WESS Team Bios
Jessica Jenkins – School Leader
Jessica grew up in Sag Harbor, a gem of 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 Bachelor’s Degree in social psychology. Throughout college, she devoted her free time to working with homeless shelters to help restore personal dignity as well as with local organizations to find adoptive homes for rescue animals. 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 15 years, Jessica has served as a classroom teacher, instructional & principal coach, and principal. After two master’s 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 is honored to have been given the opportunity to open and lead West End Secondary School. After an incredibly successful first three years, she looks forward to welcoming her fourth 6th grade class to the WESS family.
Andrea Conway – Secretary
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 provide students with an opportunity to have an enhanced learning experience. She received her Masters of Science in Business Administrative/Health Care Management and Masters in Public Administration from Columbia Southern University.
Her professional experience includes extensive education and business consulting management. Andrea has worked in several areas in education, which includes Student Support Services in Brooklyn and working alongside the District 31 Superintendent in Staten Island. Andrea is thrilled to be a part of an exciting new journey at WESS and she is looking forward to working with WESS students and staff as one of the new school secretaries.
Mary Kane – Secretary
Mary comes to WESS from the District 3 Community Education Council (CEC3) where she worked as the administrative assistant to the Council for the past five years. She is a proud parent of a student who has attended District 3 Elementary and Middle Schools and who is currently attending Fiorella H. LaGuardia High School. In addition to her work experience, Mary has been an active parent volunteer in District 3 schools, serving as P.T.A. President and grant writer for her daughter's schools, raising over one million dollars through grant funding. In her former life, Mary danced professionally around the world and taught dance in New York City Public Schools as a teaching artist with the National Dance Institute. Mary is thrilled to be back working at the school level and is honored to be a founding team member of WESS.
Lynne Galyas – Dean
As a founding teacher at Marsh Avenue Expeditionary Learning School, Lynne spent the last eight years building a school community from the ground up. In addition to teaching across subjects, Lynne worked collaboratively with her colleagues to create engaging learning expeditions that immersed students in a world beyond the classroom. She is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she received her BA in Advertising Marketing. Following an eight year career in ESPN’s Advertising & Sales department, she found that her true calling was working directly with students. After spending her life in New York City, Lynne recently relocated to northern New Jersey, where she and her husband are raising two girls. Lynne is thrilled to join the WESS family and looks forward to serving the students and families in the WESS community.
John Carullo – Guidance 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.
Michelle Barber – Guidance
Michelle grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut. She graduated from George Washington University with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology. After college, Michelle moved to New York City to pursue a Master's degree in Social Work at New York University. She has been working as a school social worker for almost 18 years. Michelle works at P.S. 87, an elementary school located on the Upper West Side, four days a week. She is thrilled about working with the children and parents from WESS on Wednesdays. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys exploring NYC, spending time with family, traveling, and spinning.
Stacey Gruber – 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 five 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 the past 7 years, she has taught 6th and 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 going to concerts, the theater, museums, reading, and is an avid Sudoku player. She is excited to join the WESS team and looks forward to meeting and working with the students, parents and staff!
Keri Gaft – Mathematics
Keri is a native New Yorker and proud mother of two amazing boys. She has embraced the diversity and culture that New York City has to offer. 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 performed 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 embraces the opportunity to be a founding teacher at WESS and looks forward to guiding WESS students to reach their highest potential.
Marie Milach – Mathematics
Marie is originally from Long Island, NY. After high school she left the tri-state area to pursue 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 more interested in working with students. Marie started working as an assistant teacher at a small independent school in NYC, and absolutely enjoyed having her own small class. She then pursued her Masters in Math Education at SUNY Stony Brook. Upon graduation she started teaching at a high school in the Bronx, where she taught for the last 7 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 spending time at the beach and having family over for summer barbecues. She delights in witnessing her young daughter make new discoveries and explorations each day.
