Staff & Teachers

At Friends Center, our staff is diverse, dedicated and committed to working together to provide high-quality care for the children and families in our program. Our team includes our director, Allyx Schiavone, who brings years of experience and a Bank Street College education; seasoned teachers exemplifying best practices and championing each child’s development; energetic interns sharing their enthusiasm and perspectives; knowledgeable administrators adeptly maintaining our day-to-day operation; and compassionate professionals skillfully leading our emotional wellbeing program. We love our team and think you will too!

Amanda Aceto

Amanda has been working with Friend Center’s Infant/Toddler teams since 2014. She came to FCfC after graduating from Hamden Transitions Academy at Southern Connecticut State University. She is an accomplished equestrian and a 22-year member of the High Hopes Training Academy in Old Lyme. The beginning of the school year is most exciting for Amanda, as she loves seeing all the new faces and getting to know the children. Art projects are a favorite activity, and she is looking forward to continuing her collaboration with teachers in planning art curriculum.

Rogelio Aleman

Rogelio was raised in New Haven, Connecticut. Having grown up in New Haven, he knows the pitfalls of the public educational system. A family full of teachers has inspired him to pursue a career in the academic field. Wanting to start early, he became a tutor for students struggling with their STEM-oriented classes. During these tutoring sessions, Rogelio found that he was able to connect with students quickly and push their abilities forward. Currently pursuing a BA in Physics, Rogelio has noticed the need for high-quality early childhood education. This drew him towards FCfC. His beliefs on education line up well with those of the FCfC. Throughout his life, he has been able to be part of many non-profit organizations, which has made him very aware of the positive impacts that they can have on a child. He has a love for music and is able to play various instruments. He hopes to further his education and be an active part of the FCfC community.

Nicole Appleyard

Nicole Appleyard has been at Friends Center since 2014. She graduated from Southern Connecticut State University in 2016 with a Master of Science in Special Education. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, with a focus on early childhood education. She is a certified teacher in the State of Connecticut for Early Childhood Education and Special Education. Before becoming a part of the Friends Center family, Nicole worked as the head preschool teacher for a non-profit early childhood education center near downtown New Haven. Nicole has a passion for music and took professional voice lessons for eight years. She continues to share her love of music and the arts in the classroom.

Rondraya Barron

Rondraya Barron had the pleasure of being raised in both Jamaica and America. The passing of a young sibling in Jamaica has inspired and motivated Rondraya to pursue a career involving working with children. Currently residing in Bridgeport CT, Rondraya attended Bullard Havens Technical High-school taking up the Early Childcare Education trade. There Rondraya had her first interaction working with children in a classroom, gaining experience and developing a passion to help and put a smile on children’s and their families face. Rondraya previously worked at Bright Horizons of Orange starting as center support then becoming a toddler teacher. Wanting to reinforce her commitment to early childcare education she took a course earning her CDA(the Child Development Associate) credentials while working at BH. Recently Rondraya has worked as a paraprofessional with special needs children in public schools in the Bridgeport, Ansonia area. Building positive relationships with children, families and staff along with being open to new opportunities has resulted in Rondraya apart of the FcFC family.

Courtney Bryan

Courtney graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a focus in child behavior and behavior analysis. After college, she worked as an ABA technician, assisting children on the autism spectrum with cognitive and social development. She spent a majority of her life in Maryland, but is originally from Connecticut, where she began her career in professional childcare. She has one amazing daughter, Giana, who is 2 and keeps both of her parents on their toes.

Melissa Bromell

Melissa Bromell has been an early childhood educator for more than seven years. She has taught infants, toddlers and preschoolers, most recently at the Learning Experience in New Haven. The “community feeling” is what initially drew her to Friends Center, along with the amount of time spent outdoors. “I love nature and the outdoor classroom is as important as the indoor environment.” Her greatest professional joy is seeing confidence grow in children as they acquire new skills. Her greatest personal joy is parenting, along with her husband, their two daughters and two nieces, ages one to seven.

