Alumna Melissa Abril-Dotel MS '10, a second grade teacher at North Beach Elementary, has been named the 2025 Francisco R. Walker Miami-Dade County Teacher of the Year.
Abril-Dotel grew up in a family deeply rooted in education. She is one of eight siblings — all of whom attended Miami-Dade County public schools. Four became educators. As a child, she loved to play teacher with her younger sister. Every year for career day, she dressed up as a teacher.
Left: Abril-Dotel dressed as a teacher on career day. Right: Abril-Dotel (second from left) with her mother and siblings.
For Abril-Dotel education is a transformational power — one she experienced first-hand in fifth grade after her mother’s passing.
“When she passed from breast cancer at age 43, it was of course very hard on me and my siblings. She was our world,” Abril-Dotel said. “Though I was a very quiet child, my teachers were able to see through the silence and help me push through that tough year. I realized that through teaching, I could be a beacon of light for others, offering support, encouragement and the possibility of positive change.”
Abril-Dotel began her teaching career in 2008 at Coral Way K-8 Center, later transferring to Christina M. Eve Elementary where she taught third grade until her move to North Beach Elementary in 2015. Through the years, Abril-Dotel has learned students are more receptive and often learn more effectively when they have a strong bond with their teacher — one built on trust and connection. She incorporates social-emotional learning into the curriculum and is committed to instilling the values of empathy, kindness and overall good citizenship in her students.
Abril-Dotel with her second grade students at North Beach Elementary.
“Ms. Dotel has transformed classrooms into vibrant hubs of learning, igniting a passion for knowledge within her students,” said Melanie Fishman, Principal for North Beach Elementary. “Her teaching style is characterized by her creativity, catering to the diverse needs of her students.”
With a culturally diverse student population, Abril-Dotel wanted a better understanding of language acquisition and the unique challenges in urban education settings like Miami. So she pursued a Master’s in TESOL and Urban Education at FIU to learn how to build upon the strengths of her students while fostering an inclusive learning environment.
“Here at FIU, we emphasize that transformation happens best when linked to building communities of care and challenge—transformation rarely happens in isolation,” said Aaron Kuntz, Dean of FIU’s School of Education and Human Development. “We can celebrate and learn from Melissa’s impressive example of dedicated community building and challenge through education. She is such a striking example of how engaged educators can impact students, parents and peers alike for years to come.”
Education is more than acing a test, according to Abril-Dotel.
“It’s more than getting a concept. It’s more powerful,” she said. “It’s this big idea that can transform lives, that can create ripple effects, that can change the world.”