Meet and Teach

A new school year, a new crop of teachers, and a new opportunity to transform minds.

“I am grateful I get to do this work, and I am grateful I get to do it with you,” said Head of School Bryan Garman as he welcomed both new and seasoned faculty and staff to the 2022/23 school year last Monday. Garman began by reflecting on his own early educational history, from a rural mining town in central Pennsylvania to a scholarship to Bucknell University.

At Bucknell, Garman met his first “transformational teacher,” Doug Candland, a renowned psychology and animal behavior professor who took a young Garman under his wing. During a road trip to New York City to assist Candland at an event at Columbia University, Garman talked at length about the plays he was reading—and transfixed by—in another class. Upon reaching New York, Candland excused Garman from his assistant duties, handed him a credit card and a copy of The New Yorker, and told Garman to go see a play. (A small-town kid in the big city, Garman opted for Grover’s Corners and the revival of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, featuring Spalding Gray’s inimitable take on the role of Stage Manager.) “Candland didn’t try to make me into him,” Garman reflected. “He tried to make me more of myself.”

And that is exactly what Garman challenged the faculty of Sidwell Friends to do: Be a transformational teacher; help students become more of themselves. “We get that opportunity every day,” Garman beamed. How lucky!

You can meet the newest crop of Sidwell Friends teachers below:

Lower School

Emilie Cherau, Kindergarten Assistant Teacher

Emilie Cherau first joined the kindergarten team a few years ago as a student teacher with Catholic University. She is back this year as a kindergarten assistant teacher. Cherau is in the process of completing her master’s in elementary education from George Washington University with a focus on special education. Cherau is an avid gardener and reader; in fact, she’s currently making her way through the complete works of Agatha Christie. She has two cats, Miss Moppet (a Selkirk rex) and Tomu Neko (a Japanese bobtail) that she shows! She is excited to return to the Sidwell Friends community and bring all her new lessons from graduate school directly into the classroom.

Jesse Cresswell, Kindergarten Assistant Teacher

Jesse Cresswell joined Sidwell Friends two years ago as a Lower School teaching aide, and she is back in a new context. Cresswell is a graduate of Delaware University and has done extensive studies in the area of museum studies in London. Cresswell is an avid reader and loves to explore the DC food scene. Her mission: to try out every taco place in the DMV.

JaKai Grooms, Kindergarten Assistant Teacher

JaKai Grooms first joined the Sidwell Friends community a few years ago when she was a student teacher at Howard University, supporting our At Home Explorers. This year, she will join us as a kindergarten assistant teacher. Grooms studied education at Howard University and just completed her master’s with a reading-specialist certification. In her free time, Grooms is an avid reader and traveler, and she enjoys spending time with her friends. A Virgo, she has a great balance of industriousness and imagination! Grooms has two important folks in her life: her partner, Timothy, and her puppy, Clover.

Monica Hasan, 3X

A native of the DC area, Monica Hasan has lived all over the country (and the globe) and has been a teacher and an administrator in a wide range of schools. Most recently, she was the director of curriculum and instruction for the Golestan School in California. Pre-pandemic, Hasan taught 2nd–5th grades in schools spanning the world, from Jakarta, Indonesia, to the DC area to Houston, Texas. A graduate of the University of Houston, Hasan has a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and a master’s in instructional technology. In addition, she is certified in ESL and gifted-and-talented education. In her free time, Hasan loves reading, traveling, spending time with friends, and scuba diving! This year, she’s looking forward to adding an additional member to her family: a kitten.

Danielle Melnikov, 3Y

Danielle Melnikov comes to Sidwell Friends from St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School, where, as the assistant head of the lower school, she helped lead her community through the challenges of the pandemic. Prior to that, Melnikov taught 2nd grade at St. Patrick’s for nine years. A linguist at heart, Melnikov completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania where she majored in Germanic languages and literature with a minor in linguistics. She then went on to get her master’s in teaching from Manhattanville College. In addition to studying foreign languages, Melnikov enjoys crocheting and nail art. She also has an amazing collection of funny t-shirts and socks, so be on the lookout.

Marilena (Mari) Siegel ’14, 3X

We are delighted to welcome Mari Siegel back to Sidwell Friends’ Lower School where she was once a student herself! Siegel earned her degree from Davidson College, graduating with a bachelor’s in Africana studies and gender and sexuality studies. She then received her master’s degree in elementary and special education from Relay Graduate School of Education. Siegel comes to us from Achievement First in New York City, where she was a 2nd grade special education teacher. In her free time, Siegel can be found in the kitchen trying out new recipes, outside exercising, at her family’s home, or spending time with her sister. Siegel has a dog named Bentley, who her 3rd graders will hear all about.