Addison Love – Mathematics
Addison hails from the suburbs of New York City. He has taught in 4 of the 5 boroughs over the past 28 years. He has two Bachelor degrees in Statistics and Economics and a Master’s degree in Special Education. Addison has also served as a dean and conflict resolution specialist in various New York City schools. He has traveled extensively inside and outside the United States. He is also a big fan of the national parks and photography.
Alexandra Larkin – Mathematics
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 four years teaching middle and high school level students at a private school on the Upper West Side. In addition to her teaching role, Alexandra has also spent that time leading the school's planning committee for student activities and field trips. 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! In her spare time, Alexandra enjoys reading, practicing yoga, working on puzzles (preferably a crossword or sudoku), cooking and traveling to new places. Alexandra is excited to be joining the WESS team, and to have the opportunity to be a part of a supportive, engaging and welcoming community.
Richard Connor – Mathematics
Richard is from eastern Long Island. He has a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from Iona College and a Masters degree in Secondary Education from Dowling College. Richard taught in a public school in Arizona for one year and a private boarding school in East Hampton for two years. He is passionate about teaching. During his time at the boarding school, he taught English language learners and developed lessons to bridge the language barrier so the students would better understand the lessons taught in the classroom. During his undergraduate studies, Richard studied abroad for a semester in Dublin, Ireland. While abroad he traveled to several countries in Europe. He strives to combine his experiences from the various educational settings he taught in and his travels to enrich his students learning. Richard is excited and honored to be a part of the WESS team.
Aristo Orginos – English Language Arts
Born in New Jersey, Aristo studied English Education at New York University and decided to make New York City his home after graduation. He believes that the classroom should be a place of joy. In addition to teaching English, Aristo is proud to be the coach of West End Secondary's debate team. When he's not writing, reading, or tweeting, Aristo enjoys finding new music, daydreaming of saving the world, watching documentaries, and bothering his friends with lame jokes. He has been known to fix comma errors on Wikipedia articles. Areas of personal interest include politics, philosophy, hip hop, and food culture. He is currently pursuing an MA in Gifted Education at Columbia University and he drinks a lot of coffee.
Sarah Kieval – English Language Arts
Growing up in a small town outside of Boston, Sarah loved going to school. It wasn’t just the fun books and interesting subjects, but the sense of the community among students, teachers, and parents. Ever since, Sarah has been trying to find a similar school community. After finishing an MA in English Education from NYU, Sarah is happy to have found that place at WESS. She is excited to debate, discuss, read, write, and create with students. As a staff member at a summer camp for years, Sarah is also excited about the Outward Bound and hands-on Expeditionary Learning model. Outside of school and camp, Sarah loves to play all sports (mostly ultimate Frisbee these days), listen to far too many podcasts, discuss Harry Potter, and passionately root for the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.
Brad Baum – English Language Arts
Brad, a native Illinoisan, is leaving behind the rolling cornfields of central Illinois to join the WESS team. After growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, he moved to Champaign to complete his undergraduate work in English and Secondary Education at the University of Illinois. He stayed in town after completing his degree and taught high school English and creative writing for five years while simultaneously acquiring his master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. One of Brad’s main goals within the classroom is to provide students with opportunities to develop each of their unique, individual voices and to recognize the power of words in both the prose that they read and that which they produce themselves. Outside of the classroom, he is an avid sports fan (Go Duke!), rock climber, and spoken word poet and is incredibly passionate about traveling the world and broadening his perspectives along the way. Brad is incredibly excited to start working at WESS and is looking forward to helping build an environment within the classroom, school, and community in which students can truly grow and thrive.
Ayesha Randolph – English Language Arts
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. Ayesha is excited and honored to become a member of the West End Secondary School family.
