Changing Young Lives for the Better
Hamden sixth-grade teacher Mary Nelson chose to earn her master’s degree at Fairfield University because she knew the Jesuit institution would emphasize the social justice aspect of education.
“The fieldwork opportunities in urban schools really opened my mind to the possibilities of teaching,” the Cheshire resident said. “I couldn’t imagine working anywhere other than a high needs school where I make a difference.”
And what a difference she makes: Nelson’s creativity, energy, and commitment made her an obvious choice for 2015 Hamden Teacher of the Year. She was also chosen as one 14 semifinalists in the state.
“Although I have only known Mary Nelson a short time I can honestly say it is an honor to serve as her principal,” said Stacie D’Antonio, Nelson’s principal at Church Street School. “The passion she possesses instills all children with a love of learning and the courage to tackle the obstacles that come their way. I am happy to now be working alongside Mary to make a difference in the lives of children who need caring, inspiring and encouraging adults.”
Nelson is starting her fourth year teaching in Hamden, having also taught three years at Six to Six Interdistrict Magnet School in Bridgeport. She holds an M.A. in curriculum and instruction from Fairfield and earned her B.A. in international management from Pace University.
Many of Nelson’s young students have social and emotional issues at home, and she said she’s happy to have an educational and personal impact on their lives in the classroom and in extracurricular activities. Some call or e-mail to ‘show off’ good report cards long after they’ve left her classroom; others have dubbed her “Momma Nelson” and they surrounded her and cheered when she received word that she was a state semifinalist.
“Seeing a child hit a benchmark is extremely gratifying,” she said. “Whether it’s learning a new math strategy, reaching grade level in reading, or overcoming their stage fright in my theater program – it’s extremely rewarding.”
Faculty at Fairfield’s Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions (GSEAP) are proud of Nelson’s accomplishments.
“Mary Nelson is a living testament to the social justice goals and pedagogy we hope to instill in our teacher graduates,” said Dr. Emily Smith, associate professor in GSEAP’s Department of Educational Studies and Teacher Preparation. “Her steadfast commitment to her students’ academic and socioemotional needs, coupled with her passion and creativity, has made her one of the best teachers in the state.”