Community Roots Charter School

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Elementary School

Eliza Cutler was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and moved to Brooklyn in 2001 to pursue a B.F.A. in photography at Pratt Institute. She discovered her interest in education while working on a photography project in which toddlers gave her makeovers. Through this project, she realized that she was more interested in the thinking processes of the children involved than in the final (and sometimes frightening) products. Eliza then enrolled in a master's program in early childhood education at Brooklyn College and began teaching in a 3’s classroom at The Co-op School, where she taught for four and a half years. Eliza is thrilled to be part of Community Roots because of its amazing community of teachers, children, and families. In her life outside of school, Eliza loves to explore the city via foot or bike, draw, and tend to her tiny rooftop garden.

Lorrie Balton grew up in New York in a family of artists. She attended Cooper Union where she received a B.F.A. in art. She then worked as a graphic designer for 15 years. After having two children, Lorrie's priorities changed. While spending many years volunteering in the schools that her children attended, she developed an interest in teaching. She pursued this interest by first teaching at a preschool and then in a pre-Kindergarten class at Beginning with Children Charter School in Brooklyn. Lorrie is proud to be a founding staff member at Community Roots where her experience includes teaching first grade and kindergarten. She feels strongly about the importance of building a creative learning environment and reflects this in her craft.

Rebecca Williams has lived in Brooklyn (by way of Long Island) for a really long time. She spent the first several years in New York pursuing an acting career until she realized that the teaching profession was calling to her and telling her to go back to school. Rebecca received her B.F.A. in theatre performance at Fredonia State University and attended Bank Street College for her M.S.Ed. in early childhood special education. Rebecca worked as a preschool teacher before coming to Community Roots in 2006 to teach kindergarten. She loves teaching alongside very dedicated educators who, along with her amazing little students, teach her so much each and every year. When not at Community Roots, Rebecca enjoys bicycling all around NYC, traveling, and playing in the great outdoors with Ozzy, her husband. She also lives with two cute cats, Wyatt and Virgil.

Susan Park grew up on Long Island and attended Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. She gained a greater perspective and profound respect for children, families, and teachers while pursuing her master's degree in general childhood education at Bank Street College. On her off time, Susan loves spending time with her husband and two children, Minki and Mina. Her family loves to make fluffy pancakes, go on bike rides, and chase one another at the park.
1st Grade
Millen Tesfaldet was raised in a small town in Maryland. She attended George Mason University in Fairfax, VA graduating with a B.S. in psychology. Upon graduation, Millen began interning at George Mason University for their Mason LIFE Program. It was then that Millen discovered her love and passion of working with adults with special needs. Millen then decided to move to New York where she pursued a degree in education. Millen received her M.S.Ed. in special education/inclusive elementary from Hofstra University which is located on Long Island. During her long breaks, she enjoys traveling to Africa and visiting her large family in Eritrea. Millen has worn hats while working at Community Roots and is excited to be apart of this wonderful community.
Rachel Costello grew up in Binghamton, New York. She traveled to the small town of Brockport where she earned a B.A. in psychology and elementary education, all while pursuing her dream of playing college soccer. Rachel began her career by working at a research center for students diagnosed with autism and behavioral disorders. This work led her to pursue a master’s in special education at Binghamton University. After three years of teaching, Rachel wanted to continue following her passion for educating students with special needs by working in the city. She to Brooklyn to live with her sister and started working at the Kingsley School for Child Development. She learned a lot from her experiences at Kingsley, a place she describes as the ideal school environment for the education of preschool students with special needs. Rachel then explored her interest in behavior development by working at the League School and Day Treatment Center. Rachel is thrilled to be a part of Community Roots and to continue learning through her work.
Shéba Michel was born and raised on Long Island. She moved to New York City to continue her education and pursue a career in a diverse, urban environment. Shéba received her bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education, special education, and psychology from New York University. She also majored in psychology in education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Shéba came to Community Roots in 2007 as a kindergarten teacher, but she has spent most of her time here as a first grade teacher. Each year, Shéba enjoys witnessing her students' eagerness to learn and watching their rapid growth in first grade. When she is not teaching, Shéba enjoys spending time with her two sons, Amiel and Shamir, and taking in all that New York City has to offer. Most of Shéba’s family resides in three different countries. They live in Haiti, Belgium, and The United States.
Tomi Okuyemi was born in Ilorin, Nigeria and raised in Kansas City, Kansas. She graduated from Saint Louis University with degrees in Psychology and Women's Studies. She moved to New York City to attend Bank Street College of Education and is pursuing a master's degree in childhood general and special education. Tomi completed her student teaching at PAVE Academy Charter School, and taught kindergarten, first, and second grade with the Success Academy Charter School Network. Tomi joined Community Roots in 2012 and is happy to be part of such a dedicated community. Her mother, grandmother, and grandfather worked in education and she enjoys carrying on that tradition.

