New Staff Profiles
Special Education Department:
by Ryan Leake
Tam’s newest member of the Special Education Department, Molly Fries, claims she is “not actually a teacher.” Fries spends her time in the classroom as a paraeducator, which she defines as extra support staff. Fries describes her role as the following: “Primarily I support the Special Education Department,” she said. “I help students with homework, I help students stay organized, and I help teachers with whatever they might need.”
Fries helps out in many different classrooms and each period she works with a different teacher. The classes she works with are a part of the Special Education Department. To be a part of the Special Education department, there are certain qualifications. “You must qualify for accommodations due to various things,” Fries said. “It is for students who are on track for graduation, but just need a little extra support.” Her role can be difficult at times, mainly due to the fact that she’s always busy helping out students. However, Fries has experience with this from her previous job at Placer high school in Auburn, where she worked as an instructional assistant. “[It is] essentially the same job,” she said.
Although her role last year was similar to her role this year, she claims that Tam is very different from the school she was at last year. Fries really enjoys all aspects of Tam. “The campus is beautiful, and all the staff is just really, really fun and friendly,” she said. “It’s made me feel really welcome.” She especially admires the students at Tam High. “They’re really driven and excited about school and that’s really awesome.”
by Birgitta Danielson
Alisa Sortino signs throughout our interview. This is likely because Mikaella Bradley, who prefers to be called Ella, the student at tam whom she interprets for, is with us, and it’s therefore Sortino’s job. That doesn’t lessen the beauty of her impressively fast movement of her hands. The reason she is so adept? “My father was actually born deaf, and he grew up signing from the day he was born….and so I grew up signing from the time I was a baby.” Essentially, she grew up bilingual, like in any family that has parents who speak two languages.
Along with language comes the culture of deaf people. For example, Sortino gives me a saying from the deaf community, “Not hearing loss, but deaf gain.” Though there are some differences, Sortino talks about the deaf community and ASL (American Sign Language) the same way that one would talk about Spanish communities and the Spanish Language. “It’s like any other culture you would encounter, like from different countries almost, even though they live here in America.” There are even regional differences with ASL, most importantly with donuts.
Sortino thinks it’s important for people, especially children to learn sign language. The first reason is that you might very well lose your hearing, and to already know it would be very helpful. The second reason, which relates specifically to children, is that for most young children it is easier to learn how to make motions then it is to form words. If they knew sign languages, then they could sign for what they needed. Anyone who has taken care of child who’s been crying for ten minutes, knows how much this would help.
She grew up in Florida, and attended Florida Atlantic University for college, and eventually found her way to this coast. This is her first interpreting job, and what made her choose Tam is simple, “it just sounded like a great group of people to join up with.” In the week and a half that she had been working here, this has held true. Though she does admit to worrying about being in high school again, and wonders if she is going to be cool enough.
by Sabrina Baker
Amanda Reinhart is a paraeducator in the ECC program, a program at tam that has students living with emotional disabilities). When I met her, I was surprised at how young and grounded she was. At the young age of 29, Reinhart found her passion four years ago by teaching special education high school students. I asked her why she chose special education as the teaching path she decided to go down, and she told me that when she was in highschool she had a learning disability, and the teachers- rather than helping her learn and pushing her- they gave her the answers to everything and didn’t push her to try. When she studied at Santa Rosa Junior college, she struggled to learn the information because her teachers in high school didn’t teach her, and just “ I had to teach myself and needed to meet with many different counselors, to get the help that I did need. I became a special education teacher because I’ve always wanted to work with high school students so they don’t miss out like I did in high school” said Reinhart.
She Graduated San Jose State With a BA in psychology and she minored in special education, and that motivation that she had to graduate college shows, and anyone can see how passionate she is about her job. “2 years ago I was working at a high school in San Jose my job that year was to teach and help a student who had a had a learning disability and was gay. It was hard for him to come to school, and when he did, he would get into fights. At the end of the year, he texted me ‘you are the reason I passed 10th grade’ Those moments show why Reinhart became a teacher, and the wonderful influence she has on young adults.
