Community Members

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MAYSAA BAZNA

I am an educator, researcher, and an avid advocate for children having a voice in their education. My mission is to help cultivate children‘s intrinsic humanity and wisdom with the goal of creating a more just and harmonious world. I am a keen supporter of educational programs that count on children as active participants by trusting children to initiate and direct their own learning.

I founded Pono in 2010 and continue as its director. My journey to democratic education took several years of research into the history of various classical and modern systems of learning and education, along with introspection into the purpose of education and process of learning. 

Prior to starting Pono, I was a Professor in teacher education programs at Columbia University’s Teachers College and the City University of New York. I have taught in the areas of learning disabilities, disability studies, and inclusive education. My research focus has been the development of special and inclusive education programs in the United States and abroad, as well as the intersections of spirituality, post-coloniality, and disability.

I hold a B.A. in English literature from Damascus University, an M.A. in learning disabilities, an M.S. in reading and learning disabilities, and an Ed.D. in curriculum and teaching. All of my graduate studies were at Teachers College, Columbia University. I live in New York City with my daughter, Sulaf, Pono’s first student.

EMAIL: maysaa@pono.nyc

 

KATE DESHMUKH

When people ask, “Why Pono?” it’s easy for me to respond. Pono children have an active voice in their education; visiting teachers are experts in their fields; and weekly field trips introduce students to the rich diversity of New York City. Pono provides authentic learning experiences and engages the whole child. I am enthusiastic about Pono as a parent and as a teacher. My daughter thrives in an environment that respects and encourages her curiosity. As a teacher, I benefit from exchanges with children who are inquisitive, kind, and engaged. I often discover I am learning with my students! In my role as Pono's admissions director, it is rewarding to introduce new families to the Pono community.

My background is in educational publishing and bilingual education. I have written and edited programs for emerging and struggling readers and for reading teachers, taught in a bilingual (Spanish/English) classroom, and instructed adult and children English language learners. I hold a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and religion from Wittenberg University and a master’s degree in theology from the University of Chicago. My most rewarding learning experiences have been immersive, as when I lived with a local family in Melilla, a Spanish community in North Africa. I have also studied human rights, sustainable development, and theology while living and traveling in Mexico, Central America, Israel, Palestine, and India.

I live in Manhattan with my husband, Adeet, and our daughter, Zoë, who is always happy to answer the question, “Why Pono?”

EMAIL: kate@pono.nyc

 

JULIETTA EISENBERG

It’s hard to believe that I have been an educator for more than 20 years now—it still feels as fresh, new, and exciting as when I first started teaching! For me, teaching is the ultimate learning experience; a constant process of questioning, refining, and making new connections with people and ideas. My journey first began in high school when, sitting in my physics class in one of the nation’s “top” schools, I heard my internal voice say, “This is a missed opportunity.” I was responding to the passive format in which my learning was taking place—teacher standing at the front writing on a board, students passively taking notes. This “hands-off” approach made me feel cut-off from my nature. As a visual artist, dancer, singer, and amateur linguist, I craved diverse, multi-sensory, active ways in which to process and retain new information: to bring my whole self to the experience. I believed that most students would learn better and gain more enjoyment from this way of learning. As I look back now, it makes perfect sense. It’s natural for human beings to want to learn in ways that engage who they are as individuals: their passions and their modes of interacting with the world. After experiencing learning in a similar, one-dimensional way in college, I set out to change things; to create for my students a three-dimensional, multi-modal, and personalized world of wonder and inspiration!

I believe that all human beings, young and old, want to feel capable, valued, cared for, safe, and understood, to be involved in activities that excite, engage, challenge, and teach them about the world and themselves, to experience opportunities for large group, small group, partnered and independent activities, to be close to one another and to have space, to have time for lively external expression and interaction and time for quiet, internal processing, and to be allowed a voice in how this happens. We all need our physical, emotional, and intellectual needs respected and met in order to be happy, healthy and successful. In all of my incarnations throughout the years: high school Spanish teacher, dual language kindergarten and second grade teacher, Spanish poetry and drama teacher, and now literacy specialist, I have kept this ever present. My work has been driven by the awareness that my students are multifaceted, natural individuals with minds, bodies, and spirits that need to be fully engaged and respected. My own experience tells me that when this happens we feel empowered. This is how I want my students to feel!

I have enjoyed all of my teaching experiences but, as a public school teacher, politics sometimes proved an obstacle to creating the type of community and experiences I longed to offer children; my approach could only extend as far as the boundaries of my own classroom. I had been researching about democratic education, and I discovered Pono. Pono is a democratic learning community where all members have a voice and students have a right to learn in the ways that work best for them. At Pono I have found a home where my awareness of and respect for children’s multifaceted nature is shared. Here I can move forward, striving to apply my whole self to nurturing the whole child, in a connected, like-minded community. I’m so happy to be a part of Pono!

