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Robin Mendelson

The heart of a school is its teachers, and we are fortunate to have some of the greatest educators at NSU University School – one of which being long-serving kindergarten teacher Robin Mendelson. With more than 41 years of teaching under her belt, Mendelson is a valued member of our school community whose passion and commitment to her students and their education has made a world of difference in the lives of many. When walking into her classroom, one thing is certain – you will always find energetic, engaged students exploring all there is to learn in an environment where ideas and contributions are valued.

Her lifelong love of learning was instilled by her mother who prioritized her family and was greatly involved in her children’s education, which helped Mendelson quickly realize her desire to work with and mentor children. Early in her childhood, she began babysitting and later became involved in a youth group where she held a leadership role throughout her high school and college years. Fast forward to today, Mendelson continues to lend her knowledge and expertise as a board member of a summer camp where she formerly served as a counselor, mentor, and director.

Outside of the classroom, Mendelson can be found spending time with her family and friends, traveling, bike riding, or enjoying walks with her furry friend named Bitzy “who is like a ray of sunshine on the cloudiest days,” she said.

Q&A with Mendelson:

Describe your teaching style.

Every child enters my classroom ready to explore the world and reach for the stars. I look for the uniqueness of each individual student, and I try to guide them to attain the goals they aspire to achieve. I want children to think, be able to make decisions, and most importantly, get along with their peers. Children learn best through experience, so I focus on providing meaningful experiences that drive greater depth of knowledge.  

So far in your career, what do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

I have touched the lives of countless young children and their families. I have helped these students meet their potential and have watched them grow up to become caring, successful adults. It is so heartwarming when students I taught years ago come back to visit or when I find them back in my classroom only now as parents!

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Working in an environment like NSU University School has afforded me the opportunity to truly teach. When parents and students care and love learning, my job becomes easy! I enjoy walking into school, ready to accept the challenges of each day. I have learned and grown in my skills and knowledge working with NSU educators who value education as I do and understand that it is a lifelong journey.

How has being a teacher impacted or changed your life?

Teaching has kept me young! The laughter and smiles of the young child help me to stay connected with the positive aspects of life. When I am feeling overwhelmed or sad, my students always brighten my day and help me forget about my worries.

What are some words of wisdom you would share with future educators?

Live and love your passion as an educator! There will always be ups and downs. You might not think you have done all that you can do, but when you look back, you will know in your heart that you have made a lasting impact on the lives of students.

Maria Taravella

Middle School teacher Maria Taravella has devoted 45 years of her life to inspiring a passion and appreciation for the Spanish language and culture in students, developing their global citizenship and intercultural understanding. Taravella has felt a strong love for teaching for as long as she can remember. Eager to have a classroom and students of her own, she arranged a large blackboard and desks in the basement of her home where she instructed imaginary students at the age of eight. The encouragement and mentorship she received from passionate educators, including her aunt, as she navigated her way through school drove her to follow her dream of becoming a teacher. 

Influenced by her childhood educators and learning experiences, Taravella fosters a comfortable and inclusive classroom environment, balancing structure and flexibility to meet student needs. Apart from her role as a world language teacher, Taravella also serves as an advisor for the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) at NSU University School. Currently, she is working with seventh and eighth grade NJHS members on making care packages, which include hand-written messages of thanks, for service members who are stationed out of the country through the nonprofit organization Operation Shoebox. She is also a member of the Florida Foreign Language Association. 

Taravella is most proud of raising a daughter who, too, has decided to dedicate her life to educating future generations. She will always cherish the memory of witnessing the first group of students she taught at USchool graduate as she cheered them on alongside their families. 

Q&A with Taravella: 

What are some ways you instill a love of learning in your students?  

I get to know my students, their interests, and what makes them special. When possible, I design projects that allow them to be creative and include the things they love. I embed interdisciplinary skills that combine with their study of the target language to further extend learning and enhance their engagement and success.  

How has being a teacher impacted or changed your life?  

Constantly adding to my repertoire of teacher tools has made me a lifelong learner. Working with the students has kept me young.  

What is your favorite thing about teaching at NSU University School?  

Having come from a county public school, the latest technological innovations were, at times, slow to be integrated into the curriculum and routine teaching activities. As a 21st century educator, USchool has given me the opportunity to update and maintain the technological skills needed to meet the needs of 21st century students.  

What do you think makes our students at NSU University School stand out from the rest?   

Having access to experiential learning opportunities enables students at USchool to follow their passions and develop their skills. Students who are undecided about a career path are inspired to explore different paths with the wide selection of programs offered.  

What are some words of wisdom you would share with future educators?  

Teaching is not a job that you can leave behind every evening. It is a vocation that requires patience, flexibility, and a love of young people above and beyond curricular intelligence. In this role, be ready to be a parent, counselor, doctor, cheerleader, actor, and chief negotiator. Otherwise, it is a wild ride for only the brave and a bottomless source of unbelievable material for that retirement book most teachers say that they will write.  

