People

CORE CLASSROOM TEACHERS

Emily Achilles Stefanich, Core Classroom Teacher
M.Ed., Lesley University
B.A., History, Merrimack College 

More About Emily

Emily comes to Acera with deep experience in social-emotional learning and the neurosequential model. During seven years at the Expeditionary Learning School in Denver, she led students in fieldwork, including trips to Moab, a student-run voter registration drive in front of the Colorado State Capitol building, and sleepovers at the zoo during a study of animal adaptations. Emily loves seeing students learn and grow into amazing human beings who are empowered and can advocate for themselves. When not at Acera, Emily can be found going on adventures in the mountains with her husband and their dog, Luna!

Deborah Barolsky, Core Classroom Teacher
M.S. Teaching Wheelock College
B.A. Swarthmore College

More about Deborah

Deborah Barolsky brings more than 20 years of public and private school teaching experience to Acera. Deborah enjoys the creative and collaborative community of teachers and students here, and is especially happy to be teaching a multi-age class. Outside of school, Deborah’s hobbies include reading, drawing, swimming, playing chamber music, and spending time with her husband – also a teacher – and their daughters, dogs, and cat.

Annie Bodian, Core Classroom Teacher
MAT, Brandeis University
BA, Italian Studies, Brandeis University

Vered Brooks, Core Classroom Teacher
M.Ed., Lesley University
B.A., Literature, Bennington College

Alyssa Colby, Core Classroom Teacher
M.A. Teaching University of Maine, Orono
M.A. Philosophy Brandeis University
B.A. Wheaton College

Bob Defandorf, Core Classroom Teacher
M.Ed. Lesley University
B.A. English Wesleyan University

More about Bob

Prior to joining Acera in 2017, Bob taught for seven years at Odyssey Day School in Wakefield, where he taught children of all ages from toddlers through eighth grade. At Acera, he loves helping math students attain both the joy and discipline of advancing their skills to the next level. In addition to being a co-teacher in the core classroom, Bob teaches a wide range of electives from Cultural Anthropology to the History of Math, including the annual US Government elective. Bob is from Boston, and is the parent of a former Acera STEAM Camp summer intern.

Jenifer Demko, Core Classroom Teacher
M.A.T. Child Development, Tufts University
B.A. Communications, Simmons College
Montessori Institute of San Diego, Primary Teacher Certificate

More about Jen

Jen grew up in Washington, DC. Prior to becoming a teacher, she worked as a cake decorator, camp counselor, and graphic designer. At Acera, Jen loves that each day is full of surprises and miracles. During the 2018-19 school year, Jen and her students worked as classroom to build a giant reading loft. The kindergarten and first grade students brainstormed design ideas, made drawings, wrote a persuasive presentation to school founder Courtney Dickenson. They then made models to scale, and presented them to an architect/parent in the class. That summer, the loft became a reality, and the students celebrated with a ribbon cutting the following September!

Ruma Dutta, Core Classroom Teacher
M.Ed. Elementary Education, Lesley University
B.A., Cum Laude, Philosophy, Mount Holyoke College

More About Ruma

Ruma comes to us from the Odyssey Day School, where she served as co-head teacher as well as English and Social Studies teacher for grades 7 and 8. Her classroom experience includes teaching 6th grade humanities at the Pike School in Andover and working with students with reading vulnerabilities at the British School of Boston. Before discovering her love of teaching and working with adolescents in 2009, Ruma enjoyed a distinguished career as an experienced writer and editor, working with authors signed by large publishing houses such as McGraw Hill and Wiley, and writing for the Times of India and the New York public television channel WNET. Ruma has gone to school in India, Iran, the UK and the US, and is familiar with four languages next to English.

Rachel Kramer, Core Classroom Teacher
B.S., Engineering and Applied Mathematics, Tufts University

More about Rachel

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia – where her parents, sister, and brother-in-law still live – Rachel came to Massachusetts to pursue her math and engineering education at Tufts University. At Acera, Rachel is inspired by the positivity and excitement that her students bring to learning, and loves witnessing kids follow their passions and create learning experiences that will continue to nurture their curiosity. In particular, planning last year’s New Orleans unit and field trip was a powerful experience for both Rachel and her students. Outside of school, Rachel loves to play Ultimate Frisbee; her Boston women’s team are current National Champions, and she was a member of 2018’s Team USA, which won the World Championship in Australia.

