Maria Zanotti

Moorhead High School senior Maria Zanotti sits alongside first-grade students, listening to them read through their word lists. She helps as a student gets stuck on a word. What brings this senior back to her elementary school classroom? 

Moorhead High School students have the opportunity to take a peer mentoring class if approved by their school counselor. This is one of the ways students can set up a customized career exploration opportunity. Zanotti decided to take this class after hearing about it from friends who had done it before. “I think it’s cool that we get this type of experience,” she says. “It’s fun helping the students and it’s good to try out being in a classroom, before going to college and making that my major.”


It wasn’t long ago that Zanotti started as a first grader herself. In fact, she is back in the exact classroom in which she attended first grade, with her teacher Mrs. Hanson. Now in a peer mentoring role, being back in her first-grade classroom is bringing back memories from those formative years.

Zanotti remembers being just seven years old, competing to read a book the fastest and lunchtime races with her classmates. First grade memories of starring in two plays, having the same role as her older sister once did in the Little Red Hen flood back.

“I have very fond memories of Maria as a student, I had her sister Lauren too,” Ellen Hopkins first grade teacher Dawn Hanson says. “They were such good students and kind kids. Maria also just cracked me up, she was a spunky kid. She always had me laughing.”

Now seeing the classroom from a different lens, Zanotti hopes to one day be an elementary teacher. “You definitely have to have a lot of patience,” she laughs. But for Zanotti, patience pays off. “Kids are so fun. They are high energy and I just love being around them.”

Hanson enjoys having Zanotti back in her classroom and pulling up old memories to share with her current students. Like the special joke book she puts together every year. Each student brings a joke to class and gets to read it to everyone. Then, students write their joke and draw a picture to go with it. Well, Hanson happened to keep all of those special books over her teaching career and pulled Zanotti’s out to share with the class. 

Although she has just started her experience, she already feels at home. “I feel like I could do no wrong with the first graders,” Zanotti says. “I walked into the room the second day I came back and they were all excited to see me again, even though I had only met them once.”

Excited and nervous to start next fall at Minnesota State University Mankato. Zanotti plans on continuing her soccer career and currently plans to go into elementary education. As she thinks back on her Spud experience, she is proud to graduate from a school that prioritizes inclusivity and relationships. “Everyone puts their whole heart and soul into the education system here,” Zanotti says.