Private All Girls School

Preschool-High School

Princeton, New Jersey

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Staff Spotlight: School Counselors Melissa Cortina and Nikema Missouri

Stuart is committed to providing individual counseling and support services across divisions to meet the social and emotional health of students. 

Our dedicated counseling team provides a safe, nurturing environment within the school setting for students and parents to seek confidential assistance. Get to know our counselors below. 

Lower School Counselor Melissa Cortina 

Melissa Cortina's educational journey began at Monmouth University with a bachelor's degree in psychology. She continued on to Georgian Court University for an accelerated program to earn her K-5 teaching certification, which led to a career as a kindergarten teacher in Monroe Township for over a decade. As a life-long learner, she always wanted to venture into the field of counseling but was nervous about balancing a teaching career, running a household, and keeping up with her busy daughters. She took the plunge and completed her master’s degree in school counseling at Seton Hall University - and the risk was worth the reward. She could not be more thrilled to be working as the Lower School counselor at Stuart.

Tell us your why. What led you to a career in counseling?

Watching students learn, grow, and overcome obstacles was my favorite part of teaching and continues to be an extremely rewarding aspect of being a counselor. My work in ensuring the social-emotional needs of a child are met is an integral part of a child’s ability to succeed and thrive. I pride myself on the ability to build strong relationships with students. I knew I wanted to teach skills that students can use in everyday life in order to increase their abilities to solve adverse situations and regulate their emotions independently with confidence. 

Who were/are your mentors and why?

My parents have always encouraged me to never give up, and, as a child, advised me to find a career where it would never feel like “work." During my teaching career, my school's counselor was someone the students and staff admired - myself being no exception. She always knew the "right" thing to say and approached situations with grace and kindness. I strive to model her ways within the Stuart community. 

What are your goals for Stuart, and what would you want parents to know about how you work with the students. 

I want to empower students to advocate for themselves. I believe the adolescent years are a crucial time in our development. This is when we can instill core values and learn effective ways to manage conflict resolution, advocate for personal needs, and believe in ourselves. When I am in the classroom, I encourage open conversations and value the input the students add to each and every lesson.

Tell us something fun...

My favorite thing to do is spend time with my family. I have 2 daughters (Quinn 9, Reese 8) who dance competitively, which keeps me very busy to say the least! I enjoy reading and running as ways to decompress. My favorite place to enjoy a good book is on the beach in Long Beach Island. I consider myself a foodie...my husband and I love trying all kinds of recipes at home or visiting new restaurants! 

 

Middle and Upper School Counselor Nikema Missouri

Nikema Missouri comes to Stuart as our new Middle and Upper School counselor. Hailing from her beloved undergraduate Alma Mater, Rutgers University/Douglass College, she went on to gain a greater understanding of the potential partnership between faith and psychology at Cairn University, where she received her MA in counseling. Beginning her career journey working with high school students, she has gone on to counsel many populations with diverse backgrounds and growth goals for over 20 years.

Tell us your why. What led you to a career in counseling? 

My career choice comes from a passion for offering emotional support and for teaching mental toughness to individuals when they find themselves in the tough stuff of life. Many of us have been trained to define ourselves by what we can produce vocationally, but some of the real markers of who we are come from those very personal moments of how well we do when presented with trial and adversity. 

A lot of my passion comes out of personal work during some of the most challenging times of my life and the inspiration from professionals and skilled individuals who counseled and taught me that the work on myself was my most important project in life. 

Who were/are your mentors and why?

Some of those persons I just referenced were caring professionals who helped me through some tough times when I was young. I was raised by a single mother who had bipolar disorder and severe challenges with access to proper mental health care and community supports. These persons helped to teach me how to differentiate myself from the mental illness I was experiencing externally and how to respond appropriately to this life challenge so that I could overcome my circumstance. Some of my greatest mentors were and are authors: WEB Dubois, who taught me the philosophy of intellect; Ben Franklin, who taught me the extreme value in journaling and time management; and more currently, Lisa Nichols, who encourages me to believe in my sense of worth not because of who I am but because of what I have to offer intrinsically.

What are your goals for Stuart, and what would you want parents to know about how you work with the students. 

My goals for the year are to make SEL (social-emotional learning) more robust and standards-based. I want to begin to draft a systemic approach to SEL for the Stuart community that can be passed across counselors, who, yes, will inevitably put their own spin on it but will have a foundation for what SEL looks like in our community. 

I want parents to recognize that, as a Sacred Heart school, we seek to educate the whole child. We want the girls to be great thinkers and leaders, and I work with the girls to enhance life perspective and performance from a wholehearted living point of view. In my 1:1 meetings with groups, I am teaching the girls that some of the best parts of how you live your life are in how you show up emotionally - especially to challenges and hardships. I also want parents to know that I am a partner with you in teaching your girls how to work on themselves, as opposed to feeling like they have to ignore or step over the most vulnerable parts of themselves to achieve great things. 

Tell us something fun…

Some fun thoughts about me are that I love cowboy boots and fashion overall, but especially the boots - I love the artistry. I love my own cooking, and I weight-lift as a hobby. 

I love the book Onward (leadership lessons from Starbucks), and my favorite movies include the "Matrix" trilogy, "The Ten Commandments," (Charleston Heston), and "Avatar." Personally, I would say I am a quintessential overcomer. Although there are things I fear, there is little I feel I cannot overcome. 

 

 


 

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