2019-2020 WESS Team Bios
Jessica Jenkins – Founding Principal
Jessica grew up in Sag Harbor, a small town located on the eastern end of Long Island. It was there that she became a lover of swimming, boating, kayaking, and cross-country running. She went on to study at the College of Charleston and Stony Brook University, earning a BA in social psychology and political science. Throughout college, she devoted her free time to working as a volunteer intake coordinator for a local homeless shelter, tutor for college athletes, and as a weekly reading buddy for struggling students. From the moment she stepped foot into her first classroom teaching assignment, she knew that her true passion was working directly with children. Over the past 18 years, Jessica has served as a classroom teacher, instructional & principal coach, superintendent, and principal. After two masters degrees in education and educational leadership, she went on to become the founding principal of Marsh Avenue Expeditionary Learning School in Staten Island, a highly regarded middle school. Jessica felt honored to have been given the opportunity to open and lead a second school, and is incredibly proud of West End Secondary School’s success. She looks forward to welcoming her fifth incoming class to the WESS family and to her founding class of students becoming sophomores in high school! During her time at WESS, Jessica and Chris welcomed identical twin boys into the world. Cameron and Chase are almost two years old and are eager to race through the halls of WESS in September.
Lynne Galyas – Assistant Principal, Organization
Lynne was born and raised in NYC and is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she earned a BA in advertising and marketing. This was followed by an eight-year career in ESPN’s Advertising & Sales department where she worked closely with the Programming and Legal departments as a liaison to ensure advertisers received their contractual airtime. During this time she started her family with husband, Greg. This is where she found her true calling working directly with children. As a founding teacher at Marsh Avenue Expeditionary Learning School, Lynne worked alongside Jessica and the founding team to create a model school in the network of EL schools. In addition to teaching across subjects, Lynne worked collaboratively with her colleagues to create rigorous learning expeditions that engaged students in learning beyond the four walls of the classroom. After spending her life in New York City, Lynne recently relocated to northern New Jersey, where she and her husband are raising two teenage girls, both competitive athletes. This year, she will continue the college search for her oldest daughter who will be graduating high school in 2020! She is thrilled to continue working alongside Jessica, Joe, and the entire team to build upon the incredible learning environment we’ve created for all students!
Joe Rodriguez – Assistant Principal (IA), Instruction
Joe was born and raised in NYC and earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees at SUNY-Stony Brook. He started his social studies teaching career at a high school in East New York, Brooklyn, for five years. Working at The School for Public Safety and Law was both a humbling and rewarding experience. It was the sort of community that attracted Joe to teaching as he wanted to serve as an exemplary model and be able to lift students through education. In 2008, he moved on to become one of the founding teachers at Gaynor McCown Expeditionary Learning School, where he served as a social studies teacher, programmer, and data specialist. McCown helped Joe grow as a teacher; Expeditionary Learning pushed him to make instructional connections beyond the classroom. Joe was able to use the community as a resource in his curriculum to bring a deeper and more meaningful experience to learning. For the past two years, Joe served as an academic policy officer supporting secondary schools across NYC. In this capacity, he was responsible for supporting 34 Consortium and Outward Bound schools across NYC with aligning to both state and city policies, DOE systems, accountability data, and assessments. On a personal note, Joe is a father of two lovely pre-teen boys, a husband, and an avid road cyclist – always searching for adventure!
Karyn Gooden – Parent Coordinator
After being a founding parent and long-time volunteer in multiple schools, Karyn is excited to begin her second year as our official parent coordinator. Karyn grew up in Minneapolis, MN and earned a BS in Special Education from Baylor University. She taught and was the Special Education Department Chair at a public high school in Minneapolis while earning her MA in Developmental Disabilities from St. Mary’s University. After relocating to New York with her husband, she worked as a Middle School Learning Specialist before staying home with her three children. She is most happy in a school setting surrounded by students, fellow staff members, and an incredible parent body. Karyn is continuously inspired by the work of the entire team and parent body at WESS and is thrilled to play an instrumental role in building such an incredible learning community.
Andrea Conway – Pupil Accountant, Principal Secretary, and General Office Manager
Andrea grew up in Barbados and later migrated to New York, where she has lived for over 27 years. Andrea’s aim is to develop skills as a professional business leader and serve as an advocate for students at WESS. She received her MS in Business Administration/Healthcare Management and an MA in Public Administration from Columbia Southern University. Her professional experience includes extensive educational and business consulting management. Andrea has worked in several areas in education including Student Support Services in Brooklyn and working alongside the District 31 Superintendent in Staten Island in support of more than 60 schools. Andrea is thrilled to begin her 5th year at WESS, working alongside the entire WESS team, students, and parent body.
