Tessellations – The Beneventi School

Staff

Meet Our Staff

The remarkable staff at Tessellations shares a passionate dedication to teaching gifted children. Our teachers’ diversity of experience allows them to bring a deeper, richer worldview into the classroom, and their kindness, intelligence, and authenticity help set the tone for our whole community. Teachers include exceptional mathematicians, a former criminal attorney, a handful of practicing naturalists, a surprising number of instructors with three or more degrees apiece, and one of the nation’s foremost experts in the social/emotional needs of the gifted. Anne, Grace, and Christina provide leadership and oversight while Christie, Kirk, Liz, Alex and Kelsey teach in the virtual classroom every day. Colleen and Vida provide additional math instruction in our completely differentiated program. Read on for more:

Anne Beneventi

Founding Visionary

Anne is a Certified Master Practitioner of Gifted Qualitative Assessment (GQA), and is the successor to Annemarie Roeper, a pioneer and giant in the field of education who taught that the emotions of the gifted child are as important as their cognitive abilities. Anne is an Associate of the Gifted Development Center, has served as Chair of the Global Awareness Network of the National Association for Gifted Children, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) in 2017 for promoting an understanding of the essence of giftedness and for her method of identification of giftedness through GQA. Tessellations is the fourth school for the gifted that she has successfully co-founded. Her greatest professional accomplishments have been creating communities where gifted families can connect, belong, and thrive, and assisting the educational journey of gifted children so they can actualize their potential, principles which continue to serve as Anne’s personal and professional mission at Tessellations.

Alexandra Adam

Lower School Teacher

Alexandra’s passion for teaching began in middle school when, as a Girl Scout, she supported younger girls through community service activities. Now, with over a decade of teaching experience, she’s passionate about sharing her love of learning, especially teaching mathematics to curious minds in the youngest grades. She believes in delivering individualized instruction to best support student growth socially, emotionally, and academically. “With our small group sizes at Tessellations I am able to learn so much about who my students are,” she says. “Together, we can learn so much about each other’s passions and interests and encourage continual growth.” Alexandra holds a BS in Elementary Teacher Education and Middle School Math from the University of Delaware and a MEd in Science, Math, and Technology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Kirkman Amos

Middle School Science Teacher

Kirkman’s goal as an educator is to foster students’ confidence and curiosity and imbue them with a feeling of self-reliance. He wants them to feel a part of a community, recognize their role, and build intention towards how they impact the world around them. Kirkman graduated from the College of Charleston with degrees in Biochemistry, Biology, and Chemistry, and worked in several interesting fields before he ended up teaching math and science in a school nestled in the cloud forest of Costa Rica, which ignited a newfound passion for teaching. After four years, he returned to the States to study natural resource management and educational programming, earning a Masters in Curriculum Design from Utah State University.

Christina Emmett

Director of Education

Christina’s diverse background in education includes designing training programs for new teachers and organizing and facilitating professional development for educators, as well as teaching gifted students. A California native, Christina earned an MS in Conservation Biology at the University of New South Wales, and lived in New Zealand for three years before returning to California to work in outdoor education. Prior to helping found Tessellations, she was the Director of Academic Programs at Helios School, where she worked with faculty and staff to develop curriculum and refine teaching practices to meet the needs of gifted students. “My interest in conservation and environmental issues led me to working in environmental education, and I fell in love,” she explains. “Education is most impactful when we meet students at their learning edge and present them with meaningful, relevant topics and questions. In being at Tessellations, I love that I get to support teachers in doing this very important work.”

Vida John

Math Teacher

Vida John is a former mathlete and American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME) qualifier. She holds an engineering degree from Stanford University and a medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco. After homeschooling her daughters, she now works as a math coach, preparing students for MathCounts and the American Mathematics Competitions (AMC), math contests designed for talented mathematics students. She teaches math using materials published by Art of Problem Solving, which is Tessellations’ middle school math curriculum. Vida attributes her academic success to her solid mathematics training, and believes every student deserves these opportunities.

