Kiana Foster-Mauro ’20 (ED), ’21 MA always knew she wanted to be a teacher. As a kid, the fourth-grade teacher at Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School in New London said she was so excited to be at school and in an environment where learning was celebrated. Her mother is a professor, and she’s always been around educators.
“I’ve always known that this was the profession that I wanted to be in,” Foster-Mauro says.
On Oct. 24, she received the ultimate validation of her childhood dream when she was named Connecticut’s 2024 Teacher of the Year.
“We’ve heard so many impressive stories about her from her colleagues and students at Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in a press release announcing Foster-Mauro’s award. “She embodies the qualities needed to prepare students for success throughout their lives.”
We’ve heard so many impressive stories about her from her colleagues and students at Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School. She embodies the qualities needed to prepare students for success throughout their lives. — Gov. Ned Lamont
Getting to this level has been an exciting journey for Foster-Mauro. She was first nominated as teacher of the year for her school and then for her district, which she found out about on the last day of last school year. Over the summer, she worked on the state application, which included expanded essay questions and letters of recommendation.
The Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council reviewed nearly 100 district-level teachers of the year through a rigorous process. Foster-Mauro found out she was one of 16 semi-finalists and then one of four finalists, which meant additional interviews and site visits.
“Each step of the way has been a huge honor, and I am humbled,” she says. “First, being recognized by my peers and co-workers, who I see every day working hard, if not harder than I do. To be recognized by them was special.”
Foster-Mauro found out she was the statewide winner when she was teaching a tap dance class, something she has done outside of the classroom for many years. “It was right before I was going to hit ‘play’ on the music, and I got a call from Hartford,” she says.
She had to keep it a secret until the state officially announced the award. “It was truly an exciting moment and overwhelming,” she says.
Foster-Mauro’s school principal, Jason Foster, was filled with admiration and praise: “Kiana has shown exceptional qualities, such as planning, unwavering responsibility, and a genuine commitment to teaching,” Foster said in the state’s press release. “Her passion and dedication to our students exemplify the highest education standards. She’s a critical part of our school community, and we are proud to honor this achievement.”
Only in her third year of teaching, Foster-Mauro credits the UConn Neag School of Education for helping her find her path to education and introducing her to inspirational figures along the way.
Foster-Mauro first connected with the Neag School as a first-year student, when she took a first-year experience course and met Neag School advisors Dominique Battle-Lawson and Mia Hines.
“They shepherded me, introduced me to the Leadership in Diversity (LID) organization, and invited me to the School’s Celebration of Diversity in Education that fall,” she says.
At that event, Foster-Mauro met then-Connecticut Teacher of the Year, and now U.S. Rep., Jahana Hayes.
“It was inspiring to meet her,” Foster-Mauro recalls.
Through LID and other organizations, Foster-Mauro developed as a leader and speaker and started giving presentations at the local, national, and international levels. She also completed a graduate internship with a nonprofit where she developed a human rights curriculum for grades K-4.
She has been an active member of the National Association for Multicultural Education since 2018 and was recently accepted to present on facilitating critical conversations around current events, identity, human rights, and mental health.
“UConn prepared me for my future career by consistently pushing me outside my comfort zone,” she wrote in a 2020 senior profile. “Every day as a teacher should be a step outside your comfort zone.”
UConn prepared me for my future career by consistently pushing me outside my comfort zone. Every day as a teacher should be a step outside your comfort zone. — Kiana Foster-Mauro ’20 (ED), ’21 MA
Foster-Mauro will be officially recognized as the 2024 Connecticut Teacher of the Year at a ceremony in Hartford in November. She’s also preparing an application for the National Teacher of the Year process. For now, she is the state’s ambassador for teachers for the following year.
“I’m representing not only my school district but the whole state,” she says. “To be selected for this role for our profession, for our students, is special.”
“We are beyond thrilled to highlight and honor Ms. Foster-Mauro,” said Cynthia Ritchie, superintendent of New London Public Schools, in the state’s press release. “She is an exemplary teacher, role model for our students, and an integral part of the New London Public School community who ignited a passion for learning among all. She will continue to inspire others to understand that education is truly a tool to make a positive difference in the world.”
Foster-Mauro says she is grateful for everyone who helped her get to this point and recognizes that it takes a community to be a good teacher.
“I think those are the two qualities that enable educators to be great at what we do: being passionate and celebrating the community,” she says. “I love that every day is a new adventure; I don’t go to work expecting the same thing as the previous day. I love connecting with new students each year and being part of their lives.”