Mary Kane – Payroll and Purchasing Secretary
Mary was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She attended the University of California, Irvine (UCI) as a biology and dance major graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Dance. After graduating from UCI, Mary was accepted to the University of Southern California in the Master’s Program in Physical Education and was awarded a graduate teaching position in dance. After receiving her Master’s Degree, Mary earned her Equity Card as a Muppet touring the United States in “Sesame Street Live.” Following the tour, Mary returned to USC to chair the dance department for two years before moving to New York City where Mary continued to perform and choreograph. Mary has danced and choreographed professionally throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia in productions of “ Sophisticated Ladies,” “42 Street,” and at Radio City Music Hall as a Rockette. After retiring from dance, Mary joined the New York City Department of Education in 2010 as the Administrative Assistant for the District 3 Community Education Council before becoming a proud founding staff member at WESS in the fall of 2014.
Candice Thomas – General Office Manager and Secretary
Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Candice joined the WESS team in 2016. Candice attended the University of Hartford under a music scholarship, but decided to study communications instead. She obtained a BA in communications with a concentration in Public Relations. She then went on to obtain a Masters Degree in Human Resources. Candice has a crazy love of sports and a passion for baseball (Yankees all the way :). Her interests include reading, playing and listening to music, Anime, model building and all things nerdy. She is looking forward to her third year at WESS and to continue building strong relationships with both families and students.
John Carullo – School Counselor
John comes to WESS after six years at the Marsh Avenue Expeditionary Learning School in Staten Island, where he first served as a teacher assistant prior to transitioning to his role as English and special education teacher across grades. Over the past six years, John played a vital role in the development and execution of grade and school-wide expeditions. In addition, John participated in many of expeditionary learning’s core practices, such as Crew. It was during John’s first Crew camping trip to Sharpe Reservation in 2011 that he saw first-hand the impact of the Outward Bound experience on his students. Witnessing the teamwork and positivity his students displayed throughout those three days is what John cites as one of the most rewarding experiences of his young educational career. John, a life-long resident of New York City, is very excited to be a part of the foundation of WESS. He hopes he can combine his two passions in life – sports and education – to help guide his students to become the best version of themselves, both inside and outside of the classroom, and on and off the playing field.
Tammy Calvo – School Counselor
Tammy was born in New York City and raised in Orlando, Florida. She graduated from the University of Central Florida and earned a BA in Psychology. As a young child, Tammy enjoyed swimming competitively and playing water polo. During her teen years and throughout college, Tammy taught swimming lessons and ran summer camps at the Central Florida YMCA. Tammy has always been passionate about educating, inspiring, and mentoring youth. Tammy relocated to New York City 12 years ago to attend graduate school at Manhattan College and earned her Masters in School Counseling. While in New York City, Tammy continued to teach swimming lessons and work as a case manager for a family homeless shelter. She began working in the South Bronx as a 10th and 11th-grade high school guidance counselor, then as a Kindergarten-8th-grade school guidance counselor in Manhattan. Tammy is excited to start her second year at WESS and begin her 7th year in counseling. She is thankful for the opportunity to work with the WESS community. In her personal time, Tammy loves to travel, work out, run, hike, and spend time with mother nature.
Molly Porcher – College Counselor
Molly is incredibly excited to join the WESS team as a college counselor! She brings to WESS a wealth of experience both in schools and in the college access field. A certified 7-12 social studies educator, Molly began her career as a teacher at an Expeditionary Learning school in Boston, where she first developed a passion for the EL model. Since then, she has focused her career on supporting students in navigating the college admissions landscape. This includes working as a college admissions officer at a liberal arts college, supporting students as a private college admissions consultant, and — most recently — serving as a college counselor at Columbia Secondary School in Harlem. A firm believer in the importance of “fit” in the college process, Molly is passionate about helping students comprehend the range of higher education and career options. She truly loves learning more about colleges, even weaving campus tours into her vacations — much to the chagrin of her family. Molly received her undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College, and her EdM in School Counseling from Teachers College, Columbia University. In her free time, Molly enjoys running (she is currently training for the New York City Marathon), cooking elaborate meals (because of marathon training), and watching baseball (a Massachusetts native, she is an unapologetic Red Sox fan).
Kerry-Kay Melbourne – School Psychologist
Kerry-Kay has been employed with the Department of Education (DOE) for 6 years as a school psychologist. She currently works across multiple schools with differing populations. Prior to her work with the DOE, she was employed by the Office of People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) and the Office of Mental Health (OMH). Her experience and education is varied and extensive as she has attained multiple advanced degrees and completed substantial post graduate work. Throughout her career, she has provided services to toddlers, children, adolescents, young adults, and adults. She discovered that her passion is children thus she has elected to specialize in students K-12. Ms. Melbourne is excited to begin her third year at West End Secondary School as she has come to treasure her colleagues, the young scholars, and their parents. She is looking forward to continuing to develop and foster those relationships in this upcoming school year.
