Former Nueva student and current LS teacher rediscovers Nueva’s “innovation”
It’s a long, winding road from Uganda to Nueva, but Marissa Maimone, associate teacher and middle school alum, found her way back.
Marissa graduated from eighth grade in 2008 and has spent the last decade pursuing her love of teaching and, in her words, being a “childrens’ rights activist.” This love started locally when she was the science coordinator at Peninsula Bridge (a program that many upper schoolers volunteer for today). Then she went global, teaching English in Italy and working for a Ugandan nonprofit that protects children from violence. She’s been on countless adventures and has traversed miles in her passion for childhood education. Her experiences have, as she writes, “deepened her commitment” to nurturing her students’ academic and emotional growth—a purpose and drive whose beginnings she credits to Nueva.
It was that insatiable curiosity for learning that drove her work in Uganda. She was a member of a “childrens’ team” that educated students and educators about positive reinforcement and discipline practices in an effort to end corporal punishment. In a nutshell, she described it as “creating safer educational spaces.” She worked on adapting the program to high schools and eventually saw it implemented in more than 500 schools across the African continent. Much of her work was behind the scenes, monitoring and evaluating the program’s success, and Marissa realized this wasn’t what she wanted.
“I knew I wanted to be in the classroom,” she explained, “To be teaching, not just talking about teaching.”
She returned to the Bay Area, and while job hunting heard about Nueva’s Innovative Teacher Program (ITP) from eighth-grade biology teacher Lelia Youn while they were colleagues at Nueva Summer. However, Marissa wasn’t immediately sure ITP was for her.
“To be perfectly honest, I was hesitant to return. As a student at Nueva, you learn about the value of traveling, exploring, and new experiences, and I wondered if I should continue my own exploration. However, after thinking about it, I realized I only understood the Nueva experience from one side—the student side,” she explained.
Lingering questions drew her back: How had those teachers instilled such curiosity in her? What was it like to be on the other side?
“I realized I didn’t know the answers,” she said. “And that brought me back.”
Since joining the ITP two years ago (one year in kindergarten, the second in third grade), Marissa’s pursuit of answers has not been in vain. She’s rediscovered the unique student-teacher connection and closeness she remembers from the other side.
“As a student here, I felt seen. And as a teacher, it is wonderful to be able to really see the students and have them feel the same way,” she said. “With our low student-teacher ratio, I get to know each of them. I have the time and space, and it’s part of why I love teaching here.”
After the last two years, Marissa has realized how important a teacher’s role is in creating Nueva’s environment. She says that in order for students to experience the freedom Nueva provides, teachers create “a lot of background structure.” But even with structure and established curriculum, Marissa says there’s still space for student-centered lessons. For example, last year when her third graders were studying a historical figure who was Muslim, the teachers built in extra time to explore Islam because the students were so interested.
“One of our Muslim faculty members was excited to share her religion, and she came to class for an open Q&A with our students,” she said. “Afterwards, a parent emailed us that her child had always been secretive about their family’s religion, and that he had never heard his religion discussed in school. He was so excited that he wanted to share himself with his classmates. He gave a presentation and also told them he had always wanted to hide that he was Muslim, until now.”
Marissa says that this kind of increasing complexity is one of the reasons why she loves teaching third grade. “I feel like it’s a pivotal moment for students because they are just becoming aware of issues outside themselves,” she said. “It’s a really powerful year.”
And Marissa also loved her year in third grade for another, more personal reason: it brought her journey at Nueva into a full circle.
“Third grade was perfect for me because it’s where I started at Nueva,” she recalled. “We had several new third graders last year, and it was really fun to help them transition by remembering my own experience.”
And although many things have changed since she was a student, the core of Nueva hasn’t changed for her.
“I am a very nostalgic person,” she said. “For example, my entire family remembers the opening of the Hillside Learning Complex. I actually found my t-shirt from the groundbreaking ceremony and brought it to class to show our kids. A lot of spaces around the Hillsborough campus have changed, including renovations of many Mansion classrooms since I was a student, but what Nueva is for students hasn’t changed.”
Marissa looks forward to what Nueva’s future will bring, and this coming year she’ll gain a middle-school perspective. She continues to be inspired by Nueva’s place as a leader in educational innovation.
"Our practices may be the next developments in education, with new programs in new spaces,” Marissa said. “I am excited to witness and share these with the students and watch them blossom.”
- Alumni News