Madison Davis

Class of 2022 valedictorian Madison Davis is a NSU University School lifer who experienced all USchool has to offer over the past 14 years. Having started in pre-kindergarten, Madison had the opportunity to grow alongside fellow lifers and navigate school together, forming lifelong connections with friends whom she now considers family. 

Madison discovered her love of learning and STEM in the Lower School and became involved in a range of academic and extracurricular programs. In fourth grade, she began participating in math competitions and continued to pursue her interests in STEM throughout her Middle and Upper School years. As a senior, Madison served as co-captain of the Math Team, president of the STEM Club, co-president of the Science Bowl, co-secretary general of Model UN, and co-captain of the Varsity Girls Swimming Team. 

Inspired by her teachers and their influence, Madison founded the Spark in U Club to connect student coaches with students who need help managing schoolwork and navigating the complexities of school. Through tutoring, she has impacted the lives of students not only at USchool but also in her family’s hometown of Přeštice, Czechia where she volunteered at a summer camp to help teach children English. 

Recognized for her academic excellence and service, Madison is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the Pinnacle Award, Harvard Book Award, Citizen Scholar Award, Congrès Supérieur Award, and Head of School Honor Roll. She was also named a National Merit Commended Scholar, Outstanding English Scholar, Commended Spanish Scholar, and AP Scholar with Distinction. 

As she closes her chapter as a Shark and prepares for her new journey as a student at Dartmouth College, Madison will miss her friends, teachers, and the familiarity of being at USchool. She will always cherish the memories and experiences shared with friends in the classroom and when traveling for class trips and competitions. Madison plans to find a career that will bring excitement and establish a healthy work/life balance. Ultimately, she hopes to continue helping those around her in any way she can and feels proud of the person she has become. 

Q&A with Madison: 

NSU’s Core Values are Academic Excellence, Student Centered, Integrity, Innovation, Opportunity, Scholarship/Research, Diversity, and Community. Which value resonates most with you and how have you embodied it? 

The value of opportunity most resonates with me. During my time at USchool, I have taken advantage of as many extracurricular and academic opportunities as I could from joining clubs and trying out sports to creating an organization when I thought our school could benefit from it. With USchool’s experiential learning opportunities, I was able to participate in two internships last year to learn about different medical and scientific research fields. 

Share a fun fact about yourself that most people do not know. 

I love cooking new foods. During quarantine, I tried a ton of recipes with my greatest accomplishment being a 30-layer crepe cake made from scratch. I also love baking blueberry banana bread and sharing it with my family when I visit them in Czech. I found a recipe online and experimented with it until I created my favorite version. 

What factors outside of school have shaped you into the person you are today? 

My mom helped instill my determination and need for adventure. Leading by example, my dad taught me my most valuable lessons about kindness, appreciation, life priorities, and self-worth. Although I am still learning how to embody these values, my parents and brothers showed me that taking risks and failing is a part of life. 

What are the top three reasons you love USchool and being a part of the Shark family? 

I love USchool because we are a tight-knit community. I do not believe it is common in other high schools to be able to see your third grade teacher and remember the great times you shared, as I can do here. Another perk of being a USchool lifer is the ability to say that I have known my best friends for 14 years and have formed connections too strong to break. My third reason is that I have always felt safe to try new things and express myself. I have made so many memories at USchool because of the comfortable environment. 

What makes the USchool experience special? 

The emphasis on each person as an individual. Everyone is seen as an important part of the community and is encouraged to spread their wings. There are many resources to help students reach their full potential and try new things, which makes each student at USchool extremely lucky. 

Any words of wisdom you would like to offer to younger, fellow USchool students? 

Use your time at USchool to do what you love while exploring your interests and experimenting. It is up to you to take advantage of the abundance of opportunities available. Make sure to also balance your academic and social/extracurricular life as mental health is incredibly important. 

For more information about NSU University School, please email

Nikki Steinberg

Named salutatorian of the Class of 2022, Nikki Steinberg is a proud NSU University School lifer who immersed herself in opportunity and excelled both in and out of the classroom throughout her academic career. Having an early start at USchool, Nikki was exposed to a plethora of diverse courses and programs that helped her realize her love for writing and text analysis. Following her passion, she participated in the NSU Law Fellowship and worked closely with law professors and students. Her experiences competing in a mock trial competition, which she won, and interning at a law office steered her to work toward a career in the legal profession.  