Anastasia Leyden, Core Classroom Teacher
M.Ed, Lesley University
B.A., Williams College

More about Anastasia

Anastasia spent 10 years as a medical writer before making the career shift to elementary education. At Acera, she loves the ever present and varied opportunities for connection and learning with children, and enjoys bringing creativity to the curriculum. One year, Anastasia used a “pirate” theme to bring to life the concepts of trade and values, engaging students in the kind of deep systems thinking that is a hallmark of our school. Originally from Arizona, Anastasia has lived in Pennsylvania and Connecticut before settling in Massachusetts after college. She loves to travel – especially trips to Maine in the summer!

Kim Machnik, Professional Development Lead, Teacher Coach and Mentor, Core Classroom Teacher
MS Ecological Learning and Teaching, Lesley University
B.A. International and Global Studies, Brandeis University

More About Kim

Kim comes to Acera School with a background in elementary gifted education, ecological education, and global sustainable development. At Heifer International, she specialized in curriculum design, teacher training, and global education outreach, and she is passionate about teaching children to be systems thinkers and global citizens of a thriving planet. Kim has been a core classroom teacher for both elementary and middle schoolers at Acera. She launched our summer program in 2015 and our teacher professional learning circles program in 2018.

Katie Semine, Classroom Co-Teacher
M.Ed., Tufts University
B.A. in Anthropology, Tufts University

More About Katie

Katie’s focus is in creating a strong classroom community, and interweaving social skill building within daily learning and experiences, supporting growth in self awareness and emotional intelligence. She is committed to creating curricula that delves into higher level content, making it developmentally appropriate without losing accuracy and complexity.

Anna Tonry, Classroom Co-Teacher
MAT, Tufts University
B.A., Psychology, Bates College

Amy Yuschik, Classroom Co-Teacher
M. A., Educational Psychology, Marist College
B.A., Elementary and Special Education, Marist College

SPECIALIST / ENRICHMENT TEACHERS

David Alsdorf, Technology & Narrative Specialist
M.Ed, Early Childhood Education, Lesley University
A.B. Religion, Reed College

More About David

David is a teacher, researcher, education consultant and artist. While a post-graduate at Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO), he taught robotics and programming in Boston Public Schools, researched makerspaces for the LEGO Foundation, and collaborated as an artist in residence with Harvard Project Zero’s and LEGO Foundation’s Pedagogy of Play. His graduate thesis analyzed word choices made by children of differing educational backgrounds (Montessorian and non-Montessorian) as they interacted with the Montessori trinomial cube. His undergraduate thesis was about St. Augustine’s doctrines of grace and predestination. David is passionate about helping children develop sense-making narrative capabilities and “prototyping mindsets.”

Josh Briggs, Engineering, Woodshop, & Math Specialist
M.S. Civil Engineering, University of New Hampshire, 2006
B.S. Engineering & Environmental Science, University of Notre Dame, 1996
B.A. History, University of Notre Dame, 1996
Registered Professional Engineer (P.E.), Massachusetts, 2012

More About Josh

Josh studied and trained as a civil engineer for more than fifteen years prior to changing careers to teaching in 2014. After graduating with dual degrees from University of Notre Dame in 1996, he worked as an engineer in contaminated groundwater assessment and remediation in the San Francisco Bay area. He relocated back to the Boston area in 2000 and worked for a small environmental firm designing restoration solutions for stream and wetlands impacted by human development and stormwater. Josh then pursued his M.S. in Civil Engineering studying the use of porous asphalt for stormwater treatment (2006). After several years of working in rainwater harvesting design and installation, he made the leap to education. He started out teaching woodworking for Eliot School’s School Partnership Program in Boston Public School classrooms. Soon thereafter, he started part time at Acera running Frugal Engineering sessions for Creativity Morning. He began working full time at Acera in the 2015-16 school year. His focus at Acera is creating exciting projects for students that leverage student creativity while developing solid construction and engineering skills. Josh originally hails from Maine, where he developed his great love for boats, building and playing in the outdoors!