Ellyn Peschitz – Social Studies
Ellyn began her teaching career in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after graduating from Florida Atlantic University with a Bachelor's Degree in Communications. She taught sixth grade World History for five years and seventh grade Civics for one. During this time, she received her Master's Degree in Educational Leadership from the American College of Education. In addition to teaching, Ellyn worked to educate other teachers through professional development, designed and developed school-wide curriculum, and sponsored an award-winning chapter of National Junior Honor Society. After growing up in South Florida, she followed her lifelong dream to live in New York City. With her love of exploring, being outdoors, and history, she is extremely excited to start this journey at WESS!
Michele Balsam – 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. From there, Michele went on to teach in New York City schools, returning to teach summer camp at her middle school alma mater, until her path brought her to WESS. 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, and is doubly excited to bring that passion to WESS.
Daiva Siliunas – Social Studies
Daiva is a native Midwesterner, born and raised outside of Chicago. Her first East Coast adventure was graduating from Boston College with a degree in Economics and International Studies. She then returned to Chicago to complete her Master of Science in Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. She has additionally studied and worked abroad in Madrid, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, giving her the opportunity to develop her Spanish speaking skills. Daiva has taught at several schools in the Chicago area and is so excited to join the WESS community! The challenge and thrill of helping students ask interesting questions, investigate their surroundings, and explore topics they find interesting, are the reasons Daiva loves being a teacher! She can't wait to continue to develop and share her passion for Social Studies with the students at WESS! In her free time, she also enjoys competing in marathons and triathlons, spending time outdoors, trying to cook new recipes, and traveling.
Rowena Lair – Social Studies
Rowena Lair is originally from Colorado but moved out east to go to Temple University in Philadelphia where she received her BA in History. She then went on to get a Master's Degree in Social Studies Education through the Teachers College Graduate Program at Columbia University of New York. It is her passion to be an educator that enriches students' lives with learning and empowers them to be successful through graduation and beyond. This passion brought her to teach not only in New York City but also in Taipei, Taiwan. She loves to travel and living abroad was a wonderful and life altering experience. As she returns to the United States, she is overjoyed to join the WESS community. As a social studies teacher, it is her goal to help students uncover the past and find the voices of those less heard. This helps us analyze the actions of those born before us and learn from their experiences to become active and engaged citizens today. She wants her students to question everything and learn as if their life depends on it.
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. Upon returning 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 in the sciences in his students. Travis is also the happy husband of Ellyn, the sixth grade social studies teacher.
Emily Hollyday – Science
Throughout high school, Emily was inspired by her friends from an EL (Expeditionary Learning) School whose learning extended beyond the classroom. For instance, her friends learned about the BP Oil Spill in school but also went to Mississippi where they took part in service projects and collected oral histories in communities impacted by the spill. When Emily graduated from College of the Atlantic, she was determined to teach at an EL school where she could help students explore relevant topics and provide opportunities for them to take action. Emily feels tremendously grateful to be a part of West End Secondary’s innovative and passionate community. During past summers, Emily has done science fieldwork, worked as an outdoor educator, and has led work-training programs focused on urban agriculture. She is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Science Education at Brooklyn College. Emily enjoys being involved in community organizations and loves to garden, swim, bike, and draw.
Jesse Pena – 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 brings him to WESS, where he is excited to continue 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.
Isabelle Giannella – Science
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. 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. She is very excited to be joining the faculty at WESS and once again be part of helping an amazing school grow!
Harony Nuñez – Spanish
Harony was born in the Dominican Republic, but grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She now resides in the Upper West Side, where she is enjoying her new community. She graduated Cum Laude from Brooklyn College with a Bachelor of Arts in Childhood Education and Psychology. She also graduated with University Honors from Brooklyn College when she completed her Master in Special Education. Harony has a special type of love for the Spanish language and its different cultures. She believes that learning a foreign language is an essential life skill because it allows you to communicate and connect with people from different cultures. Harony’s professional history includes teaching Language Arts, History, Religion, and Spanish at a Catholic Academy in Park Slope, Brooklyn. In order to stay current in today's evolving education system, she has attended many professional developments and conferences. This has given her the opportunity to gain the knowledge, perspective, and materials she needs to make a positive impact in her classroom. In her spare time, she enjoys to read, travel, have picnics at the park, and spend time with her friends and family. Harony is extremely excited to be teaching the Spanish language and its different cultures to the students at WESS.