Kelsey Killoran

Specialist Teacher

Kelsey is passionate about connecting people to science and nature in ways that are personal, meaningful, and impactful. She resides in Santa Cruz and is an avid reader, hiker and practicing naturalist, with a BS in Conservation and Resource Studies from UC Berkeley. She spent eight years teaching and sharing her love of the natural world with students of all ages in a mix of formal, informal, and outdoor settings, but feels she’s found her niche teaching gifted students. She can dive deeply into rigorous content–both socially and academically–with them, and their combination of intensity, passion for learning, tenacity, quirkiness, and depth of spirit challenge Kelsey to rise to higher standards every day. She leads Tessellations’ innovative Enrichment program, helping students to find and pursue their individual passions with teacher support during school hours.

Grace Stanat

Head of School

As the founder and CEO of several successful companies, Oxford-educated Grace Stanat earned a reputation for brilliant problem solving and a management style that combines heart and good humor. At the request of the other parents and staff, Grace is serving as Interim Head of School for the duration of Tessellations’ formation. He sets the tone for our community and deftly manages all aspects of the school’s operation, allowing our exceptional teachers to do what they do best–teach! Grace works closely with Anne Beneventi and Christina Emmett to ensure that the entire staff has everything they need to create outstanding curricula and deliver the best possible education to our gifted students.

Christie Trott

Middle School Humanities Teacher

Christie has been teaching for over 20 years in both public and private schools on the East and West Coasts. She graduated with a BA in Government from Wesleyan University and a JD from Santa Clara School of Law, practicing criminal law before discovering that her true passion was in education. As a teacher, she combines her love of literature, history, social criticism, and philosophy with an emphasis on the development of critical thinking, textual analysis, and persuasive writing skills. “Over the years, I have come to see myself as a ‘teacher-conductor’ who stands before the class and uses the individual contributions of the students to create a symphony of learning,” she says. “…As a teacher I must be a subject-matter expert, but to be an excellent and effective teacher-conductor I must strive to facilitate and share the expertise of my students to create a classroom environment where a life-long love of learning is created.”

Colleen Vandevoorde

Math Teacher

Raised in both the Midwest and the Deep South, Colleen enjoyed a rich childhood, filled with exploring new places and learning about the cultural and geographic differences in our vast country. Colleen earned three degrees in Chemical Engineering: a BS from Tulane University and her MS and PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Working first as a chemical engineer and then a professional musician, Colleen found her home in education after volunteering at her children’s schools and realizing how rewarding it is to work with students and be involved in the community. She teaches math at Tessellations and continues to teach music in her private music studio in Sunnyvale. Her hope for all of her students is that they feel empowered to learn through the acquisition of new tools and strategies, that they live creative lives, and that they never lose their drive to discover new ways of thinking about things.

Liz Wallach

Lower School Teacher

After she graduated with a BA in Art History from Smith College, Liz began her journey into education in China by teaching preschool in Suzhou. Next, she moved to Shanghai to help open a new international school, enrolling over 30 international families and developing a solid, exploratory learning-based curriculum. Upon her return to the States, Liz earned an MA from Bank Street Graduate School of Education in New York City, and spent five years working in New York City public schools, teaching STEAM to early elementary students. In 2018, Liz and her dog Gus moved to sunny California to teach gifted first and second graders. She feels that stepping into a gifted classroom is a lot like opening the door and stepping out into a beautiful, sunny day, and says that the enthusiasm, passion, and empathy students bring to learning is what inspires her.

Staff Joining Us for the 2021-2022 School Year

Tessellations is growing! We will be updating this list over the next several months as we assemble an amazing staff for our first year on campus. Many of us will be working over the summer to prepare everything for the students’ arrival in the fall.

Rachel Bagnani

Kindergarten Teacher

A Bay Area native, Rachel earned a BA in Child and Adolescent Development and an MA in Education from San Francisco State University. Drawing on her passion and knowledge of the Reggio Emilia approach to early education, Rachel was an integral part of the team that developed Google’s highly regarded Children’s Center at the Woods. Her experience and expertise with gifted children deepened when she shifted into teaching gifted kindergarteners in a private school setting for seven years before coming to Tessellations. She and her co-teacher Claudia will give the youngest students at Tessellations a particularly warm, engaging, and fun introduction to their school experience. “I’m thrilled to be welcomed into such a kind and caring community,” says Rachel. “One of my passions is designing beautiful, engaging environments for children, and I’m excited to be able to do this as well as build the new kindergarten program at Tessellations.”

