Inclusion and Kindness: Middle School Humanities Teacher Manjula Stokes

Manjula Stokes is Mount Madonna School’s (MMS) new middle school humanities teacher. She holds an M.A. in special education; a B.A. in creative arts as well as a Multiple Subjects Credential and Special Education Credential, all from San Jose State University. She worked for 30 years in the Pajaro Valley School District ﹘ both in general education and as a special education teacher and consultant.

Social media coordinator Carly Wheelehan recently spoke with  Manjula to learn a little bit more about her and what inspires her about teaching at MMS. 

Tell me a little bit about your background in special education.

At the time, I felt our society was separating children with disabilities too often without any differentiation or awareness about how their disability may or may not impact their ability to learn in a traditional classroom. It felt like something that needed to change. I began as a teen volunteer for the Americans with Disabilities Act, where I advocated for children with disabilities to go to regular schools. At Pajaro Valley, I was interested in finding the best fit for each individual child, their parents and their teachers, and I specialized in creating a program for children with autism. 

How do you bring that expertise and awareness into a traditional classroom?

I am always looking for ways to make sure nobody is excluded and that everyone is successful. One practical thing I practice is my classrooms tend to be uncluttered spaces. When I consulted teachers within the school district, I’d always say “you’ve got too much stuff on the wall!” Neurodiverse children find that overwhelming and distracting. Neurodiversity is common in every classroom, and I find that having a clean, uncluttered space helps them focus on one thing at a time. 

What are you teaching this year?

I’m teaching sixth, seventh and eighth grade humanities and sixth grade English. I love history and how the curriculum here at MMS lets me start in sixth grade with prehistoric eras, to medieval ages in seventh grade, to U.S. origins in eighth grade. It’s important to me to not just teach facts, but to get the students really thinking critically and engaging with human history in a way that relates to their lives. As for English, I love teaching such a formative year. Sixth graders are so open and intelligent and willing to dialogue in-depth topics. I focus on group work in a “writer’s workshop” format that teaches students how to critique, comment and question in constructive ways. 

What’s something you’re enjoying about teaching at MMS so far?

I love making the most of our beautiful acreage on campus! I’ll often take the students outside to have them name nouns, adjectives and verbs, and then build a word bank from which to write a story. Fresh air is good for the brain and memory, and I love utilizing our outdoor spaces as much as I can. 

What’s something you want your students to take from your classes?

I want them to take away the skill of discernment and know what to pay attention to in this age of misinformation and half-truths. Everything in my class refers to real books and texts. It might be old school, but I tell my students, “everyone knows how to Google, so I don’t need to teach you that. I want to teach you how to use the library and how to ask your librarians and teachers questions. We are there to help. Don’t be afraid to ask.” Also, I want them to realize that knowledge is power, that being kind increases intelligence. Of course those are the kind of things that are taught by example, so I always try to be aware of the values and character traits I model for my students. 


Nestled among the redwoods on 380 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believes a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The program, accredited by the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) and Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.