2nd Grade
Blair Welsh moved from sunny Florida to attend Bank Street College of Education in New York City in 2008. At Bank Street, Blair obtained a duel Masters Degree in general childhood education and literacy education. Prior to Bank Street, Blair attended the University of Florida where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Women’s Studies. During her time at the University of Florida, Blair worked in myriad settings with children, which brought Blair to her chosen career and passion: teaching. Before Community Roots, Blair was teaching at an elementary school in New Jersey. This will be her fourth year teaching and her third year teaching second grade.
Daina Ankrum was born and raised in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN. She moved to New York City in 2003 to study childhood education, special education, and psychology at New York University. During that time period, she had several teaching experiences in various public schools in Manhattan and enjoyed studying a semester abroad in Florence, Italy. After obtaining her bachelor's degree, Daina returned to NYU and received her Master's of Arts Degree in literacy education. Daina currently lives in Astoria, Queens. She loves to travel, explore neighborhoods around New York City, and read. This is Daina's seventh year teaching second grade at Community Roots.
3rd Grade
Ellen Cantrell grew up in the live-music capital of the world, Austin, Texas, and spent most of her childhood and high school years as a musician. She attended Northwestern University, where she studied clarinet performance and English. While in college she fell in love with poetry, and now enjoys the chance to bring her love of literature to the classroom. While traveling in Guatemala, a visit to a school convinced her to pursue a career in education. She later returned to Guatemala to learn Spanish and teach in an elementary school, which bolstered her passion for teaching. She moved to New York to complete an M.A. in elementary education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She previously taught third and fifth grades in Queens and is thrilled to work at a school in the borough she now calls home.
Chanel Hill was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She attended George Washington University in Washington, DC graduating with a B.A. in human services. Moving back to Brooklyn upon graduation, Chanel worked as Program Director at a non-profit organization for 4 years.   Although she enjoyed this work, she yearned to be in the classroom. In 2009, Chanel chose to return to school to pursue a degree in education. She attended New York University and received a dual M.A. in early childhood and special education. Chanel has taught 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades and she is very excited to be a part of the Community Roots family.
4th Grade
Kristen Kaelin's teaching career began around the age of nine when she removed all the clothes and shoes from her bedroom closet, converted it into a classroom and persuaded her younger sister to be her first student. The daughter of two teachers, Kristen always knew she wanted to teach -- it was in her blood. She decided to go to Smith College because of its small, progressive education program and majored in education and child study. At Smith, teaching became so much more than a vocation. Kristen learned about the importance of building classroom community and instilling in students an excitement for learning. Right after graduating, Kristen moved to Italy and taught a multi-age K-2 classroom with students from all over the world. She came back to the States to pursue her master's degree at Bank Street and graduated with a degree in special education in 2010. Kristen is thrilled to be a part of the collaborative and caring community at Community Roots.
Sofía Corporan was born and raised in Washington, DC among a large close-knit family. She loved attending camp with her cousins in the summers, and when she was 20, she ran the camp kitchen. During her college years, Sofía spent time in Israel, Boston, Montreal, and New York. She graduated from Eugene Lang College at the New School University with a degree in education. Sofía later received her master's in bilingual elementary education from Stanford University. During her teaching preparation, Sofía developed a strong belief in the benefits of an inclusive classroom community and child-centered learning. When she is not teaching, Sofía enjoys spending time in her adopted home, Crown Heights, where many of her friends and family now live. She loves nothing more than to cook meals for people she loves.
5th Grade
Michael Gervais was born and raised in a small town in Rhode Island. He grew up swimming in lakes, climbing trees, and riding his bike until sundown. Michael studied elementary and special education at Rhode Island College, where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree and teaching certificates. In 2013, he graduated from the Literacy Specialist program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Michael moved to New York City in 2008 and taught in Harlem for two years before coming to Community Roots. His experience at Community Roots includes teaching first and fifth grades. He is honored to be part of such an enthusiastic team of educators and to work alongside such dedicated families. Outside of school, he enjoys writing, traveling, and eating his way through New York City.
Flávia Carvalho was born and raised in Brazil amongst a very big and loving family. At the age of nine she moved to the U.S. and continued enjoying mountains and beaches (albeit colder ones) while growing up in California. Her love of landscapes and the built environment led her to pursue a B.A. in Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. Flávia moved to New York City in order to work as an architect, but later found herself daydreaming of becoming a teacher as she designed a public school building in Queens. Shortly after completion of that project, she left architecture behind to pursue her Masters in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. While attaining her masters, Flávia learned a lot about inclusive education and designed her own social studies curriculum that focused on her love of the environment and differentiated instruction. She is ever grateful to have struck gold with a school like Community Roots, where she can practice her passions with such avid third graders. Flávia also feels blessed to be a part of a loving and supportive school where community is an integral part of the education. If she is not in the classroom, you may go find Flávia training for half-marathons in Prospect Park, eating lots of pasta or pizza at Lucali, or simply taking in the landscape and culture of our beautiful Big Apple!