Jacki Carlson, Theater Teacher
B.A. Theater Arts and English, Assumption College

More about Jacki

Jacki is a comedienne, improviser, and writer who has been performing and writing sketch comedy for the past ten years throughout Boston, Chicago, and LA. She has been a character performer for The Walt Disney Company© and Party Princess Productions New England. She currently performs at Improv Boston in Cambridge and Improv Asylum in the North End. In addition to performing, Jacki is energized by creating theater-based learning programs/experiences for various audiences. She is the co-creator of an improv-based corporate training program at Bain & Company. She also created and leads a confidence workshop for young women in high school that focuses on public speaking, self-esteem and body image. Jacki’s passion for teaching improv comes from her strong belief in its ability to help students find their unique voices and develop the confidence to use them.

Alisha Collins, AceraEI SEEDS Curriculum Lead
M.S., Media Arts and Sciences, Media Lab, MIT
B.Sc., Fashion Design, Annamalai University

More About Alisha

Alisha is a designer and educator, and the founder of the Acera SEEDS StudioLab, where children can find tools and techniques that enable them as creators and natural innovators, and where they can make their ideas and stories come to life. SEEDS stands for Science, Engineering, Esthetics, Design and Storytelling; and for a hands-on space that breaks with the boundaries of specific fields of inquiry or practice. By engaging students in playful, experiential, inquiry-based, and collaborative learning experiences, Alisha works to nurture children’s creative confidence with new technologies and encourage their involvement in creative acts within their communities. She is the co-author of the book StartMaking! and co-founder of the Duct Tape Network. Alisha comes to our school from the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, where she completed her master’s degree in Media Arts and Sciences and worked as a research assistant. Before coming to MIT, she worked as a design and research associate at Project Vision, an organization that builds educational tools aimed at fostering resilience through creativity in children from poor urban communities. Alisha has won awards and fellowships for her innovative approach to both design and education, for example from the Aga Khan Education Board in India, and the Future of Learning Institute at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

Danny Fain, Computer Science & Games Specialist
S.B. Geoscience, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Teacher Education Program, with emphasis in Math and Science teaching
Several Workshops in Design and Development of Digital and Video Games, Team-Based Design, and Multimedia Visualization

Rachel Fuerstman, CCT & Literacy Specialist
MA, Brandeis University, Teaching Elementary Education
BS, Vassar, History, Minor in Educational Studies

Camila Garcia Enriquez, Visual Arts Teacher
M.Ed, Harvard Graduate School of Education
B.A. Visual Arts Instituto Superior de Arte, Havana Cuba

Esteé Hill, Architect Specialist
MAT, Tufts University
BAR, University of Cape Town South Africa

Michael Hirsch, Life Sciences Specialist Teacher and Curriculum Collaborator
M.A.T. Biology, Salem State University
B.S., Molecular Biology, Clark University

More About Michael

Michael began his work life as a scientist in the exciting world of Kendall Square biotech researching and creative therapeutics for metabolic disease and inflammation. During that time, he helped placed over 20 drugs into clinical trials and published several papers in the field of diabetes. Despite his success, Michael was feeling unfulfilled and realized that his favorite part of being a scientist was teaching others his research and sharing his passion of science. After receiving his masters degree and Massachusetts teaching certifications, Michael taught Biology and Chemistry in public high schools for 3 years where his zeal and excitement towards his content made him a favorite among students. His belief is that everyone can be a scientist and his goal in the classroom was simple: experiment and solve scientific problems. Michael was attracted to Acera’s vision of curiosity, inquiry based conceptual learning, and an opportunity to work with like-minded creative teachers. He loves the collaborative nature of the school, its ever-changing curriculum, and ability to provide a cutting edge, cool, safe, and unique place for many different types of student to learn and practice their skills. In addition to science, Michael is also an avid musician, playing and recording with 7 instruments and is a published pop culture media writer.

Laura Inglese, Cross Classroom and Literacy Specialist

More about Laura

Laura has taught upper elementary and middle school math, and was a math specialist for kids in grades 1-5. Later, she shifted her focus to a deeper examination of literacy education, particularly reading. She has been engaged in Orton Gillingham training and post-graduate coursework for Reading Specialists. Laura grew up in New England, and enjoys being outside in all seasons.