Jodi Wolinsky – Speech & Language
Jodi grew up in East Setauket, a small town on Eastern Long Island. Seeking the quintessential college experience, she attended the University of Maryland, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Hearing and Speech Sciences. There, she had an active role in a language development laboratory, helping to conduct studies in order to better understand the way in which infants and toddlers acquire different aspects of language. Fascinated by all things language, Jodi also minored in Spanish at Maryland, and spent a summer taking classes in Spain and exploring the country. This experience instilled in her a love of travel and experiencing different cultures – especially trying new foods! After college, Jodi moved to New York City to pursue a Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology at Queens College. Professionally, Jodi has worked as a speech-language pathologist in a variety of settings and with kids and adults of all ages.. She is thrilled to have found her home at WESS, helping each of her students to achieve his or her potential. She is excited for another year as part of the positive, supportive, and warm WESS school community. In her spare time, Jodi can be found doing something active (probably yoga, boxing, or cycling), reading novels, spending time with family, planning her next travel adventure, or exploring NYC with her husband and rescue mix, Billie.
(Alphabetical by FIRST name)
Addison Love – Algebra I
Adison grew up on Long Island and went to college in upstate New York. He earned his B.A. in Statistics and Economics, and an M.A.in Special Education. He has taught in 4 of the 5 boroughs and will begin his 30th year of teaching this fall! Addison enjoys showing his students how interesting and important math is. He does so by engaging his students in relevant real world problem solving and puzzles that challenge students’ thinking. Addison is a big believer in the Socratic Method of asking key questions to enable students to think deeply about math. He is also known for integrating jokes and puns into math class to help students feel more at ease. In his spare time, he hikes, bikes, and swims. He also has a passion for travel, National Parks, Roadside Attractions, photography, and reading. He looks forward to teaching Algebra 1 to 8th graders and to preparing them for the rigors of high school and beyond.
Alexandra Cappello – 6th Grade ICT Math and ELA
Alexandra was born and raised in New York and is currently living in Manhattan. Teaching and coaching are two of Alexandra’s greatest passions since her adolescent years. She received her BA in physical education and a masters degree in special education from Manhattan College. During college, Alexandra competed on the NCAA Division I level for cross country and track and field, from which she developed a strong desire to guide young adults with aspirations for being college-bound scholar athletes. Alexandra has experience coaching cross country and track and field on the high school level in Westchester schools. The most enjoyable part of coaching has been training beside her student athletes and working with them toward meeting individualized goals. Prior to WESS, Alexandra taught physical education in a Title I elementary level for four years. During those four years, she focused on differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all learners and was successful in doing so. Her students also benefited tremendously from the youth running program she developed and lead through the New York Road Runners. Alexandra pursued her masters in special education because she has seen how successful students can be when instruction is tailored to their individual needs. In her free time, she travels, runs, and plays in an adult soccer league with her friends. She wants to learn the Italian language and become a better cook than her father. Alexandra is thrilled to be a part of the WESS team and looks forward to learning from her students.
Alexandra Larkin – Algebra II
Alexandra was born and raised in Port Jefferson, NY, a small town on the north shore of Long Island. Growing up, Alexandra spent her summers teaching swimming lessons at a summer camp and as a lifeguard at a local beach. It was here that she discovered her true passion for working with children and teaching. Alexandra attended Quinnipiac University where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and her Master’s degree in Secondary Education. Shortly after graduating, Alexandra moved to New York City and began her teaching career. She has spent the past five years teaching middle and high school level students in Manhattan. Alexandra is a firm believer in applying mathematics to real world problems to show her students how important math is to our everyday lives. She enjoys finding fun new ways for teaching her lesson plans that are both hands on and engaging, and loves to see her students become so captivated in a lesson that they forget they are even learning! Alexandra currently lives in Manhattan with her husband. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, yoga, puzzles (preferably a crossword or sudoku), cooking, traveling to new places and spending time with her family and friends. Alexandra is excited to begin a new school year at WESS, and to be part of such a supportive, engaging and welcoming community!
Amanda Beck – 9th grade Integrative Co-Teacher & NYCDOE Model Teacher Leader
Amanda was born and raised in San Jose, California. She went to undergrad at Santa Clara University where she earned a B.A. in Music. After studying abroad in Italy and Austria, she went to Boston University for a Master of Music in Vocal Performance. Amanda spent the next few years singing in the US and around the world before working in marketing at Carnegie Hall, Opera Boston and acting as Executive Director for a small opera company in Boston. Amanda began teaching in 2014 and earned her Master of Science in Education from Hunter College and is currently pursuing a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership also from Hunter. Amanda is a huge fan of Doctor Who, mermaids and the ocean and continues to sing in her “free” time. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and SUPER CUTE dog Luna!