Allidah Muller grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, where she spent many an afternoon in after-school art club. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard, majoring in art history. Working as an assistant in the drawings and prints study center of the University art museum confirmed Allidah’s passion for art education. Upon graduation, she moved to New York City to begin work in the education department at the Whitney Museum. While leading school groups and young children through the galleries was generally fulfilling, Allidah yearned for more meaningful engagement with students through art and art making. She moved to Philadelphia (where her husband was in graduate school) and sharpened her classroom teaching skills, teaching second, third, and fourth grades at a Quaker day school. In 2010 she returned to New York to enroll in the art education graduate program at Teachers College. A passionate printmaker and fiber artist, Allidah loves being a part of the Community Roots family. 
Liz So grew up on Long Island. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in studio art and art history at Binghamton University. She spent most of her undergraduate years in the studio just painting away! Her passion for art and the need she felt to further challenge herself artistically led her to study abroad in Florence, Italy. Her interest in teaching grew from her experiences as a teaching assistant in painting at Binghamton as well as her experiences teaching art to kids during the summer. Liz understood that she was meant to be a teacher and went to pursue her master's in art education at Teachers College, Columbia University. After graduating, she taught art at Bank Street School for Children. During her free time Liz continues to work on her art, creating paintings and mixed media work. Liz is thrilled to be part of the amazing family that defines Community Roots!
Jaquetta Bustion's love of music began in her earliest school experiences in Philadelphia. Later, she attended Brown University and earned degrees in both music and comparative literature, followed by a master’s in music and music education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She began teaching in NYC public schools soon after and has been a music teacher ever since. A pianist since childhood, Jaquetta now finds singing (with children, and in Accord Treble Choir) to be the largest part of her music-making life, but Jaquetta is always interested in adding to the list of instruments she hasn’t quite mastered.
Physical Education 
Allison Kao grew up in Gainesville, Florida where she spent much of her time outdoors and discovering her love of nature. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Biological Sciences and Psychology from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. During her time at Wellesley and abroad in Australia, Allison was involved in science youth activities and early childhood programs. Such opportunities led her to pursue a career in education. Upon graduation, she was selected to be a part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. While teaching high school Earth Science and Health courses in Brooklyn, she earned her Masters of Education from Pace University. After teaching in the public high school system, Allison decided to turn her attention and passion for teaching towards a younger audience. With a strong science background, Allison has been motivating students and creating an enthusiasm for science starting at a young age. She has taught at Community Roots since 2008 and continually loves to be a part of the wonderful community.
Jennifer Campbell has been a proud New Yorker all her life. She grew up in Port Washington, studied in Manhattan and currently resides in Brooklyn. In 2006, she obtained a Bachelor of Science in childhood and special education from NYU. During her four years at NYU, Jennifer's work-study program enabled her to work in diverse educational environments, which inspired her to pursue teaching full time. In her final year, she met the directors of Community Roots and knew their soon-to-be school was the perfect fit for her. Since then, Jennifer has been working as a teacher at Community Roots and is a proud member of the founding staff. She helped to open the first year of first grade in 2006, which she taught for two years before moving to third grade where she taught for three years. With a love for nature and the wondrous world around us, now Jennifer can be found teaching in the science lab. She is very happy to be a part of the growing Community Roots family and is honored to be serving the community of Fort Greene, where she lives. 
Learning Specialists
Ekene Nwokoye has always loved working with children since her first mentoring gig as a "Big Sister" in high school. Ekene pursued her passion for learning and earned a B.A. in Music & Africana Studies from Tufts University in 2000 and a M.S. in Education from Hunter College in 2005 as a NYC Teaching Fellow. Ekene taught 4th Grade as a Lead Teacher at P.S. 206 in East Harlem (Teachers College Site School) from 2003-2007 and Writing & Reading Intervention at KIPP Infinity Charter School from 2007-2011. Ekene loves working with all of the diverse learners and families at CRCS and enjoys living in Brooklyn with her family.
Maia D'Egidio hails from a small town about 80 miles north of NYC. Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in human services, Maia began her career by working with several not-for-profit agencies specializing in the care of children and their families. Maia also spent time studying and working in human services in Liverpool/London, England. During this time, Maia continuously found her experiences with children to be the most fulfilling and so she decided to further pursue a career in education. Maia returned to the States and began the Special Education and Behavior Disorders Program at Hunter College. While studying at Hunter, she focused on studying mental health, developmental disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders. Maia's prior teaching experiences include K/1 teacher in a not-for-profit school for students with autism, substitute teaching in Melbourne, Australia, and providing academic intervention and 1:1 tutoring to students in various public schools in East Harlem. Since Maia began at Community Roots, she has also worked to complete a second master’s in literacy.
Rachel Green is originally from Brooklyn and is happy to be back and working in the place where she made such wonderful childhood memories. She received her B.A. in american studies from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, and after graduating in 2006, began working at Memorial Sloan Kettering as a patient advocate. However, Rachel quickly realized that her real passion is working with children: something that she has done her whole life. She knows that all children learn differently so she decided to obtain a dual master's in special and general education with a concentration in learning disabilities from Hunter College. Rachel previously worked at The Gateway School and The Churchill School and is excited to continue her work as the second and third grades learning specialist at Community Roots.
Math Coaches