Nicole Notaro, Elementary Science Teacher
M.Ed., Education and Child Development, Tufts University
B.A., Child Development, Tufts University

David Olson, Technology Specialist / EQ Coach
M.Ed. Lesley University
B.A. Anthropology, University of Massachusetts

Vanessa Roman, Theater and Social Sciences Teacher

Adam Rosell, Woodshop Teacher

Debbie Seidell, Math Specialist & Coordinator
M.S. in Mathematics, University of Washington
B.A. in Mathematics, Brown University

Sarah Slubowski, Teacher Mentor
M.Ed., Harvard University Graduate School of Education
B.A., Trinity College

More About Sarah

Sarah is an experienced educator (10 + years in independent schools), with a love for children, a creative and engaging approach to teaching, and a passion for coaching and supporting her peers. Sarah joined Acera as a Math Block Teacher, emphasizing hands-on learning and working with children’s interests as the basis for inquiry. Through a child-constructed approach to teaching and an atmosphere of trust, warmth, and curiosity, Sarah maximized students’ intellectual engagement and enjoyment in the classroom. Her role at Acera has now grown into that of a Teacher Mentor; Sarah supports our elementary Core Teachers and Math Block Teachers by sharing strategies, stepping in to offer support, and through thoughtful coaching and collaboration. Sarah helps our teachers by supporting their individual growth, while building on their strengths. She also places an emphasis on the whole child as a unique individual and believes that differentiated instruction and tending to students’ social and emotional growth are vital in the classroom.

COUNSELING

Malcolm Campbell, Assistant Director of School and Counseling & Student Support Lead

More About Malcolm

Malcolm is a counselor, a coach, a cook, a carpenter, and a Dad. (In any order!) Licensed in New York as a Marriage and Family Therapist, he came to our school after many years of service working in and developing residential treatment programs for youth from birth to and through age 21. Malcolm has great experience with — and enjoys working to build and support — organizations and people who are creating experiences and environments for children to learn, grow and be happy. He has always wanted to be the director of happy children, and now he’s got his wish!

Edye Caine, School Counselor and Mindfulness Lead
MA Fordham University – Education Administration
MA Mercy College – Elementary Education
MA Teachers College, Columbia University – Clinical Psychology and Spirituality

More about Edye

Edye’s love for seeing students’ eyes light up when they are having that “aha” moment has kept her teaching for 25 years. She considers helping students to develop useful tools to navigate through life with grace an honor and a privilege, and she is looking forward to working with the Acera community to bring mindfulness to the forefront. Edye has traveled all over the world, learning about and immersing herself in new cultures. Originally from southern California, Edye lived and worked in New York for many years before relocating to Boston to be near family. When not in school, she loves being out in nature and spending time with her children and grandchildren.

Sigourney Hamilton, Student Support Provider
BA, Psychology, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
Intermediate Floortime Provider, Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning

More about Sigourney

Sigourney comes to Acera with a Floortime background. Floortime is a relationship based therapeutic approach utilized to promote the development and strengthening of social and emotional skills. Sigourney has worked with young children as a specialist at early intervention and older children through her work at a private practice and private school. She is excited to work at Acera and bring her skills to the classroom setting–from promoting self-regulation and self-advocacy to working as a flexible team member. When she is not at school, Sigourney loves to be on the beach or practicing pilates.

Sam Kitchens, School Counselor
B.S., Clinical Psychology and Film, Tufts University

More about Sam

Sam brings extensive experience in education and student support to his role at Acera, including a tutor for the Elliot Pearson Children’s School, an ABA therapist at Nashoba Learning Group, and a lecturer at Tufts Experimental College. When it comes with working with kids, he loves their natural inclination towards curiosity and creativity. Originally from Florida – and a triplet! – Sam lived in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee before making Boston his permanent home.

Eileen Sauer, BCBA, LABA, School Counselor and Student Support Manager
M.S. Behavior Analysis, Simmons College
B.A., Graphic Design, UMass Lowell

More about Eileen

Eileen is Acera’s self-described behavioral science geek! She loves learning about why humans do the things they do, especially complex verbal behavior, and she has been a Board Certified Behavior Analyst since September 2010. She previously spent more than a decade working at Nashoba Learning Group, a private school serving children with autism, as a clinical director specializing in working with students with anxiety and inflexibility. She is working to track the growth in psychological flexibility that our Acera students experience throughout the year in innovative ways. Eileen grew up in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, where she currently lives with her husband, John, and sons, Lincoln (Link) and Leo. 

