Academics
Lower School

Meet Our Lower School Faculty

Meet Our Lower School Faculty

Terri Zimmerman

Kindergarten Teacher, started at LJCDS in 1987

List of 4 items.

  • How do you build community/trust in your classroom?

    To build community in my classroom, I have the same expectations and consistency for every child. Instead of using the term “boys and girls,” I use the term “friends.” This subtlety adds to the feeling of community. Having lunch together in the room also enhances the bond. Every week, we have a “Rising Star,” which allows each child to share insightful information about themselves with their classmates.
  • Who are two of your mentors and why?

    My two mentors are my mother and Leslie Morris, my supervising teacher for my teaching practicum. My mother was an amazing woman who was bright, articulate, well-read and had a fun spirit. She always encouraged me to take risks. I took a gap year at age 17 and lived on a communal farm in Israel with her full blessing. It was a life-changing experience. Leslie Morris was a phenomenal teacher who was inspiring and whom I aspired to be as a teacher. We spoke weekly, and she remained my mentor until her passing five years ago.
  • What do you want your students to remember most about your classroom 10–15 years from now?

    To quote Robert Fulghum, I would like my students to remember that “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Some of my favorite principles from Fulghum are: share, don’t hit people, clean up your own mess, live a balanced life and always be aware of wonder.
  • What is an interesting fact most people don't know about you?

    A fact about me is that I am an adventure seeker. Three years ago, I learned to drive my own team of sled dogs in Fairbanks, Alaska (in minus 40 degrees) for 25 miles.

Tami Taylor

Grade 1 Teacher, started at LJCDS in 2007

List of 4 items.

Alisa Ronis

Grade 2 Teacher, started at LJCDS in 2007

List of 4 items.

  • How do you build community/trust in your classroom?

    We started our year by learning the importance of a growth mindset. Understanding how the brain learns best is essential. Through the dignity model, we created a classroom community where differences are celebrated, and students feel free to take risks. Students write notes to each other throughout the week called bucket fillers, based on a book we read about expressing kindness, appreciation and love. This allows each student to be celebrated by their peers. On Fridays, we have classroom meetings where we celebrate our successes and discuss issues that arise on the playground or in the classroom.
  • What do you love most about teaching at LJCDS?

    LJCDS allows me to design lessons that are engaging and innovative. We have the flexibility to develop our curriculum based on the students’ needs. When I taught in public school, I knew my students’ academic scores, but it was difficult to find the time to know about their lives outside of school. I love that I can build relationships with my students and I know them as individuals. At LJCDS, we are a true community!
  • What is a new teaching method you are currently exploring?

    I am currently seeking new methods and games to help with math fact fluency. I want my students to know that the process of understanding math is more important than speed. We are also incorporating yoga, growth mindset and mindfulness into our second-grade curriculum.
  • What is an interesting fact most people don't know about you?

    Growing up, my dad was a fisherman. He had a tuna boat and fished in marlin tournaments all over the world. I caught (and released) my first marlin when I was 12 years old.

Lisa Bennet

Grade 3 Teacher, started at LJCDS in 2002

List of 4 items.

  • How do you build community/trust in your classroom?

    I believe all students bring with them unique strengths and an ability to both contribute to and learn from their interactions with fellow classmates and teachers. It is my responsibility to promote collaborative learning and social competency, support the individuality of all students, and encourage each child to explore, take risks and move toward independence. This takes a variety of forms such as our Classroom Challenge Tasks (team building), daily acts of kindness and mindful messages created by the students.
  • How have you grown and changed as a teacher over the years?

    With age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes responsibility. The wisdom to remember that our students come first and will often tell us what they need if only we will listen. The wisdom to remember that each student brings with him or her unique experiences and “gifts” that must be honored always. The wisdom to understand that it is our responsibility to be better today than we were yesterday, to be patient, to listen to new ideas, and to always have a desire to seek out knowledge.
  • What do you love most about teaching overall?

    This question makes me smile because my students often ask me the same question. My response comes easily—the children. I love the daily interaction with my students, the “lightbulb” moments, the children’s enthusiasm for learning and the need to want to know more. I love watching them grow into problem solvers, and I love that they genuinely feel that we are a team. I could go on and on, but the short answer is . . . I love it all!
  • What is an interesting fact most people don't know about you?

    I once lived in a house with two dogs, four cats, five iguanas, two Columbian boa constrictors (each 6-feet long), a Burmese python (12-feet long), a bird, two 50-gallon fish tanks and a rabbit named Harvey.

Diana Vahedi

Grade 4 Teacher, started at LJCDS in 2011

List of 4 items.

  • How do you build community/trust in your classroom?

    One way I build community and trust in the classroom is through humor. Through the years, I’ve found that humor helps people, including children, relax and feel more comfortable. I’ve learned when to be serious and when to be funny. I make sure every student feels welcome, special and valued by really getting to know them, their likes, dislikes, favorite hobbies and activities. I make sure to ask about that favorite hobby or activity often, so the student knows that I really care about what he or she does and who they are outside of the classroom. I make sure no student ever feels left out and that the whole class is a team, not just a group of students.
  • What do you love about teaching overall?