Kristen Calderon

Kristen Calderon lives in New Haven and has a certificate from Gateway Community College in Community Health Work. She has several years of experience in a daycare setting, as well as working as a caseworker at a local non-profit. Her job as a caseworker inspired her to obtain her associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education. She strongly believes that strengthening our community and assisting vulnerable populations must start with children in these first few crucial years of their lives. She first discovered Friends Center as a parent three years ago, and was impressed with the focus on the whole child and emergent curriculum. She has been working as a substitute in all the classrooms since March 2018. During her free time, Kristen enjoys being in nature, arts and crafts projects, trying new recipes and gardening. She feels very honored to be able to continue to get to know the friends in the downstairs preschool classroom.

Fekianne Charles

Fekianne first came to Friends Center as an intern, working alongside Bonnie Muller. Shortly after, she served as a substitute teacher for three months before accepting a position in the downstairs preschool. Fekianne graduated from Albertus Magnus College with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology and a concentration in Child Development. In the classroom, she incorporates her knowledge from classes such as Child Play and Child Attachment and Relationships into her care and interactions with the children. During her time at Albertus Magnus, she also participated in lacrosse and the student government association. As a young child, she always had a passion for children and knew she wanted to care for children one day. In the future, she wants to become a doula and continue her education to become a Child Life Specialist.

Jan Childs

Jan Childs is a support teacher at Friends Center with more than 30 years of experience with infants and toddlers. Jan cared for children in her own home daycare for 27 years before she joined the Friends Center team in 2015. She is married and has two adult children, a son Cory and a daughter Abby. In her free time, she enjoys losing herself in a great book!

Alyssa Coppola

Alyssa brings five years of experience in the field with her. She attends Charter Oak State College where she has obtained her Associates Degree and is currently working towards her Bachelors Degree. She loves working with young children because it allows her to make such a difference in their lives. When she was young, she babysat her cousins. This early work with children fueled her love for kids. She grew up in and has lived in the New Haven area all her life and loves it here, as it is a very diverse community. She loves to be with her family (including her two cats), loves photography, listening to music, and singing.

Enedelia Cruz Dominguez

Enedelia is a New Haven resident, who cultivated her skills in Early Childhood and Special Education in Oaxaca, Mexico. Enedelia comes to us with extensive experience in community volunteering and social justice work. Enedelia speaks both English and Spanish. When she is not helping children here at Friends Center, she is a loving wife and mother with a strong dedication to children and families. Enedelia is a warm addition to the teaching team, and we are happy to have her on board.

Valerie Denny

Val Denny is the head teacher in Pod 5. She has been a part of the Friends Center community since 2013, and worked in the early childhood education field for more than 20 years, including 15 years managing her own home daycare. Val’s passion for teaching young children is evident in her calm and nurturing interactions with the children and her ability to read and understand what children are communicating. Her many classes in American Sign Language complement and enhance her natural ability to connect with infants. She is happy to be in Pod 5, where she continues to help our youngest friends at Friends Center grow.

Jennifer Digioia

Jennifer DiGioia has been in the field of early childhood education and advocacy since 2011. She came to Friends Center in 2011 from San Francisco, where she taught in toddler, preschool and transitional kindergarten classes. She served on the local board of the National Association for the Education for Young Children and the California AEYC conference planning committee. Her training in the Orff Schulwerk method of teaching music is utilized daily, in and out of the classroom. She is currently a custodian of the Rhoda Kellogg International Child Art Collection. She finds continual inspiration in the Friends Center community, the guiding influence of the Quaker values, and the commitment to maintaining a nurturing and loving environment.

Katherine Flores

Katherine Flores began working as a head teacher at Friends Center in 2016. She has six years of experience working with children, and received her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Charter Oak State College in 2016. Katherine moved to Connecticut from Honduras when she was 11 years old, and is fluent in Spanish. She started working with preschool as a volunteer at her brother’s preschool, St. Francis and St. Rose of Lima. She was soon hired by the school and advanced to become an assistant teacher. Katherine shares with us her love of books, hiking, and enjoys spending quality time with her family and younger siblings.