In her free time she loves hiking and going on walks with her english bulldog. (Perfect for mill valley!) Family is also very important to her, and when she has the time she visits them in San Jose, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and around the East Coast. Even Though she has only been at Tam for a few weeks, she is enthusiastic for the year ahead and the students she will meet. “I’m excited because this is a different classroom that i’ve ever been in, and I’m excited to use part of the physcology that I learned in college towards this job and help the students.”
by Francis Strietmann
Matthew Leffel, born raised, and educated on the east coast knew it was the golden state that was right for him, “I’m just the kind of person [who] didn’t want to live my whole life in one place … California beckoned.” Leffell has not always been an educator, “Mostly I worked at book stores….[but] about five years ago. I had been working as a writing tutor. I was looking for a different type of career so I decided to go ahead and become an english teacher.” Since then he has worked in Petaluma at Casa Grande High School, as well as at Elsie Allen High School in Santa Rosa.
Leffel who now teaches four periods of freshman English ½ and one of American Literature has long since known his calling, “I always believed that I would be some type of teacher, whether that was high school teacher, or professor, or someone who taught music lessons on the weekends. I always wanted to do that kind of work as part of my life.” He attributes this inclination to his own school days. “I feel as though I got a very good education and I thought anything that I learned would be valuable and worth sharing.” However, it is not just a moral duty that keeps Leffel at school.
“It’s really wonderful to work with the incoming freshman and kind of discover the school alongside them.” Like many who have come before he cites Tam’s beautiful campus as a benefit as well as his Tam colleagues he said, “…right now we have a lot of new faculty some new administration, a lot of new personnel overall in the district and it feels fun and exciting to be a part of that.”, says Leffel. Excited English teacher yes, but that’s not all.
Now retired, Leffel was a drummer for three years. “The thing about drums is there’s a lot of them. So when I moved from Oakland to the north bay I had to downsize a bit, so I dont have the right equipment [anymore]. I had been playing music for many years and I wanted to change things up a bit…..One of the things I’m doing instead of being a musician is being an actor,” he said. Leffel will be starring in As You Like It with the Petaluma Shakespeare company. If you would like to see his performance take a weekend field trip to see the play, opening Friday September 16th, playing the following fridays, saturdays, and sundays up until October 1st.
by Jack Loder
Tam High is the latest stop for Lani Wolf on a teaching career that has taken her far and wide. Wolf, a new AP literature teacher this year, has taught all over the world, and is excited for her newest challenge.
“Tam has been great so far, the teachers and students have been so welcoming, it’s a great learning environment.” She said. After graduating from Yale University in 1993, Wolf was lucky enough to be taken overseas by her new profession.
“I didn’t really want to go to graduate school right away, I knew I wanted to teach and I came across an amazing job opportunity in the Czech Republic. I knew I couldn’t pass on that.”
Wolf taught English at an all boy’s high school in the Czech Republic for two years before transitioning to another English teaching job in Prague, this time teaching the language to successful bankers. She has much to compare and contrast when it comes to different teaching environments around the world.
“My experiences have been very different, but also very similar,” Wolf said. “In Europe, I lived on campus, and the schools had more of a family feeling. Students would stand as I entered the room and as I left.”
Wolf expressed that while there was a high expectation for students to treat teachers with the utmost respect, teenage boys are teenage boys and their behavior and social habits are more or less the same as in the U.S.
Upon returning to America, Wolf attended the University of Virginia and UC Davis where she earned her Master’s degree in literature. She looks forward to teaching at Tam and settling down with her three children in Fairfax.
“I’ve been all over the world for teaching, I’m looking forward to raising my kids in Marin and educating the young adults of Tam High.”
by Calvin Rosevear
Caroline Dezendorf is starting her first year at Tam teaching Environmental Science and sophomore Integrated Science. Last year, she taught seventh grade science at Davidson Middle School in San Rafael.
Dezendorf attended UC Santa Barbara for her undergraduate degree, and the University of Oregon for her masters. “It’s fun talking to all the juniors and seniors in my classes [who are] looking at applying for colleges, and I’m really excited, I want to push them to go to those schools. The UC system’s such an amazing opportunity, I studied abroad in South Africa, I studied at UC Berkeley for a while.”
After college and before starting teaching, she was working with a non-profit organization. “[I] just was missing [the] classroom,” she said. “I liked inspiring people to push themselves, I really like working with high schoolers. It’s just fun, it’s nice to be in an environment where everyone’s pushing each other and encouraging and everyone’s trying to figure out who they are.”