Tyler Szymanski Bly, School Counselor
M.S.W., University of Southern California
B.A, Psychology, Merrimack College

More about Tyler

Tyler is a clinical child/adolescent therapist and behavioral therapist, specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. She enjoys helping students learn independent skills to function optimally and be the best versions of themselves, and utilizes a strength-based, person-centered approach. Originally from Framingham, Tyler has lived in the midwest and France – but considers Boston her favorite city! Outside of school, she enjoys being outdoors with her husband, their baby Noah and dogs Guinness and Remy.

Kara Williams, School Counselor and Student Support & Services Manager
M.A., School Counseling, University of Saint Joseph
B.A., Theatre, Eastern Connecticut State University

More About Kara

Kara’s experience includes education and work in Theatre, Financial Aid, and most recently School Counseling. After earning her M.A. in School Counseling at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, CT, Kara moved to Massachusetts. Kara appreciates the opportunity of working in the environment that Acera provides where she is able to interact with and help students. Kara is creative, organized, and excited to help in the many facets that her role at Acera includes.

ADMINISTRATION

Courtney Dickinson, Founder & Director
B.A., Dartmouth College
Certified Teacher
Leadership & Company Culture Consultant/Culture Architect, Sapient Corporation

More About Courtney Dickinson

@CourtneyofAcera
Connect with Courtney on LinkedIn

Courtney Dickinson is a passionate educator with a strong belief in public service and innovation in education. Initially, Courtney was certified as a teacher and planned to work in public education. Things did not unfold that way, however, and she spent the first 15 years of her career in industry – both as culture architect at Sapient Corporation and then as a management consultant for other high growth organizations.  

After her own children started in public schools, Courtney saw that there was a disconnect between what kids needed in school and what they were getting, and in the 20 years away from education, things in the public space had become worse, not better. Realizing that a return to education was essential, she became an advocate for change.

The decision to found a bootstrap start up school was a difficult one. Courtney dove in, galvanizing prospective parents and teachers around a shared mission for what school could be. A year later, Acera opened in Melrose with an inaugural class of 37 students. 

“Building the engine while you fly the plane” has not been easy, but with persistence and emphasis on continual improvement, the concept came alive: early and deep exposure to STEM, individual learning plans for every child, an eclectic blend of pedagogy that empowers teachers to create environments of discovery, authentic engagement, learning, and growth in their classrooms, and partnerships with scientific thought leaders in Greater Boston to link learning to real innovations and the challenges of our time. 

From the very beginning, Courtney’s intent was to create a model that could happen anywhere. After years of developing and pilot-testing innovative curricula at Acera School, Courtney and her team launched AceraEI – an outreach division that brings Acera’s Tools to Transform Schools into public education. Through professional development workshops, ongoing support, and metrics for success, AceraEI partners with public schools to implement these Tools in a way that fits each school’s unique setting and needs, empowering educators to be change agents and leaders in their schools and school districts.    

Faith Blake, Enrichment Programs Manager
M.A., Education, Stanford University
B.S., Biology, Tufts University

More about Faith

Faith is committed to giving each child and teacher that she works with opportunities to develop into the best versions of themselves and to contribute to a dynamic and healthy community. Prior to becoming Acera’s Enrichment Programs Manager, Faith taught Biology for five years in public high schools. She brings experience coaching new teachers, managing an Honors Independent Research Program, and organizing school field trips. When not managing Acera’s after school programs, Creativity Morning, and camps, Faith enjoys lifting weights, painting, and reading.

Malcolm Campbell, Assistant Director of School and Counseling & Student Support Lead

More About Malcolm

Malcolm is a counselor, a coach, a cook, a carpenter, and a Dad. (In any order!) Licensed in New York as a Marriage and Family Therapist, he came to our school after many years of service working in and developing residential treatment programs for youth from birth to and through age 21. Malcolm has great experience with — and enjoys working to build and support — organizations and people who are creating experiences and environments for children to learn, grow and be happy. He has always wanted to be the director of happy children, and now he’s got his wish!

