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Experiential Learning Taskforce Members

Photo of Angelique Kwabenah

Angelique Kwabenah 

Incarcerated Youth Program

A Little about Angelique: Ms. Kwabenah is the Reading Specialist at the Incarcerated Youth Program. She has 21 years of experience in urban education. She is an America Achieves Fellow and 2012-2013 DCPS Teacher of Excellence. She is graduate of both Howard University and Johns Hopkins.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force: I am excited about the task force because I love exploring new ways to make instruction more exciting and enriching for students.

Something fun: I can jump Double Dutch.Task force participants were selected and represent a broad cross-section of the city, including  all parts of the city. The task force includes content experts, familiar with the curriculum, as well as parents for their insight into what will engage students in exciting, new ways.  The community members also bring insight about the District and creative ideas, as some are native Washingtonians or have lived here for significant periods of time.



Photo of Antrina Leeth Antrina Leeth

Manager of International Baccalaureate, DCPS Office of Teaching and Learning

A Little about Antrina:  Antrina has worked for DCPS for four years where she has served as a Master Educator, International Baccalaureate Coordinator, and now Manager of International Bacclaureate. Prior to joining DCPS, Antrina was a classroom teacher for 9 years in Florida. Antrina is a University of Florida graduate and the proud mother of three children.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  I am excited to be a part of this task force because it will serve as reminder to teachers, parents, and administrators that GREAT teaching and learning can happen outside the four walls of a classroom.

Something fun:    My hobby is digital scrapbooking.


Photo of Beth PrinceBeth S. Prince

Teacher, Hearst Elementary

A Little about Beth:  Beth Prince is a kindergarten teacher at Hearst Elementary School. She has spent the last 22 years working with young children in the private and public school settings. Her many years of teaching have helped her to develop a unique perspective on how leadership, collaboration, and parental involvement play equal roles in student success. For Beth, learning is an exploration of what is known, an introduction to and a deeper understanding of what we don’t know, and the satisfaction of experiencing how acquired knowledge is used in our everyday life.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  All of our teachers will finally be given the keys to unlock the treasure chest of resources that is our nation’s capital. From field trips, to web chats, to live speakers students will be able to truly see their lessons in a whole new light.

Something fun: I have a collection of Dr. Seuss themed Converse tennis shoes. I am a DCPS Alumni having attended Shepherd, Deal and Wilson and I have sung all over the world with the Howard University Choir.

Photo of Caitlin Carroll Oppenheimer Caitlin Carroll Oppenheimer

Parent,  Stoddert Elementary

A Little about Caitlin:  Caitlin Oppenheimer is a Vice President in the Public Health Research department at NORC. She is also the Co-President of the Stoddert Elementary School PTA and believes experiential learning can spark children’s imaginations and help them find joy in learning. She lives in Glover Park with her husband and three children.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  Children learn by doing and making it easier for our schools to offer grade-appropriate hands-on experiences to enhance traditional learning is a good idea.

Something fun:    I can still remember my sixth grade science project in vivid detail.


Photo of Chris Pelliccia Chris Pelliccia

Professional Learning Designer, DCPS Office of Teaching and Learning

A Little about Chris: Chris Pelliccia works in the central office at DCPS as a Professional Learning Designer for math and science. Chris joined DCPS from St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School where he was a chemistry teacher for four years. Chris is a graduate of Middlebury College and currently lives in Arlington, Virginia.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force: During my teaching career, I was always interested in making real-world connections to the content. Turning the District into students' classroom will help our teachers do the same.

Something fun:  I was a two-time state champion in the 800m in high school


Daniela Grigioni

Manager of External Relations, DCPS Office of Out-of-School Time Programs

A Little about Daniela:  Ms. Grigioni works in the central office at DCPS, in the Office of Out-of-School Time Programs.  She manages external relations with non-profit organizations that bring services to students in afterschool.  Daniela has been in this position since June 2008.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  I believe it is important to provide students with all possible opportunities to develop as scholars and human beings.  The city has a lot to offer and many organizations actively help DCPS expand opportunities for students.

Something fun: I am Italian and my three children are all bilingual. They are all also graduates of DCPS!


