Dina Hamaoui holds two baccalaureate degrees in the disciplines of English Literature and Film Studies from the University of California, Irvine, and a master's degree in Art Therapy and Creative Development from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. She is registered and board-certified by the American Art Therapy Association and licensed in the state of New York. Dina has worked with children for more than seven years in both educational and residential settings, including a therapeutic pre-school with 2- to 5-year olds, a residential facility for pre-adolescents with emotional and psychiatric disorders, and with K-5th graders in the New York public school system. She has worked extensively with children ages 5-21 with developmental disabilities ranging from autism to cerebral palsy, engaging them in therapeutic art making as well as twice exceptional learners. Dina has been with Blue School since 2006, joining the team as an assistant teacher in the 2s before moving into her role as the founding Studio Teacher for the School. From 2007-2011 Dina developed the Studio program, working with all the age levels as the School has grown. She is now teaching in the 2s classroom and brings her knowledge and love of art and materials exploration to Blue School's youngest. Dina grew up in California and has lived in New York City for ten years.
Tara Holmes is from the New England area and moved to NYC a year ago. She holds a Master’s degree in Education with a concentration in Integrated Arts from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. She also holds a BA in Dance Performance Studies and Secondary Education from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. Tara is entering her second year at Blue School and is excited to be teaching the youngest grade as well as teaching movement in the After-School Program to the upper grades. Prior to joining Blue School, Tara worked with toddlers- Kindergarten-age children and was an Adjunct Dance Professor at Colby Sawyer College. Tara has choreographed for the Educational Theatre Collaborative and Kearsage Arts Theatre Company where she had the opportunity to work with a wide range of ages. Tara enjoys dance workshops, running, spinning, traveling, and spending time with family and friends. She is thrilled to be a part of the Blue School community and looks forward to working with the children again!
Ciara Hedderman is excited to be joining the Blue School community! She taught Pre-K for the past 13 years at The Children's Aid Society, in Greenwich Village. Ciara has her MS in Education, specializing in Early Childhood from Hunter College and her BA in Special Education, Elementary Education and Hispanic Studies from Mount Saint Mary College. Ciara has also worked as a SEIT (Special Education Itinerant Teacher) for the past 12 years, where she has helped preschoolers with developmental disabilities integrate successfully into their classrooms. As a teacher, Ciara has a passion for building community, fostering creativity, incorporating culture and developing a lifelong love of learning, all while playing and having fun! Over the years the children in her class have explored the usual interests of preschoolers such as real life heroes, outer space and dinosaurs. They have also explored some unique interests such as Medieval Times, Urban Farming, Fairy Houses and Camping. While no two years were ever the same, all of Ciara's children have learned what it means to be a good friend. Ciara was born in Ireland and spent her childhood there before moving to the Bronx where she remembers being amazed at all the wonderful food and cultures. Ciara now resides in Astoria.
Erica Lee is originally from Iowa but has spent most of her adult life between New York City and Beijing. She is just relocating from Beijing where for the past two years she taught First Grade at an international school. She is very excited to be returning to New York City and to be joining such an innovative and creative community of learners. She has a BA in Art History with a minor in East Asian Studies focusing on Mandarin from Oberlin College. After college she had her first teaching experience at a Mandarin language summer camp in Minnesota and found it so joyful and amazing she moved into a career in education. Erica also attended Bank Street College of Education and graduated with a MS in Early Childhood Education. She has taught 3/4s, Kindergarten and First Grade in international schools in Beijing and at Horace Mann School and Brooklyn Friends School in New York City. Erica is passionate about education and learning both as a teacher and student for life. She is equally committed to cultivating emotional and social intelligence and academic learning. Outside of the classroom, Erica enjoys running, biking, reading, knitting, cooking, drawing cartoons and meditation.
Valerie Anderson Killen has been with Blue School since the beginning. The first fulltime teacher and administrator at the school, she served as the Associate Director of what was then called the Blue Man Creativity Center and helped the Founders create, develop and implement the school's founding principles, educational approach and organizational infrastructure. Subsequently, Val was also the first Associate Director of Admissions at Blue School, co-constructed and taught in the first 2s program, and was the first Music Specialist. Additionally, she taught in and helped build the first two Out of the Blue Summer Programs. A singer and songwriter, Val has recorded songs and voiceovers for Blue Man Group, and has been a lead singer in the Blue School All-Star Band. Valerie has been an early childhood teacher and administrator for over thirteen years. Prior to Blue School, she helped to launch Citibabes in Soho as their first Director of Children's Programming. Val was a Head Teacher and the Adult Programs Coordinator at the Diller-Quaile School of Music for seven years. She holds an AB cum laude in English and American Language and Literature from Harvard University, and is working towards a combined MA in General and Special Education at the Bank Street College of Education. Originally from Boston, Valerie has lived in NYC for over 17 years, and currently resides in Brooklyn with her husband, Stefan, and their son.