Marianne Godfrey

Marianne came to Friends Center through her co-op role for her oldest granddaughter in 2009. She continued doing co-op for the next four years and then became a full-time employee when the program expanded in 2013. During the past five years of working at Friends Center, Marianne has been involved with admissions, administrative support and many financial responsibilities of the center. With a background in real estate and administrative service, Marianne brings a wide variety of skills to the administrative team. She is best known for her knitting projects and her love of her grandchildren. Marianne is excited to watch Friends Center continue to grow and see many more families experience the exceptional program where both her grandchildren thrived.

Mayerlin Gomez

Mayerlin, who was born and raised in Panama, has been working at Friends Center since 2014 and has recently begun studying Early Childhood Education at Gateway Community College. Prior to joining Friends Center, Mayerlin worked in New York and Illinois as part of a 15-month intercultural English immersion program. During this time, Mayerlin developed her passion for child care. She took child development training, including special needs development and child safety, as well as accredited classes for “Learn the Signs for Autism Spectrum Disorder” to help children and families with this learning profile. She also participated in Leadership for Families by Franklin Covey. Mayerlin was married in 2014 and welcomed a daughter into her family, who is now a toddler. Mayerlin loves to read books and has helped in the community by being a blood donor. She is certified in first aid and CPR, and is also is a volunteer in her church’s nursery. Mayerlin is continuing her studies in ESL classes, and is very grateful to be part of a Friends Center.

Susan Hardej

Susan has been in the early childhood education field since 2011. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a Bachelor of Science in Family Studies with a specialization in Family Support and a minor in Sociology. Before joining Friends Center in July 2011, she taught preschool for five years, first working for Next Generation Children’s Center located in Natick, MA, then returning to her home state of Connecticut, where she served as the Head Teacher of Little Rascals Nursery School in Danbury, CT. Her responsibilities at Little Rascals included teaching preschool as well as overseeing the infant and toddler programs and staff members. Susan became the full-time assistant director at Friends Center in August 2013 and then welcomed her son, Dane, in November 2013. She has been fortunate to be able to come to work each day with Dane since he joined the Friends Center Infant/Toddler program in February 2014. Susan continues to enjoy her role of supporting and interacting with the entire Friends Center community — children, families and staff — and looks forward to expanding her community relationships further.

Patrice Harrison

Quintaisja Harrison

Quintaisja (who goes by “Tae”) grew up in New Haven and has been helping to care for her younger siblings since their infancy. She is recent graduate of Gateway Community College, where she received her associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education. For almost nine years, she worked with 4 to 18-year-olds at Solar Youth, an after-school program focused on the environmental sciences, where she helped to develop and implement curriculum around water systems, conservation and Connecticut wildlife. She feels excited and fortunate to be joining the Friends Center community and is eager to get to know families and co-workers and continue to grow in her chosen field.

Cynthia Howard

Cynthia Howard has been caring for young children in her community since the age of thirteen. When it came time to enter college, early childhood education was a clear path. Her classes at Gateway Community College have deepened her commitment to the field. She feels passionate about the many ways children learn and can be supported in their development. She wanted to find a program that valued learning through play, as well as one that emphasized the importance of respect and inclusion, and found that at Friends Center. She is excited to be part of this community and looks forward to opportunities to expand her knowledge and grow as an educator.

Shawanna Jefferson

Shawanna Jefferson comes to Friends Center as an assistant teacher holding an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Housatonic Community College. She graduated in 2014, and is now in the process of completing her bachelor’s degree in Human Services and Counseling from Post University, with a focus on working with children and families. Shawanna has experience working with both infants and toddlers at Care Around the Clock. She enjoys reading, taking walks in the park, and spending time with her family, especially her twin sister and nephew.

Miriam Johnson

Miriam has a wealth of experience in the fields of education, mental health, and human services. She holds an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education from Gateway Community College, as well as a Bachelor and Master Degree in Human Services from Albertus Magnus College. During her time at Clifford Beers Clinic, she gained critical knowledge of infant mental health and the understanding of how effective early intervention can be. This inspired her to seek an opportunity to serve the social/emotional needs of young children.

