Melody Valenzuela gets most excited when she’s able to give children a voice.
Earning her Professional Certificate in Educational Therapy and opening her own practice have given way to Melody changing lives for challenged kids, and their families. Melody digs deep to see what’s underneath a child’s academic struggle, and to make their voice heard. Then, she puts all the pieces together to make their lives better.
Q. In your life today, what makes you really happy?
A. Doing what I love every day is just the best. I help families figure out why their kiddos are having a hard time learning, connect them to the right resources, and therapeutically fill in the academic gaps— all while having fun! I think what gets me the most excited is being in a position to really advocate for my students’ needs with IEP teams, school psychologists, and teachers.
I see things I’m trained to see: what is underneath the academic struggle. I get to be the one to make sure the child’s voice is heard in how their needs are addressed. I have a significant role in setting lives on a better route, a road that ensures their success even with all their learning difficulties. It’s emotional! And it is actually life-changing for these kids and their families, often shifting the entire culture, atmosphere, and trajectory of the family.
Q. What difference did your experience at UCR University Extension make to your life path and career goals?
A. UCR University Extension was there when I needed them! The program I initially entered for Educational Therapy was not meeting my needs, so I made a risky decision to switch mid-program to UCR to see if the courses were more fulfilling. I have to say that the organization of the whole program was impressive. The staff was easy to work with, was considerate about my unique situation in transferring, and I found the curriculum to be thorough. The whole process, and each of the online courses, were well thought-out and made the transition painless.
When you look for a program, you want courses that are truly meaningful and prepare you well for your work. I know this can sound like a commercial, but every class I took checked that box. I left feeling well-prepared to impact my community.
Q. What advice would you give to students or graduates looking to move into your industry?
A. The number one piece of advice I would give as you seek to give your own practices a firm foundation is to focus on building relationships with your kids. All of the learning comes from a place of safety and respect. If they are uncomfortable in any way, their unconscious priority will be to find safety, which means learning takes a back seat. Make them feel liked, known, understood. Listen to them.
Also, try not to stress about what you don’t know, but make it a priority to seek knowledgeable and engaging mentors. It’s ok to be unsure and to figure some things out as you go. However, you can narrow that gap quickly by spending time continuing to learn from the right people.
The Thomas Carruthers quote on Melody’s email signature pretty much sums her up: “A teacher is one who makes [herself] progressively unnecessary.” We love to reconnect with our grads to see how they are doing and where life has taken them. Melody is clearly on the side of child success. And there can’t be too many of those essential and caring professionals out there. The difference she makes every day in the lives of kids and their families can’t be measured. In her own words, “It’s emotional!”
If you have a child who is having a hard time learning and needs help, Melody would like to hear from you.
B.A., Azusa Pacific University
Graduate, UCR University Extension
Professional Certificate in Educational Therapy