(Alphabetical by FIRST name)
Harony Nunez – 6th Grade ICT Social Studies and Science
Harony was born in the Dominican Republic, grew up in Brooklyn, and now resides on the Upper West Side, where she is enjoying her new community. She graduated Cum Laude from Brooklyn College with a BA in Childhood Education and Psychology. She also graduated with University Honors from Brooklyn College when she completed her Masters in Special Education. Harony’s professional history includes teaching Language Arts, History, Religion, and Spanish across the tri-state area. In order to stay current in today’s evolving education system, she has attended many professional developments and conferences. These learning opportunities have provided her with the knowledge, perspective, and skillset to make a positive and lasting impact in her classroom. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, picnics in the park, and spending time with her friends and family. Harony is looking forward to another great year at WESS!
Isabelle Giannella – 8th Grade Living Environment & NYCDOE Model Teacher Leader
Isabelle was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Lexington, Kentucky (Go CATS!) While she loved Lexington, she longed to move to the big city, and found her way to the Boston area by attending Tufts University to get her Masters in Child Development. She was interested in education, but never thought she really wanted to be a teacher. After graduate school she moved to New York City in 2002 and found herself at a teaching job fair, where she got hired to teach middle school science. While the first year was very hard, she grew to love it. She left the Department of Education for 3 years to develop curriculum for the Lang Youth Medical Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital, but found herself missing the classroom and direct interaction with students. She went back to teaching to help grow a new school called the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, where she also developed a love of the Expeditionary Learning model. She came to WESS because she was excited to work at and help grow another Expeditionary Learning School. Isabelle is constantly learning and striving to improve her practice, and seeks opportunities to grow as a teacher and scientist through her Math for America fellowship and through fellowships with the Academy for Teachers. Outside of the classroom, Isabelle loves to travel, whether to new places around the globe, or to France and Italy to visit family. She is a smitten mother of fraternal twin girls and loves watching them grow.
Jesse Pena – 7th Grade Science
Jesse was born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, a mere stone’s throw away from WESS. After successfully navigating the NYC public schools, he attended the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter, where he earned a Bachelors and Masters degree in Biological Sciences. While studying at Hunter, Jesse participated in a math and science tutoring program for students who had struggled in these subjects. This experience exposed him to the inequities present in NYC schools and highlighted how lucky he had been to always have professional and caring teachers, who pushed him both academically and creatively. Those thoughts stuck with him as he set off into the world of scientific research, studying the molecular machinery behind the creation of unique antibodies and DNA repair at Mount Sinai. Unable to shake his epiphany on how meaningful the teachers in his life had been, he applied to the NYC Teaching Fellows and through this program, earned a Bachelors of Science in Adolescent Science Education from Pace University while simultaneously teaching in a struggling school in the South Bronx. It is from there that his story brought him to WESS, where he is continuing his journey to become the most caring and inspiring teacher he can be. In his non-teaching life, Jesse enjoys the quizzical look upon friends’ faces as he regales them with tales of hardship in wild places and the happiness that struggle brings him. He also enjoys crafting delicious and (sometimes) healthy meals at his home, reading frequently, and continuing his education through travel and homegrown experience.
Jessica Katz – High School Spanish
Jessica was raised in Armonk, a small town located in Westchester. She developed a passion for foreign languages during her time in school there and went on to pursue her Bachelor of Arts in Romance Languages at Johns Hopkins University. During her time at university, Jessica volunteered in a project-based learning program for students in Baltimore. She also played rugby both at her university and at the University of Salamanca where she studied abroad. Studying abroad helped Jessica to find her love of travel and culture. She became an avid traveler who loves to backpack and meet people from all over the world. Jessica knew she wanted to share her love of language and culture with others and decided to continue her education at New York University where she earned her dual Masters of Arts in Foreign Language Education and TESOL. Over the past few years, she has worked as a high-school Spanish teacher at a school focused on student-centered instruction and as the director of a summer program for gifted students that emphasizes inquiry-based learning. Jessica is excited to join the WESS community and to continue to create innovative, engaging curriculum that fosters a love of learning and language amongst her students!
Julissa Martinez – 6th Grade ELA
Julissa was born and raised in New York City and is a proud product of the NYC public school system. After graduating from Brooklyn Technical High School, she went on to complete six years at the State University at Albany majoring in Psychology and Education, ultimately obtaining a Masters of Science in Education Administration. Along with education, Julissa also has a strong passion for health and wellness. In 2007, she obtained a certificate in Holistic Health Counseling from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. While working as a weight loss counselor in Philadelphia, Julissa obtained her teaching certification from Drexel University in the hopes of putting herself back on the path to work in the classroom. After years of working for the NYCDOE on the administrative level, Julissa successfully transitioned into the classroom and joined the WESS team in September 2018… and has never looked back. Working with young people to help them discover their greatness is nothing short of a blessing. When not in the classroom she is guaranteed to be breaking up a fight between her two young children, dancing, practicing Yoga, or traveling.
Keri Gaft – 6th Grade Mathematics
Keri is a native New Yorker, proud mother of two amazing boys, and just welcomed a beautiful baby girl into her family in August! She attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst as well as Hunter College, where she received her Master’s Degree in Math and Science. She has been blessed to have been given the opportunity to work in various settings across the five boroughs, from teaching science in a middle school in the South Bronx to teaching Gifted and Talented students in an elementary school in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Her greatest teaching challenge came as a founding teacher of Marsh Avenue Expeditionary Learning School on Staten Island. As a team member of MAELS, she assumed many different roles. It was here that she received one of her most rewarding teaching achievements: being honored by one of her students and selected as Barnes and Noble’s “My Favorite Teacher.” This moment, among many others, is what drives Keri to continue striving to be the best teacher that she can be, touching the lives of all of her students. She has embraced the opportunity to build WESS from the ground up and looks forward to returning to WESS in December.