Meet the Lower School Faculty!


Joanne Harabedian, Director of Lower School
Alverno Heights Academy, Class of 1969
BA, Human Development
MA, Human Development
Certified Catechist

In 1990 I stepped out of the business world into education as an IT teacher because I was drawn to the power of educational technology. It was an uncharted course in schools that quickly inspired me to go beyond basic keyboarding to offer a much broader horizon. In 1999, I facilitated a volunteer project that transformed a cramped corridor into a full-sized iMac computer lab decorated with the classic “Think Different” Apple posters. Then and today, I continue to seek and implement innovative education that offers our next generation limitless possibilities. Teaching (1990 -2000) inspired me to earn a Master’s Degree in Human Development to better understand the fascinatingly complex and diverse benchmarks of every child. From there I moved into administration as a vice principal and then as principal in 2006 where I had the honor of partnering with an incredible team of educators. My goal every year is to seek engaging additions within the school day so that students regard education as an incredible journey.

Great teachers recognize the dignity of every child and imprint an indelible mark of inspiration, self-confidence and the courage to take risks. What a joy to witness a child’s God-given talents sprout and blossom year to year nurtured by trust and encouragement. Greatness is not measured by a grading scale or a timed sprint. It is nurtured through inquiry, self-confidence and the willingness to take risks. As a student at Alverno Heights Academy, I learned to be a woman who could become who I imagined. And now, guided by God’s magnificent plan, I am back home at my Alma Mater to be a part of an amazing venture that will offer limitless opportunities for students from TK through high school; an inspirational model of innovation in education for the next generation.

Penny Rajewski, Transitional Kindergarten
BA, Communications
Child Development Teacher Certificate
Preschool Site Supervisor Certificate

I have worked in Early Childhood Education for 14 years and am dedicated to supporting the emotional, social and academic development of young children. Knowing the developmental stages of a young child helps nurture them in a safe, positive environment that transitions a child from a preschool setting into an elementary school adventure.

Alverno Heights Academy Lower School is a campus full of opportunity and is a perfect environment for young children to explore, inquire, create, apply and understand while developing cooperative play with new friends and classmates. Any child’s gift is the gift of time, and with that time all children will be masters at their developmental stages with the love and support of the Alverno Heights Academy Lower School community, families and teachers. I look forward to bringing my love of young children to this new community!

Anne Zamora, Kindergarten
BA, Elementary Education and ESOL Certification
MA, Teaching & Learning

Everything about teaching has fascinated me from a very young age. From observing my mother’s passion and precision in the classroom to my father’s endearing rapport with students, the die was cast for me too as teaching has become my super power.

I received a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Barry University in Miami, Florida, with an ESOL certification. Fun fact: I was a member of the women’s soccer team at BU. Shortly thereafter, I earned a Master’s degree in Teaching and Learning, specializing in Elementary Reading, at NOVA Southeastern University. I have taught Kindergarten, First, Third and Fourth grades in a dynamic environment of exclusive private and independent schools. This will be my fifth year teaching Kindergarten and I am looking forward to another adventure-filled year. In addition to teaching, I have written three children’s books that I hope to publish one day.

I believe that curiosity is the most powerful engine for learning. My educational approach is built on harnessing that natural energy through inquiry-based learning. I meet my students where they are, helping them work through challenges while enhancing their strengths. My proven commitment to a strong teacher-student relationship allows me to peak their curiosity, empower them to take risks, and guide them to new and unexpected places in their social, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual growth. Kindergarten is a magical year filled with wonder. While learning how to learn, I anticipate days filled with “A-Ha” moments for my Kindergarten friends and me.

Ellen Hoffman, First Grade
Alverno Heights Academy, Class of 1974
BA, History
Multiple Subject Teaching Credential
Certified Catechist

I have been teaching first grade for the past 17 years and feel it is the year with the most dramatic growth. My students come to me in the fall as little budding six-year-olds and during the course of the school year, turn into fully blossomed seven year olds which is known as the “age of reason.” It is so satisfying to watch the light bulbs go on as children have “aha moments” while reading, writing, brainstorming and sharing! My goal is to provide a safe and secure classroom environment where taking chances is encouraged and individuality is celebrated. I present lessons in a way that makes the abstract tangible and the ordinary come alive.

I am so excited about being a part of this groundbreaking endeavor on the remarkable campus where I spent a very memorable four years and made life-long friendships and memories that I treasure today. I feel honored to be part of a highly professional and very motivated team of teachers and administrators at Alverno Heights Academy Lower School and look forward to the families starting this journey with us.