Ana Miranda – 7th & 8th Grade Spanish
Ana was born and raised in Mexico City. She moved to New York with her family when she was thirteen years old. As a teenager, Ana had to adjust to a new educational system while learning English as her second language. Ana knows what is like to struggle with a new language because she experienced it herself when she was a high school student. During her high school years, Ana experienced firsthand the power teachers have over shaping a child’s future. In 2018, Ana received her BA in Secondary Education with a concentration in Spanish from Queens College. She was immediately hired as a Spanish teacher at WESS and has taught all levels of Spanish to both middle and high school students. Ana believes that acquiring a new language involves learning to speak and write, while simultaneously exploring the cultures, practices, and perspectives associated with that language. Therefore, her goal is to serve not only as a Spanish teacher, but also as a bridge that connects students to a world full of diversity. In her spare time, Ana enjoys doing puzzles, listening to music, and watching Korean dramas. She is very fond of the Korean culture and hopes to one day become fluent in the Korean language. Ana is excited to be a part of a growing foreign language department at WESS.
Aristo Orginos – 9th Grade English
Aristo grew up in northern New Jersey, where his public school teachers consistently served as an inspiration. After graduation, he went off to study education at New York University. In 2015, he graduated with a B.S. in English Education from Steinhardt and was hired by Jessica to teach English at West End Secondary School. As a founding teacher of the school, watching the growth of the students who attend WESS has been the single most impactful experience of his life, and he views working with West End’s students as the highest privilege of his life. Over the last two years, Aristo has worked on and recently completed his master’s degree in Gifted Education at Columbia University, and he plans to continue his research and work in education with further graduate studies. His academic interests include equitable teaching practices, nontraditional models and theories of education, and the nature of intelligence and creativity. His favorite authors include Cormac McCarthy and Kazuo Ishiguro, and his favorite book of all time is Blood Meridian. Since he was literate, Aristo was encouraged by his parents to write, and is now the proud author of several unfinished manuscripts and many unpublished short stories and poems. A lifelong lover of music, Aristo attends rap concerts with some frequency as long as they don’t fall on a school night, and he derives significant joy from buying multicolored Post-Its and white board markers. He believes schools are vehicles for the becoming and self-actualization of the child and encourages every student to follow their passions wherever it takes them.
Ayesha Randolph – 8th Grade English
Ayesha is a proud native New Yorker. She attended The New School where she received her B.A/ and Master’s degree in Teaching. Her first English teaching position was at her middle school alma mater Wadleigh Secondary School. She learned once more from the teachers who taught her when she was a child. Ayesha often refers to her first years teaching as her awakening. The classroom is where she was meant to be. Opening up a student’s eyes to a new concept, a child having the “Ah ha!” moment and having a student connect a situation to a reading are powerfully fulfilling experiences for Ayesha. Over the past 23 years, she has experience teaching English to 7th – 12th graders. She has taught in the Bronx, Manhattan, Brazil and in the United Arab Emirates.
Carlos Gonzalez – Student Teacher, ELA
Carlos was born and raised in The Bronx, New York. In high school, he played for his school’s basketball, baseball and bowling team, as well as being a part of student council and the yearbook committee. After high school, he remained in NYC, attending John Jay College of Criminal Justice where he earned a double major in English and Forensic Psychology. After taking a year to travel and explore the world, Carlos joined WESS as a coach/teaching assistant to help develop the Manhattan Youth After School Program in 2017. The following year, he stepped in as a school aide, building stronger relationships with faculty and devoting more time getting to know the students at WESS. It was then that he realized his next role was to become an educator and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Special Education at Concordia College. Outside of WESS, he enjoys playing sports, hiking, traveling, reading, listening to music, and most of all, eating different foods. Carlos is most excited for another great year at WESS!
Chloe Kimberlin – 7th Grade English Language Arts & 10th Grade English
Chloe was born in Connecticut and has only been in NYC for one wonderful, busy year, during which she completed her Masters degree in English Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Chloe attended Skidmore College for her undergraduate, studying English with a focus on poetry writing, as well as minoring in both Education and Sociology. Throughout high school and college, Chloe was very involved in writerly endeavors: she was on the editorial staff of her school newspapers, was an Editor in Chief of her college literary magazine, and founded a monthly reading series for Skidmore community members to share their writing in a supportive, cozy environment. During her college summers, she taught at a creative writing camp for adolescents, which cemented her desire to teach English Language Arts. Between undergrad and grad school, Chloe spent a year co-teaching fourth grade in a tiny town in Connecticut. Her favorite experience of that year was helping two ambitious nine-year-olds co-found an afterschool Harry Potter club. Outside of teaching, Chloe is passionate about poetry, pop culture, music, podcasts, hiking, and of course, spending time with friends and family. Chloe is incredibly excited to work with both middle and high school grades at WESS; she finds that working with adolescents always inspires her to think deeply and strive towards the best version of herself. She hopes that her classroom communities will provide that same inspiration for her students.
