Behind Ms. Maggio: The Woman, The Myth, The Legend

A profile of Ms. Maggio and how her many passions shape the experiences she provides her students.

Reading Time: 8 minutes

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By Marissa Maggio

AP Biology and Urban Ecology teacher Marissa Maggio is a Soph-Frosh SING! coordinator and accomplished traveler. Students know and love her from a myriad of different roles and fascinating stories. Maggio inspires students and spreads laughter throughout the school, whether she is in the classroom, backstage, or traipsing around Antarctica. 

Maggio grew up in Staten Island where she lived until the age of 15. There, after ironically being rejected from Stuyvesant, Maggio attended Staten Island Technical High School. Before her sophomore year, Maggio moved to Florida where she lived for around 10 years and obtained a Bachelor’s degree at the University of South Florida.

Throughout her upbringing, Maggio’s foremost passion has always been science. “I always loved science. I thought I was going to be a doctor and wanted to be a pediatrician. Bio was always super cool,” she recounted. However, as she continued her education, this career path became much less enticing. “When I finished college […] I took the MCAT, and I realized I just didn't want to do four more years of school and then residency,” Maggio reasoned. 

With medical school off the table, Maggio spent a year working odd jobs to find her calling—until her mother put her on the path of education. “At the time, I was [volunteering] in my brother's high school,” Maggio recalled. “So she was like, you should be a teacher. And she was right, and it was annoying. Mom is always right.” Thanks to her mother’s wise advice, Maggio earned a scholarship for a two-year education program at New York University, and finished the program in only a year and a half with a Master’s degree in education. She later obtained a Master’s degree in biology at Queens College.

Despite having drifted from a medical career path, Maggio’s central interest remained in life sciences. “I was a bio[logy] person who was like a genetics person,” Maggio said. However, this soon changed when she began teaching at the High School for Environmental Studies (HSES) in the fall of 2002. As an environmental health teacher and a leader of the school’s Envirothon team, her unexpected passion for environmentalism was born. “We took all of these environmental field trips, and they would do teacher retreats for the teachers where we go away for a weekend up into the mountains,” Maggio remembered. “My passion for the environment and environmental studies grew out of the eight years [at HSES]. It's never replaced my love of biology and where my content license is, but it's definitely expanded my interests. […] So a lot of the things that I ended up becoming really passionate about grew out of happenstance, and the fact that I just don't say no to things really,” Maggio added. 

This sentiment remained when Maggio joined Stuyvesant in the fall of 2010 as a Modern Biology teacher. She loved teaching the class, especially because of her students. “I love teaching freshmen. I've taught freshmen since I've been a teacher. They're super entertaining and motivated and still excited to learn and be here. It's just a joy,” Maggio said.

Maggio is most known for teaching Freshman AP Biology, which was created in 2018. Though AP Biology is quite difficult for freshmen, students prove to be up to the challenge. “Our Modern Bio classes have always been far above the Living Environment curriculum, and we just really felt [confident in Freshman AP Biology] based on how well our kids always do,” Maggio said.  

Maggio’s Freshman AP Biology teaching philosophy is to engage students—her rigorous academic classes are driven by group work. “I teach an AP class and I lecture maybe six days the entire year. My entire class is group work, model-driven, and inquiry-based,” Maggio explained. “The kids are figuring stuff out on their own, and then we're reviewing it and I'm addressing their misconceptions.” 

Maggio's sometimes difficult workload comes from the high expectations she has of her students and her desire to help them grow. “I've always believed that, if you challenge students and they know that you believe that they can succeed, that they'll rise to the challenge. So my classes have a lot of work,” Maggio said. “My students also know that if they ever need help—if they ever need support, I'm there for them.”

Maggio also teaches the Urban Ecology elective, which was created during her second year at Stuyvesant. “I noticed we really didn't have very many environmentally focused [classes], and Mr. Citron and Mr. McClellan are way better environmental science teachers than I ever will be. So I tried to think, what am I super interested in? Urban ecology is a college class that focuses on exactly what we look at, the history and future of urban design and urban planning. I was like, ‘I could totally roll with this,’” Maggio said. After taking a few urban planning classes from the Pratt Institute, the class was born. “It's just kind of grown [from there], as I've read more books and textbooks and articles,” Maggio remarked.

The Urban Ecology elective—available to sophomores, juniors, and seniors—is unique for its deeply practical approach to teaching. “Looking at real world problems, proposing different solutions, and comparing your solutions to other groups is what happens in the real world,” Maggio explained. Urban Ecology students spend most of their time working collaboratively through project-based assignments to address real-world problems. “The idea of that class is to get us thinking about the world we live in, and me just lecturing every day isn't going to do that,” she said. 

Through Urban Ecology, Maggio seeks to broaden students’ horizons and expose them to the intricacies of the city they live in. “You guys live in one of the greatest cities in the world, and very few of our students tend to venture out past their neighborhoods or the area around Stuyvesant. So I wanted to be able to take kids around the city and to show them the amazing ecosystem [we live in],” Maggio said. “It has been a joy for me to be able to bring [students] to different neighborhoods, to see the parks, to see the museums, to do a walking tour to learn about the history of drinking water within a 15 minute walk of Stuy.” 

