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.

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.

Ken Beeman

Ken’s path to Facilities Management at Friends Center for Children has been long and varied. He is a Connecticut native but spent his post college years in the investment profession in Michigan and the Information Technology industry in Missouri. 20 years ago he came back to his home State to lead a family owned construction business. His vast experiences seem to have prepared him perfectly for Friends Center. He is excited for the opportunity to build and organize all physical and IT infrastructure aspects of this growing community. Outside of work, you can find Ken working with high schoolers as a Boy’s Varsity Basketball Coach, a passion for the sport he developed as a college player himself, spending time with his rambunctious new dog and enjoying time with his partner and her two college aged children.

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.

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!

Justin Cross

 Justin Cross grew up in New Haven, CT. Going through the New Haven school system inspired him to give back to his community. When he attended college, Justin decided to pursue a degree in family therapy as it afforded him the opportunity to work with many different demographics. Justin joined the FCfC community with enthusiasm to explore the minds of children and develop communication and teaching skills with them. Justin is also pursuing a MS degree in Counseling and Human Services and looks forward to amassing more knowledge and experience through his studies and his time and Friends Center.

Jakim Dease

Jakim Dease is a University of Connecticut Student who lives in Hamden, CT. He is pursuing a degree in Communication and a minor in Africana Studies. Jakim has several years of experience as an administrative assistant working at the University of Connecticut. He was inspired by his mother who is an elementary school teacher to pursue a career in the education field. He has babysitting and volunteer experience from being a Sunday school teacher at his church and volunteered time as an assistant teacher in the “children’s church” program. Friend’s Center was introduced to Jakim through a news broadcast where he heard that there was a worker’s shortage and he believed he could be of assistance to the program in order to make Friends Center run more smoothly and efficiently. During Jakim’s free time he enjoys listening to music, playing basketball and writing poems.

Marilyn DeJesus

Marilyn De Jesus joins us as a graduate from Post University with a B.A in Early Childhood Studies, currently working on attaining her M.A, and has eight years of experience working at NAEYC Accredited centers. Her passion of caring for children started in her high school years as a volunteer in a home daycare and then becoming a nanny for children with whom she still has a loving relationship with. Marilyn attained experience and knowledge through internships at Yale New Haven Hospital and Gateway Community College where she received her Associates in Early Childhood Education. Marilyn enjoys being in community, and is an avid participant in New Haven events, such as being a member of Vox Church and volunteering as the Female leader at YoungLife New Haven. After traveling to La Romana, Dominican Republic with DRMT (a Wallingford Nonprofit Organization) and her church’s mission group, she saw the need to provide educational support to the organizations’ local Elementary School, and spent a year teaching English to students of various age groups. Missionary work gave Marilyn the opportunity to gain a further appreciation of stewardship and attaining joy by spending her days with children, which led to her decision to join the Friends Center community. Simplicity and spontaneity are two key components during Marilyn’s free time which is spent cherishing every moment with whom she calls life’s greatest blessing: her son John Antoni.

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!

Melissa Ferrigon

Melissa Ferrigon was born and raised in New York and has recently relocated to Connecticut. Melissa is looking forward to going back to school to finish her Bachelor’s in Early Childhood. She has worked as an assistant teacher with children who are visually impaired. She is a mother of 3, with a daughter and two sons. Melissa is always looking to expand her childcare knowledge by taking on different roles in the childcare field. Her hobbies include organizing and getting to know her first grandchild. She is excited to join the FCfC community and is looking forward to getting to know children and families.

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.

Crystal Gethers

Crystal Gethers was born and raised in New Haven, CT and grew up in daycare, as she grew older she realized she never talked about doing anything else other than working with children. Crystal has worked in the child care field with children of all ages for over 5 years at the very daycare she grew up in and loved it. Over the course of life Crystal left working in child care to pursue a different career and became unhappy. She realized  her true PASSION and PURPOSE is working with children. Crystal has finally decided to step out  to join the Early Childhood field and further her career. Crystal loves painting, skating, bowling, going to the movies and spending time with her friends and family during her free time. Crystal is excited and honored to be part of the Friends Center educators and prepare the young minds of the next generation.

Lea Gethers

Lea Gethers was born and raised in New Haven,CT. She enjoys helping others anyway she can. She’s grateful to be at FCfC to learn new skills professionally and personally. She enjoys singing, dancing and watching movies.