Christina Stampolis – Dance
Christina is from Huntington, Long Island. She began dancing at the age of 7, and went on to join both her local studio and high school’s competitive dance teams where she experienced a variety of dance styles. She decided to pursue Dance Education as a career at Hofstra University, where she further developed her foundations in Modern Dance and Ballet technique, as well as learned how to share her joy of moving with others in a classroom setting. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Dance Education from Hofstra University and a Masters in Dance Education from Hunter College. Additionally, she has continued her education through courses at the Dance Education Laboratory at the 92nd Street Y. Christina has presented her research on technology in the dance classroom as part of the Movement Talks series at the 92nd Street Y and at the 2013 National Dance Education Conference in Miami, and performed professionally with the Isadora Duncan repertory company Dance Visions NY from 2010-2016. As a New York State certified dance educator, Christina is entering her 10th year of teaching dance in New York City schools. She piloted WESS Dance in 2016, and is extremely proud of both the program and her dancers’ growth over the years. Outside of school, Christina enjoys working out, cooking, baking, food photography, and hanging out with her dog.
Chrissy Grenier – Integrative Co-Teacher English, Science, & NYCDOE Model Teacher Leader
Growing up as the oldest of five kids, Chrissy knew from a young age that she would someday be a teacher. She attended the Neag School of Education at UConn, first earning her B.A. in English Education, and then her M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction. Chrissy got her first job at a Special Act School in Westchester County, where she found her true calling working with students with diverse learning needs. There, she taught 11th and 12th grade English in a Project-Based Learning program for five years, and along the way got certified in Special Education. After getting married and moving to the city, Chrissy took a job at a middle school in Brooklyn where she developed a highly successful reading intervention program, instilling a love of literature in her students. Chrissy is in her second year at WESS and works alongside her 9th-grade team to lay the foundation for our high school. Outside of school, she loves to travel to new places, test new recipes, and stay active!
Christopher Herries – AP World History: Modern
Chris was born in upstate New York and attended a regional Catholic school where he captained the wrestling team and the chess team. After high school, Chris spent two years living and working in Cape Town, South Africa as a school assistant. He then went to Stanford University in California where he studied classical history and played Division I rugby. He received his M.A.T. in Social Studies from Teachers College, Columbia University and went on to teach in the South Bronx. Chris enjoys teaching world history and is passionate about passing on a love of history to the next generation. He now lives in central Harlem, continues to train in wrestling, and has joined a competitive e-sports team.
Ellyn Lankford – 6th Grade Social Studies
Ellyn grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where she followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a Social Studies teacher. She always dreamed of living in New York City and in 2012 made the leap. With over 10 years of teaching experience, Ellyn has taught World History, Civics, Geography, and ELA. During this time, she has received a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and School Counseling. In her spare time, Ellyn loves to travel to see and experience everything the world has to offer. Through her travels, Ellyn likes to incorporate authentic, real-world experiences into her classroom to help students become passionate about history.
Emily Hollyday – 6th Grade Science
Throughout high school, Emily was envious of her friends who went to an EL School (Expeditionary Learning) where their learning extended beyond the classroom. In chemistry, they not only read about the BP Oil Spill but also went to Mississippi where they took part in service projects and interviewed people impacted by the spill. When Emily graduated from College of the Atlantic in Maine, she was determined to teach at an EL school where she could help students explore relevant topics and engage in real-world projects. Emily is grateful to be a part of the innovative and passionate community at West End Secondary School. In 2018, Emily received a Master’s Degree in Science Education from Brooklyn College and, during the past two summers, she has worked in a dermatology lab through Columbia University’s Summer Research Program for Teachers. Emily enjoys being involved in community organizations and loves to garden, swim, and bike.
Evens Lafleur – World Languages (French/Spanish)
Evens has been teaching French for 15 years in the New York City Department of Education system, with prior experience working in a founding school in Brooklyn. Originally from Haiti, Evens pursued his education at Brooklyn College, earning a Bachelor’s in Secondary Education with a concentration in French and a Master’s in School Education Administration from Grand Canyon University. In addition to teaching, Evens enjoys spending time with his family and writing poetry in several languages including Haitian Creole and French. He also enjoys sports, especially soccer. He aspires to continue inspiring his students to love learning. His philosophy is that all students are capable of learning and become productive citizens within their communities and beyond. Evens is excited to bring his knowledge and experience to the WESS community this year!
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.
Marianna Telerman – Physical Education & Assistant Athletic Director
Marianna is excited to start her 5th year teaching Physical Education at WESS. After growing up in Brooklyn and Staten Island, she graduated from Long Island University with a BS in Health and Physical Education. She then went on to graduate with an MS in Early Childhood. She is extremely passionate about sports, physical activities, and just about everything outdoors! Marianna spends her summers as the Director of a reputable teen tour company, which provides her the opportunity to travel the world while simultaneously teaching leadership skills to teenagers. She is a firm believer in the importance of modeling healthy living for teens and helping her students become confident leaders and decision-makers. Her ultimate goal is to instill a love of fitness and a life-long commitment to health for all students at WESS.