Erin Weisman, preK

Erin Weisman has spent the last six years as the lead preK teacher and interim program director at the Gan Hayeled, Adas Israel. Weisman earned a bachelor’s from Tulane University, double-majoring in psychology and early childhood education. An outdoors enthusiast, you might catch a glimpse of Weisman running through Rock Creek Park, and pre-pandemic, she never missed seeing Big Freedia at the 9:30 Club each year. (These days, she watches cooking tutorials online.) A native of the Los Angeles area, Weisman is a huge Dodgers fan. (In fact, she has been on the Jumbo-Tron at Dodger stadium not once, not twice, but 10 times!) Last spring, Weisman and her partner, Andrew, got engaged at the Tree of Life in New Orleans.

Middle School

Kareen Burns, Assistant Librarian

Kareen Burns was a head librarian at Loyola Elementary School in California for 11 years and was a library assistant prior to that position. Burns is passionate about supporting students and adults alike in their quest to find great literature and resources. Burns has her bachelor’s from the University of California, Berkeley, in political science and her MLIS from San Jose State University.

Indigo Dow, 7th–8th Grade History and Team Sky Advisor

Indigo Dow joins the Middle School having served as a history teacher, coach, and dean of Diversity, Equity, and Culture at La Jolla Country Day School. He has presented on various topics related to Middle School, including affinity groups, restorative-justice practices, and toxic masculinity. He attended a Quaker school himself, then earned his bachelor’s in American Studies from Colby College and a MEd from the University of San Diego.

Janna Haynes, 5th Grade Homeroom Teacher

Janna Haynes served as a 4th grade teacher for six years at Taylor Elementary School. Just before the pandemic, Haynes was a gallery educator at the National Portrait Gallery, where she led student groups through inquiry-based learning. She joined our team as a substitute teacher and classroom facilitator during the pandemic. Haynes has a bachelor’s in history from the University of South Florida and a MEd from Marymount University.

Bruce Holmes, School Counselor

A licensed clinical professional counselor, Bruce Holmes will split his time between the Middle and Upper Schools. In Middle School, Holmes will work alongside Middle School Counselor Julia Porter, who remains full time. Holmes has served as adjunct faculty at Trinity Washington University and as a counselor for grades K–5 in the Langdon Elementary School. In addition to individual counseling, Holmes has experience facilitating group counseling sessions, has led social-emotional learning, and has done conflict resolution informed by restorative-justice practices. Holmes earned his bachelor’s in education from Virginia State University and his master’s in counseling from Trinity University.

Ed Kerner, 6th Grade Homeroom Teacher

Ed Kerner taught history, writing, and public speaking at Zhenjiang First Foreign School in Jiangsu, China. Once he returned from China, Kerner completed a master’s program at American University, where he focused on secondary education. As part of his degree, Kerner was a student-teacher at Alice Deal Middle School for the first semester of last school year, where he taught U.S. history. He was then at Walt Whitman High School for the second semester, where he taught history and philosophy. Kerner also has a bachelor’s from Binghamton University, where he majored in history.

Josh Markey, 7th–8th Grade Math Teacher and Team Sky Advisor

Josh Markey is not new to Sidwell Friends, but he is new to the Middle School faculty. Having served for 10 years in the Upper School Math Department, Markey’s love for coaching led him to join the Athletics Department for the last few years, and some students may have had him as a coach for various sports. This year, Markey returns to the math classroom. Markey has a bachelor’s from Tufts University, where he majored in math and ancient Greek. 

Manjula Nair, Middle School Receptionist

Having taught technology for many years at the Canadian International School in Bangalore, India, Manjula Nair is a true school person. She brings years of experience in an educational institution, a love for students, a wealth of technological knowledge, and a lot of enthusiasm to her new role. Nair has a bachelor’s in chemistry and her post-graduate diploma in computer applications, both from Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala, India. 

Ben Overcash, 6th Grade Homeroom Teacher

Ben Overcash taught humanities at Marist College, North Shore, and was an adjunct faculty member in the department of history and archaeology at Macquarie University, both in Australia. Most recently, he was a social science and global studies teacher at Trailside Middle School in Loudoun Country, Virginia. While at Trailside, Overcash was the equity lead for faculty. Overcash has a bachelor’s in religion from Southern Wesleyan University, a master’s in ancient history from Macquarie University, a graduate diploma in secondary education from Australian Catholic University, and his PhD in ancient history from Macquarie University.

Cristina Rampulla, 7th–8th Grade French Teacher

Cristina Rampulla has been a teacher since 2015, when she began teaching social sciences at a high school in France. Last year, she served as a French-language substitute in Montgomery County Public Schools and at the Washington International School. She is passionate about students and supporting them in learning the French language. She has master’s degrees in economics from the University of Pisa and the Toulouse School of economics in France.

