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Dr. Edwardo Johnson

Dr. Edwardo Johnson is a 26-year veteran Spanish teacher at NSU University School. His days are spent building Upper School students’ Spanish fluency and language skills and educating them about the culture and customs of Spanish-speaking countries, whether that be through engaging project-based activities or immersive experiences. Over the years, Dr. Johnson has become well known for surprising his students with a pop-up restaurant. Donning a chef’s uniform, he prepares traditional Hispanic dishes such as quesadillas, tostones, guacamole, and tropical fruit punches for students to experience the diversity of Hispanic cuisine.

Dr. Johnson’s interest in teaching first began in the seventh grade when his instructor assigned him the responsibility of helping his classmates improve their reading skills, which in turn, helped him build his confidence and uncover his potential and passion for helping others. This then led to him volunteering at various organizations throughout high school, including the Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy program in his native country, Jamaica, where he taught lessons to adults. After graduating, he continued to pursue his dream and became a full-time Spanish teacher to gain experience and money for college. Today, he holds many degrees including a bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree in education. 

Teachers can make a lasting impact in the lives of their students, and it is evident that Dr. Johnson is one of many extraordinary educators at USchool who has shaped and inspired countless students in the classroom and far beyond. Throughout his years here, he has served as faculty sponsor of the Drug Free Youth in Town Club and International Night, a celebration of USchool’s diversity, and co-sponsor of the Student Diversity Leadership Club. With the help of our USchool community, Dr. Johnson has collected and shipped more than 100,000 books to schools and public libraries in Jamaica through his Books for Jamaica initiative. Nominated by two USchool graduates, Dr. Johnson was selected as one of four winners of Northwestern University’s inaugural Distinguished Secondary Teacher Award.

Q&A with Dr. Johnson:

Describe your teaching style.

My teaching style is best described as eclectic, and it is ever evolving. My methodology matches the theme under exploration and the characteristics and needs of my students. NSU University School emphasizes personalization in its mission statement, and I believe in doing what is necessary to ensure that my students achieve excellence.

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

I continuously provide learning opportunities that allow my students to appreciate the content they are learning by applying it in real life through projects, immersive cultural experiences, and competitions. Every year, our students put their Spanish-speaking skills to the test at the Florida Foreign Language Association conference where they have excelled against the best of Florida high school students in a range of categories. I also take students to visit local restaurants to sample and experience traditional Hispanic dishes.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Being a teacher has allowed me to conquer worlds that I could only dream of as a child. My first Spanish teacher was an American who moved with his family to live in the rural town where my high school is located. I often ponder how my life has come full circle after my family and I moved to the United States where I have dedicated my career as a teacher at USchool, returning the favor. I think about the thousands of students I have taught and the expressions of appreciation that I continue to receive from all corners of the world, including from a USchool graduate who thanked me for my efforts in pushing him to learn Spanish. In fact, he wrote to me from a Spanish-speaking country where he now lives and thanks to his fluency in Spanish, he runs a successful business in the country’s tourism industry.

Do you have a particular hobby you enjoy doing outside of work?

I am an avid gardener. I spend a lot of time in my backyard garden tending to more than 20 varieties of tropical fruit trees, vegetables and herbs, peas, beans, bananas, plantains, sugar cane, and horticultural plants. I enjoy growing what I eat and eating what I grow.

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

To be a successful teacher, your love for children and education must shine through in your daily interactions with them. They need to know that you genuinely care about them. Provide them with the structure, then establish and maintain boundaries of respect and decorum in which you both operate. Equipped with your knowledge, skills, and flexibility, be firm, yet kind. With that in place, you are set to enjoy teaching.

Janet Schroeder

“Find the best in U” is our motto here at NSU University School, and Middle School teacher Janet Schroeder is a prime example of an educator who embodies that motto. Schroeder has loaned her time and expertise to USchool for more than 41 years, helping students reach their full potential in the classroom, on the court, and in life. Over the years, she has held coaching roles for our varsity volleyball, softball, and tennis programs. In her current position as a physical education teacher, Schroeder supports Middle School students with their health and wellness, encouraging them to establish healthy behaviors, exercise, and make positive choices.

In her classroom, Schroeder stresses values, trust, expectations, fairness, tolerance, and motivation. She creates an open and safe environment where her students feel comfortable and have the flexibility to choose activities to participate in based on their skill level, interest, and need. Through engaging lessons, Schroeder challenges students to be their best while giving them the ability to identify their individual strengths and interests.

Schroeder enjoys spending time with her students, getting to know them, and building positive teacher-student relationships. As an avid runner, she dedicates her time outside of the classroom to running marathons, doing yard work, or spending quality time with family, friends, and her dog, Bear.

Q&A with Schroeder:

Describe your teaching style.

I tell my students that our greatest quality is our attitude. One thing we come close to having total control over is our thoughts. We, not someone else, choose what we carry around every day. My goal is to help my students feel good, feel successful, enjoy what they are doing, and be at peace with themselves and those around them.

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

My greatest achievement would be sharing my passion in the various stages of my career. I loved coaching varsity volleyball, softball, and tennis and held the position of athletic director before my interests brought me back to the classroom. 

What do you enjoy most about your work. 

I enjoy helping students reach their full potential. If I can make someone’s day a little brighter, it is a day well spent.

How has being a teacher impacted or changed your life? 

I have been given the opportunity to influence truly wonderful young people and build quality relationships. I have a heart that cares, time to give, and the willingness to teach.

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

Students at USchool are high achievers, driven by a desire to excel and follow their passion. They make things happen in the community and beyond, celebrate their strengths, and have a strong love of learning. 

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. 

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