Katie Traynor is happy to be starting her fifth year with Blue School. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Studio Art at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. Katie completed her Masters Degree in Creative Arts Therapies at Pratt Institute. While studying at Pratt, Katie earned her second year’s practicum hours here at Blue School as an art therapy intern. Katie has seen first hand how valuable a supportive, creative and imaginative learning environment are to a child’s social and emotional growth. Katie is thrilled to continue to work with the staff, families, and children of the Blue School.
Ashley Lyon is excited to begin her second year as part of the innovative learning community at Blue School. At Notre Dame Australia, Ashley completed a Bachelors of Marketing and Public Relations and a Masters of Teaching (Early Childhood). She has taught at St. Hilda's Anglican School for Girls in her native Perth, Australia, and worked at Gan Yeladim Preschool, a Reggio Emilia inspired school in Connecticut. In 2009, Ashley travelled to Reggio-Emilia, Italy to study Reggio in situ. She found the experience extraordinary, and it has strongly shaped how she teaches and continues to ignite her passion for teaching. She values that children are natural inquirers and that it is her role to facilitate a warm and creative environment for children to wonder, ask questions, play and develop their inquiring minds. Ashley is fortunate to hold dual American/Australian citizenship, and has thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the American lifestyle since moving to the USA. She enjoys interior design, creative textile projects, travelling, entertaining good friends and exploring the streets of New York in her spare time.
Ellen Zerkin earned a BA in Dance Education from NYU a long time ago. After a year working as a showgirl in Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus, she got married, got to know her stepdaughter, had two children and spent 8 wonderful years as a fulltime mom. When her family moved to Woodstock, NY, she volunteered as a substitute teacher in her daughter’s preschool classroom, and was hired the following school year to be an assistant teacher. Seven years later she returned to NYC with her family to pursue an MS in Early Childhood Education at Bank Street College. Ellen did her supervised fieldwork at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church Day School, and remained there for 11 years. She taught 3’s, 4’s, and 5’s, and eventually helped to develop a 2’s program. While at MAPCDS, Ellen had the great privilege of being sent on a study tour in Reggio-Emilia, Italy. Her trip to Reggio affirmed her strong belief that children are born ready to explore and learn, and that that is their passion. She thinks that supporting children's explorations at Blue School is the most delightful way she could possibly be celebrating her 20th year of teaching preschool. Ellen’s own explorations include gardening in her Brooklyn backyard, visiting Woodstock on the weekends, traveling the world, and spending time with Allen, her husband of 35 years, and their children and grandchildren.
Karen Levenberg has worked for the past seven years at the Early Childhood Center of Beth Elohim in Park Slope. She loves teaching an emergent curriculum created by children. She has taught 5s, 4s and 3s. Karen especially enjoys introducing young children to science and watching their discoveries as they construct knowledge -- up to their elbows in water, sand, glue, paint, simple machines, meal worms and paper air planes. She has also worked for NYC DOE in a family literacy, early childhood program in the public schools. Karen holds a Master's degree in early childhood education from Brooklyn College, a Master's in public health from Hunter College and a BA in studio art/art history from Oberlin College. In her free time she hangs out with her two teenage sons and husband, trying in vain to win Settlers of Catan.
Anna Padgett is delighted to be joining Blue School as a 4s teacher this year. Most recently, Anna spent three years teaching Kindergarten at an Expeditionary Learning School outside Baltimore; she also brings her eight years’ early childhood teaching experience in independent and public schools in New York City. Anna graduated from Wesleyan University with a B.A. in Art History and Dance; she earned her MsEd from Hunter College. Anna is a songwriter and musician who currently performs and records songs and stories for young children and their families as The Good Ms. Padgett - she thanks her four-year-old Brooklyn music students for the name! Anna cannot imagine teaching without her guitar and loves to make up songs with children. Anna is continually inspired by the wide-open minds of young children; she is thrilled to join the Blue School community of joyful, creative, and collaborative learners.
Mara Pauker is starting her 6th year at Blue School. She was a Co-Lead Teacher in both the 3s and 4s classes her first year at Blue School, and has been a teacher with the 4s program each year since. Before coming to Blue School, Mara attended the University of Vermont where she studied Early Childhood Education, Human Development, and Family Studies. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree upon program completion. During her time in Vermont, she scompleted two full-time student teaching experiences. For the first, she worked at the University of Vermont Campus Children's Center with thee- and four-year-olds. The second was with Kindergartners at Georgia Elementary School in St. Albans, Vermont. In addition, she volunteered as a reading mentor at Edmunds Elementary School in Burlington, Vermont. Mara has worked at Temple Sinai as a camp counselor to three- and four-year-old children and at the Dalton School Summer Camp with four- and five-year-olds.