Sandra Arana, Second Grade
BA, Art Education
MA, Education with Credential
Certified Catechist

I began my journey as an educator twenty-one years ago. My journey as a Catholic school teacher has provided me with enriching opportunities which have contributed to who I am today. I have taught first and second grade and have worked closely with a team of professionals to collaborate, problem solve, and build student success. My years of experience in teaching have also led to opportunities to work with a diverse population of students and communities. For the last twenty-one years I have had the wonderful experience of being a Catechism Teacher and Communion Coordinator. I find fulfillment in preparing my students for the sacrament of Eucharist and Penance. It is a blessing to guide students and their families into this spiritual path.

I am looking forward to beginning a new journey at Alverno Heights Academy Lower School. I look forward to creating an environment that fosters the importance of learning and a strong work ethic. By teaching and expecting integrity, compassion and leadership, my students will combine the importance of learning with the value of strong character to become a contributor in all areas of their lives.

“Do everything with a good heart and expect nothing in return, and you will never be disappointed. ” Barbara Lowe

Peter Delgado, Third Grade
BA, Religious Studies
MEd.: Urban Education(in progress)
Certified Catechist

I am a product of a Catholic education with 12 years of parochial schooling before moving on to major in Religious Studies at Occidental College. I come to Alverno Heights Academy Lower School with 9 years of teaching experience in both the public and private school setting. I strive to provide a safe and nurturing environment where each student can have the opportunity to experience success and progress because it is my belief that each student learns in their own way, style and pace. It is my goal to help encourage students to look beyond the four walls of our classroom and view the world around them as a place of learning and discovery. By doing this, I hope to instill in them a desire to become lifelong learners.

I am happy to be a part of the inaugural staff of Alverno Heights Academy Lower School. I look forward to working among an eager staff of professionals and a growing community to make certain that we have an excellent school year together!

Melissa Cash: Fourth Grade
BS, General Studies [Education]
Multiple Subject Teaching Credential
MEd, Curriculum and Instruction (in progress)
Certified Catechist

Over the last 14 years, I have taught grades 1, 2, 4, and 5, in both public and private school settings, serving as curriculum chair in the fields of English Language Arts and Religion. While I have found a love for each grade I’ve taught, 4th grade is my true passion with its focus on our state’s history. This is due in part to taking a college course at USC on the history of California led by American Historian and State Librarian Kevin Starr. I find our state’s history so rich and fascinating, and I pride myself in teaching my students to appreciate learning about the past.

In my experience, one of the most important aspects of teaching is to develop a safe, loving, and welcoming classroom community where students feel appreciated and empowered. Building relationships with students is at the forefront of the learning experience. In this way, students become greater thinkers, motivated to succeed and unafraid of working beyond challenging situations until a solution is attained. In order to facilitate this, lessons should be engaging, innovative, and student-centered. My goal is for my students to develop a life-long love of learning – to question, wonder, hypothesize, and persevere – not just in my classroom, but over the course of their academic careers and throughout their lives.

I am absolutely thrilled to be a member of the Alverno Heights Academy Lower School faculty, and I am eager to work with an incredible team of dedicated professionals, enthusiastic families, and (most importantly) motivated students to continue to add to the current school culture already deeply rooted in tradition and excellence.

“Education is not the filling of a pot, but the lighting of a fire.” -Yeats

Monica Richter, Fifth Grade
BA, Liberal Studies
Multiple Subject Teaching Credential
MA, Cross Cultural Teaching

Ever since I was a student in 3rd grade, I have wanted to be a teacher. From an early age I knew that teachers had the power to make learning fun and I have spent the rest of my life striving to be the difference in my students’ lives. I am committed to student success inside of the classroom and in life. My students know they are important and I remind them of it everyday.

With over 8 years of teaching experience, I have taught grades 2 through 5 in both public and private schools. Through the years I have learned that student success is created with trust and meaningful relationships. I am a resourceful, goal-driven, and versatile teacher with the talent to develop inspiring hands-on lessons that capture students’ imaginations and breed success. My personal teaching triumphs stem from my ability to remain flexible while ensuring that every child’s diverse learning styles and abilities are addressed.

This new chapter at Alverno Heights Academy Lower School brings much anticipation and excitement. My journey continues and I look forward to growing as an educator alongside talented staff members, dedicated families, and enthusiastic students.