Photo of Donnetta Simmons Donnetta Simmons

Teacher, John P. Sousa Middle School

A Little about Donnetta:  Donnetta Simmons began her career in education in 2001 after receiving a degree in Biology from Hampton University.  For the first five years, she taught fifth grade at the former Scott Montgomery ES in Washington, DC.  She went on to teach Science at William Wirt Middle School in Prince George’s County for the next six years.  Two years ago, Donnetta returned to DCPS, and she is currently working as the SEM Resource teacher at Sousa MS.  Since the start of her career, she has earned a master’s degree in School Administration from Cambridge College in Massachusetts and now holds certifications in both Elementary Education and Biological Sciences, 7-12.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force: My excitement about the task force is two-fold.  As a teacher, it excites me to have the opportunity to make the classroom come alive by connecting concepts taught in class with real-world experiences.  As a native Washingtonian, it is exciting to be able to explore the city with my students while making classroom connections.

Something fun: I am a foodie.  My goal is to eat at every 3-5 star restaurant in Washington, DC at least once. I am also a DCPS alumna.

Photo of Dr. Kimbria JacksonDr. Kimbria Jackson

Math Instructional Coach, Barnard Elementary School

A Little about Kimbria:  Dr. Kimbria  Jackson works as the Instructional Math coach at Barnard Elementary School. She is also a part of the district's Common Core Curriculum writing team and has provided professional development for teachers across the district. Dr. Jackson has been a part of DCPS for 3 years, originating from Atlanta, Georgia. She holds a Bachelors in Mathematics which she earned from Georgia Southern University. She received her Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Argosy University.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  I am excited about the task force because it is a great way to get our students to see how mathematics is all over this great city!

Something fun:    I am not only a math coach but I also coached high school basketball for 9 years! I am also a graduate of Jacksonville State in AL. where I earned a Masters in Math Education


Photo of Emily A. HenryEmily A. Henry

Art Teacher, Burroughs EC and Wheatley EC

A Little about Emily: Emily Henry is proud parent  of a PreK student at Burroughs EC. She also teaches art at Burroughs EC and Wheatley EC. When she joined DCPS 12 years ago, she taught in grades K-2 for 9 years before moving to art.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force: I am excited about this task force because I'm very passionate about project-based learning. Creating a resource to connect real-life experiences with standards can help reinforce what’s being taught. Most people can't remember in detail a worksheet that they had to do in class but they can tell you about a project or a field trip they took. I believe that in order for students to truly grasp knowledge, they have to experience it!

Something fun: I was a Girl Scout from 2nd to 12th grade. I am a proud DCPS alumna of Beers ES, Jefferson JHS, and Health and Human Service [email protected] Eastern SHS!!!

Photo of Heather Zuerblis


Heather Zuerblis

Literacy Specialist, Ross Elementary

A Little about Heather:  Heather Zuerblis works at Ross Elementary as a Literacy Specialist where she primarily works with Preschool-1st grade.  Prior to Ross, Heather worked for Fairfax County Public Schools for eight years as both a classroom teacher and Literacy Specialist.  She received her undergraduate from James Madison University and her Masters in Reading Education from Boston University.  She lives in the Shaw neighborhood of DC with her husband.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  I want students to engage in rich experiences so they can use them in their writing.

Something fun:  I take tap dancing classes.

Photo of Jessica SwansonJessica Swanson

Manager, DCPS Office of Teaching and Learning

A Little about Jessica:  Jessica Swanson serves as the Manager, Teaching and Learning Strategies, in the Office of Teaching and Learning at DC Public Schools. Previously, she worked at TNTP, most recently as a Site Manager for TNTP's DC Charter Talent Management Initiative and for Student Surveys, where she oversaw the administration of TNTP's national Student Surveys pilot. Prior to joining TNTP, Ms. Swanson served in several roles at DC Prep, the  highest-performing network of charter schools in Washington. She began her career as a Teach For America Corps Member there, teaching Social Studies to middle school students. She is currently completing Ed.D. coursework at the University of Virginia.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  As a former middle school Social Studies teacher in Washington, I know firsthand how many wonderful experiences the city can provide students to further their learning. I want to help make such experiences available to ALL students.

