tyler said. “I love being able to come back to the community of Cedar Hill.”
Tyler said that she is proud to represent her fellow Adapted PE Teachers by winning the Elementary Teacher of the Year honor.
At Waterford Oaks, she works with third through fifth graders, but her Special Olympics experience includes a broader age range.
“In Special Olympics, I see the scholar-athletes from 8 years old all the way to high school,” Tyler said. “It’s so exciting to see it come full circle, and I love when the kids see they’re just like their peers. Seeing them truly included is the most rewarding thing.”
Tyler is always working to improve her knowledge and of those around her. She regularly hosts professional development on Special Education and is working on graduate work in Adaptive PE from Texas Woman’s University in Denton.
Longtime Plummer Elementary PE Teacher Shelly Williamson, herself a Campus Teacher of the Year in 2019-2020, enjoys working alongside Tyler as CHISD Special Olympics coaches.
“Melissa has a huge heart and is a wonderful person,” Williamson said. “She is very dependable and highly respected. She believes, as I do, that our Special Olympics athletes deserve the best and should be treated as any other athlete in CHISD. I am honored to coach with her.”
Elementary Teacher of the Year is the largest honor that Tyler has received this year, but not the only one. Earlier this year, the CHHS 2003 Girls Soccer Team was selected for the Longhorn Legacy Athletic Hall of Fame.
The ceremony was postponed due to COVID-19, but Tyler is looking forward to it when it eventually takes place.
“I remember the good times we had, and we were all real close,” Tyler said.
Whether it’s her role as a CHISD teacher, coach, graduate, parent or citizen, Waterford Oaks Principal William Davis knows this is just the beginning of Tyler’s CHISD Legacy.
“She is an advocate for her scholars, and it’s been rewarding to see their growth and success,” Davis said. “She is always willing to assist her colleagues and is the ultimate team player.”