Miriam has 20 years of experience serving children and families throughout New Haven in various capacities. She is committed to providing high-quality services to children and families. As a former FCfC preschool parent, she is intimately familiar with our program. She is excited to contribute her professional and personal experience in the position of Emotional Well-being Coordinator.

Abigail Kuziel

Abigail Kuziel graduated from Gateway Community College in 2016 with her Associates Degree in Human Services. She is currently pursuing her Bachelors in Early Childhood Education through Charter Oak State College. Before joining FCfC, Abigail was an Assistant Teacher for East Haven Public Schools and worked in a PreK classroom. Throughout college, Abigail worked in a toddler classroom for a private educational center. She is passionate about nature-based play and children’s literature. Abigail enjoys hiking, traveling and meditation in her spare time, but enjoys spending time with her two nephews, Bentley and Hunter, most of all.

Therese Luetzgendorf

Therese Luetzgendorf began working for Friends Center in 2013 as an assistant teacher with infants and toddlers. Her experience working with children includes: working as a nanny, in summer camps, and in preschool settings in the US and her native country, Germany. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Southern Connecticut State University and completed her master’s degree in Human Services from Albertus Magnus College in 2016. She then joined the Early Childhood RULER team as a research assistant at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. In 2018 she re-joined Friends Center as one of the Emotional Wellbeing Coordinators, as well as supporting Friend Center’s development work. Therese’s passion is to apply innovative and creative ways to help children become part of an empathic community.

Blakelee Morron

Blakelee Morron has over five years of experience working in the early childhood field. From an early age, she realized that she has the ability to naturally connect with all types of people, especially children. She believes that building a positive relationship with each individual student, along with their families, is essential to the child’s education. From her previous experience as an assistant toddler teacher, student teacher, and current experience as an aunt of four, she sees that children are more eager to learn from someone they trust and enjoy being around. She recently graduated from Three Rivers Community College with her associates degree in Early Childhood Education. She is looking forward to continuing her education and earning her bachelor’s degree at Southern Connecticut State University. During her free time, she enjoys being at the beach, and spending time with her family- including her dogs. She also enjoys traveling and new experiences that go along with it. Blakelee feels incredibly fortunate to start this new adventure and be a part of the Friends Center community.

Bonnie Muller

Bonnie Muller was raised in a Quaker family in which simplicity, peace, truth, equality, community and stewardship were household words. Following her desire to help create environments where all children have these privileges, she acquired a Bachelor of Arts at Gettysburg College and Master of Social Work degree at the University of Connecticut. After teaching elementary school, she worked briefly at the Gesell Institute of Child Development as a research assistant.

From there she moved into community mental health where she promoted programs for children and families in CT and CA. Returning to CT, she worked as a school social worker until her retirement in 2010.

Active in the New Haven Friends Meeting, Bonnie was familiar with the founding spirit behind FCfC and was asked to serve as Mental Health Consultant when the Center opened. When the Board acquired a grant to hire a social worker as an in-school resource to address Adverse Childhood Experiences, Bonnie became a part-time member of the staff. The FCfC Board adopted the position known as Emotional Wellbeing Coordinator which Bonnie shares with Therese Luetzgendorf. Developing emotional intelligence through establishing healthy classroom climates was a focus of her work in the public schools and continues as she collaborates with children, staff and families. Bonnie also maintains a private practice as a Rubenfeld Synergist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

Teirrah Neal

Teirrah Neal was born and raised in New Jersey, where she graduated from Felician University located in Lodi New Jersey with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education and obtained her Certification for Preschool through 3rd Grade. She moved to Connecticut about three years ago. Teirrah’s love for education developed during her freshman year of college, where she did clinical hours in a daycare setting which served children ages two through five, as well as in a fourth grade classroom. It was then that Teirrah knew that the early childhood setting was something that she loved. Her love for watching young children grow and develop is how Teirrah created the long-term goal to one day have a center of her own. Prior to being hired at Friends Center for Children, Teirrah worked at a Daycare center as a lead toddler teacher for just under two years. She is a military spouse and mother of two wonderful boys one who are currently 4 and 9 months old. Terriah truly loves music, her hidden talent is singing! Teirrah plans to use music to enhance her classroom learning environment at the Friends Center for Children.