Marianna Telerman – Physical Education
Marianna is excited to start her second year teaching Physical Education at WESS. After growing up in Brooklyn and Staten Island, she graduated from Long Island University with a Bachelor's of Science in Health and Physical Education. She then went on to graduate from Touro with a Master's of Science in Early Childhood. She is very passionate about sports, physical activities, and just about everything outdoorsy! Marianna spends her summers as a Counselor/Director of Teen Tours for Rein Teen Tours, which enables her to do fun activities all around the US. She also enjoys volunteering every summer for an upstate summer camp for grieving children. Marianna believes in challenging my students and providing them with the means to build self-esteem, confidence, and a healthy lifestyle! She hopes to leave a lasting impression on your child.
Shawn Baumann – Physical Education
Shawn couldn't be more excited to join WESS. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, he always had a passion for watching and playing sports. While attending SUNY Stony Brook, he realized pursuing a pre-law path was not for him and transferred to Brooklyn College, earning his bachelors in Physical Education and masters in Sports Management. During his tenure at Brooklyn College, he was a member of the Men's Volleyball and Cross Country team. Prior to teaching, he was an EMT for the FDNY for 3 years in Manhattan. During the summer, he works as a group leader, athletic director and fitness director at Camp Kennybrook, a sleepaway camp located in upstate New York. Shawn is looking forward to starting this new chapter of his teaching career at WESS, incorporating his love for sports with our outward bound program and bring his own element of excitement to our students!
Christina Stampolis – Dance
Christina is a New York native from Huntington, Long Island. She holds a BS in Dance Education from Hofstra University and an MA in Dance Education from Hunter College. She 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 NDEO conference in Miami. As a New York State certified dance educator, she has been teaching in New York City schools for 7 years. Christina performs with the Isadora Duncan repertory company Dance Visions NY. Additionally, she teaches Zumba throughout New York City and Long Island. Christina is absolutely thrilled to be piloting the dance program at WESS!
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 also received a MS in Urban Education from The College of Mount Saint Vincent. During her long tenure in New York City schools, Nicole has served as arts coordinator, liaison, and has helped develop robust art education programming. Additionally, Nicole has served as a staff developer for art teachers in the Bronx. Nicole, a lifelong learner, just completed a MA in School Leadership from Bank Street College of Education. 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 9-year-old daughter Clementine, husband Jason and sheepadoodle Perry in a bungalow community in the Catskill Mountains. Nicole is looking forward to helping develop student exhibition opportunities at WESS and is thrilled at the prospect of helping every student at WESS in developing their individual artistic vision and voice. Nicole feels honored to be part of the WESS community.
Jodi Wolinsky – Speech
Jodi earned her Bachelor’s degree in Hearing and Speech Sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park. 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 language. At Maryland, Jodi also studied Spanish language, 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, including elementary school, nursing homes, and most recently, high schools. She is thrilled to start this exciting chapter of her career at WESS, and to have the opportunity to join such a positive, supportive, and warm school community. In her spare time, Jodi can be found doing something active (probably yoga, boxing, or cycling), reading novels, spending time with family, or exploring NYC with her husband.
Molly Dunbar – Learning Specialist
Molly grew up outside Philadelphia before moving to the Bronx to attend Fordham University. Though she worked as a preschool literacy coach, a camp counselor, a tutor, and a teen leadership mentor in college, it took her a while to realize she wanted to become a teacher. After managing an NSF study on racial identity and discrimination in public schools, she found herself at NYC Outward Bound as the Data and Evaluation Manager. Molly quickly fell in love with the EL model, and after two years realized she was finding excuses to spend as much time as possible in the classroom rather than her office (even though her office had a rock wall!) This is her second year teaching at WESS after joining NYC Teaching Fellows, and she's delighted to continue working to promote students' literacy and love of learning.
