Skip to main content
2023 "40 Under 40" Educator Nerissa Manela

Nerissa Manela

PhD Student, Teaching Assistant
University of Miami
Coral Gables, Florida

Nerissa Manela is at a unique crossroads between teaching in K-12 classrooms and community outreach programs and pursuing her doctorate degree.

For six years, Manela taught in Title I public schools, where she often utilized innovative technology into her curriculum. “I appreciated the silver lining of home learning during the pandemic in that all students had access to devices and the internet,” she explains. “When we returned to school in the fall of 2021, I wanted to build on the technological skills my students had learned and practiced at home.”

She was awarded a $1,000 grant from The Education Fund to purchase a class set of Makey Makeys, and had her 5th graders bring their devices to music class on a regular basis. “I knew that incorporating literature, science, technology, engineering and math in music classes would enhance the cross-curricular instruction that is crucial in a 21st century education,” she says See the projects with descriptions, photos and videos here.

Manela also works with the Greater Miami Youth Symphony as a conductor, string coach and education coordinator. She developed a bottom-up curriculum to ensure that preparatory classes and beginner-level ensembles adequately prepare students to audition for and advance through four levels of orchestra and three levels of band. Manela also observes classes, provides feedback and coordinates professional development for teachers.

On top of all this, she is a board-certified music therapist. “I know that the patience, empathy and understanding I developed from my experience in music therapy settings made me a better teacher,” she says.

After interning at Jam Sessions, a music therapy socialization group and mentoring program for neurodiverse adolescents and young adults in San Diego, Manela launched the Miami branch in 2017. “Participants work alongside volunteer mentors to sing, play instruments and build relationships,” she explains. “The Jam Sessions program helps participants and mentors develop and practice the social and communication skills needed to foster a more inclusive community.”

Once she completes her doctorate studies, Manela is excited to work with collegiate students who share the same drive to bring the possibilities of music to their future students. She is also enjoying the research aspect of the doctorate degree that is focused on teaching neurodiverse students.