While some of us said a hard goodbye to several teachers last year, these 15 new teachers are ready to take over. From returning to Heritage to practicing law for 12 years, these teachers will use their past experiences to enhance both Heritage and Academy classrooms across many departments.
Ms. Katerina Benitez
For Ms. Katerina Benitez, English I Honors full-time substitute and teacher, the impact of good teachers brought her towards a career in education. In her senior year of Heritage in 2007, Ms. Benitez’s English teacher Mrs. Vilela covered Romanticism and the Victorian era, which lead to her falling in love with literature.
Another benefit to teaching now opposed to later for Ms. Benitez comes in the form of a national change in educational values. “There’s a big shift now in education, one that I support, for social, emotional and academic learning. I believe that our students on all parts of the spectrum, from lower level to our very high achieving, need that social-emotional learning and I want to be part of that change,” Ms. Benitez said. “I became a teacher because I want to be a supportive educator. I want my students to be able to be successful in life and also self-sufficient one day. Independence is the key.”
Mrs. Jennifer Bolanos-Cadenas
A love for literature and teaching it must run in the Bolanos family; new AP Language and Composition teacher Mrs. Jennifer Bolanos-Cadenas will join sister-in-law and fellow AP Lang teacher Mrs. Raquel Bolanos in the English department.
Mrs. Bolanos-Cadenas has a total of 17 years of teaching experience from the University of Miami, Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart and St. Thomas Aquinas, where she also held the position of Department Chair. The inspiration behind this career choice came when Mrs. Bolanos-Cadenas was the same age as the students she will be teaching.
“When I was 16 years old in English class, I began to realize how much I love the subject, and that I had a natural ability for writing,” Mrs. Bolanos-Cadenas said. “I would always gravitate towards reading, towards novels, towards stories, and it was in that moment that I realized I probably should make a career out of that work. Anything in English I’m happy to teach.”
Mrs. Fanny Brennan
Unlike some of us who have no idea what career we wish to pursue in the future, Academy seventh and eighth grade literature teacher Mrs. Fanny Brennan has known she wanted to become a teacher since she was young. “I have wanted to be a teacher since I was in kindergarten. I would stay after school with my teacher who ignited a love for teaching within me,” Mrs. Brennan said.
When choosing which subject to teach, Mrs. Brennan went with a topic she loved: reading. Mrs. Brennan has a Master’s degree in reading and a teacher certificate in English 6-12, which she has used the past 11 years in public, charter and private schools, teaching students in kindergarten through seventh grade.
At Heritage, Mrs. Brennan hopes to be to her students what her teachers were to her in the past. “I am most looking forward to making a difference in the lives of as many students as possible and hopefully passing on my love for reading,” Mrs. Brennan said.
For Academy teacher Mrs. Clemisha Garnet, the smaller class sizes mean an opportunity to give American and World History a unique spin. “I was drawn to Heritage because teachers are able to be creative with their lessons and there are smaller classes which is great for more hands-on activities which I like to do in my class,” Mrs. Garnet, who will instruct students in grades seven, 10 and 11, said.
Mrs. Garnet, who has taught for 14 years, decided upon education as a career from a variety of influences, including positive history teachers in high school and a strong familial background in teaching. From these influences and her personal interests, she chose to teach history. “I’ve always been fascinated by the past and how we can learn more about ourselves by studying it,” Mrs. Garnet said. “I also love that history can be completely up-ended when historians make new discoveries or find new evidence.”
Mrs. Lindsey Levy
After leaving during winter break two years ago on maternity leave, Algebra II H teacher Mrs. Lindsey Levy is ready to return to the classroom. “I always planned on coming back to Heritage. I can’t imagine teaching anywhere else,” Mrs. Levy said. “I also love that my kids will be here with me.”
With a major in Finance and a minor in French and previous work experience in real estate accounting, Mrs. Levy finally decided to take up teaching math when she moved to Florida in 2008. “I hated being confined to a cubicle, and I was not fulfilled by the work I was doing. I have always loved math,” Mrs. Levy said. “I figured I would pursue a career in teaching and see where it takes me. Once I started teaching I never looked back.”
Mrs. Michelle Maragno
As an American Heritage Alumna, Mrs. Michelle Maragno is no stranger to the 40-acre campus. However, instead of walking the halls as a student or as a guest lecturer, Mrs. Maragno will direct students in the Pre-Law program, particularly those taking Honors Criminal Law.
“Criminal law is an interesting subject to teach because it introduces the students to the criminal justice system and teaches them how the U.S. Constitution protects individual rights,” Mrs. Maragno, who has practiced law for the past 12 years, said. “I am excited to now dedicate a portion of my day to the amazing students in the pre-law program.”
