Bernadette Russoniello has been teaching for 15 years. Submitted photo

Known as Mrs. Russ by her students, Bernadette Russoniello is in her 15th school year teaching at Maricopa High School. She teaches marketing and journalism and has developed an award-winning DECA program at MHS.

This year, she was the recipient of the Educator of the Year award at the Maricopa Chamber of Commerce Community Awards Banquet.

What is your favorite part of being an educator? Every day is different, every day is a fresh start, every day offers a challenge – the learning never stops. I love helping students get excited about an opportunity that can change their life.

What has been the highlight of your career so far? Being part of a community and working to challenge students to be an active and dynamic force in their school and community.

Why did you choose education as a career? I love school! As a kid, I would play school all the time. I would line up my stuffed animals and teach them various lessons. I would assign them homework, do all their assignments and then grade them. I turned my bookshelf into a library, making pockets, check-out cards and a mini card catalog. In high school, I did everything – sports, choir, drama, athletic training, peer mentoring, captained the science team – I couldn’t get enough learning. To the ever-lasting dismay of my family, I turned away from my medical school plans and pursued teaching.

What would be your “other career” option? Cruise director, Tahitian resort manager or National Park ranger. Hospitality and travel are a passion. I also love community, leadership and programs – so any job that incorporates those elements is a natural fit for me.

Why Maricopa? Maricopa offered me a job teaching English before I even earned my full credential. I think it was a risk that has paid off. I started at MHS when Rancho El Dorado was still pecan groves and the entire district (K-12, district office and transportation) filled the area of the current high school campus. Maricopa High School reminded me a lot of New River Elementary School – both in the buildings at the time and the staff. It simply felt like home. The incredibly affordable housing also swayed the decision for our young family.

What are the biggest challenges facing Maricopa students today? Distractions: cell phones, social media “drama” and adult responsibilities. My senior students were just telling me today they wish they had more time to “just be a kid.” These distractions force students to narrow their focus and stop dreaming.

What was the best advice you received about your own education? Learning never stops. A textbook and a college degree have an expiration date – the pace of our world and the access to information has reshaped the role of teacher from sage on the stage to guide on the side.

What advice do you give parents of schoolchildren? Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose. Let your kids have some choice about what and how they learn; make sure they have the time and support to be really great at something; expose them to opportunities to serve a purpose greater than themselves (community service and involvement).

What have your students taught you? Forgiveness is essential and judgment is dangerous. Take time to ask, “Why didn’t you do your work? Why the bad mood?” Too many assumptions take place in schools between colleagues, teachers, students, etc. Take time to hear their story.

Russoniello (left) has led the MHS DECA program to unprecedented success. Photo by Devin Carson
Russoniello (left) has led the MHS DECA program to unprecedented success. Photo by Devin Carson

Bernadette Russoniello
Title: Teacher
School: Maricopa High School
Hometown: New River, Arizona
Residence: Rancho El Dorado
Education: Bachelor of Arts in English, BA in history, Arizona State University – Barrett Honors College; post-bac Secondary Education, Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, Arizona State University; finishing M.Ed in Educational Leadership Northern Arizona University
Family: Wonderfully supportive husband and fellow teacher Michael Russoniello, four articulate and outgoing children (Joey, Timmy, Grace and John) all attending Santa Rosa
Teaching positions held: English 9-12, U.S. History, AP Literature, AP Language, AP U.S. History, AP U.S. Government and Politics, Student Council, Marketing, Journalism plus adjunct instructor teaching Political Science, English and Education for CAC
Years in Education: 15
First job out of college: Ran a travelling day camp summer program for the Jewish Community Center the summer prior to teaching at Maricopa (2001)
Hobbies: Hiking, camping, biking, making the most of summer vacation with epic road trips (check out my Facebook!), piano and vocals (spent eight years serving as music minister at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church)
First year with current school: 2001
Favorite subject when you were in elementary school: Reading, writing, spelling and social studies

This story appeared in the March issue of InMaricopa News.