Barry Rust grew up in central Illinois and went to college at Carleton, a small school in Minnesota. Right out of school, he worked for a year in the South as an AmeriCorps volunteer, building homes, cutting nature trails, and tutoring kids. Imagining that he would soon begin a career in journalism, Barry moved to New York City. He got work as a writer and editor on one of Scholastic's classroom magazines, and he began volunteering in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. He eventually realized (after four years) that a desk job wasn't for him. He thought about how meaningful his work with children in AmeriCorps and in BBBS was, and he decided to go to Bank Street College to get an elementary education and literacy degree. Barry taught 2nd and 4th grades at Community Roots for six years before becoming the Math Coach for grades 3 to 5.
Brianne (Bria) O'Connell grew up in a small town in Connecticut. She traveled to Baltimore, Maryland to attend Loyola College, where she earned a B.A. in elementary education. After graduating, Bria enjoyed five years of living in “Charm City” and teaching fourth grade in a school just outside of Baltimore City. During this time, she strengthened her educational foundation while attending Goucher College. She attained a master's degree in education and a Reading Specialist Certification. Bria considers herself very lucky to have had the opportunities to spend time traveling through much of Europe and to live in Western Australia for 6 months. She has learned so much from meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. Bria taught 2nd grade at Community Roots for 6 years, before becoming the K-2 Math Coach. She loves having the opportunity to continue to learn from the wonderful staff, students and families at CRCS.
Director of Community Development 


