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 I/T 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.  A family full of teachers has inspired him to pursue a career in the academic field.  In high school, 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.  While currently pursuing a BA in Computer Science, Rogelio has noticed the need for high-quality Early Childhood Education, which drew him towards FCfC.  He will have a minor in Early Childhood Education when he graduates.  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 faces. Rondraya previously worked at Bright Horizons of Orange starting as a 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 a part of the FCfC family.

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. Kristen’s job as a caseworker inspired her to obtain  her associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education which she is still working towards. 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 4 years ago, and was impressed with the focus on the whole child and emergent curriculum. Kristen has been working as a substitute and classroom support in all the classrooms since March 2018. During her free time, Kristen enjoys being in nature, spending time with her son, and playing with their pets.  She feels very honored to be able to continue to get to know the friends at FCFC.

Fekianne Charles

Fekianne first came to Friends Center as an intern, working alongside Bonnie Muller. Fekianne graduated from Albertus Magnus College with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology and a concentration in Child Development. During her time at Albertus Magnus, she also participated in lacrosse and the student government association. After graduating, she served as a substitute teacher for three months before accepting an Assistant Teaching position in the downstairs preschool. Shortly after about a year, she then began as an Assistant Teacher in Pod 5. In the classrooms, she incorporates her knowledge from classes such as Child Play and Child Attachment and Relationships into her care and interactions with the children. 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 furthering a career in working with children.

Jan Childs

Jan Childs is an assistant 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 has more than five years of early childhood education experience. She started at Friends Center as an Assistant Teacher. Alyssa completed her Bachelor Degree in Child Studies at Charter Oak College in February 2020.  She is now in a Head Teacher role and leading a preschool classroom. She has a great passion for working with young children, and believes in her ability to make a difference in the lives of our young learners. Since she was young, Alyssa always babysat for her cousins, which fueled her love for being a caregiver to children. Alyssa grew up in the New Haven area all throughout her life and is drawn to its diverse community. She is also looking forward to furthering her involvement as a member of the Greater New Haven community. Alyssa loves to be with her family, including her 2 cats. She also enjoys 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. Val has attended Charter Oak college for early childhood education, and has been working in the early childhood education field for over 20 years. She was inspired to open and operate her own home daycare for 15 years. Her passion in teaching young children is evident, in her calm and nurturing interactions with children. Through research, Val discovered the benefits of incorporating American Sign Language in the classroom environment. She is certified in ASL and her goal is to become a certified interpreter in ASL.

Val is delighted to be in Pod 5, where she continues to help our youngest friends at Friends Center flourish!

Jennifer Digioia

Jennifer DiGioia has been in the field of Early Childhood Education and Advocacy for over thirty years. She came to Friends Center in 2011 from San Francisco, where she taught in toddler, preschool and transitional kindergarten classrooms. She served on the boards of several local affiliates of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, including the California AEYC conference planning committee and Public Policy committee. As a member of Worthy Wages for Child Care, she worked to increase awareness of the direct link between teacher retention and high quality programming. In the classroom, her primary focus is building trusting relationships, the foundation on which all curriculum is built. Her passion for music (the Orff Approach) and visual artistic development breathes into each learning area. She is the custodian of the Rhoda Kellogg International Child Art Archive, here in New Haven and San Francisco. In the Friends Center community, she finds continual inspiration in the guiding influence of the Quaker values and the commitment to sustaining a nurturing, inclusive and loving environment.

Katherine Flores

Katherine Flores received her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Charter Oak State College in 2016 and has since accumulated six years of experience. During her childhood, Katherine lived with her mother and father in Honduras, and at 11 years old, moved to Connecticut. Coming from a foreign country, she developed a sense of community appreciation for education. Her experience began as a volunteer at her younger brother’s preschool, St. Francis and St. Rose of Lima. Her bilingual skills and her natural gifts for teaching earned her a promotion as an assistant teacher. In 2015, Katherine began her work at Friends Center for Children as a headteacher. Throughout her time at FCfC, Katherine has proven to be an efficient worker and determined to do her part in serving her community, all while developing a more deep-rooted passion for teaching. In 2020, Katherine is eager to expand her role in supporting her community further as site director for FCfC’s Blake St. location. Throughout her time at FCfC, Katherine shares with us her love of books, her love for her family, and her uplifting, humorous personality.