A self-described outdoorsy person, Dezendorf enjoys surfing, skiing, and mountain biking. She plans on helping coach the Tam mountain biking team this spring in addition to the Terra Linda mountain bike team. “I grew up surfing at Bolinas, so I love being in nature, and when I was in high school, I fell in love with science. I had really awesome biology teachers, chemistry teachers, and they just motivated me to pursue that career,” she said. “I love teaching high school, I love the different choices of science classes students can take, that I get to teach something I’m passionate about.”
Dezendorf hopes to get her Environmental Science students a grant to do field trips later in the year. “I’m hoping to get out in the field, do some field work [and]….do some projects that would hopefully benefit Tam, the community, and get kids excited about science,” she said.
World Languages Department:
by Piper Goeking
A change in countries meant a change in careers for French teacher Catherine Bellman. Born and raised in France, Bellman spent spent two decades of her professional life there. A move to the United States enabled Bellman to pursue a first time career in teaching. “Eight years ago my husband got an offer to work in San Francisco,” Bellman said. “It was an opportunity for the family to move to the states, so we settled in California. Moving to a new country was also the opportunity for me to change careers. That’s when you start to think about what you really like to do. Teaching was always something in my mind, and moving here was the right time to do it.”
Before her career change, Bellman worked in finance. “I went to a French business school where I spent two years in Reims and two years in London. The idea was to get two diplomas; one French and one British, as well as getting working experience in both countries. Right after business school I went to work for a French bank and spent twenty-two years there,” she said.
Though moving to the United States is what prompted Bellman to become a teacher, she had considered pursuing a career in education long before. “Teaching was something I had in mind before coming to the states,” Bellman said. “My mother was a German teacher. I was always impressed when I saw the relationships she had with her students. Compared to my previous job in finance, teaching serves the community and society better.”
Bellman is not entirely new to the campus, having student taught at Tam four years ago. “I really enjoyed my student teaching; the students here are really dedicated to the work,” Bellman said. “I loved the community of teachers, particularly the teachers I worked with in the world language department.”
Before her return to Tam Bellman taught for two years at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa and another two years at San Rafael High School. In the classroom Bellman looks to share her love of the French language and culture while providing a supportive learning environment. “I used to be a student too when learning English, so I know how it is to speak a foreign language in front of others,” Bellman said. “My goal is for the students to feel comfortable speaking French, to not be afraid of making mistakes, as I still make mistakes in English. I try to provide a safe classroom environment so that they can practice their French in a secure manner.”
This year Bellman is looking forward to learning about and contributing to the Tam community. “My goal is to integrate into this new community, to learn about my students and the other teachers.” Bellman said, “It’s important to feel integrated into the community when coming from a foreign country, so I think this job is perfect for me to really be a part of the country.”
Henna Lopez Rahimi
by Elissa Asch
After spending five years of her life trying to avoid the teaching profession, Henna Lopez Rahimi is excited to start her first year as a spanish teacher at Tam. “Because everyone in my family is a teacher I kind of thought being a teacher would be taking the easy way out…but it turned out it’s really what I love to do,” she said.
Rahimi received her teaching credential from Dominican University, first in English, then in Spanish. “[I decided] wait a second, I studied Spanish in college so [I thought] maybe I could [teach] that, and they needed a Spanish teacher [at Tam],” she said. “Tam and the Tam District in general…are so awesome and have the greatest people,…its just seemed like a really, really awesome opportunity and I was right. I haven’t had any negative results, I’m really excited to be here.”
Learning Spanish in a classroom setting is also very familiar to Rahimi. “I took Spanish classes for ten years just like you guys are taking them, and then in college I majored in Spanish literature and English literature,” she said. “I got to study abroad in Spain for a year, which is like really what cemented it, that was just fantastic.” In her opinion the experience of both studying spanish in the classroom and going abroad is a valuable asset to her teaching and students. “I feel like the fact that I learned Spanish in the same way you guys are learning Spanish gives me a good insight into how tricky it can be but also how valuable and fun it can be, so if anyone feels like they’re struggling…I’m totally open to commiserate.”