Sahba Rohani was raised in Tucson, Arizona, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education at the University of Arizona. Although the Southwest has always been home for her, her interest in different cultures and experiences has led her to travel throughout the United States and abroad, becoming involved in the field of education in both formal and non-formal settings. Among other things, Sahba spent a year in rural South Carolina as the co-director of educational programming at a non-profit community-based facility, and three years in Haifa, Israel as an executive assistant in the Office of the International Teaching Centre at the Baha’i World Centre analyzing grassroots education programs throughout the world, then moved to New York City to continue her education. She holds a Master of Arts from Teachers College, Columbia University, in International Educational Development with a focus on Family and Community Development. While in graduate school she worked as the executive assistant for Wendy Kopp in Teach for America's national office.  She is a founding staff member at Community Roots and taught Kindergarten here for four years before transitioning to her current role in 2010 as the Director of Community Development.  Her current position lends her to work closely with all the stakeholders of this diverse community to strive to create spaces where different perspectives are valued and encouraged.  This work is further explained in the 2014 published book: A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works For Charter Schools and Public Education.

 Middle School

Humanities (English Language Arts and Social Studies)

Andrea Buccilla moved to New York in 2012 to work with the Community Roots operations and finance team. In 2014 she moved over to the middle school to teach 7th grade Humanities, and is now teaching 7th-8th grade English. Andrea grew up in Columbus, Ohio and then moved to Mississippi to attend Ole Miss and play on their golf team. While there, she earned a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction as a member of the Mississippi Teacher Corps, during which time she taught 7th grade English and coached at Byhalia Middle School. After three years of procrastination, Andrea finally purchased a bicycle this past spring and now enjoys blissfully exploring New York City above ground.

Jayne Sohn was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Although she loved the Midwest, she needed a change and decided to move to Los Angeles to earn her Bachelor of Arts degree at Occidental College. During and after her undergraduate years, she worked and advocated for young people through several community-based organizations. Soon, her passions were somewhat rerouted, and she decided to become a teacher. She attended Teachers College, Columbia University, and earned her M.A. in elementary education. Jayne taught 5th grade in New York City, and then 6th through 8th grade for 7 years in Los Angeles. Although she sometimes misses the West Coast, she is thrilled to be in New York teaching at Community Roots.
Kathryn Mueller is a sixth generation Texan and comes from a family of educators. She was born and raised in Houston, then moved to Austin to receive her Bachelors Degree in English from The University of Texas and her Masters of Education from Texas State University. She taught English and math in Austin for three years before moving across the country to live and teach in Brooklyn. This is her second year with Community Roots. When she's not teaching or reading a novel, she can be found DJing classic country records, practicing bookbinding, baking vegan wedding cakes, or visiting her family in Texas.