Shari Card, Executive Assistant
B.S. Business Administration, Saint Michael’s College

Kerry Crisley, Marketing and Public Relations Lead
M.S. Public Relations, Boston University
B.A. English, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

More about Kerry

Kerry brings more than 20 years of marketing and public relations experience to Acera, including a combined 16 years at the nonprofit organizations The Nature Conservancy and Boston Bar Association. Kerry creates and shares Acera’s stories of innovation in education via the school’s website, social media channels, and in local and statewide media outlets. She lives in Wakefield with her husband John, their children Ben and Erin, and their (very spoiled) rescue dog Luna. When not at work, Kerry can usually be found reading, walking in the Fells, or getting into a wide variety of shenanigans with her book club.

Queenie Desulme, Operations and Administrative Assistant

Natacha Dieudonné, Director of Public School Programs
Ed.M., Learning and Teaching, Instructional Leadership; Harvard University
M.A.T., Mathematics Teaching, National-Louis University,
M.A.R., Religion -Counseling, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
B.A., Psychology/Sec Ed. Math, University of Illinois

Sara Honeywell, Office / Operations Manager
B.A. Music Business, Berklee School of Music

Carol Ann Licitra, Bookkeeper

Pei Ng, Administrative Assistant / Front Desk

Trent Ramsey, Director of Strategic Advancement and Development
B.A. English and Sociology, Birmingham-Southern College
Graduate Certificate in Grant-Writing, Fort Hays State University

More About Trent

An experienced, well-connected fundraiser, Trent joined our school in fall 2016 as Acera’s first Director of Development. For the past ten years, Trent has worked in fundraising and youth development across the state of Massachusetts in a variety of capacities: as the Director of the Area IV Youth Center in Cambridge, MA, one of the few high poverty pockets of Cambridge; as the State Field Director for the Mass Charter School Association, building community and funding collaborations for the 60 charter schools in the state; and as the Director of Strategic Advancement for the Lowell Community Charter Public School, focusing on capacity building for the largely ELL-populated school. Before landing in Massachusetts, Trent founded and served as executive director for 11 years of a youth service nonprofit in Alabama that focused on bringing young people from different backgrounds together to engage in community service and social justice work.

Joshua Schuler, Director of Partnerships and Outreach
S.M., Technology and Policy, MIT
M.B.A., Collège des Ingénieurs
B.A., Political Science & B.S. Environmental Studies, Tufts University

Holly Whittemore, Finance Director

Sandra Zuckerman, Director of Admissions
Professional Diploma, Berklee College of Music
B.A.University of Colorado
SIT, School of International Training

More About Sandra

Sandra has worked in the admissions field since 2011. After attending the University of Colorado, Sandra moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music to advance her studies as a vocalist. She later joined the staff of Berklee College of Music as the International Applicant Advisor and then became the Admissions and Summer Program Enrollment Officer. At Acera, Sandra is passionate about helping students find “their voice” and help them uncover their strengths and own unique self. As the Admissions Director at Acera, Sandra excels at helping families have a positive experience regardless of the admissions outcome. Her ultimate goal is to help ensure that Acera is the best fit for a child. When Sandra isn’t working with families and students at Acera, she is a proud mom, a vocalist, practices yoga and is a foodie!

Sarah Zuckerman, Director of Faculty
M.A.Ed Harvard University, focus in Arts in Education, Recipient of the Urban Scholars Fellowship
B.A.Ed Indiana University, Indiana

More About Sarah

An urban public school graduate, Sarah’s life has been dedicated to giving all students high-quality education. Prior to her work in education leadership and program design, she was an art teacher in K-12 classrooms for 10 years, she has taught in the lowest- and highest-performing urban public schools. Sarah has worked on numerous policy issues advocating for students and has received numerous awards for her work, including Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Urban Scholars Fellowship and the Sontag Prize for Urban Education, and has had works published by Education Leadership, Ed Week, and Americans for the Arts.

BOARD

David Grayzel MD

Michael Barron JD

Rick Morello MBA

Greg Phelps MBA