Len Bloch

Middle School Science Teacher

Len’s love of teaching was ignited in 1985, one year after he earned a BS in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania. Since then, he has taught every academic subject, every age from pre-school to post-graduate, and both gifted and special education. Still, he always returns to middle school science, and he finds a special joy in working with gifted students. When he wasn’t busy teaching, he earned an MA in Education from UC Berkeley, and a PhD in Science Education from the University of Georgia. His dissertation asked how master teachers teach about climate change, and he is deeply committed to helping young people prepare to face the challenges of life on a rapidly changing planet. His two TED-Ed videos have garnered over four million views, and he received the “Outstanding Earth Science Teacher Award” for California in 2018.

Danny Boyer

Director of Outdoor Education

Danny will lead Tessellations’ keystone Outdoor Program. Inside and outside the classroom, his teaching career has centered on inspiring in his students a love and respect for nature, and the confidence and motivation to have a positive impact on the world. He has taught middle school science in a classroom setting for fifteen years, and has led an outdoor adventure summer camp for twenty, taking kids surfing, kayaking, and rock climbing. Danny graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a BS in geology and an emphasis in paleontology, and first found his love for teaching working as a naturalist. He worked as a sea kayak guide in Alaska, California, and Baja California, and has traveled to or lived in over thirty countries. He is thrilled to be part of Tessellations, and looks forward to getting to know all the students, collaborating with other faculty, and, most of all, sharing time with everyone outdoors surrounded by nature.

Claudia Campano

Kindergarten Teacher

Claudia will co-teach Tessellations’ kindergarteners with Rachel starting in fall 2021. She started her career by working as a preschool innovation coach, helping other teachers build curricula with engaging, hands-on lessons to capture the hearts and minds of the youngest students, and provide them a foundation for technological subjects like coding. Since then, she’s moved into classroom teaching, starting with first graders. For the last three years she’s taught gifted kindergarteners, including designing their curriculum. “I most enjoy working with younger ones because it’s when learning is the most exciting. I’ve seen the wonder and enthusiasm the young ones have whenever we start a class and I love seeing their eagerness to apply their learning to the world around them. I love watching them come into kindergarten as one child, sometimes timid, and seeing them flourish into independent thinkers.” Claudia earned a BA in Elementary Education and Exceptional Education from the University of Miami.

Yudith Dian

Lower School Teacher

Yudith’s passion for education took root when she was a child in Indonesia, watching her mother teach neighborhood children in a fun, energetic environment that engaged every single child in the room. The family moved to the US and Yudith eventually earned a BA in Psychology from UC Berkeley and an MA in Education from Harvard University, but her own difficulties at school growing up gave her a compassionate perspective. “I have learned the value of a rigorous curriculum that allows children to explore their interests and have experiences that may not be found in a traditional classroom,” Yudith says. “What I love about working with young children is the opportunity to grow alongside them, to learn about what each child needs to reach their individual success, and to instill a love for learning.”

Michael Fisher

Middle School Humanities Teacher

After a diverse liberal arts education at Juniata College in the Appalachia of Pennsylvania, Michael spent almost a decade honing his craft as an educator. Packing his bags with the full confidence of a Fulbright teaching internship, he found himself immersed in the novelty of multilingual and multicultural classrooms at a public school in Frankfurt, Germany. Ironically, the Germans brought him back to his home country in 2011, where he began teaching full-time at the German International School of Silicon Valley in Mountain View. More than anything, Michael marvels in the moments students take intellectual risks. “When we foster student efficacy and curiosity, we see something wonderful: a desire to be heard and to contribute.” Michael will be joining Tessellations as a Humanities teacher but looks forward to dancing in the world of multipotentiality — connecting the dots between such concepts as gardening and math, song and story, kinesthetics and memory.

Amanda Funk

Director of Instruction

Amanda is a lifelong learner who is passionate about promoting student agency through inquiry based learning. Her years of teaching and professional development with the International Baccalaureate Organization helped her grow a keen understanding of how to build conceptually based units of study. Amanda mentored teachers in Hillsborough County, Florida, as well as through The New Teacher Project, and she created professional developmental and curriculum for The Relay Graduate School of Education. Both organizations impact teachers and schools nationwide. Amanda loves learning from other educators; one of her most memorable experiences was traveling to Doha, Qatar to participate in a two week intensive workshop on Project Based Learning. Amanda has a BS in Elementary Education from Northern Illinois University and a MEd in Educational Leadership from the University of West Florida. She is thrilled to serve a school community that is working to develop the hearts and minds of gifted learners.

