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Melrose Teacher named Fulbright Scholar

Melrose Teacher named Fulbright Scholar
Nessa Mahmoudi For Nessa Mahmoudi, a life of learning and discovering starts every day with herself.

Having grown-up in Southern California with an Iranian family that spoke both Farsi and English, Nessa immediately developed an interest in “wanting to know who I am and understanding the worlds that I was living in.”

That curiosity has developed into a career of bilingual teaching - specifically helping to grow the dual immersion program at Melrose Leadership Academy. It’s also led to Nessa recently accepting an invitation to study in New Zealand this February as a member of the 2015-16 Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program. She is one of 50 teachers nationwide to be accepted in the program this year.

“Working in a multilingual community you realize it’s not just enough to learn and speak another language. Rather, it becomes a stepping stone to understanding and learning about the cultural histories that comes with that language,” she said. “Learning and teaching Spanish has made me want to learn more about myself and my own identity. This personal work informs my work developing positive learning identities and cross-cultural experiences for my students.”

Nessa will be working with bilingual Māori teachers, students and families from February to June. The Māori are the indigenous population of New Zealand. She hopes to see how schools support Māori teacher collaboration. She chose New Zealand because “the Ministry of Education seems to have a comprehensive program for teaching Māori, that is not just about teaching the language, but also understanding who they are and their particular way of interacting with and perceiving the world as a people.”

For the past six years, Nessa has taught in the dual language program at Melrose in first, second and third grades - an experience that allows her to watch students as they “construct their identities within a diverse and integrated community” at Melrose. Nessa is working as a Teacher on Special Assignment this year as she prepares to leave in February.

“I get to visit different classrooms this year and for the first time we have a sixth grade humanities class being taught in all Spanish as a core class and it brought tears of joy to my eyes to see kids of different race, class and ethnicity interacting in Spanish. I think it's the first of its kind in our district,” Nessa said. “That’s very powerful. I’ve watched these kids learn Spanish since first grade and it made me proud to see the fruits of our labor as a school.”

It’s a bittersweet experience for Nessa as she deals with the excitement of going to New Zealand and the pain of leaving Melrose, Oakland Unified and the Bay Area.

“It’s a difficult time because I’m leaving my classroom and my home for six months and since I’m not working in the district during that time, I’m not going to be able to receive the normal benefits of being a teacher [at OUSD]. That makes it challenging to return in the middle of summer,” Nessa said. “Oakland is my home and I love teaching in this community. When I return I hope that what I learn from the teachers and communities in New Zealand can benefit Oakland's dual language programs and Melrose, particularly around supporting teachers in their professional development.”