Lauren Donnelly was born and raised in southern Connecticut. She attended the University of Connecticut where she majored in Political Science and Human Rights while working as a writing tutor. Thinking she wanted to pursue a career in law, Lauren took a position with the United Nations at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia doing legal research and trial preparation. She quickly discovered that she was not suited for a legal career and returned to the United States, where she applied to be a substitute teacher at the middle school where her mother teaches. Right from that first day as a sub, she knew that she was called to teaching. Lauren spent a year substitute teaching and advising a high school youth group at a local church while she applied to Masters in Education programs, ultimately ending up at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She did her student teaching at Boston Latin School where she developed a teaching philosophy that embraces each student's need for challenging, purposeful work in a safe, supportive learning community where student's voices are important. Lauren is so excited to be in New York City and a part of this remarkable school.

Liliana Richter hails from America's high five, the scenic mitten-shaped state of Michigan. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature, she taught for a year in Korea. Craving a greater challenge, she then served with the Peace Corps in El Salvador for three years as a Youth Development Volunteer. While there she developed and managed over fifty small projects and programs for her rural community, and even competed on El Salvador's Dancing with the Stars to promote the construction of a much-needed bridge. Returning stateside once more, she received her Masters in Teaching of English at Teachers College, Columbia University. She previously taught 7th grade at New World Prep in Staten Island. Liliana feels privileged to live the daily joys (sometimes disguised as challenges) of being a 7th and 8th grade teacher, and especially to teach alongside such passionate staff and dedicated families. When not teaching, you might find Liliana hiking in mountains, dancing, singing, running, or playing soccer.


Angel Umpierre was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York and went to NYC public schools. After graduating from James Madison High School he went to the Rochester Institute of Technology where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. After graduating Angel completed a year of AmeriCorps in Paterson, New Jersey where he was part of a team that helped convert 5 public schools into community schools. It was during this time that Angel developed a passion for education and enrolled in St. John’s University where he received his Master’s in childhood and childhood special education. After completing his graduate program, he then went on to teach special education at a charter school in Bedford Stuyvesant before joining Community Roots. In his free time Angel enjoys reading, traveling, walking his dog Blue and biking around NYC. 
Karen Hawkins was born in Japan and has spent 16 years there and almost as long living in Brooklyn. After traveling back and forth from Japan to the US and working in journalism, non-profits, government and consulting, Karen decided to return to teaching after a 20-year absence, as a way of making unequivocally positive change in a world that is often in conflict. Although initially an elementary school teacher, Karen is very interested in math teaching because it underlies our information culture and has so many beautiful connections to art and nature. She is delighted to engage with the sophisticated thinking of middle-school students. She also struggled with math and wants to help students master it! Karen has undergraduate degrees in fine arts and art education, a masters in international and intercultural communication, and in 2014 received her dual MSEd in general and special education from Bank Street College. After teaching at the progressive Corlears School in Manhattan for two years, Karen is very excited to be working in her beloved home community of Brooklyn. When she is not working with students, she is likely to be walking her two dogs with her family in Prospect Park. In addition to teaching math, Karen also works with students as a Learning Specialist at CRMS.
Kate Maschmeyer grew up in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. She started her life-long love of travel in high school by being an exchange student twice: she greatly enjoyed a month Japan with Sister Cities and a year in the Netherlands with Rotary. After her Dutch exchange, she attended Washington University in St. Louis, where she majored in Computer Science and Mathematics and earned her MS in Computer Science. She also greatly enjoyed the opportunity to study abroad for a year at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Whether abroad or in the US, Kate always enjoyed sharing her love of mathematics with others. After she spent some time volunteering in classrooms at a local high school, she decided she wanted to share her love for math through teaching. She found support for her math teaching quest in the form of a Math for America (MfA) Fellowship. With MfA, she earned her MA in Secondary Mathematics Education from Teachers College, Columbia University while student teaching in Manhattan and the South Bronx. She then enjoyed teaching Algebra and Geometry in Brooklyn. Kate is thrilled to join Community Roots and is greatly looking forward to sharing the wonderful world of mathematics with students!
Walter Paton is from Roseville, Michigan (ask him where that is and he will be more than happy to show you where using his hand).  He recently moved to the New York area with his fiancee and their dog Cooper.  Walt has a Bachelor's degree from Wayne State University and Master's degree from Marygrove College.  For the last 15 years he has taught in Mount Clemens, Michigan working with students in grades 5-8.  When not teaching, he enjoys golfing, bowling and playing darts.  Walt is very excited to be joining Community Roots.


