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 and a big, goofy dog named Harlow.
Susan Park received her Master's degree at Bank Street College of Education. She is deeply committed towards working in an inclusive and diverse school and enjoys seeing children find connections with one another. Susan enjoys hearing the delightful things that come out of her students' mouths and how they love to share and learn from one another. She also is thrilled to be a Community Roots parent, as she is the mother of three children, Minki, Mina and Mino (and a scruffy dog, Henry!).
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 on Long Island. During her long breaks, she enjoys traveling to Africa and visiting her large family in Eritrea. Millen has worn many hats while working at Community Roots and is excited to be part 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 then moved 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.
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 Lamphier 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. Daina has been teaching second grade at Community Roots since 2007.
Michelle McCree-Harrison was born and raised in Englewood, New Jersey. She began her career as an educator in South Dallas, TX as a Kindergarten teacher before returning to her home state to teach 2nd grade in Newark, NJ. She earned her undergraduate degree in Education Policy from Duke University and has experience as an organizer and activist for educators as well. Her immediate family has all made the transition to Brooklyn and she is beyond enthused to bring her love and passion for empowering students to Community Roots. This will be her 4th year in the classroom and her first year with the school.
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.
Eden Hai was born in Buffalo, New York but spent most of her childhood in Ohio, where her family still lives. Before college, she spent a year teaching English at a school in Tanzania where her love for teaching was first ignited. Eden received her B.S. in Early Childhood Education from The Ohio State University in 2014 and continued on to complete her M.S.Ed the following year, graduating in 2015. Throughout her time in Ohio, she always longed to live in New York City and when she found Community Roots, she knew it was meant to be. The summer after graduating, she moved to Brooklyn and started her teaching career the following school year. Eden loves teaching third grade and feels very lucky to be part of the Community Roots family.
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.
Julie Emra grew up in Ramsey, New Jersey. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in Elementary Education and a concentration in Language Arts. Julie moved to Brooklyn to be close to her family, especially her 100-year-old grandmother. Before joining the Community Roots family as a 4th grade teacher, she taught 3rd grade at a charter school in Brooklyn. She feels fortunate to work with educators who constantly challenge her to grow and learn inside and outside the classroom. Aside from teaching, Julie loves Indian dancing, swimming, and writing.
Anja Filan earned her B.A. in English Education and Psychology from the University of Connecticut. Upon graduating, Anja joined AmeriCorps where she served as a City Year Corps member in Boston. There she worked with 4th, 6th, and 8th graders to provide small group instruction, facilitate before and after school programming, and plan service-learning opportunities. Before joining Community Roots Anja taught 3rd Grade and Kindergarten in Crown Heights and East New York. Anja is currently finishing her Master's in Special Education at Hunter College. When she is not teaching she enjoys spending time with her family's dog, riding her bike, cooking, and music.
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 students. 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 marathons on the West Side Highway or Prospect Park, eating lots of 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. At Brown University, she earned degrees in music and comparative literature, followed by a master’s in music and music education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Jaquetta began teaching in NYC public schools soon after, and has been a music teacher ever since. A pianist since childhood, Jaquetta also performs as a singer with Accord Treble Choir. She enjoys having her days filled with music, whether singing and playing at Community Roots, or improvising with her family at home.
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.
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.
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.
Michelle Harris is a licensed clinical social worker from Northern California who joined the CRCS social work team in January of 2011. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Cognitive Science from Georgetown University, Michelle moved to Brooklyn, NY where she joined a team facilitating therapeutic playgroups for children; these groups focused on fostering children’s social and emotional development as well as parental attachment. In the years that followed, Michelle received her Masters in Social Work from New York University and Masters in Child Development from Sarah Lawrence College. Since beginning her social work career, she has worked with children in a variety of therapeutic environments, including outpatient mental health clinics. Michelle appreciates that each child is unique and is grateful to be a part of a community that values seeing children through a holistic lens. Michelle is thrilled to be a part of CRCS and looks forward to working with the students and families in this wonderful community.
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.
Director of Student Supports
Nikki Ladopoulos completed her course work at the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, focusing on graphic design. However, inspired by her work in after-school art programs in Detroit’s public schools, she decided to move to New York and learn more about teaching. As part of the New York City Teaching Fellows Program, she studied elementary education at Mercy College while working in a traditional public school in the South Bronx. She was a lead teacher in both integrated co-taught classrooms and self-contained special education classrooms in kindergarten through sixth grade. She then went on to work in charter schools in the South Bronx and Lower East Side, starting in 2006, in the role of learning specialist, special education coordinator, and eventually director of special education. She completed her coursework at Bank Street College’s Leadership for Educational Change Program with a focus in special education. In her current role, Nikki collaborates with families, classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, the support provider team and the Committee on Special Education in the service of a strong and supportive inclusive environment for our students at Community Roots.
Director of After School
Richard Gilman was born and raised in the Boston area, and is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin - Madison, where he majored in Anthropology and English. He received his M.A. in Creative Writing from City University New York. Richard has worked with youth and adults in a variety of contexts, including education, recreation and counseling. He has lived and worked in Spain and has traveled in Central America, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. He now lives in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn with his wife and two children.
Humanities (English Language Arts and Social Studies)
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 was born and raised in Houston, Texas by a family of educators. She received her Bachelors Degree in English from The University of Texas and her Masters of Education from Texas State University. After living in Austin for ten years, she moved across the country to live and teach in Brooklyn. This is her sixth year teaching 6th grade, and her third year with Community Roots. When she's not teaching, she can be found DJing classic country records, practicing bookbinding, and baking vegan wedding cakes.