Jason Peoples-Blackwe

Jason Peoples-Blackwell says that, in his family, you either become a basketball player, or a teacher. According to Jason, he was never great at basketball! Jason’s experiences while watching his grandmother, and mother act as caregiver’s to his family, led him to feel that taking care of others, especially young ones, became second nature. While Jason was attending High School, he volunteered with special needs children and loved the feeling of being able to help. When Jason graduated High School, he continued along the path of caregiving and early childhood education while teaching at ABCD. This teaching experience opened Jason’s eyes to understanding curriculum and NAEYC standards, as well as all of the other “adult” things that teaching requires. Jason says that deep down, he’s a kid who wants to see other kids have a good time as they learn!

Tashawna Peete

Tashawna Peete holds an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education from Empire State University; New York and Bachelor Degree in Human Services. Tashawna began working as an early childhood educator in New York City immediately after High School; while working on her Degree in marketing. While working as an educator she quickly learned she wanted to pursue a degree in education. After three years, she was offered an assistant director position which she did until she relocated from New York to Connecticut. While here in Connecticut she had an opportunity to work with the department of children and families. This opportunity lead her to realize she missed working with young children in a classroom setting. Tashawna’s goal is to be a voice for the voices who are unable to communicate to decision makers about the importance of Early Childhood Education. She especially wants to shine more light on special needs in education and individual children with learning disabilities.

Keila Perez

Keila Perez brings 10 years of experience in early childhood education to her role as assistant teacher at Friends Center. She was born and raised in New York and attended Borough Manhattan Community College where she graduated with an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education. During her time in college, she worked for organizations, such as Boys Scouts of America and Children’s Aid, where she developed leadership skills as she helped young adults and young children build character. Keila has a passion for children and education, especially the individual learning process of each child. Alexa Perez, Keila’s daughter, will also be joining the upstairs preschool class.

Paris Pierce

Paris joined Friends Center’s preschool program as a support teacher in January of 2019. Previously, she worked in early childhood for two years and developed a deep passion for it. Paris enjoys helping children learn in new ways and being a part of breakthroughs in their development.

Paris recently moved back to Connecticut from Ohio, where she started her childcare journey. She has two beautiful children , Londyn who is 7 and Ryan who is 1, who keep her on her toes at all times.

Angela Rodriguez

Angela Rodriguez was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and moved to Connecticut at the age of 24. Angela’s love of children led her to major in Speech and Language Therapy. She views this work as a way to help children to find words to express themselves. Now, Angela is on her way to pursuing a Master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis. Angela is currently working to fine-tune her teaching abilities in order to further integrate her passion for helping children in the classroom. She is excited to be part of the FCfC community. As a lover of pets, one of Angela’s goals is to have a therapy dog to help children in different settings.

Allyx Schiavone

Allyx has 28 years of experience in early childhood development and elementary education – as a teacher and administrator in CT and NY. She holds dual Masters’ degrees from Bank Street College of Education in Early Child Development and Elementary Education, and a Bachelor’s degree from Union College.

A third generation New Haven native and long-time resident of Fair Haven, Allyx maintains ownership in a New Haven real estate development corporation which she managed from 1998-2009. While living in the Fair Haven area, Allyx helped found the Quinnipiac River Community Group (QRCG), a grassroots neighborhood organization created to protect and improve the diverse and historic neighborhoods surrounding the Quinnipiac River. As a QRCG leader, she spearheaded efforts to raise funds from local, state and federal sources to repair the Ferry Street Bridge and launch the comprehensive Quinnipiac Avenue re-do, efforts that required $16 million and $21 million respectively.

Allyx has served as Program Coordinator for New Haven-based Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES); Early Childhood Classroom Observer for Southern Connecticut State University; and Budget Coordinator for the New Haven Board of Education, facilitating a $2 million grant. Allyx has taught in NYC, New Haven and Greenwich in several elementary schools and pre-school settings, directed summer camps and written and supervised curriculums at elementary, middle and high school levels with an emphasis on literacy, math, science and multidisciplinary studies.