EMAIL: julietta@pono.nyc

 
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LEONISA ARDIZZONE

I have been an educator for more than 20 years, founding Storefront Science in 2012 to create a science learning space that focused on exploration and inquiry. However, I am more than just a science educator. I am a mother, a jazz musician, an avid traveller, a published author, and a seeker.

I hold a BA in biology, an M.Ed in science education, and an Ed.D. in international educational development with a specialization in peace education. I was drawn to my concentration in peace education since I believe strongly that education can transform the world and that educators must work for peace and justice. If we provide children with holistic, cooperative, and interdisciplinary learning experiences, they learn the underlying core values of peace education: humane relationships, global citizenship, and planetary stewardship.

I started my career as a middle and high school science teacher, teaching in Seattle, Ithaca, and New York City. After completing my doctorate at Columbia University (Teachers College), I was an assistant professor for five years at Adelphi University. I later taught courses in science education, educational philosophy, psychology, sociology, and curriculum development at Fordham University. Needing to feel more connected to education “on the ground,” I then served as the Executive Director of the not-for-profit Salvadori Center for five years, transforming it into one of the leading math and science organizations in New York City public schools.

Believing that I needed to do more for my Northern Manhattan community, I founded Storefront Science in 2012 to bring my love of exploration to the children and teachers of NYC. I believe in play…and think lots of science can be learned by playing.

I love my time at Pono. The children and adults are curious and energetic, and I love creating “emergent” curriculum based on the children’s interests and scientific questions.

In addition to teaching at Pono and Storefront Science, I provide professional and curriculum development for schools, community centers, media, and museums. I sing jazz when I can. And write as much as possible. I have numerous education publications to my credit (and blog for the Huffington Post). My first book Gettin’ My Word Out: Voices of Urban Youth Activists was published in 2007 by SUNY Press. It is based on my research with NYC teenage peace builders. My latest book Science: Not Just For Scientists. Easy Explorations for Young Children was released in 2014 by Gryphon House Press and was informed by some of the lessons I did with the kids at Pono. It is the winner of the 2015 Tillywig Toy Brain Child Award, the 2015 Mom's Choice Gold Award, and the 2015 National Parenting Publications Award.

I have written a science-themed middle-grades novel and recently received a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary, where I studied inter-religious engagement. I am ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister. I am also an assistant adjunct professor in the education department at Vassar College.

EMAIL: leonisa@storefrontscience.com

 

NORAH RODERICK

It’s been more than a decade since I made the transition to teaching full time after working as a professional stage manager and director in upstate New York and New York City independent theatres. In that time I have worked as a teacher and administrator in a wide range of school programs and settings, from traditional public middle schools in the Bronx to progressive public and independent primary schools in downtown Manhattan, particularly at LREI. I am thrilled to be able to put the balance of my experience to work at Pono, where I hope to continue exploring the forefront of new ideas in pedagogy and what it means to be a progressive educator in the 21st century.

I have an MA in educational theatre (NYU), which leads my focus on building an experience for students, creating exciting entry points into their learning. I like to approach my work with children with a few questions leading the way: Are the students enjoying themselves? Are they working well together and independently? And are they learning deeply? I love the moments when we can combine academic learning with social/emotional learning, so a lot of my work in recent years has been focused on teaching nontraditional subjects and focusing more on students’ social/emotional truth and growth.

I also have a passion for educational administration. In particular I enjoy systematization and organization, as well as teacher training and professional development. I focus my work in these areas on the tenets that we must be clear on what our standards and expectations are in order to create an environment that is safe for risk taking and exploring our strengths and stretches. I believe that if we can do that for the grownups in our school (faculty and parents/caregivers), then we can certainly do it for the children!

EMAIL: norah@pono.nyc

 
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ADRIANA YOUNG

I love Pono because it is a community where everyone is nurtured and loved as a whole person, and no one is judged or stigmatized. I am elated that my son, Rui, is growing up in this learning environment, and this inspires my work leading Pono’s fundraising efforts.

My background is in city design, social research, and the democratization of emergent technologies. I started my career by founding my own school for immigrant families, called English for Action. For 19 years, the school offered free language learning in the context of social issues and community activism, and received support from many local and national foundations. For the past decade, I have taught urban design history, social innovation, and design research at Parsons School of Design at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

My own independent research work focuses on immigrant and refugee communities and their agency in shaping their own urban surroundings. With support from the India China Institute, Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation, I have led studies on the built environment of informal economies of migrant and refugee communities in Ahmedabad, Kuwait City, London and New York. I have also written on the politics of inclusive public space for publications such as The Journal of Urban TechnologyMakeshift MagazineGOODEthnography Matters, and CITY Journal. I also previously led consumer research and insights for littleBits, a DIY hardware product for kids and educators to invent their own technology.