Lauren Donnelly has worked with the Humanities department since the middle school was founded. She loves teaching history and is passionate about meeting the needs of all learners. Lauren graduated from the the Harvard Graduate School of Education with a MEd in secondary Social Studies and completed her advanced certificate in special education with the Relay Graduate School of Education. Lauren is a certified yoga teacher and enjoys spending time with friends and family.
Kelly Palmatier grew up on Cape Cod in the town of Sandwich, MA. She attended Syracuse University and received a B.S. degree in Inclusive Elementary and Special Education. Kelly also worked at the Elementary school as a maternity leave replacement in a Kindergarten class with the wonderful Rebecca. She has a passion for teaching and making sure all students feel included and part of a community. Although she loves teaching ELA, she also enjoys learning/teaching science, especially involving nature and space. She loves going camping with her family in New Hampshire as well as hanging at the ocean, reading a good book, and playing with her cat. Kelly loves Community Roots and is excited to see what the future holds!
Elizabeth Casey is a Virginia native who grew up outside of Washington D.C. With a background in High School Social Studies education, Elizabeth is excited to help prepare Community Roots Middle School students with the skills and a social justice conscious mindset for high school and life beyond. She has a passion for making the classroom interactive through discussions and multiple ways to engage with material as well as allowing students to use what they learn in class in an authentic way to make a positive difference in their communities.
Jake Engels is a University of Michigan graduate who is especially excited to teach 7th graders to love reading, writing, and history.
Beatriz Montilla is a graduate of Hunter and Ithaca Colleges who currently teaches 7th grade Humanities.
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 spent 16 years there; she's lived in Brooklyn almost that long. 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 the world. Karen is very interested in math teaching because it underlies our information culture and has so many beautiful connections to art and nature. 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. 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 was born and raised in Michigan. He lives in Yonkers with his fiancee (we are getting married in December) and dog, Cooper. This is Walt's 17th year teaching and having began at Community Roots in 2015. He has a Bachelor's degree from Wayne State University and Master's degree from Marygrove College. Math has been a passion since an early age. When he is not teaching, Walt enjoys reading, playing trivia, and watching sports.
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!
Julie Samuels was born in upstate New York but before the age of 2, moved to Columbus, Ohio. There, she attended The Ohio State University where she majored in Human Development and Family Science. Being the proud Buckeye she is, she stuck around an extra year to earn her Masters in Middle Childhood Education. Craving a change of scenery, Julie made the move this fall, back to the state where it all began. When not teaching, she enjoys trying new foods, exploring nature, and spending time with good friends and family. Julie is very excited to share her love of science with the students at Community Roots.
Melody Cooper is a teacher who enjoys collaboration and arts integration and a multisensory approach to teaching science. She believes that the project based inquiry approach enhances student learning as they explore and investigate scientific concepts together. In doing so, Melody is most excited about teaching and developing diverse young explorers in the science laboratory in an amazing and loving educational community.
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.
Sarah Solomon was born in the Bronx and raised in the suburbs. 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 at Hunter College. 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.
Dr. Typhani Harris comes to Community Roots with 20 years of educational experience in both the Arts and English Language Arts in secondary education. Originally from California, Dr. Harris is excited to be a part of the Community Roots family and hopes to provide arts integration, STEM, and opportunities for students to grow and flourish in an inclusive middle school educational experience.
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.
Christine Raffo 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. 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 in Boston for another two 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 now lives in Brooklyn and can bike/walk to work! She is the youngest of three and loves to spend time with her wife, siblings, parents and friends!
Jillian Morgan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has lived in New York all her life. After receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from New York University, Jillian went on to obtain her Masters in Social Work from New York University. From a young age, Jillian loved working with people and as a teen she assisted in running therapy groups for peers her own age. In her graduate program at NYU, Jillian was able to directly apply her passion for working with adolescents into her clinical internships. Since then, Jillian has worked with teens in different capacities ranging from community-based organizations to school-based therapeutic work. Jillian strongly believes in collaborating with both children and families, recognizing their unique strengths. Jillian is dedicated to working with teachers and school staff to help support the whole child. Jillian has been working at Community Roots since 2013 and loves being a part of this amazing community.
Middle School Director of Social Work and K-8 Community Programs
Nicole Keltai was born and raised in New York. From a young age Nicole talked to people everywhere she went wanting to know more about what makes them tick and as soon as she was in high school she started volunteering with different populations; it was clear she wanted to work with people. Nicole went on to obtain her Masters Degree in Social Work. Nicole has worked in various therapeutic milieus including youth trauma work, substance abuse treatment, senior services and schools. Prior to working at Community Roots, Nicole was living in California and worked at a therapeutic boarding school, she transitioned to the role of Clinical Director in their United Kingdom program. In 2008 Nicole returned to New York and began working at Community Roots. Nicole feels very lucky to have built strong relationships with kids and families through the years.
Andrea Buccilla moved to New York in 2012 to work with the elementary school operations and finance team. After two years in that position, she took a brief sabbatical to travel before coming to teach 7th and 8th grade English at the middle school. Now she has transitioned back to operations in the role of Middle School Operations Manager. 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. Andrea enjoys blissfully exploring New York City above ground on her bicycle and just generally being active in any way possible.