Pierce ’06 Finds Inspiration in Teaching

For Merrill Pierce ’06, living and teaching in Richmond, California, inspires learning and growth every day. In her fifth grade class at Verde Elementary School, some students have recently immigrated from Central and South America and are just beginning to learn English. Others walk or take public transportation to school every morning. But, says Pierce, all of her charges in this mostly low-income community are exuberant learners. “My students and their families are brilliant, amazing people.”

Richmond, California, is a long way from the North Shore, acknowledges Pierce. Teach for America took her there. “I decided to apply for Teach for America after I studied abroad in Senegal in college. When I was there, I experienced for the first time what is was like living in the minority as a white person and as an English speaker. Nevertheless, the way that I was welcomed and cared for by my host family, and every Senegalese person I met, was a stark contrast to our culture and all of the barriers that exist between people. Senegal opened my eyes to our collective humanity and made me realize that we have to understand each other in order to break down those barriers and close the opportunity gap.”

Today, Pierce applies those lessons, and others she learned while at Shore, throughout her work. “The way that Shore supports its students as whole children, inside and outside the classroom, is something I strive to do as a teacher.” Using the online platform Donors Choose to fundraise for her school’s first-ever overnight field trip, Pierce was able to take her students to the Lake Tahoe area for three days and two nights of adventure-learning at the Gateway Mountain Center. “For many of my students, this was their first time seeing snow—let alone snowshoeing in six feet of powder! I was humbled by the outpouring of online support that made the trip possible, and I am so thrilled that my students had this opportunity to push themselves out of their comfort zones, make new friends and deepen existing friendships, and have fun outside! I will always remember when, after the trip, one of my students said, ‘Ms. Pierce, it’s good to try new things.’”

When Pierce returned to campus to visit Shore in November 2018, the experience was profound, she says. “My former teachers and mentors, many of whom are still at Shore, were now my colleagues!” she realized. “I feel deeply indebted to these educators for their incredible dedication, love, and support. Shore gave me so many life skills that made me the well-rounded person I am today.” She remembers in particular the way Shore values kindness. “My teachers at Shore ingrained in me and my peers not only a responsibility, but also a genuine desire to treat all people with kindness. It’s a value I hold dear in both my personal and professional life.”
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    • Pierce with her students