Arts and Humanities People and Community

Alumna’s love for music strikes a chord in teaching

Nerissa Manela, who graduated from the Frost School of Music, was recently awarded Rookie Teacher of the Year by Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Frost School of Music alumna Nerissa Manela teaches a music class at Morningside K-8 Academy

Frost School of Music alumna Nerissa Manela was recently named Rookie Teacher of the Year by Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Nerissa Manela’s love of music began when she asked her parents for violin lessons at only 6 years old. It was a gift that ultimately helped develop her passion for the arts, which she carries on today as a music teacher at Morningside K-8 Academy. 

“I really enjoy making an impact on students’ lives. Knowing that a lot of my students aren’t going to grow up and be musicians or teachers is okay. But knowing that I can influence who they become because of the experiences in my classes is really meaningful and motivates me every day,” said Manela. 

That drive to impact every student led to her recent selection as Rookie Teacher of the Year by Miami-Dade County Public Schools. 

“It was such an exciting feeling when I found out I won. I was overwhelmed by the support from all of my colleagues and friends and people I’ve worked with over the years of my career. I’m very proud to be representing my school and representing music teachers during a particularly stressful year,” said Manela.

An alumna from the University of Miami Frost School of Music, Manela double majored in music education and music therapy. 

“It was very challenging, but I feel like a much better teacher because of the training I received at Frost,” she explained. “With a background in music therapy, I have an outlook on social and emotional health and individual well-being that I try to include in my teaching.” 

She is thankful for the network that she was able to make at Frost.

“I am still very good friends with my mentor teacher who introduced me to so many people in the school district. But beyond that I also made so many close connections with my professors and peers who are in the same field as me today,” she said. “Having the support network of other teachers, especially during the pandemic, has really set me up for success in my career.” 

Manela explained that the award was motivating and reinforcing because, “The arts are so often the first on the chopping block. And as any arts teachers can tell you, the arts are where all the dots get connected between the English and the social studies and the math and the sciences,” she pointed out. “It is definitely encouraging to see how others are realizing how much students can achieve in music class.”

Manela’s experience with her mentor was so positive, she was inclined to be a mentor herself to current undergraduate students at Frost. 

“Many students have come in to observe my classes for various assignments and field experiences. I really enjoy passing along my teaching methods and showing people who are about to enter their career how wonderful music education can really be,” she said. 

Manela hopes to further her studies in music education in an effort to continue educating the next generations of teachers. 

“My professional goals are to get my Ph.D. in Music Education and eventually be in a position to primarily educate future teachers,” she said. “I want to continue making important connections not only within UM, but within the greater community. So, I can create a strong network for my students like I had when I was at the University.”