Nancy Simko grew up in a family of teachers. After graduating from the Pennsylvania State University with a BA in Speech Communications, she moved to New York City to experience the corporate worlds of advertising and graphic design. A brief move to Hawaii provided an opportunity to change direction, and an introduction to teaching young children. Returning to New York, Nancy completed a Masters Degree in Education at Bank Street College of Education, and began a 15-year career in early childhood education. She has worked in several private schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and currently is thrilled to be continuing her career at Blue School. In 2009, she was awarded the New York City Early Childhood Professional Development Excellence in Teaching Award.
Molly DeGesero earned her Bachelor of Arts in Dance from Sarah Lawrence College and completed her Master of Science in Early Childhood Education at Bank Street College. In 2009, Molly joined the Blue School team as a kindergarten teacher. She is passionate about sensory learning and finding multiple modes of expression in the classroom. Molly is native New Yorker and lives in Harlem with her dog Uno and husband Randy.
Richard Jenkins received his BA from The New School in Creative Writing and English Literature. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Rich is an avid reader, writer, hiker and a passionate naturalist – his expeditions have taken him from the Appalachian Trail to the wilds of the Canadian Yukon. Rich joined Blue School in 2010 after teaching at Beginnings: A Toddler Program, a Reggio-inspired pre-school. He currently lives in Manhattan with his girlfriend Chelsey and cat Leo.
1st Grade A
Anne Hardingham grew up on a farm in a small town in Pennsylvania. She received her BA in Art with a minor in Education from Bucknell University and then moved to NYC in 2004 to work in the Education Department at the Brooklyn Museum. Anne continued her teaching career by earning her MA from Bank Street College of Education and New York State certifications in Early Childhood, Childhood and Special Education. Anne taught for several years both at P.S. 9 and P.S. 6 before joining Blue School. She believes that teaching first graders is the most exciting job on the planet, and she’s constantly inspired by the way that children discover the world around them. When not in the classroom, you’re likely to find Anne sketching in a park or running along the East River.
Ngina Johnson graduated from New York University and is currently enrolled in a masters program at Leslie University. She is a seasoned progressive educator having taught Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten in New York City private schools for the last 10 years. She is also a certified chef, a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Culinary School of New York. Ngina loves cooking and believes strongly in sharing the importance of knowing where our food comes from and the benefits of seasonal healthy eating. She is also a water lover and enjoys spending time at the beach. She extends an open winter invitation to join her in Coney Island for weekly swims with her and the rest of the Coney Island Polar Bears.
1st Grade B
Jennifer Halliday is a New Zealander who has lived in New York since 1988, punctuated with many trips back to her country of origin. For the past fifteen years she has been teaching in the lower school at Saint Ann’s in Brooklyn Heights. Her two children have graduated and gone on to college and she is also ready for new adventures - overjoyed to find herself in the midst of the amazingly creative and thoughtful group of teachers and learners that make the Blue School.
Jenny did her teacher training in New Zealand and spent several years in a variety of communities, including three years in a two-room schoolhouse in the foothills of the Southern Alps. She has a Masters in Teaching Reading from Bank Street College, where she went on to teach in the graduate program. Her work history also includes documentary film editing and collaborating in the formation of an alternative music recording company. When blessed with discretionary time Jenny loves to read, write, sew, listen to music and take dance classes.
Joleen Hanlund is thrilled to be a part of the Blue School community! Joleen earned her BFA in Communications Design (Illustration) from Pratt Institute and her Masters in Childhood Education from The City College. She has experience teaching children of many ages and most recently taught 2nd grade for four years at a charter school. She is committed to teaching for social justice and honoring the whole child. Joleen strives to build positive classroom communities where each child feels valued and supported with the skills necessary to take risks, solve problems, build relationships, and enjoy the process of learning! When she is not teaching, Joleen enjoys yoga, drawing, biking, and spending time with family.
2nd Grade A
Dot Portella is excited to enter her 3rd year at Blue School! Dot received her BFA from Marymount Manhattan College in acting, and after several years as a professional actress, fell in love with teaching. Dot has her MA from the Steinhart School of Education at NYU and has previously taught 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade in addition to middle school, 5th - 8th grade. When she is not teaching, Dot trains Muay Thai at The Wat in downtown Manhattan. She enjoys bringing her sense of humor and love of dramatic activities to the classroom and community.
Keren Lilu has over seven years of teaching experience in 2nd through 4th grade. Most recently, she served as a 2nd grade head teacher at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School. Keren holds a BS magna cum laude in elementary education with a minor in psychology education from the University of Delaware. She also holds an MS in literacy education (birth-grade 6) from Hunter College. Keren has taken a number of professional development seminars, among them a Lucy Calkins writing workshop for grades 3-5, a geometry and measurement seminar for grades K-8, and a responsive classroom workshop.