Marie Milach – 6th Grade Mathematics
Marie is originally from Long Island, NY. As a student she participated in cross country and track, and was selected for the All-State band for playing the clarinet. After high school she earned her degree in political science at George Washington University. After a brief move to Rhode Island and having spent time in Americorps on student mentoring programs, she found herself drawn back to NY and interested in continuing the work with kids she had done in Americorps. Marie started working as an assistant teacher at a small independent school in NYC, and absolutely enjoyed working with the students. She then pursued her Masters in Math Education at SUNY Stony Brook. Upon graduation she started teaching high school math in the Bronx, where she taught for seven years. While there Marie developed a joy for creating and using problems that show students the beauty of math and learned that math is so much more than arriving at the correct answer. She loves seeing patterns in math and applying math to solve real-world problems. She is excited to share this passion for math with her students at WESS and learn what they are passionate about. In her spare time Marie enjoys exercising, cooking and spending time with family. She enjoys telling stories about the funny things her 4-year-old daughter Alyssa says and the cute things her 1-year-old son Frankie does. She is excited to be a part of the WESS community and looks forward to meeting all the new students and families!
Marina Podokshik – 7th Grade English Language Arts
Marina was born in Belarus and moved to New York City with her family at five years old. She grew up in the Bronx and is a true New Yorker at heart. She received a BA in English and Public Relations from Syracuse University and a Masters degree in Secondary English Education from Fordham University. Marina has spent the last ten years teaching English to sixth and seventh-grade students in both Brooklyn and the Bronx. She has also served as an instructional leader, helping other teachers improve their practice. She loves the classroom and is happiest when she sees her kids grow in ways they didn’t think they originally could. Marina devotes every school break to traveling the world and loves getting lost in a new country. She also enjoys ballroom dancing, singing, and spending time with her family and friends. She is beyond excited to join the WESS community!
Marion Pachman – 7th & 8th Grade Integrative Co-Teacher Social Studies & Science
Marion was born in New York City and raised in Long Island. Throughout her teenage years, she always worked with children. Her jobs in Middle and High School ranged from babysitting, a counselor at Day Camps, and volunteering with children at the Viscardi Center in Albertson, N.Y. Prior to going to college, she made a choice to choose between two of her passions. Thinking that she could express herself through art whenever she pleased she chose to study education at both the bachelors and graduate levels. She found herself interested in teaching students at various ages in typical settings, teaching within transdisciplinary teams of educators, and teaching reading and writing skills. After receiving her B.S. in a dual certification program in special and general education from the University of Hartford, she went on to receive her M.S. in Reading and special education from Adelphi University. In addition to her teaching certifications in both CT and NY, Marion attained an Administrative Certificate from the state of CT where she taught for most of her professional career. For over thirty years Marion has continued to partner with educational staff, parents, and their children to facilitate their emotional and cognitive growth on their journey through the educational process. She has taught students ranging in age from early childhood through high school. Teaching has been a rewarding experience for Marion. It has brought her joy to work with children as she inspires and guides students through their own educational transformations. Marion lived in CT for thirty yrs., and relocated to Manhattan 5 yrs. ago. She is a proud and devoted mother of three young adult children, and two very young grandchildren. In her free time whenever possible she reads about and practices: yoga, gardening, hiking, skiing, cooking, painting, traveling as well as spending time with family and friends.
Matt Halfond – Algebra I
Matt was born and raised on Long Island, before moving to upstate New York and eventually earning his bachelor’s degree at SUNY-Geneseo. Matt’s various experiences as a counselor, tutor, assistant teacher, and learning specialist led him to become passionate about math education, and Matt went on to earn his Master’s Degree in Adolescent Special Education from SUNY-Binghamton. After living and teaching at an Expeditionary Learning school in Columbus, Ohio for three years Matt moved back home to teach in New York in the community that he loves so much. Matt is a firm believer that all students can be successful with the appropriate challenges and supports, and he is excited to continue to help students grow through the lens of math while at WESS. Matt is an animal lover, and is a passionate sports fan, specifically of his Knicks, Jets, and Yankees. Matt is looking forward to another great year this year at WESS!
Michele Balsam – 7th Grade Social Studies
Michele has roots deep in New York City education; born and raised in lower Manhattan, she grew up with a passion for the city and its history, nurtured by her experiences in both progressive and traditional education. Michele received her Bachelor’s degree from The George Washington University in both History and Political science, and a Master’s degree from Hunter College in Adolescent Social Studies Education. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Educational Leadership at Teachers College at Columbia University. Throughout her educational career, Michele has studied abroad in Madrid and London, as well as traveled the world with her choir from the cape of South Africa to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Michele loves bringing the exhilaration of world travel to the classroom through inquiry and authentic experiences. She also brings a longstanding love of theater to her work, both in the classroom and in her capacity as a director of student theater. As a native Manhattanite, she knows what an engaging and deep learning environment the city is, from museums to historical sites, and loves to make history come alive with her students!