Something fun:  My husband Nate and I are the proud parents of two Great Pyrenees dogs, Sammy and Lily.


Photo of John IsabellaJohn Isabella

Staff member, DCPS Office of Teaching and Learning

A Little about John:  John Isabella works in the central office at DCPS where he is a member of the team responsible for Advanced and Enriched Instruction. John joined DCPS from TNTP where he was charged with recruitment and selection for DC Teaching Fellows and previously taught math at a small, public high school in the Bronx. John is a graduate of The College of William and Mary and lives in Washington D.C. with his partner, Jesse, and his dog, Chance.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  As a teacher, it was incredible to see how experiential learning activities provided my students with an opportunity to shine. Students who were normally quiet and did just OK in class suddenly became very engaged and started sharing incredible ideas. These experiences could be quite time consuming to plan as a teacher, so I am excited about doing some of the heavy lifting to support teachers in conducting experiential learning activities with their students.

Something fun:  I practice yoga several times a week. I can do a mean tree pose.


Karen Cole

Staff member, DCPS Office of Teaching and Learning

A Little about Karen:  Karen Cole works at DCPS in the STEM team of the Office of Teaching and Learning, where she designs professional learning experiences for DCPS math teachers. Prior to joining DCPS, Karen was the founder and executive director of Big Learning, a Montgomery County nonprofit focused on creative engineering, design, science, and foreign language enrichment.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  I want to help learning come alive for our kids.

Something fun:  I play the bass guitar in various bands. Rock out!


Photo of Karen CowdenKaren Cowden

Library Media Specialist and Technology Co-Coordinator, Hyde-Addison Elementary School

A Little about Karen:  Ms. Cowden has been with DCPS since 2001, and taught in a 4/5 self-contained classroom in Montgomery County in the mid-1990's before staying home to raise her two children.  She is the proud parent of a Wilson graduate and a soon-to-be School Without Walls graduate!

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  This city is bursting with amazing opportunities, and I want to do all I can to help support my colleagues, teachers, and our students with experiential learning resources.

Something fun:  A native of Illinois, I am the youngest of seven children. When time permits, I love hiking, biking, and exploring the out-of-doors!



Kate McNamee

Coordinator, DCPS Embassy Adoption

A Little about Kate:  Kate McNamee oversees the 39-year old Embassy Adoption Program (EAP), a unique education initiative that exposes 5th and 6th grade DCPS students to international perspectives and cross-cultural lessons.  Through direct interactions with diplomats from around the world, DCPS students learn about the language, customs, history and culture of their partner embassy’s home country.  Kate joined the DCPS family in 2009; she is a New Hampshire native, UVA/GWU alum, and a proud District resident.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  I’ve seen the power of experiential learning firsthand, through the EAP.  Whether it’s a group of students debating global topics at the State Department, learning about conflict resolution at the US Institute of Peace, or walking through a private docent tour of the National Gallery of Art’s Dutch Masters—each experience engages the students with their country of study in  deep and tangible way.  I’m thrilled to work together with our team to expand similar opportunities to our students.

Something fun:  I'm the oldest of eight siblings!  


Photo of Matthew ReifMatthew Reif

Director, DCPS Office of Teaching and Learning

A Little about Matthew:  Matthew Reif works in the central office at DCPS for the Office of Teaching and Learning. He is the Director of Advanced and Enriched Instruction. Prior to this position Matthew worked as an educator for ten years in Prince George's County and Baltimore City, MD as well as a master educator for DCPS. Matthew has been tasked as the chairperson of this taskforce by Chancellor Henderson and Brian Pick, Chief of Teaching and Learning.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  I'm really excited about being able to better leverage our DCPS curriculum in a way that would better build-in experiential learning (both in the form of field trips and in school learning) without causing teachers or administrators a concern that they are losing instructional time.

Something fun:  I'm the proud father of a cute Pomeranian doggie.