Mrs. Alyiece Moretto-Watkins
With a background of 10 years of professional theatre, new Scenic Design and Technical Theatre I teacher Mrs. Alyiece Moretto-Watkins wanted to impart her knowledge with those interested in the field. “I am looking forward to getting to know and sharing my knowledge with all the young artists brave enough to jump into technical theatre,” Mrs. Moretto-Watkins said.
For Mrs. Moretto-Watkins, the decision to teach at Heritage came from the environment the school creates. “The faculty and administration of the Fine Arts department are what drew me to Heritage,” Mrs. Moretto-Watkins said. “My husband graduated from here in ‘04 and still talks about his life changing experiences and opportunities fostered by the individuals here.”
Mr. Rick Peña
Although Mr. Peña has 13 years of experience as a costume designer, he will be exploring a new side of the profession: working officially in a school during the school year as the costumer for the Fine Arts Department. Mr. Peña didn’t plan on going into education with theatre as his primary focus. However, during the summer he found himself teaching students and interns during the professional theatre season.
“Costumes have always fascinated me,” Mr. Peña said. “They have the ability to transform a person and make them almost unrecognizable at times.” Now, with the Fine Arts department, Mr. Peña will work with students to create and coordinate the wardrobe for nine shows.
Mrs. Clavette Phillip
As a mom of four kids attending American Heritage and Academy, Mrs. Clavette Phillip has first-hand experience with the education this school provides. Mrs. Phillip, who has a background in business and an affinity for economics, will be teaching college-prep and honors economics for seniors and American History Honors for juniors. “I think in a lot of ways history and economics have a correlation with one another,” Mrs. Phillip said.
After working in higher education for about 13 years, Mrs. Phillip became interested in teaching younger students. “When I became a mom, my interest in secondary education peaked. I had previously worked mostly in administration, but also in higher education for two years and secondary for one,” Mrs. Phillip said. “Now, I’m looking forward to accomplishing things with the students and helping them figure out what they want to do through the discovery of new subjects.”
Mrs. Paula Urrea
With a major in neuroscience and a focus on the chemical foundation of biological studies, new AP and Honors Chemistry teacher Mrs. Paula Urrea feels ready to take on these two classes. “I always liked to dig deeper into the reason why things are happening,” Mrs. Urrea said. “Chemistry is one of those subjects that really gets you to the core, where you have to start looking at how things are bonding. I really like to know ‘why?’”
A South Florida native, Mrs. Urrea knew all about the school growing up. “Growing up in South Florida, I knew about American Heritage and the kind of students who are eager and motivated to learn that attend the school. My goal is to have my students be excited about learning,” Mrs. Urrea said. “To have students who are just as passionate about learning or just as interested in subjects like AP Chemistry creates a unique experience in the classroom.”
Mr. Jose Alberto Vazquez Rivera
Not a stranger to academia, new World History Honors and CP teacher Mr. Jose Vazquez Rivera has 15 years of teaching experience in subjects ranging from history to physical education. Ever since he was in school himself, Mr. Vazquez Rivera prefered history over all other subjects, and when his guidance counselor suggested he teach, he took the suggestion to heart.
“I enjoy being in front of a group, so I decided to give [teaching] a try. Teaching, as well as history, became, and still is, my passion. I love understanding the past and applying to what’s going on in the present. In the end it’s all about our decisions,” Mr. Vazquez Rivera said. “When you consider any historical event, you have to put yourself in that person’s shoes. If I were there, would I have taken the route they took? This is what I like to consider in my classroom.”
Mrs. Bernice Walker
With 14 years of teaching under her belt, new Academy math teacher Mrs. Bernice Walker will join the teaching staff that taught her son. Inspired by her upbringing, Mrs. Walker decided to take on education as a career and has taught in Broward County Public Schools since. “I have loved math since elementary school. I’m able to help students and fellow teachers who struggle with math,” Mrs. Walker said. “I decided to pursue a career in education because I had a love of helping and educating others. Also, I was raised in a single-parent home, and my mom did not have a high school diploma.”
Now, Mrs. Walker will be teaching Algebra I and II in the Academy. “I am looking forward to being an asset to the organization and being a part of the Heritage family,” Mrs. Walker said.
Mr. Peter Zakes
While chemistry can be a tricky subject, Mr. Peter Zakes looks forward to giving students in grades nine through 12 an opportunity to fall in love with the subject just as much as he has. “Chemistry is always changing the way we see the world and what we are able to build in it,” Mr. Zakes said. “With new discoveries we are able to change how infrastructure and communities are organized and what materials are needed to ensure sustainability into the future.”
With six years of teaching experience at Plantation High School, Mr. Zakes was drawn to American Heritage’s student-growth oriented programs and hopes to utilize his classroom as one of these innovative settings. “I want to reach out to students to inspire future scientists and encourage them to explore the ever changing world of science with the innovations to come in their own generation,” Mr. Zakes said.
(Photo submitted by Mr. Zakes)