Nicole Zernone – Visual Arts
Nicole, a lifelong New Yorker, received her BA in Photography from Antioch College in Ohio, where she traveled the globe photographing women in developing nations. During and after she has exhibited her artwork in several states. She moved back to New York City after graduation and started her career in public schools teaching photography, visual arts and architecture. She received an MS in Urban Education from The College of Mount Saint Vincent and an MA in School Leadership from Bank Street College of Education. During her long tenure in New York City schools, Nicole has served as arts coordinator, and arts liaison and has helped develop robust art education programming. Additionally, Nicole has served as a staff developer for art teachers in the Bronx and Manhattan. In addition to her passion for art education, she is an avid gardener and co-owns a farm to table restaurant in Inwood, New York. When not in Manhattan she spends her time with her 10-year-old daughter Clementine, husband Jason and sheepadoodle Perry in a bungalow community in the Catskill Mountains. Nicole is thrilled at the prospect of helping every student at WESS develop their individual artistic vision and voice. Nicole feels honored to be part of the WESS community.
Providence Ryan – AP Biology
Providence was born and raised in Schenectady, a small city in the Capital Region of upstate New York. She received Bachelors’ degrees in Biology and Philosophy from Colgate University in 2016. After college, Providence moved to New York City, where she began teaching in The Bronx while earning her Master’s Degree in Secondary Science Education at Lehman College. Providence is a self-identified science nerd and an experienced researcher, who has done research on climate change and tropical ecosystems in the rainforests of Costa Rica. Providence believes that inquiry-driven discovery and research are the keys to understanding the world around us. She actively engages students in authentic scientific research and discourse practices as often as possible, so that all students feel empowered to become true practitioners of science. Outside of the classroom, Providence enjoys tending to a garden plot in her neighborhood’s community garden, learning about new science and math teaching practices through her Math for America fellowship, and attending art and activism events with friends around New York City.
Robert Dice – AP Human Geography
Robert grew up in the suburbs of Long Island, New York. He earned both his B.A. in History and Secondary Education and an M.A. in History from SUNY-Cortland. For ten years, he worked in upstate New York as an adjunct lecturer, tutor, and coach before returning to the New York City area. Upon returning, he taught Global Studies and Constitutional Law in the Bronx as well as coached Cross Country and mentored new teachers. Robert loves teaching social studies because it helps students understand our world and empowers them with the skills necessary to be active citizens. He loves when students become passionate about issues and engage in healthy, open-minded debate. Outside of school, Robert loves to spend time with his ten-year-old daughter Halia, especially when they have adventures, play video games, and debate Harry Potter. He also enjoys sci-fi, playing board games, running, trying new recipes from YouTube, and rooting for the Yankees. Robert is looking forward to his adventures at WESS!
Sarah Kieval – 10th Grade English
Sarah was born in a small town near Boston with big-hearted Red Sox fans. She had the privilege of attending a small, community-based school where every teacher knew every student and every student knew every teacher’s dog. Since then, she enjoyed earning her masters from NYU graduate school of education and teaching in the WESS community because they inspire the same love of learning and collaboration as her childhood school. It also brings her immense pleasure to coach WESS girls’ basketball teams and advise the student newspaper. Sarah loves English class because our texts illuminate large ideas and bring about discussion of how these ideas play out in our own lives and society. Outside of class, all topics of conversation about movies, books, sports, New York, puppies, and TV are always on the table. Sarah loves following sports, playing ultimate frisbee and basketball, cooking without a recipe, and hitting up podcasts.
Sarah Peskanov – Music
Growing up as the daughter of two classically trained musicians, Sarah has always felt connected to music. Sarah received a degree in Music Education and Flute Performance from Ithaca College. Following graduation, she remained in Ithaca and actively performed with the Genesee Orchestra, New Music Collective and taught concert band in the public school system for two years. After living in Upstate New York for 7 years, Sarah has returned home to her roots on Long Island. She currently freelances and teaches flute privately in the NYC area. During her free time she likes to go hiking with her rescue pup, listen to live music and explore new cuisines. She is thrilled to be a part of the WESS team!