Photo of Monica ShahMonica Shah

 7th/8th Grade Social Studies Teacher, Brightwood Education Campus

A Little about Monica:  Monica Shah is a middle school social studies teacher, passionate about educating students on peace and human rights issues. Monica has a Masters in International Training and Education, and undergraduate degrees in International/Diplomatic Studies, and Hispanic Studies/Spanish.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  As a teacher, I believe that experiential education has a significant impact on students as it helps them develop a diverse range of experiences, skills and knowledge. I am honored to be on this task force because I will have the opportunity to collaborate with other creative and passionate teachers, parents, and school/central-office based staff on something I care deeply about – providing students with meaningful experiential learning opportunities.

Something fun:  I am also a DJ!


Rebecca Pendleton Frailey

Teacher, Marie Reed ES

A Little about Rebecca:  Rebecca Pendleton Frailey is a third generation native Washingtonian. Prior to teaching, Rebecca represented a multinational agribusiness company. Her career as a teacher began in the Loudoun County, VA public schools where she taught at the middle school level. Rebecca been teaching in DCPS at Marie Reed for 6 years. She is a Special Education teacher.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  As a Washingtonian, I am excited to be part of this initiative to leverage the tremendous and unique resources of this city to enrich the learning experiences of our students.

Something fun:    I am a history "buff". I AM a DCPS alum. I attended Horace Mann School from K-6 before going on to National Cathedral School for Girls.


Photo of Rhonda FergusonRhonda Ferguson

DCPS Affiliation:  Turner Elementary School

A Little about Rhonda:  Rhonda has been a teacher with DCPS since 2006 and has served as the early childhood grade level chair for two years. She is a proud alum of DCPS and is a graduate of Howard University and The George Washington University. She is also a proud mother of three.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  I am excited about working to create a "toolbox" for my colleagues in the district so that our children will have the opportunity to attend field trips that are meaningful and connected to the work done in the classrooms around the city. I think our city is full of many opportunities and that compiling this resource will be a great beginning to exploring our city as a classroom!

Something fun:    I love neo-soul music!


Photo of Sarah ElwellSarah Elwell

Librarian, McKinley Tech EC; Parent, Stoddert ES

A Little about Sarah:  Sarah Elwell is the librarian at McKinley Technology EC. This is her 14th year as an educator in DCPS: 8 years as an English teacher and 6 years as a librarian. Sarah has a B.A. English from Swarthmore College and an M.L.S. from Catholic University. She is also a national trainer with the American Federation of Teachers.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  DC is my hometown and I am thrilled to work alongside other educators to build a repository of lessons, projects and experiments that use DC and it's rich culture and history as a learning laboratory.

Something fun:    I love poetry and hate driving. I am a native Washingtonian and DCPS alumna.


Photo of Sarah LavezzoSarah Lavezzo

Teacher, Eaton ES

A Little about Sarah:  Sarah Lavezzo has taught fifth grade at John Eaton Elementary School for three years. She loves her school, students, and  co-workers! Sarah lives in Virginia with her wonderful husband, Nick, and enthusiastic dog, Gusto.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force: My students LOVE enrichment experiences and I'm excited to help all DCPS students experience them more.

Something fun: I've wanted to be a teacher in DC since I was in high school, and I love living my dream every day!


Shameka Stewart

Parent, Tyler Elementary

A Little about Shameka Stewart:  Shameka Stewart is employed by The Carlyle Group and works with its Infrastructure Fund. She is a native of Spartanburg, SC and currently resides in Ward 7. Shameka is a graduate of Duke University and the University of Southern California.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  DC is a microcosm of American culture that can provide students with amazing opportunities to touch history, experience democracy, and explore humanity.

Something fun: I love the Harry Potter series! I believe in "purposeful" acts of kindness and service!


Vicki Otten

Teacher, Murch ES

A Little about Vicki:  Vicki Otten is a 5th grade, English Language Arts/Social Studies teacher at Murch ES. She was a member of the DCPS team developing unit plans for 4th grade.  Prior to becoming a teacher, Vicki worked for many years on Capitol Hill.

Why Are You Excited about the Task Force:  As a native Washingtonian, and product of DC schools, I have seen this city change dramatically over my lifetime  The resources and avenues for creative development that now reside within this city offer incredible extension opportunities for all DCPS students.

Something fun: I was a hockey goalie against my son's hockey team.