    This is a hard question to answer in just a few sentences because teaching isn’t a job; it’s truly my passion. I love connecting with each and every child in my class. I love helping children discover their hidden strengths and talents during the school year. I love watching their confidence grow, especially when they realize they are better at math or another subject than they thought they were. I love being able to make children laugh while teaching a lesson and showing them how much fun learning really is. I love being able to create fun, interactive, interesting lessons that make children forget that they are actually learning.
  • What do you love most about teaching at LJCDS?

    I love being part of a team that truly cares about children. Even though we have a curriculum to follow, we can be creative and innovative and explore new ways of teaching. The school provides numerous professional development opportunities. I also like the fact that teaching at LJCDS isn’t about filling your students up with facts and knowledge but about bringing out their unique talents and strengths and that we are preparing students with a strong educational foundation and good character.
  • What is an interesting fact most people don't know about you?

    I have a green belt in Tang Soo Do, which is a Korean Martial Art, and I hope to get my black belt in the next four years. I also had a poem, “Under the Beautiful Lilac Tree” and a short story, “Oatmeal Cookies” published in San Diego Woman Magazine in 2011 and 2015, respectively. The short story is about my great aunt, Emily, who was one of the strongest women I have ever known, and I strive to be like her.

Maribel Bueno

World Language Teacher, started at LJCDS in 2008

List of 4 items.

  • Who is your mentor and why?

    One of my mentors was the great philosopher, poet and author, Emma Godoy. She was one of my teachers at Universidad Pedagógica Nacional in Mexico City. After being her student for three years, we became good friends, and I visited her home many times to hear her discuss and read poetry. She taught me logic, ethics, aesthetics and how to be a better person. She taught me to not take things personally and to talk things out to get along with others.
  • What is a new teaching method you are currently exploring?

    I am always thinking and researching strategies that best help the young child learn a new language. They need time to talk and practice with each other. I think using a variety of audiovisual materials are also necessary to learn a language. Along with oral practice in class, the students sing songs and learn rhymes, which helps them gain good pronunciation.
  • What do you want your students to remember most about your classroom 10–15 years from now?

    I want my students to remember the wonderful songs they learned and practiced every day, but more importantly, I want them to remember the Hispano-American traditions and cultures of the different countries they studied. When you learn about another country and their language, you approach their culture differently.
  • What is an interesting fact most people don't know about you?

    When I first attended elementary school, I went to a rural school in Chiapas, Mexico. I learned how to plant corn and gained the love of nature. I still love nature and gardening, and to this day, even though I live in an apartment, I find ways to plant and cultivate herbs!

Wendy Clemente

Music Teacher, started at LJCDS in 2003

List of 4 items.

  • As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

    When I was four, I saw a woman conducting a children's choir, and I was so excited that women were “allowed” to conduct. At age 9, I knew I wanted to be a music teacher. In high school, I wanted to teach theater. Briefly, when I was a senior in high school, I thought of becoming a police officer.
  • How do you build community/trust in your classroom?

    I always tell students the music room is a safe place to share their voices—whether as a singer, a percussionist, a strings player. We listen to one another and are supportive. We also talk about how the choir/orchestra/class is a “musical team” in which all of us are important players. Every voice counts!
  • How have you grown and changed as a teacher over the years?

    I used to think that kids needed to know all the “classical” composers first: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart. Then, I realized that we have an important canon of American music that they can all learn: folk songs, musical theater, broadsheet songs. When I think about how many of our students have parents who didn’t grow up in this country, learning those songs is even more important. American song is a part of our daily experience, and yet we don’t always know it or engage with it. In addition, this song material has a more diverse source: people of color, women and men, native-born and immigrant. I want the Lower School students to learn those things first, then, as they continue studying music in the other divisions, get more time with the classical repertoire.
  • What is a favorite memory when you were in elementary school?

    In fourth grade, when I started taking piano lessons at school I always made sure I wore my nicest outfits on music day—I haven’t outgrown that habit yet!

Jessica Abbondanzio

Art Teacher, started at LJCDS in 2016

List of 4 items.

Andrea Flagiello

Computer Science and Innovation Teacher, started at LJCDS in 2016

List of 4 items.

  • What is a new teaching method you are currently exploring?

    One thing I have been working on improving over the last several years is including more student voice in my classroom. I have worked to talk less and ask students to share more. Students talk to peers about their ideas and then share out loud to the class. I ask students for their feedback on projects and activities and work to make adjustments based on their suggestions. The class is not mine—it’s ours. And I’ve been working to make it feel that way. I learn just as much from my students as they can learn from me.
  • What do you love most about teaching overall?

    Teaching is fun because I get to work with children from kindergarten up to fourth grade. It’s fun to see all the different abilities at the various grade levels. They challenge me and keep me on my toes. They’re not afraid to say what they’re thinking, and they often teach me new things I didn’t know.
  • Who is your mentor and why?

    In elementary school, I was a rather quiet kid. In fifth grade my favorite teacher, Mrs. Vengan, thought my voice should be heard, and she recommended I announce the winner of the mock presidential election over the PA system at school. I was very nervous, but when I got back to class, my friends all told me how cool that was and my teacher congratulated me on a job well done. It was nice that Mrs. Vegan had confidence in me, especially when I didn’t have it myself.
  • What do you want your students to remember most about your classroom 10–15 years from now?

    I want them to remember that they CAN figure out a challenge on their own by asking others, doing research and trying again. That’s not always easy, but it is possible to take those actions. I would like my students to remember how code works as they navigate a world with even more technology and robotics than we have today.