I have a B.A. in History from Brown University, an M.A. in International Affairs from The New School, and an MSc. in City Design and Social Science from the London School of Economics.

I live in Riverdale with my son, Rui, who from his first week at Pono asked: “Can I stay at this school forever?”

EMAIL: younga@gmail.com

 
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SANDRA ANDRADE

I’m delighted to be part of the Pono community as a teaching assistant for the Sprouts. I believe children learn best through active experiences, and I enjoy hands-on activities with the young Pono friends. I love to engage children through music, and you’ll often hear me singing with the Sprouts!

I was born and raised in Ecuador and received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Guayaquil. After I moved to the United States, I became involved in early childhood education through my daughters. I had volunteered at their daycare center in Brooklyn, and the center then offered me a position. I spent 17 happy years there as a teaching assistant. Most recently, I worked as a teaching assistant at The Learning Experience, a preschool in North Haledon, New Jersey. My pastimes include walks in the park, spending time in nature, and going out with my three adult daughters.

EMAIL: sandra@pono.nyc

 
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JEFRA REES

My passion is working with young children and their families. I was immediately drawn to Pono because it is rare to find a school that so closely aligns with my own values: respectful childcare, child-led free play, spending time outside and in nature, and supporting the social-emotional development of children. I love exploring NYC and am excited to guide our littlest friends on gentle excursions and to experience the city through their eyes.

Before coming to Pono, I was most recently a child development and family consultant, developing services to improve the educational outcomes of children. Previously, I taught child passenger safety classes and parenting classes. I’ve worked as an early intervention specialist and as a child life assistant, supporting the psychosocial needs of hospitalized children and their families.

I hold a master’s in early childhood special education from The University of Texas at Austin, where I also received my bachelor’s degree in human development and family sciences. 

Email: jefra@pono.nyc

 
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UTAKO HARIYA

When I heard about Pono, I was ecstatic. I am very familiar with this Hawaiian word, as I dance hula. At first I thought, “Maybe Pono is a school in Hawaii.” Then I discovered that this wonderful school exists in Harlem!

I was born and raised in Japan. When I was 18, I took an airplane for the first time, totally alone, and traveled to Boston to pursue my dream of studying at an American college. I barely spoke English. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it!

My background is in business. I have a Bachelor of Science in marketing from Bentley University in Massachusetts. I took a 10-year break from the corporate world when my son was born. While raising him and participating in various children’s activities at home and at school, I discovered that I enjoyed interacting with children. I took a position as an assistant teacher at a Japanese preschool in White Plains, New York. There I found joy! After four years, I returned to the corporate world, but I wished to continue working with children. I’m truly excited to be part of this community and am looking forward to getting to know all of the Pono friends, big and small.

I love cooking, traveling, dancing, learning about different cultures, and sharing my culture.

EMAIL: utako@pono.nyc

 
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KAY LIANG

I graduated from Rhode Island School of Design this year with a degree in printmaking and a concentration in computation, technology, and culture. Before that, I went to two international schools in Beijing, two in Guangzhou, and a public school, Montessori, and day care in Toronto. I am grateful to have learned from more teachers than I can count and to have made friends from many parts of the world. However, somewhere along the way, I also forgot how to learn for the sake of learning, learning for a gold star, a grade, and my self-worth instead.

It was only until college that I remembered how to question things, fail at things, and look beyond the stories that I had made up about myself, about what I could and could not do. I began building spaces outside the classroom for students to share what we love and help each other become agents of our education. In the process, I learned how to honor myself by honoring others.

Now, I return to the somewhat beginning of education here at Pono to reexamine and protect what makes learning so magical.

EMAIL: kay@pono.nyc

 
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ALI DINEEN

I am a native New Yorker, who has spent the past several years exploring different worlds of music and art, while honing my own craft. I grew up surrounded by music in my home, and began singing in choirs, musicals and bands during high school. After graduating from Bard College in 2012 with a degree in studio art, I worked as a carpenter at Berkeley Repertory Theater in California. Since then, I have worked and toured with Bread and Puppet Theater, as puppeteer, singer, and musician, and performed and recorded with different musical groups. I released an album of original music in 2014 and another, Light Comes In, in 2016. I play accordion, guitar, washboard and piano, and am currently working on shadow puppet shows and original music, as well as visual art for activist campaigns in NYC. I am very grateful to be in the Pono community, and to learn every day what true kindness and compassion are from everyone at the learning center.

EMAIL: Ali.Dineen@gmail.com