Savant Shrestha, 6th–8th Grade Spanish and Team Land Advisory

Savant Shrestha actually joined the Middle School in January 2022 while also teaching Upper School Spanish. Shrestha loved his time with his Middle School classes last year, and we are excited to welcome him as a full-time member of our division this year! Shrestha has his bachelor’s in economics and Spanish from Middlebury College, as well as a master’s in law and diplomacy from Tufts University. He is looking forward to seeing familiar faces and new ones in his classes this year.

Jake Watson ’18, 7th–8th Grade Latin Teacher

Jake Watson ’18 is an alum of Sidwell Friends and is excited to return as a teacher. He graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s in classics. Before joining the Sidwell Friends teaching faculty, Watson was a Latin tutor in the Sidwell Summer program for multiple summers and taught at Washington Latin Public Charter School’s summer program. In addition to teaching the 7th and 8th grade Latin classes, Watson will teach two sections of Latin in the Upper School.

Upper School 

Amanda Curtis, Mathematics Teacher

After receiving a PhD in mathematics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Amanda Curtis taught at the Madeira School and, most recently, the French American International School in San Francisco. In addition to teaching, Curtis will serve as the assistant robotics coach with the Robotics Team. 

Jake Dingman, History Teacher

Jake Dingman completed his PhD in history from Georgetown University in 2021. At Georgetown, Dingman taught a range of courses on the history of the Pacific World, the history of East Asia, and art history. 

Diana Hajjar, Spanish Teacher

Diana Hajjar has taught all levels of Spanish at the college, high school, and elementary school level, including her most recent high school experience at DC International Charter School. She holds a PhD in Spanish literature and cultural studies from Georgetown University. 

Bruce Holmes, School Counselor

Bruce Holmes, who will be splitting his time between the Upper and Middle School, has worked as a schoolteacher and school counselor since 2004. Holmes has served as adjunct faculty at Trinity Washington University and as a counselor for grades K–5 in the Langdon Elementary School. In addition to individual counseling, Holmes has experience facilitating group counseling sessions, has led social-emotional learning, and has done conflict resolution informed by restorative-justice practices. Holmes earned his bachelor’s in education from Virginia State University and his master’s in counseling from Trinity University.

Cynthia Kovacs, Associate Director Of College Counseling

Cynthia Kovacs brings over 15 years of experience in college counseling and college admissions. She has held leadership positions in the admissions office of Princeton University and the college counseling office of La Jolla Country Day School. Most recently, Kovacs was the associate director of college counseling at Georgetown Visitation.

Murat Kayali, History Teacher

Murat Kayali is coming to Sidwell Friends from Saint Anselm’s Abbey School, where he taught courses ranging from Middle East and world history to international relations, as well as being a track and field and soccer coach. Prior to becoming a teacher, Kayali worked in law. He has a J.D. from New York University School of Law and a bachelor’s from Yale University.

Elise Robison, History Teacher

Elise Robison is joining Sidwell Friends after over a decade teaching at Cupertino High School in California. Robison has a master’s in education and will be pursuing an EdD in educational leadership and policy at Howard University beginning this fall.

Joshua Small, History Teacher

Joshua Small has previously taught at international schools in Germany and Japan, and for the past six years was a history teacher at BASIS Independent, Silicon Valley. In addition to teaching history, Small will also be teaching the popular Upper School psychology class. He holds a master’s in education leadership from the University of Bath in the United Kingdom.

Helen Snodgrass, Biology Teacher

Helen Snodgrass has most recently taught 9th grade as well as AP biology at YES Prep North Forest in Houston, Texas. She holds a bachelor’s in human biology and a master’s in education, both from Stanford University. 

Amy Tatarsky, Chemistry Teacher

Amy Tatarsky recently moved to Washington, DC, after a long tenure teaching chemistry at the college level in Madison, Wisconsin, where at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, she also helped redevelop and align the general introductory chemistry courses there.

Myles Teasley, History Teacher

Now into his ninth year of teaching, Myles Teasley joins us after five years at the Potomac School. He holds a master’s in Middle East studies from George Washington University. 

Emma Unterkoefler, English Teacher

Last year, while Emma Unterkoefler completed a master’s in English literature from Georgetown University, she taught Latin and was an assistant cross-country coach at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. 

Jake Watson ’18, Latin Teacher

Jake Watson, an alum of Sidwell Friends, graduated this past spring from Yale University with a major in classics. He has taught Latin at Washington Latin Public School and will be teaching Latin in the Middle School as well. 

More School News

China By Way of DC

Students leave the classroom for a weekend of real-world experiences.

Let Them Eat Popsicles!

Last Friday afternoon, Sidwell Friends parents, students, teachers, and friends came together on a warm and sunny September day for a back-to-school picnic that featured a bouncy house, arts and crafts, games, and burgers and hotdogs. 

Flying Lessons

In an age of anxiety, Sidwell Friends teachers and staff learn how to embrace struggle—not avoid it.

Meet and Teach

A new school year, a new crop of teachers, and a new opportunity to transform minds.