She currently serves as an advisory member of the University of New Haven’s Nonprofit Certificate in Leadership, Innovation and Organizational Sustainability and the Mayoral Appointed New Haven Early Childhood Council (serving as the chair of the Personnel Committee and a member of the Operations Committee). She is a recipient of Exchange Magazine’s Master Leader award and is a recent recipient of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Marvin Maurer Spotlight Award. She is a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and is a former: board member for Connecticut Voices for Children; appointee to the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Reading; leader of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund Community Leadership Program. She is the mother of two fantastic teenaged children and resides in the East Rock section of New Haven.

Virginia Sharene

Virginia Sharene has been an assistant teacher at Friends Center since 2015. She is a graduate of Gateway Community College, where she earned her associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education, earning High Honors in Academic Achievement and induction into Phi Theta Kappa. While attending school, Virginia worked at the Early Learning Center at Gateway as a classroom assistant. Virginia’s love of teaching stems from encouraging her own three children to explore, create and have fun in learning. Virginia enjoys spending time with her husband and children, especially in performing music, culinary arts, games, nature and photography. Virginia is very humbled and proud to be a member of the Friends Center family.

Tanya Shively

Tanya Shively comes to Friends Center from a diverse international background. Born in Hong Kong, where she received her primary school education, Tanya attended secondary school in England, before settling in the United States as a young adult. She has also lived in Australia and Canada, and feels most at home among an international group. Partially for that reason, she manages a group of au pairs and families in Trumbull, Connecticut, where she resides with her husband and two children. Tanya holds a Bachelor of Music in Composition from the University of the Pacific and a Master of Music from the Hartt School, University of Hartford. Although not actively performing, she stays involved with musical organizations in the area through administration and arranges musical scores on a regular basis. Classical music continues to be her deepest passion. Tanya owned and operated a gourmet sandwich shop and caterer called The Sandwich Maestro that has a classical musical theme located in Stamford for 20 years which she sold in December 2017. She considers herself a foodie. Cooking, entertaining and going to different restaurants are some of her favorite pastimes.

Autumn Thompson

Autumn Thompson was born and raised in New York. She developed an interest in Early Childhood Education from a young age, and found her love for working with small children through a leadership program in Middle School called Today’s Students Tomorrow’s Teachers. Throughout her Junior and Senior years in High School, she spent her time tutoring children and working for her local Early Childhood Program for the summer. The eight week program helped children with special needs prepare for the upcoming school year. Since moving to New Haven, Autumn has worked at Kindercare Learning Center as an Infant/Toddler Teacher, and is First Aid and CPR Certified. Autumn is currently attending Ashworth College, and looks forward to furthering her education. Autumn is developing, embracing and understanding her passion for teaching and inspiring young minds. She has an interest in writing and loves to read. In her spare time, Autumn loves to cook, bake and help out in her community. She is looking forward to having a positive impact here at FCfC, bothin within the classroom and as a community member.

Tracey Smith

Kristina Valente

Kristina joined the Friends Center community in August of 2018 and brought with her 10 years of experience working with children ages preschool through 5th grade. Preschool has become her favorite age group to work with because of the ages’ significant potential for growth and development. Kristina holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in Education from Southern Connecticut State University.

Kristina loves gardening, cooking and playing with her dogs.

Jessica Wolfer

Jessica joined the Friends Center team in August 2013, just as Friends Center opened its new building. She began as an assistant teacher in Pod 1, and then transitioned to a head teacher role in Pod 2 a year later. She previously worked in an early childhood learning program in Hamden, initially working with toddlers and eventually running the preschool program there. Jessica holds an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Gateway Community College and looks to pursue a bachelor’s in the near future. In 2018, Jessica participated in the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence-Ashoka Changemakers Fellowship, joining a group of educators in spreading the importance of emotional intelligence in education. 2018 was an exciting one for Jessica, she married her best friend, joined a band and helped to start up a food truck business, along with her husband and good friend. She enjoys music, nature and creating art whenever possible. Jessica is extremely excited to begin her new role as Curriculum Supervisor at Friends Center, and hopes to focus on supporting teachers as they gently and confidently guide children along the first steps of their educational journey.