2nd Grade B
Randi Reinhold is the oldest of 12 grandchildren and loves spending time with her family. Being around so many kids over the years inspired her to work towards two career goals: teaching and writing. She earned her BA in creative writing at The College of Staten Island in 2001, and is working to complete her Masters in Childhood Education at Hunter College. Over the past three years, Randi has taught first, second and third grade at The Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School. She enjoys drawing, writing short stories, poetry and song lyrics and hopes to become a children's book author and illustrator. Some of her other hobbies include singing, dancing and making people laugh. Randi is extremely enthusiastic about joining the Blue School Community.
Linda Chang has 15 years of elementary teaching experience, including considerable administrative responsibilities. Most recently, she has served as the director of curriculum and instruction at Mott Haven Charter School in the Bronx. Linda holds a B.A. in ethnic studies at the University of Colorado and a Masters of Arts in Teaching for elementary education from Simmons College (Boston). She has served as the literacy coordinator for the Massachusetts Institute for New Teachers and also as the co-facilitator of S.E.E.D. (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Cynthia Bogdanovich left her home in St. Louis, Missouri to come to New York and be an artist. After operating a design studio, she turned to more creative pursuits, teaching. She earned her Masters in Education from Bank Street College and has been an elementary teacher for more than ten years, teaching at The Ethical Culture Fieldston School, The School at Columbia University, and Staten Island Academy. Cynthia believes in an education that honors the spirit of the child. She is committed to creating a teaching model that nurtures independent thinkers and problem solvers that are fully equipped to navigate their way through a constantly changing world. When not teaching, she spends her time lap swimming, gardening, and creating in her studio in Pennsylvania.
Jason Borges is ecstatic about joining the Blue School community! For the past eight years, Jason has been teaching in progressive as well as traditional public schools in New York City and Colorado. He is committed to a pedagogy that develops a climate of inclusiveness, encourages thoughtful reflection of learning so children are given the freedom in becoming problem solvers, and a place where intrinsic motivation is the only reward. He is a graduate of Bank Street College of Education and is pursuing doctoral work at Teachers College, Columbia University in Curriculum and Teaching. In his spare time, Jason enjoys listening to music, playing guitar, reading Latin American literature, and spending time with his family.
Ana Younghusband has worked in education for fifteen years with experience in both State Schools and International Schools in England and Italy. She loves the challenge of getting to know each child, watching them as they grow and develop into well-rounded individuals. Ana enjoys working at Blue School where she is able to encourage each child's creativity and enthusiasm for learning in such a stimulating environment.
Shira Newmark has a Bachelors degree in education and a Master of Arts in education with a specialization in special education. She has worked as a Special Education Itinerant Teacher for such agencies as The Bank Street Family Center, The Stepping Stone Day School and Los Ninos Services, at places such as Beginnings Nursery School, Chelsea Day School, the Purple Balloon and West Side Montesorri. Shira has also been the leading teacher for Varying Exceptionalities classrooms at the Herbert G. Birch School and Easter Seals. Shira had an incredible summer working at Camp Zeno Mountain Farm, helping support adults with disabilities. Shira enjoys writing her movie, creating music and free movement dancing in her spare time.
Lauren Monaco discovered her interest in constructivist teaching at Kent State University’s Child Development Center while working toward her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Sculpture. There she was introduced to the work of the infant toddler centers and preschools of Reggio Emilia, and a new passion was born. After graduation, Lauren held the position of Studio Teacher/ Atelierista for the World Bank Children’s Center in Washington, DC for 6 years. She is honored to be a contributing author to In the Spirit of the Studio, one of the first books dedicated to this unique role. Her desire to continue her professional development in the field of education led her to pursue a secondary degree. She completed her Master of Arts in Teaching from Kent State University in 2006. Since then, Lauren has worked as a kindergarten teacher, mentor teacher, and Adjunct Instructor at Kent State University. Some of Lauren’s passions and interests include playing ukulele, illustration, and book collecting. Lauren is currently illustrating a nutritional cookbook for young children. Lauren is delighted to join the Blue School community.
Anne Cohen holds a Bachelors of Music in instrumental music education from Bucknell University, an MA in music and music education from Columbia University Teachers College, and Kodaly certification from NYU. Previous teaching positions include Grand Concourse Academy Charter School, Leadership Prep Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Portledge School. Anne is on faculty at the Bronx House Heilbrunn Music School, where she teachers Toddler Music, Rhythm & Song, Pre-School Piano, and Children's Choir. She serves on the Columbia Summer Winds board of directors, and is an active member of the Kodaly Organization of New York. A third-generation New Yorker, she lives in Manhattan with her husband.
Drew Petersen has worked with children of all ages for the past 10 years as a teaching artist and curriculum developer with New Victory Theater, Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Park Avenue Armory, The Public Theater, and most recently, as associate artistic director at the Trusty Sidekick Theater Company.