Alex Hinojosa is originally from Providence, Rhode Island. She attended Boston College where she majored in Economics, English and History. After college, Alex received a Fulbright Fellowship to do anthropological research on the Dominican immigrant community in Madrid, Spain. While in Spain, Alex fell in love with the country and with teaching and spent the next three years working as a teacher there. Upon returning to the states, Alex fulfilled a life long dream of moving to New York and prior to joining Community Roots worked as a middle school teacher in Harlem. When not teaching, Alex enjoys traveling, visiting with friends and families and discovering new hangouts in Brooklyn!
Briyyah McClain was born in New Jersey and raised in Atlanta, GA. After studying English at Spelman College Briyyah moved to Harlem to study Early Childhood Special Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Briyyah discovered her passion for teaching at a young age. Playing “school” was a favorite hobby of hers and she has enjoyed having fun in the classroom ever since. She spent the past 3 years teaching English in Shenzhen, China and at an International Baccalaureate charter school in Atlanta. Briyyah has recently moved to Brooklyn to join her twin sister, and looks forward to discovering many pizzerias along the way. She is really excited to join the Community Roots community and create spaces for middle schoolers to explore their creativity and imaginations.
Paul Stazel comes to us from Washington State.   After earning a Bachelors of Arts Degree from Antioch University Seattle in elementary education and K-8 teaching certification, Paul taught Kindergarten and First Grade in a Seattle area private school. Math and Science have been strong pursuits of study through Paul's education and career, paving the perfect groundwork for teaching 6th grade math and science at Community Roots. Outside of teaching, he enjoys putting his garden design skills to the test by tending to urban community spaces and teaching local plant related courses. 


Diana Villela was born in Honduras and came to the US when she was twenty years old. Even though English was her second language, she was determined to obtain an American education. While it was a challenge to take more than half her classes in English, she ultimately received her BA in Spanish education. Her background in adjusting to American culture and the English language is core to her passion as a teacher and has prepared her to develop language skills with her students. She started her teaching journey as a substitute teacher and as a Spanish full-time teacher in Staten Island. She loves to teach about her culture, help others and make students feel confident about what they are learning.

Lena Dalke grew up in the Philadelphia area, and started learning Spanish in middle school. During college, she studied Spanish, helped to run an after-school program with a Puerto Rican community organization and traveled to Mexico to work with a non-profit. After she graduated, she moved to the San Diego-Tijuana border region to facilitate service-learning projects with high school and college students. Then she worked as a bilingual counselor in a women's health clinic. When she worked as a teacher's aid in an after-school program in Oakland, she decided to get her degree to become a middle school teacher and moved to New York to attend Bank Street College. Lena taught at two schools in Manhattan before coming to Community Roots. She loves being part of Community Roots' vibrant community, and enjoys expanding students' worldview in Spanish class. In addition to teaching, Lena likes to knit, cook, bike and spend time with her daughter and husband.