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 seven years of working at Friends Center, Marianne has been involved with administrative support, admissions, office management 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.

Patrice Harrison

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.

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 plus 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 loves  contributing her professional and personal experiences to the position of Emotional Wellbeing Coordinator.

Abigail Kuziel

Abigail Kuziel graduated from Gateway Community College in 2016 with her Associates Degree in Human Services. She is currently finishing her Bachelors in Early Childhood Education through Charter Oak State College. She will be beginning her Masters in Social Work. 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. 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. Therese’s passion is to apply innovative and creative ways to support children and connect and build an empathetic community. In her free time, Therese enjoys hiking and traveling.

Blakelee Morron

Blakelee Morron has over six 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 five, she sees that children are more eager to learn from someone they trust and enjoy being around. She 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 spending time with her family and friends, as well as being outside in nature, especially the beach. Blakelee feels incredibly fortunate to 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!

Keila Perez

Keila Perez brings over 10 years of experience in early childhood education to her role as assistant teacher at Friends Center.  Her daughter Alexa attended Friends Center for preschool and has moved on to Kindergarten.  She was born and raised in New York and attended Borough Manhattan Community College where she graduated with an Associate 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.  She is currently pursuing a Bachelor Degree in Early Childhood Education.  Keila has a passion for children and education, especially the individual learning process of each child.

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. She recently moved back to Connecticut from Ohio, where she started her childcare journey. She has two beautiful children, Londyn and Ryan who keep her on her toes at all times.  Ryan attends Friends Center and will be entering our preschool classroom this year.

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 29 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.

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.

Allyx is a founder of the New Haven Children’s Ideal Learning District (NH ChILD). NH ChILD is a coalition of local and national early childhood proponents that have come together to create a place-based pilot program in New Haven. NH ChILD proposes to revolutionize the early care and education landscape by bringing the community together around a common vision of Ideal Learning with a focus on equity. The goal of NH ChILD is to provide high-quality early care and education experiences for all 15,000 New Haven children ages zero to eight.

She currently serves as an advisory member of the University of New Haven’s Nonprofit Certificate in Leadership, Innovation and Organizational Sustainability and on the Mayoral Appointed New Haven Early Childhood Council. She is a 2019 recipient of the Southern Black Nurses Association Community Service Award and the 2019 Amity Club Distinguished Italian-American Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also Exchange Magazine’s Master Leader award and the 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; and leader of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund Community Leadership Program. She is the mother of two fantastic teenaged children and has a lovely black dog named Blue.

Virginia Sharene

Virginia Sharene has been an assistant teacher at Friends Center since 2015.  In August of 2020, Virginia moved into the role of Infant/Toddler Co-Head Teacher.  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.

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 with her husband, Michael, and playing with their dogs Poppy, Tasha, Pippa, Rosie, Marley and Taco.

Jessica Wolfer

Jessica joined the Friends Center team in August 2013, just as Friends Center opened its new building. She began her work with FCfC as an Assistant Teacher in Pod 1, transitioning 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. In 2020, Jessica enjoyed participating in the PLC (Professional Learning Community) and gaining viewpoints on how to be an effective coach from her peers in the ECE field. Jessica continues to find fulfillment in her new role as Curriculum Supervisor at Friends Center, and looks forward to continuing her work in supporting teachers as they implement Emergent Curriculum alongside Social/Emotional Learning, and work to gently and confidently guide children along the first steps of their educational journey. In her free time, Jessica enjoys music, camping, gardening, spending time with her husband and three mischievous cats, and creating art whenever possible.