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

Patrice Lanae Harrison was born and raised in Hamden, Connecticut and is owner and operator of Ivy League Healthcare Consultants (“Ivy League”).  Ivy League is a healthcare consulting company which specializes in supporting childcare facilities throughout the state of Connecticut and has been in operation since 2010.  Ms. Harrison is a 2005 graduate of Boston College where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing.  In 2007, she obtained a Master of Science in Nursing from Yale University School of Nursing and is currently both a licensed Registered Nurse and Advanced Practiced Registered Nurse with a specialty in Family.  She is also an active American Heart Association CPR instructor.

Ms. Harrison has served as the presiding nurse and/or nurse practitioner in many health care settings, including a school-based health clinic, residential behavioral center for children and long-term care facility.  She also served as a nursing instructor at Lincoln Technical Institute in Connecticut for many years.
Ms. Harrison is an active member of the Church of God & Saints of Christ and currently a member of the Church’s National Medical Team.  She has traveled extensively both domestically and internationally, most notably a missionary trip to South Africa. Traveling is one of her many passions as well as spending time and creating memories with her children aged seven and nine as well as her foster child aged one.

Miriam Johnson Sutton

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 her role as Head of Programs. Miriam also enjoys gathering and spending time with family.

Valerie Laplume

Valerie Laplume was born in Westerly, Rhode Island but later moved to Groton, Connecticut, where she grew up. Five years ago, she moved to New Haven, CT. She’s grown to love the culture of the city and everything it has to offer. While in high school, Valerie played basketball and was the captain of her school’s field hockey team. She graduated from Gateway Community College with her associates in early childhood education, having taken courses such as “Health and Safety,” “Child, Family, School, and Community,” “Math and Science for Children,” and “Children’s Growth and Development.” These courses have helped to shape and show the love and appreciation she has for early education. While at Gateway, Valerie also took classes for exceptional learners. From these classes, she has learned how to interpret children’s feelings and how to create the positive school environment that children need. She is currently in the process of getting her Bachelors degree at Charter Oak Early Education Center. She loves teaching because she wants to make a difference by giving children a place to feel safe and loved, watch them grow and experience new things. She also can’t wait to share new information that she had learned. In addition, Valerie is also always looking for ways to improve her teaching. Outside of teaching, Valerie enjoys Arts and Crafts, Cooking, and Shopping. When she can, she also loves to spend time with her family, with whom she is very close.

Shantol Lee

Shantol L. was born and raised in Jamaica, and moved to the United States in 2016 as an international student, majoring in nursing. She has always had a passion for helping others and taking care of children. Shantol loves seeing children learn new things and the excitement that it brings. In the fall, she plans to enroll in Southern Connecticut State University’s nursing program. In her spare time, she loves listening to music, reading and spending time with her family. She is thrilled to be part of the FCFC community and feels it is a gift to help children explore the world around them.

Jessica Legere

In 2004, Jessica “Jessie” Legere graduated from the University of Connecticut with her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, and again in 2005 with her Master’s degree in Education. From there, she worked as a Kindergarten substitute before becoming a first-grade teacher! However, Jessie soon found out that teaching at the elementary level, while incredibly rewarding, wasn’t her true passion. Teaching preschool, however, was, and it was at that moment in 2006 that she began her journey in the field of early childhood education. Jessie has been both a preschool teacher and program Director, sharing her love for this field with countless fellow educators and families. During these years, she came to realize that what she valued most are programs that celebrate human connection, that support learning through play, creativity, and kindness, and that commit to on-going growth and professional development! Jessie believes in starting each day with positivity and mindfulness, in treating each interaction she has with others with respect and the intention to understand, and in learning something new each day. In her spare time, she enjoys hopping on her bike for a spin class, hiking and being around lots of trees, shopping for anything vintage, listening to music and attending concerts, reading- especially poetry, and spending time with her nephew, Bruin, eating peanut butter and having dance parties.

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.

Puja Mansaram

Puja graduated with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education from Naugatuck Valley Community College, and is continuing her early childhood education at Southern Connecticut State University. Puja has a passion and love for working and teaching young children. She has 3 years of experience working with toddlers and preschoolers. In her spare time Puja enjoys yoga, hiking and spending time with her family and friends.

Puja believes, “Teaching kids to count is fine, but to teach kids what counts is best” – bob talbert

Melissa Pearson

Melissa was born and raised in New Haven, CT. Her desire to understand people for who they are led to her Bachelor’s of Psychology from the University of New Haven. After college, Melissa ran a successful licensed home daycare in Hamden and has also spent time as a teacher in a daycare center. Melissa found her true purpose in life is being able to encourage, motivate, and inspire others to be the best version of themselves.  She is excited to mesh both of her passions for providing quality child care to all children as well as supporting teachers and giving them a voice in her new role here at Friends Center. 