Prachi Gangwal

Art and Maker Space Teacher

As Tessellations’ art and maker space teacher, Prachi looks forward to sparking and nourishing the unique self expression of every individual at the school. She guides children, through the visual and performing arts, to become aware of their inner voice and express it to boost their self esteem and self awareness. In addition to being a teacher, she is an engineer, talented artist, a podcast host, the author of several self-published children’s books, a professional photographer, and a “life long researcher of the wellness of all beings.” She holds a BS from Nagpur University and an MS from North Carolina State University, both in civil engineering, but felt a deep inner calling to serve others, especially children, through teaching. “Through all these years and explorations in various fields, one thing that always enticed me was teaching kids and learning from them! I find magic around children,” she says.

Caroline Gupta

Administrative Assistant

Caroline is a true Renaissance woman. After earning her Bachelor Degree from the University of Ottawa, she started exploring politics and ended up assisting the Canadian Prime Minister. She then co-owned a restaurant for a few years and eventually became the chef. Next, she pivoted to the tech industry, joined a startup, and moved to California. While working for another company, she temporarily relocated to France to open offices, and loved traveling all over Europe dealing with vendors and suppliers and managing events. Later, Caroline became a stay at home mom. She served on the board of the preschool, then was PTA president and on the PTA team for many years, helping organize, fundraise and manage multiple events. She re-entered the workforce a few years ago, doing project management for Microsoft and Apple, but her love of being with children and in a school environment led her to Tessellations.

Emily Hendricks

Director of Educational Technology

Emily hopes to transform education through technology and to fuel the desire in each student to learn about the world and their connection to it. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, she received her Bachelor in Musical Arts in Percussion Performance from the University of Michigan and holds an MA in Digital Media and Learning from the University of San Francisco. Prior to Tessellations, Emily was the Associate Director of Technology at Hillbrook School in Los Gatos, CA, where she helped to manage and support all things educational technology. In addition, she taught several elective Digital Music and Sound Art classes. In 2019, she earned the title Apple Distinguished Educator, given to teachers who are “helping other educators rethink what’s possible with iPad and Mac to make learning deeply personal for every student.” Emily seeks to empower students to use their creativity to forge their own rich, varied, and impactful educational journey.

Victoria King

Lower School Teacher

After spending time working with learners in various settings, including a rare opportunity teaching in a refugee camp for a summer, Victoria earned a BA in Education from Biola University. She dedicated her time as an educator to cultivating a student-centric classroom, as well as training other educators on various best practices. For the past couple of years, Victoria took advantage of a chance to work in management at a general contracting design/build firm, but now, excited, invigorated, and equipped with new skills, she is thrilled to be returning to education. A lifelong learner herself, Victoria believes the best gift a teacher can give his/her student is not knowledge itself, but instead, a love of learning and tools for the pursuit of knowledge. “There are few communities as unique and remarkable as Tessellations,” Victoria reflects. “I’m honored to be a small part of something so incredible.”

Anthony Ladd

Middle School Humanities Teacher

Anthony began his career in “the toughest job he’d ever love,” the Peace Corps, teaching English to elementary-aged children in a remote village in the Russian Far East. Since that time, he has continued to grow as an educator with a remarkably wide worldview, teaching economics, history, the theory of knowledge, and integrated social studies in Turkey, China, Chile, and Indonesia through the International Baccalaureate program. Teaching integrated social studies to middle schoolers has become Anthony’s passion; it gives him the freedom to build students’ inquiry skills across the humanities, literature, and service-learning in the local community. “I want to foster a sense of agency in my students as they learn to create meaning in a world of complexity to become our future leaders,” he says. Anthony received an MA in Linguistics with TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from CSU Fresno and a BA in History and German from the University of Oregon.