Learning Specialist
Sarah Solomon was born in the Bronx and raised in the 'burbs. She attended UMBC in Baltimore and earned her Bachelor's degree in Gender and Women's Studies. Missing New York after four years away, she hurried back and earned her Master's in Special Education. She has taught at MLK High School for Law, Advocacy, and Community Justice as well as Essex Street Academy. Sarah is thrilled to be part of such a diverse, thoughtful, and committed community of staff, families, and learners. She is fascinated by young adult fiction and is always involved in a musical project.
Judith Mack was born and raised in Manhattan, and attended school in Brooklyn growing up. She attended college at Clark University, in Massachusetts. She received a dual Masters from in Social Work from Columbia University and in Special and General Education from Bank Street College. She believes that social-emotional learning and teaching holistically is essential to success with students. Before coming to Community Roots, Judith taught as a 7th grade ICT teacher at Tompkins Square Middle School, as an adjunct lecturer with new teachers at Hunter College, and as a learning specialist at the Robert Louis Stevenson School. She also ran a private tutoring and consulting business. After several years out of the classroom to raise her daughter, she is excited to join the CRMS community. In her free time Judith loves to travel, work out, and spend time with her family and friends.


Laura Ayam was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Upon graduating from college where she earned a degree in Educational Psychology, she traveled to New York for an internship. It only took her a few days to fall in love with the city; New York was just pulsating and breathing with art on every street, park and building. Laura was deeply inspired by the amazing range of experiences, people and vast cultural offerings that she found here, so she decided to stay. She signed up for full-time studio art classes at The Art Students League of New York and after three years of intense art-making she realized that she wanted to become an art teacher. She attended Teachers College, Columbia University, where she earned her masters degree in Art and Art Education. Laura has taught in New York public and private schools across the five boroughs through an outreach program from the New-York Historical Society and has also led in-museum programs for families. She was thrilled to join Community Roots Middle School in their opening year and is looking forward to continuing to share meaningful experiences with students, families and staff members. Laura lives in Brooklyn and thoroughly enjoys finding how art manifests itself in everyday life and how it can surprise us in unexpected ways. She wholeheartedly believes in the empowering far-reaching benefits of a life full of art.

Performing Arts

Natalie Carter believes the size of your success is measured by the strength of a person’s desire and how they handle disappointment along the way. Growing up in South East, Washington DC she quickly realized there is much to be desired in the world. She is dedicated to helping mold the future generations, by giving them alternatives to what is presented to them in everyday life and by providing a safe and welcoming atmosphere where they can express themselves. For the last two years she taught at PS MS 174. The Dumont School in East New York. In addition to her experience as a full-time teacher and teaching artist, she has also completed a variety of community service projects with both children and senior citizens. Her work experiences have helped her become confident in her interactions with people of diverse backgrounds, and has taught her how to communicate effectively with every individual she meets along the way. Prior to moving to NYC she trained under the Reggio Emilia approach at the World Bank School in Washington, DC. She believes that students learn best through experience. She uses every opportunity to show her students how to bridge the gap between curriculum and real life application. In 2010 she had the opportunity to work with 150 primary and high school students from a township in Cape Town South Africa. She became the co-coordinator of an arts training program called “Art for Africa.” Through “Art for Africa,” she was able to help young people use theatre as a vehicle to express themselves and tell their stories. She facilitated activities that enlisted the kids as writers and performers in their own culminating production addressing their personal concerns about violence and the spread of HIV in their community. Natalie has a strong desire to nurture and cultivate students’ abilities and curiosity, so that they may have a brighter tomorrow. She believes her commitment to education, community service, and the performing arts will help her represent Community Roots Charter School in an enthusiastic manner, which in turn will positively impact our school’s success.

Physical Education

Christine Kinneary was born and raised in New York. She attended high school on Long Island and worked very hard in her studies and athletics to earn a full athletic scholarship to Boston University. At BU Christine was the starting point guard on the women's basketball team for four years and holds several records for the women's basketball program. After Christine completed her undergraduate degree at BU her head coach offered her a position on the women's basketball coaching staff. Christine gladly accepted and stayed at BU for another 2 years completing her graduate degree in physical education. She really enjoyed coaching and traveling with the team, however her love for both the city of New York and teaching brought her back to her favorite state. Christine's passion for athletics and physical activity can be seen through her teaching. She is extremely excited to be a part of the Community Roots family! Christine is the youngest of three and loves to spend time with her family and friends.