Michelle Wells, Sixth Grade
BS, Recreation Administration
Multiple Subject Teaching Credential
MFA, Creative Writing

As the daughter of two educators, I have often felt that I was born to teach. I have been involved in education for over 25 years, homeschooling, tutoring and teaching in both the public and private sector. Although I have taught a variety of ages, I have spent the majority of my teaching career in sixth grade and high school. I am passionate about children and learning. Working hand-in-hand with parents and other faculty, I strive to instill a lifelong love of learning and discovery. I believe in the basics, but I also believe in a classroom that is creative and innovative. I value high standards, but I recognize that it is the job of the teacher to help every child succeed. My students feel welcomed as they are but encouraged to become who they are meant to be. Children in my classroom feel valued, safe, and challenged.

Teaching in any school is a gift, but to teach in a Catholic community is a mission, allowing me to live out my faith, loving God and serving others.

I am eager to begin this new venture at Alverno Heights Academy. Working together, we are casting a vision and creating a learning community that honors the past and embraces the future.

Jennifer Jukic, Junior High Team
BA, Art History
Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and CLAD Certificate
MA, School Psychology with PPS Credential
MA, Educational Leadership with Administrative Credential
Certified Catechist

I have worked in education for 21 years in public and private schools as a teacher, school psychologist and administrator. My passion for the classroom is rooted in acknowledging the differences in each learner and helping develop an enthusiasm to explore, engage and think beyond the traditional definition of education. Learning is not about textbooks, walls and confinement; it stems from strong desires to evolve our preconceived notions into worldly views and desires to achieve new destinations of knowledge.

I am so excited to start this journey at Alverno Heights Academy Lower School and know that with the master educators and strong families that surround me, the foundations are rooted in social equality, love and passion for excellence.

Rich Martinez, Junior High Team/Athletic Director
BS, Political Science
MEd and Administrative Certificate (in progress)
Single Subject Credential: Social Studies
Single Subject Credential: Math and Social Studies
Certified Catechist

Since 1991, I have served as a School Administrator, Teacher of Algebra, Geometry, Science, Social Studies, Spanish, and Robotics, Athletic Director, and Coach of Football, Basketball, Volleyball, Softball, Cross Country, and Track in both public and private schools from Silicon Valley to Central Kentucky and back home to Los Angeles. During the past 15 years, I started Spanish 1 programs in his last three schools, championed the use of individualized pacing for advanced Math students, spearheaded the implementation of 21st century standards in Science, and advocated the creation of a Robotics class (not club) so that all students could experience an engineer’s process. My teams are known for always being competitive and over the years teams in each sport have enjoyed league, tournament, and/or CYO championships.

I am honored to help create programs for Alverno Heights Academy Lower School students that will not only build confidence and skills but also allow them to advance to high school having mastered high school level curriculum. One of my greatest joys is hearing that my 8th grade student has tested into Sophomore or Junior classes in his or her 1st year. Creating a culture where students can safely take risks is key to developing confident, life-long learners.

Gabriel Hernandez, Junior High Team/IT Master
BA: History
MEd: Urban Education (in progress)
Certified Catechist

I am a second generation Angeleno (Los Angeles native), but first generation Mexican-American in college. Raised with a strong Catholic upbringing, I have focused most of my jobs on helping people. Prior to becoming a teacher in 2017, I worked as a medical liaison at a hospice home, a teacher in Kamigori, Japan, and as an entrepreneur focused on health vitamins. I felt my calling to be a teacher while teaching in Japan. I remember teaching English to kids in Japan and imagining teaching back in the USA. Being educated in Catholic schools, I chose to start my career as a teacher in the Catholic School setting once I returned to the Los Angeles metro area. I am inspired by the Chicano art throughout the Los Angeles murals which often tell stories of Mexican-American life in Los Angeles, the fight for social justice, education, culture and family. These principles are often in line with the Catholic upbringings I was raised with.

“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of my favorite quotes because it reminds me that one is truly learning and that our learning continues to change who we are. I have lived on three different continents (North America, South America, Asia) and want to visit all seven before I turn 40. While living in Asia, I learned how to cook different Japanese dishes. My favorite food, however, is tacos (al pastor). I enjoy playing video games, working out, walking my dog, rooting for the Dodgers and Lakers, and spending time with his three nieces. I am passionate about learning about different cultures, often trying to travel whenever the opportunity prevails.

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