Devon Williamson – Learning Specialist
Always on the move, Devon lived in Connecticut, California, and New Jersey before attending SUNY New Paltz for her Bachelor of Science in Childhood Education with a concentration in Mathematics. The morning after her college graduation, she began a graduate program at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she received her Master of Arts in Intellectual Disabilities/Secondary Education. In addition to teaching middle school in Queens for the past several years, Devon designed and facilitated project-based learning experiences for Liberty LEADS at Bank Street College of Education and the Explorers Program at the Fresh Air Fund. Outside of the classroom, Devon enjoys baking decadent desserts, hiking with friends, and spending time with her family and two rambunctious cats, Apollo and Juno. Devon is thrilled to join the WESS team, and hopes to inspire a love of learning in her students!
Julissa Martinez – English, Social Studies
Julissa was born and raised in New York City and is a proud product of the NYC public school system. After graduating from Brooklyn Tech High School, she went on to complete six years at the State University at Albany majoring in Psychology and Education, and ultimately a Masters of Science in Education Administration. She started out early as a Sunday school teacher in her Brooklyn church, reading tutor while in college, and then had the pleasure of working overseas with underprivileged youth in Brazil; these early experiences shaped her desire to work with young people. Along with education, Julissa also has a strong passion for health and wellness. In 2007 she became a certified holistic health counselor and has since helped many people reach their wellness goals. While working as a weight loss counselor in Philadelphia for a few years, Julissa obtained her teaching certification from Drexel University in hopes of putting herself back on the path of shaping young minds. After years of working on the administrative side of NYC public schools, Julissa is eager to get back in the classroom! She is thrilled to be a part of the WESS community and looks forward to being able to bring positive vibes and wonderful experiences to her students and colleagues. When not in the classroom Julissa is guaranteed to be breaking up a fight between her two young children, practicing Yoga, dancing, or traveling.
Chrissy Grenier – Learning Specialist: English, Science
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 Bachelor’s degree in English Education, and then her Master’s degree 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. Outside of school, Chrissy loves to travel to new places, test new recipes, and stay active through Crossfit! She is thrilled to join the team at WESS and be a part of the expansion into high school.
Matt Halfond – Learning Specialist: Math, Science
Matt is so excited to be joining the WESS team this year! After growing up on Long Island and in the Albany area, Matt went on to earn his Bachelor’s degree from SUNY-Geneseo. His experiences during this time led Matt to become passionate about education, and Matt soon after earned his Master’s Degree in Adolescent Special Education from SUNY-Binghamton. After living and teaching at an Expeditionary Learning school in Columbus, Ohio over the past three years, Matt is very excited to return home to New York and work in a community he loves so much. As a new transplant to New York City, Matt enjoys exploring the cities different neighborhoods and getting to know new slices of culture. Matt is an animal lover, and loves spending time with his dog and cat. Matt is also a passionate sports fan, and enjoys watching the Yankees, Jets, and Knicks. Matt believes that all students can be successful with the appropriate challenges and supports, and is excited to start working with the amazing WESS students!
Marion Pachman – Learning Specialist
Marion Pachman was born and raised in the New York area. After receiving her Bachelor’s of Science Degree in both Special and General Education from the University of Hartford, she went on to receive her Master’s degree in Reading from Adelphi University. In addition to her teaching certifications, Marion attained her leadership certificate from the State of Connecticut where she taught for most of her professional career. Marion has over 28 years of experience partnering with educational staff, parents, and their children as they grew emotionally and cognitively on their journey through the educational process and has taught students ranging in age from early childhood through high school. A proud and devoted mother of three young adult children, she still manages in her free time to read about and practice: yoga, gardening, hiking, skiing, cooking, painting, as well as spend time with her family and friends. She loves being in the mountains and appreciates the diversity of people and the arts; inherent of city life. She is thrilled to join the WESS community and grateful for the opportunity.