Growing up, Nikki’s family taught her the value of kindness and compassion and inspired her to always act with empathy. As a dancer who has won multiple first-place national titles, she learned to be resilient and persevere through adversity. Nikki applied these values in her everyday life, which served as the key to her success. Among her many achievements, Nikki was selected as a National Merit Scholarship recipient, semifinalist in the Coca-Cola Scholarship program, AP Scholar with Distinction, and Outstanding Scholar in Math and Social Studies. She also earned the University of Pennsylvania Book Award and Dance Excellence Award.  

Nikki developed and demonstrated her leadership skills while serving as president of Debbie’s Dream, a club supporting patients with stomach cancer, and the National Honor Society of the Dance Arts. She was also a member of seven honor societies, the Diversity Club, No Kid Hungry, Writing Fellows, .Edu, and Tilted Dance Company. Outside of school, Nikki devotes her time inspiring the next generation of dancers as a children’s dance instructor.  

Although she will miss the familiar faces she has grown up with and the school that has become her second home, Nikki is excited to be heading to Vanderbilt University. She aspires to practice family law and one day open her own law firm, helping better the lives of those who were wronged and fighting for what is right.  

Q&A with Nikki:  

Tell me about the benefits of having an early start at NSU University School.  

Starting USchool in kindergarten allowed me to begin my specialized education right from the beginning. In the Lower School, there were various ways that different learning styles and paces were facilitated. I began learning advanced math topics in second grade and participated in unique programs including a stock exchange program in fourth grade. My early start helped me gain important experiences that served as building blocks for the rest of my academic career at USchool.  

What factors outside of school have shaped you into the person you are today?  

My family has played a significant role in shaping me into who I am. My mom always taught me to be strong, fight for what I believe in, and find the positive in every situation. Growing up as a dancer also contributed to the person I am today. I learned that without commitment, it is impossible to improve or succeed in your endeavors.  

What are the top three reasons you love USchool and being a part of the Shark family?  

One of the things I love most about USchool is the community it provides. The bonds I have formed here have had strong impacts on who I have grown up to be. With the countless opportunities available, each student can travel a unique path and grow into their own individual person. I received a balance between academic rigor and immersion into my community, helping me obtain new knowledge and apply it to the real world.  

What is the most important life lesson you have learned in Upper School?  

I have learned that there is so much more to life beyond a proper academic education. While USchool provided me with an extensive academic career, it also helped me realize that there is value in having empathy and understanding for those around us. Learning about perspectives or concepts that I had never considered before opened my eyes to what it means to be a productive member of society.  

How do you feel USchool has prepared you for life after graduation? 

USchool has provided me many opportunities to form a bridge between what I have learned in the classroom to what I plan to pursue in the future. Between the fellowships and internships offered, I have had real-world experiences right at my fingertips, giving me a taste of what life after graduation will be like before I have even graduated.  

For more information about NSU University School, please email

Jonathan Moreno

Longtime Spanish teacher Jonathan Moreno has been making a difference in the lives of students at NSU University School for the past 14 years, helping Lower School students achieve language proficiency while gaining an appreciation for the Hispanic culture. His passion for education extends beyond foreign language and includes a universal form of expression – music. He shares this love with his students by integrating music and art into his lessons, making them more engaging and improving students’ attitude when learning another language.  

Although teaching is a significant part of his identity, Moreno has dedicated his time outside of the classroom to building flutes and guitars for some 20 years now. Most recently, Moreno started a Peruvian Cajon Drum Club at our school for students in grades three to five where they gather once a week to further their musical skills by playing a percussion instrument while, at the same time, learning more about the Latin culture.  

As a “specials” teacher, Moreno has the fortunate opportunity to work closely and cultivate strong relationships with students throughout their elementary years. Of all his memorable experiences at USchool, his fondest memory was when the senior class walked through the Lower School hallways with bright, proud faces to bid farewell to their childhood teachers a few years back.  

Q&A with Moreno: 

What led you to pursue a career in teaching? 

Some of the most influential people in my life have been teachers. I wanted to pursue a meaningful, fulfilling profession, and I found it in teaching. 

So far in your career, what do you consider to be your greatest achievement? 

Each time you receive a sincere gesture of gratitude from students or parents, it is a reminder that you are doing things right. A greater achievement is always on the horizon. It is always something you are pursuing, which keeps me grounded and aware that the learning and work never ends. I need to keep growing and working to become better every year. 

What do you enjoy most about your work? 

I enjoy interacting with the students and watching them grow year after year. Teaching can be challenging, but it is also very rewarding when things go well – the smiles and the learning makes it all worth it. 

What do you think makes USchool students stand out from the rest? 

Children are a source of endless potential. Students here receive a commendable education where they are motivated to take advantage of the endless resources available to them as part of the USchool experience. It is our job to guide them toward realizing their full potential. 

What are some words of wisdom you would share with future educators? 

Teaching is a noble, challenging, and meaningful profession. Your heart must be in it. Be prepared to fail, fall, and to keep getting up every time. You will influence many lives.