Stacey Gruber – 7th Grade Mathematics
Stacey was born in Omaha, Nebraska. She spent her formative years in the suburbs, about an hour outside New York City. She has made her home in Manhattan for the past seven years. It was clear from an early age that Stacey dreamed of becoming a teacher and loved being around children. As a young child, she often set up a classroom with her dolls and stuffed animals as students and read to them. She spent her teen years working as a counselor at a local summer camp and college breaks as a substitute teaching assistant in her local schools. Stacey achieved her dream of becoming an educator when she received her degree in Childhood Education with a concentration in Mathematics from SUNY Oneonta. For 7 years, she taught 7th grade mathematics in the Bronx. During this time she earned her Masters Degree in Childhood Special Education from CUNY Lehman. At her previous school, she was the head of the Math Department as well as the Math Team Coach. Stacey has been the recipient of the Teacher of the Year Award three times. Stacey’s favorite part of teaching is being able to instill the same love of math that she has in her students. She is a big believer in teaching mathematics through the use of manipulatives, hands-on activities, and being able to make what she is teaching relatable to the real-world and to her students’ lives and personal interests. In her spare time, Stacey enjoys knitting, going to concerts, and is an avid Sudoku player. She is excited to start her third year at WESS and 10th year teaching! She’s looking forward to meeting all the new students, parents and staff!
Stefanie Urciuoli – High School Integrative Co-Teacher
Stefanie was born and raised in the lush forestry of Staten Island and is thrilled to begin her new teaching journey at WESS this year. She has a degree in English Literature from the College of Staten Island and is currently pursuing a Masters in Special Education from Pace University. After a long and rewarding career in cosmetic management and education at Sephora, she realized that the most rewarding part of her career was tied to teaching others. She loved equipping her team with the skills they needed to succeed in endeavors throughout school and life. This led her to pursue a career in education to make an even bigger impact as a teacher. It was that passion that led her to join the NYC Teaching Fellows program. She is inspired by the Expeditionary Learning model and looks forward to using New York City as the ultimate learning lab. Outside of the classroom, Stefanie enjoys watching Jeopardy, staying up to date on pop culture trends, filling up online shopping carts that never make it to checkout, and dreaming about owning a Chow Chow.
Travis Lankford – Earth & Space Science
Travis is a proud son of the Commonwealth of Virginia where he spent his formative years then attended one of the first women’s colleges in the entire country (now co-ed) at Longwood University. While attending, Travis was a part of the Longwood Men’s Rugby Football Club and Epsilon Chi Phi fraternity. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree, he took a job teaching English in South Korea where he resided for a calendar year. In 2013, Travis moved to New York City where he was accepted into the New York City Teaching Collaborative, a partner program of the Teaching Fellows, as a Science Teacher. In May 2016, Travis received his Master of Science in Adolescent Education. Travis then taught in the Bronx for the next two years followed by Inwood for the last two. He looks forward to the new opportunities and challenges ahead at WESS and hopes to kindle a lasting passion for the sciences in his students. Travis enjoys playing computer games, painting and playing Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar, and watching Chelsea FC play in the Premier League.
Vitoanthony Deliso – Physical Education, Health, & Athletic Director
Vitoanthony or “Coach” as he likes to be called, was born in Mola di Bari, a small town in Italy. In the early 70’s his family moved from Italy to Carroll Gardens Brooklyn, and has lived there for the past 47 years. He has been playing sports and working out for as long as he can remember. He has coached numerous sports teams in countless leagues. Vitoanthony is a graduate of Kingsborough Community College where he earned an AAS in Physical Education and Recreational Therapy. He then attended Brooklyn College, earning a BS and MS in Physical Education. His teaching career began as a founding teacher of a transfer high school in Brooklyn and continued at a small NYC high school dedicated to sports management. In addition to teaching physical education, health, and weight training for the past 12 years, he has also served as a dean and coach for multiple PSAL teams. Aside from teaching, Vitoanthony has been an International Flight Attendant/Purser for Delta Air Lines for the past 30 years. He spends considerable time in Italy (working) enjoying the people, culture and the many friends he’s made throughout his flying career. He is fluent in Italian and working on improving his Spanish skills. Beyond that, his first true love is his family: daughter’s Brittany and Alexandra, son Matthew, and his better half-Janice. Vitoanthony is thrilled to have been given the opportunity to bring his leadership, knowledge of sports, passion for teaching, and strong organizational skills to the WESS community.
Wendy Cole – Algebra II
Wendy was born and raised in Baton Rouge, LA. She attended Louisiana State University, earning her degree in Mathematics with a minor in Biology. She has taught middle and high school math and science for 17 years in Louisiana and Florida. She then took a hiatus from teaching to homeschool her daughters for middle and high school. While homeschooling, she went back and earned her Masters Degree in Library and Information Science, with a specialty in Archives. After relocating to Texas, she then taught AlgebraFor the past two years moved to Texas and taught Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II for the last two years. She is following her dream of living in New York City, and could not be more excited about being a part of the WESS family! In her free time, she loves traveling, reading, hanging out with friends and family, and playing with her dog, Duke. She truly considers herself to be a nerd in all subjects, and cannot wait to show students that, with patience and persistence, they can all be successful in math.