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.

Karina Rojas

Karina came to our beautiful country in 2015 with her husband and son. Karina was born in Maracay-Venezuela and obtained a degree in Administration and Accounting in her country. Karina left the numbers and calculators to dedicate herself to doing what she likes to do with her vocation, and that is working with children. Five years ago Karina began this adventure of preparing herself at a professional level to give the best of  herself  to children, at the same time she started as a volunteer and quickly became employed in centers accredited by NAEYC. Karina obtained her CDA in 2016 and is currently studying for her Bachelor of Early Childhood Education. Proudly Hispanic, Karina enjoys offering children an additional foundation in a second language. In Karinas free time photography is her passion, she likes to capture the best angle of the places she visits.

Allyx Schiavone

Allyx has over 30 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 Childhood Development and Elementary Education as well as a Bachelor’s degree from Union College. A third-generation New Haven native, 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. Allyx has taught in several elementary schools and pre-school settings in NYC, New Haven and Greenwich; directed summer camps; and written and supervised curricula at elementary, middle and high school levels with an emphasis on multidisciplinary studies. 

Allyx is the driving force behind Friends Center for Children’s rapid growth and innovation. She, along with her team, is responsible for establishing Friends Center for Children as well as the acquisition of three school facilities and all of the supporting work which allows them to thrive. Allyx is the originator of many Friends Center initiatives including; the Emotional Wellbeing Program; the Teacher Housing Initiative; and the Teacher Leadership Program. 

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 who have come together to create an Ideal Learning place-based pilot program in New Haven. 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 a member of the National Ideal Learning Roundtable and the Mayoral-Appointed New Haven Early Childhood Council. She is a recipient of the Bank Street College of Education Alumni Association Recognition Award, presented annually to Bank Street graduates honoring outstanding career accomplishments in the field of education which exemplify the spirit and philosophy of Bank Street College; the Southern Black Nurses Association Community Service Award; the Amity Club Distinguished Italian-American Lifetime Achievement Award; Exchange Magazine’s Master Leader award; and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s 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. 

First and foremost, Allyx is an advocate for early care and education, focused on creating alternative systems for members of the early childhood community who are marginalized, overburdened and underfunded. She is the mother of two fantastic adult children, the partner to an amazing man, and the provider for a lovely dog named Tuck.


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.

Rachel Sotland

Rachel has been at Friends Center for one year serving as a flexible Support Assistant to both infant/toddler and preschool. She previously spent 3 years working with preschoolers and helping them to learn their primary skills. Rachel has completed all of her CDA education and training (Child Development Associate).  She is very intuitive towards children’s feelings and has a special ability to understand and connect with them. Working at Friends Center for Children has allowed her to continue to work with them on their development. Her hobbies include Tae Kwon Do, bowling, puzzles and running Spartan races.

Aundrea Tabbs-Smith

Aundrea attended Temple University where she obtained a bachelor’s in Early and Elementary Education and later earned her master’s in Special Education from Bank Street College of Education in Manhattan. Reflecting on her experiences in middle and high school, as the only or one of a handful of students of color, she published her first book in 2018, learning that even though others may not see our value we have a purpose. Aundrea wrote “For the Quiet Black Girl Trying to Find Her Voice in a Predominately White Space” for little girls like her who needed the reminder that they matter.
Aundrea was a classroom teacher at Rye Country Day School for 12 years — teaching 1st, 3rd, and 4th grade and was the Lower School Diversity Coordinator and a member of the Social Justice Committee. Throughout her teaching career, it has been her mission to not only educate the minds of her students but also enrich their souls. After leaving the classroom she was Director of Admissions for an independent school in Stamford, CT for two years. Aundrea is excited to join the Friends community and work together to liberate and empower families.

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.

Rosie Ziou

Rosie Ziou was born and raised in New Haven CT. After having an inspirational high school English Teacher during her senior year–she felt determined to work in education. She has both Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in English Secondary Education and minored in Theater, but fell in love with the wonder, spirit, creativity and wisdom of early learners! She believes in the importance and value of early childhood education, and finds great joy in reading stories, and creating artwork and imaginary games with young children. She appreciates and desires to learn more about how to care for children in an intentional and compassionate way which empowers them to achieve their dreams. In her free time, she loves walking, engaging in dance workouts, reading, cooking, spending time with her family and friends and listening to romantic Broadway musicals. She feels honored to be a part of the Friends Center Community with its commitment to social justice, equity, and diversity, and feels excited to learn!