Kristine Nakada

Multidisciplinary Teacher

Kristine Nakada is so excited to join Tessellations as a multidisciplinary teacher, teaching an upper level math course, PE, and serving as a member of the Nature Campus core team. After spending her younger years in the East Bay, she earned her BA in Mathematics from Williams College and her MS in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. While her teaching career started in a boarding school on the East Coast, she has most recently lived in Pasadena, CA, where she taught high school math, coached numerous sports, and led a variety of outdoor ed trips. In addition to having her Wilderness First Responder certification, Kristine has held various leadership positions in the world of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She loves the energy and intentionality of new schools and is excited to think about ways to design spaces that allow all students to feel like they belong.

Carrie Stouffer

Lower School Teacher

Carrie’s passion for teaching began at an early age, when they started coaching gymnastics at only 14 years old. A fourth generation educator, Carrie earned a BS in Human Development and Family Services with a focus in Child Development at Indiana University-Bloomington, and went on to pursue a teaching opportunity at an independent school for gifted children. Throughout their years in the program, Carrie had the privilege of being mentored by other impassioned educators that helped them hone their understanding of gifted youth and the students’ unique needs. They strive to create curriculum that honors the interests, passions, and needs of students, while bringing social and emotional learning, design thinking, structured word inquiry, and a social justice lens into as many areas as possible. They were also the founding ambassador for their previous school’s Environmental Citizenship program. Carrie sees themselves as a lifelong learner, inspired by their students’ passions and growth every day.

Tram Tran

After-School Care Manager

Tram graduated from University of California, Irvine with a BA in Business Economics and a minor in Psychology and Social Behaviors. Prior to Tessellations, during her college years, she worked with kindergarten students in an underserved community in Santa Ana, CA, where she helped them learn English and boosted their confidence in their English skills. After college, she served as the Center Director of Mathnasium of Silver Creek, San Jose. There, she helped K-12 students learn math the way it made sense to them, building relationships with the students to better understand their needs. In her free time, Tram teaches Vietnamese and spreads awareness of Vietnamese culture and language on multiple social media platforms. She is excited to be a part of Tessellations and looks forward to getting to know all the students and helping them grow into their best selves after school as much as in the classroom.

Miles Villa

Lower School Teacher

Miles spent his formative years catching bugs, digging in the dirt, and marveling at flowers during PE class. In college at UC Santa Cruz, he studied kelp forests and tropical islands. Connecting to and understanding the natural world made Miles realize the urgency of helping children do the same. After graduating with a BS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, he spent five years teaching at an outdoor education program where groups of students stayed, built a community, and learned about the forest environment for just a week at a time. Desiring more time to grow relationships with students and parents, Miles looks forward to starting at Tessellations, where he can share his love of science and research in the classroom. His passions are natural history, playing the piano, amateur astronomy, and envisioning life as a Wizard. Miles dreams of living in a kinder, more sustainable world surrounded by the achievements and creations of his students.

Annie Wait

Lower School Teacher

A fifth-generation educator, Annie Wait grew up enjoying the gifted programs in Pasadena’s public schools and dreaming of becoming a teacher. She earned her BA in English and Comparative Literature and an MA in Education at Occidental College, and began her career by returning to the district in which she grew up. Annie, who has taught every grade K-12, has a special passion for teaching humanities and integrating academic subject areas to create immersive, multi-dimensional learning experiences that excite students. She is certified in Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) and has led groups of students and parents on multi-day field trips to Colonial Williamsburg, Sacramento, and California’s Gold Country. Throughout her career, she’s sought to bring out the best in each learner, no matter their abilities. She has lived with her husband in the Bay Area since 2017 and enjoys gardening, raising chickens, and visits from their four young-adult children.

Patti Wilczek

Special Projects and Launch Consultant

Patti has always been passionate about serving others. First working as a counseling psychologist supporting the emotional needs of children through adults, her career in education began in boarding high schools. Patti earned an undergraduate degree and M.A. from State University of New York at New Paltz, and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Fordham University. Her teaching experience spans middle school through graduate students. For more than ten years, she has been leading charter and independent schools, which included preschool through grade 12, helping support the work of exemplary educators, students and families. Valuing highly collaborative, student centered, project based education, Patti believes that little is as important as guiding the social-emotional and intellectual development of children. With years of experience working within the gifted community, Patti understands the unique needs of these special students. She is excited to join the Tessellations team!

Interested in working with us?​

Please see our Careers page.