Maggio stated that she feels especially fulfilled knowing her elective helps cultivate students’ passions for environmentalism beyond the classroom. “The number of students who graduated and are now doing environmental stuff, because of that class is kind of fascinating,” she said. “It's kind of nice to know that I've got some of the most brilliant minds in the city focused on the problems of the planet,” she said. 

Regardless of what classes she teaches, Maggio tries to break away from the traditional rigidity of the classroom. “I feel like it's really important that the classroom is fun, no matter what we're talking about. And so I always tell the kids, ‘You're gonna make fun of me, I'm gonna make fun of all of you. I get paid to make fun of teenagers.’ It doesn't have to be so serious,” Maggio said.

Furthermore, Maggio administrates many science-based clubs and opportunities. She started and continues to lead Stuyvesant’s Envirothon team, an annual environmental competition for North American high school students. Similarly, Maggio assumed the responsibility of faculty advisor for the Stuyvesant Environmental Club after the previous advisor retired and Mr. Citron urged her to fill the position due to her background in environmentalism. 

Not only does Maggio contribute to the scientific community at Stuyvesant, but she is central to the theater community, serving as a faculty advisor for Soph-Frosh SING! and the fall musical of the Stuyvesant Theater Community (STC). Maggio’s involvement in theater was unplanned, much like her passion for the environment. “In [HSES] [...] our office was right next to the theater on the sixth floor. And so basically everybody in that office got dragged into helping [with the school productions],” Maggio described. “So since I've been teaching, I [have been] building sets and helping with costumes.” 

Maggio deeply values the opportunity STC has given her to connect with students; she enjoys watching students flourish as they collaborate. “It's good to see you guys just get excited and shine as you [...] excel at the things you're actually passionate about. And to help you guys, I get to excel in the things that I'm good at, which is organizing and planning and coordinating,” Maggio revealed.  

Outside of Stuyvesant, Maggio is an avid traveler. Thus far, she has visited 54 countries and experienced adventures including safaris in Africa, learning to dive in Thailand, tracking gorillas in Uganda, seeing penguins in the Galapagos, and many more. Maggio loves the rich, varied experiences that travel creates. “To cruise down the Nile and walk inside the Pyramids of Giza—it's kind of a surreal moment,” she described. Many of her trips have a focus on learning—whether it be about urbanization, such as when she visited the slums of Nairobi, to biology and environmentalism, such as her recent trip to Antarctica, which was a once in a lifetime experience. 

There, Maggio studied secondhand Antarctic water quality and macroinvertebrates on research vessels with other science teachers from around the world. “I got to go out with [researchers] one day on their vessel and do that Citizen Science collection. But then there were also researchers there from the union, University of South Florida, Southern California, San Diego, and they're doing whale research,” she described. “I got to collect algae samples, and I did a bunch of whale watching so that we could identify the different species of whales.”

Maggio believes traveling can have a profound effect on one’s life. “We live in the best city in the world. But the world is just huge, and there's so much to see, and so much to experience. It’s just good to get out of your comfort zone, to get out of what you know, to broaden your mind and your perspective on things,” she explained. Maggio sees great value in exploration and discovering new things to encourage personal growth. 

Maggio has brought this passion of travel to her students through international trips. “They’re just so far out of our students' comfort zones or what they're used to. Those trips just have profound impacts on your viewpoint of the world, on your empathy for other people. I think they're wonderful experiences to have as young as possible, and hopefully it ignites a passion for traveling as you get older and are more able to see the world,” she said. 

In 2015, Maggio led a trip with students to Ecuador and the Amazon. In 2016, they visited Peru and Machu Picchu, and in 2017 they journeyed to Ecuador and the Galapagos. These trips revolved around environmental volunteering. “We worked with an indigenous tribe at Lake Titicaca in Peru to help them prepare for the tourist industry. In Ecuador, we did a native tree planting in an area in which invasive species had overrun after deforestation. We did volunteer work in the Amazon Rainforest,” Maggio described. This summer, Maggio will be taking students to Japan to visit numerous labs developing modern technology such as prosthetics.

Maggio’s love for witnessing students pursue their passions drives her as both a teacher and person. “I love that spark, that joy, that determination that teenagers have when it's something that they're genuinely interested in and passionate about. [...] I love you guys. You really do make me really happy. You guys would be unstoppable if you could all just follow directions for the first time,” she shared. 

Indeed, students truly seem to thrive under Maggio’s direction. Her distinct teaching style allows her to create fun, memorable environments, all while conveying her lifelong passions for exploration and discovery. Through science, theater, and travel, she manages to engage all of her varied passions in her life—the core of which is her students. “I'm hoping that, even if they don't pursue science as a career, they'll look back on their freshman bio class and remember that it was a good time, that they did some cool stuff, and that they leave being as fascinated by the world of biology as I still [am].” Her story is a testament to the wide range of passions, experiences, and perspectives that can enrich one's life.