Now that the year has begun, Rahimi is eagerly embracing her new role in the tam community. “I obviously really want to become a part of the community…I’m trying to show that I really am dedicated and committed and excited to be here and…be a red-tailed hawk,” she said
Social Studies Department:
by Calvin Rosevear
Sarah Ewell is spending her first year at Tam teaching Economics, Government, and US History. She’s taught in Northern Thailand and just finished serving for the Peace Corp of Moldova in Europe. Ewell went to college in Long Beach after growing up in Huntington Beach.
She used to teach English. “I was a big reader growing up. But then I realized that I just wanted to be able to read, I didn’t necessarily want to teach people how to read,” Ewell said. She carries a complex and unique reason for becoming a teacher in general. “I had really crappy teachers in high school….And I also knew that I wanted to work with kids, because I had a couple of adults who were really important in sort of changing the outcome of my life….I realized the importance of having an adult who you trusted and respected and that kind of stuff to really help as a mentor, and then I got into studying history and I realized I just really think this stuff is important as a society.”
Ewell has strong feelings regarding the importance of the subjects she teaches. “I think what I teach is the most important thing that you need to know, because we live in a democratic society, and people who are ignorant of how these things work do damage….I think we can see this in the current election, that there’s that ignorance can really damage a society, and I think it’s important that somebody who cares about it does it,” she said.
Tam students have made her excited for the remainder of the year. “I’m just getting to know the Tam community and the Tam student and I’m super impressed so far with people’s background knowledge and analytical skills, and their awareness about the world, and I’m really just excited to see how far I can take it, because I’ve never really had a situation where the kids were coming in already so well-prepared and aware of the world, and now I get to take stuff to an entire [new] level,” she said.
by Maddie Wall
San Francisco State University graduate Shawn Weber always wanted to make a change in the world, so he decided that teaching youth was the best way. Weber is a new Social Issues and U.S. History teacher at Tam, and he has taught at two previous schools prior. However, before teaching, Weber worked in the technology industry as an engineer and tech support helper, but got bored and decided to change his career and do something that he felt was worth more. “There were a lot of things going on socially and politically at that time around 2004,” Weber said. “I got bored doing the office job. I really wanted to have an impact, especially on youth, so I decided teaching was the best option for that.”
Besides teaching, Weber spends lots of his free time taking photos, mostly of birds. As a photographer and a birder, Weber mixes the two to create a hobby he enjoys immensely.
Although having never taught Social Issues prior to this year, Weber has found himself enjoying the new curriculum. “I’m starting to really like [Social Issues}. I’m looking forward to getting my students actively engaged with Social Issues,” Weber said. [I want] them to be more confident by the end of the year and confident in their own skin and how the world works. This social issues class is great for that.” He is eager to start the year and experience working at Tam. “[I’m looking forward to] getting used to the school and the students,” Weber said. “Hopefully I’ll stay here forever!”
So far, Weber has had a great experience at Tam. “I love this school, it is great,” Weber said. “The resources here, the students, the staff, everyone I’ve met is amazing.” Even though he has a two hour commute from Oakland everyday, everything else makes up for it, and he hopes to relocate into the area soon.
Fine Arts Department:
by Kennedy Cook
With a new home in a new town, Anna Farley is excited to be be teaching at Tam High. “I’m so lucky to be here,” Farley said. Farley’s eleventh year teaching will be spent teaching photography and art exploration to beginning photo students, as well as co-teaching a section of photo 2 with Ms. Krawczyk and splitting yearbook with Mr. Gilmore.
The first week at Tam has had a positive impact on Farley. “Everyone’s been extremely welcoming and supportive, staff and students alike,” she said. “I’ve had classes where the majority of students say ‘thank you’ when they leave. Everyone’s really well mannered.”
Farley spent ten of her years teaching at Redwood High School, a continuation school in Castro Valley. “It has about 150 students at a time,” Farley said. “Continuation schools are schools where kids are usually behind academically or they just aren’t fitting into a mainstream comprehensive high school model. A lot of times there is a lot of academic issues and then also behavior issues.”
Farley has found her experience at Tam so far to be very different from her experience at Redwood High. “Mill Valley is an affluent area and when I taught in Gilroy it was a lot of migrant laborers,” Farley said. “Just that kind of economic piece is very different.”
Despite the differences Tam and Redwood High School have, Farley’s has a philosophy. “Kids are kids anywhere you go,” said Farley. “Everyone has issues, everyone has positive attributes to contribute. I guess overall, I feel like students are students anywhere.”
After her ten years at Redwood High, Farley taught 6 months in Watsonville for a teacher who quit part way through the school year. She then took a year and a half break from teaching to take care of her son Caleb, now 20 months old.
Photography has been an important part of Farley’s life. “I spent a good 5 years in dark rooms doing a lot of photography, doing a lot of photography trips,” Farley said. “I traveled to Mexico a couple of times.” Despite her love for photography, teaching is her true passion. “It got to the point, even with photo, that I didn’t want a career in it like I wanted to be a teacher,” she said.
To Farley, it has always been important to her that she make a difference in the world. “I worked catering for probably 5 years after college and it was nights and weekends and it was just really physical and intense work,” she said. “I didn’t really feel like I was making any sort of impact on the world and so I just decided that I did want to make a difference. I had a degree in English and art and [teaching is] just what I wanted to do.” With her multiple degrees Farley was able to teach numerous subjects including English, graphic design, photography and at one point, even cooking.
After all the years of exploring career paths, teaching numerous subjects, and working at different schools, Farley finds herself here at Tam. “Literally of all the teaching jobs I’ve ever had I feel like this is the dream teaching job,” she said. “I feel like I’m on the top. I’m so lucky to be here.”
by Miles Rubens
Math teacher Aaron Aubrey is new to Tam this year. Aubrey, who is teaching Algebra One and Trig Stat, previously taught at Novato High School for one year, and before that at Maria Carillo High School in Santa Rosa for six years. Aubrey has enjoyed the environment at Tam so far. “Everyone has really good energy,” he said. “All of the teachers work really hard and that is reciprocated on the students because the teachers work so hard the students seem really diligent.”
Although Maria Carillo is a more diverse school, Aubrey thinks that there is a similar teaching environment at Tam. “[Tam is] similar to Maria Carillo in that there are a lot of hard-working teachers, that’s kind of what makes a good school…” he said.
Aubrey also feels that the math department has worked well together so far. “This department seems extremely cohesive, everyone works together for a common goal which is powerful,” he said. “You are going to produce a way better product working with a group then everyone on their own island, so that’s really nice.”
Aubrey has enjoyed working with his students. “The kids are good, so far really hard-working,” He said. “One thing that I notice is everyone is really polite. [On the] first day of school in every class they are saying ‘thank you’ as they leave… [It] is small but it’s really nice… [The students are] appreciative of what you’re doing.”
Aubrey is happy to be at Tam and ready for the upcoming year. “I’m excited to be here,” he said, “I hope I stay here until I retire.”
by Zoe Wynn
Geometry and algebra teacher David Zeeman is beginning his first year at Tam. Although, he is by no means new to teaching. Zeeman is entering his 20th year as a math teacher. He began his teaching career in Philadelphia, “Originally I’m from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and I taught in a school for emotionally disturbed teenagers for four years. And then I taught at Pennsylvania’s most elite private school [Friends Select School, founded in 1689] for four years.” After this Zeeman had a change of scenery as he moved to a new teaching job in northern California. “I moved to San Francisco and I taught in a big comprehensive public high school called Galileo Academy of Science and Technology and I taught there for eight years. Then I was at Lowell High School for three years,” he explained.
Zeeman began teaching as a graduate school student. Originally, Zeeman wanted to be an actuary, a profession, according to Purdue University, that analyzes the financial consequences of risk. “I did an internship at an actuary firm for a summer and I hated it,” he said. From this experience he was able to discover his love for teaching. “I like to move around a lot. Teaching allows me to spends most of my day on my feet, moving around and talking to people.”
More specifically, Zeeman has a passion for mathematics. “The thing I love about math…. [it] is an attempt in some ways to model reality. In some ways to understand the universe with numbers and it’s really cool in that sense,” he said.
So far Zeeman is excited to be working at Tam. “The resources at this school are some of the finest I’ve ever seen. I am really looking forward to tapping into some of those resources to create the best experience for my students,” he said. Zeeman enjoys the energy that the students and the school in general brings. “I love the culture here, its very positive and friendly. So right now I am looking forward to just learning the culture of the school, of the Mill Valley community, and being the best teacher I can be for my students.”