El Centro de Estudiantes

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About Us » Our Team

Our Team

Angela Smith, Director of Post-Secondary Services

Angela Smith supports students, families and the el Centro staff through workshops, direct services and community partnerships. She has 20 years of experience working in secondary and postsecondary settings, and enjoys using the skills and knowledge acquired from her work as a teacher, college admissions director, financial aid counselor and scholarship coordinator to help students find or explore their passions and create successful plans to achieve their short-term and long term goals. Angela is also a visual artist, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Moore College of Art and Design. She is a published illustrator, mural painter and jewelry designer.

Sheri Newmark, Student Services Coordinator

Sheri Newmark has an extensive, multi-faceted history supporting both students and professionals. Sheri’s varied experiences shaped her approach to program management as she moved into administrative roles; she committed to maximizing the promise of change, maintaining a firm belief in the ability of quality educational staff to join together and proactively develop relevant, meaningful educational opportunities for typical and non-typical learners alike. Sheri is a great believer in Alistair Smith’s perspective that “the learners are the ones who will inherit the world, while the knowers will be beautifully prepared for a world which no longer exists.”
Ann Banegas, Advisor

Amy Banegas has been an advisor at El Centro since the fall of 2013, but she has worked in alternative education in North Philadelphia for over a decade, teaching and creating curriculum in Art and English. Amy has also been an adjunct professor at Harcum College as well as a freelance journalist. Amy earned her Bachelor’s Degree in English from Temple University, and in 2007 Amy graduated from Arcadia University with a Master’s Degree in English, specializing in Journalism.
Monshell Reyes, Post-Secondary Counselor

Monshell Reyes is the Post-Secondary Counselor. Prior to this position, Monshell spent nine years working in various positions with the Philadelphia Education Fund, helping individuals from diverse backgrounds reach their post-secondary goals. Monshell holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Temple University and a Master’s Degree in School Counseling from West Chester University. Monshell is a National Certified Counselor and is passionate about helping students reach their personal, emotional, and vocational goals. Monshell loves being creative and enjoys designing and making clothes.
Marie Cavagnaro, Office Manager

Marie Cavagnaro is the office manager at el Centro de Estudiantes. Before working at el Centro, Marie had a variety of jobs: commercial artist, environmental educator, science teacher…she even owned her own bakery. Marie holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Chestnut Hill College. When she isn’t keeping the whole school together with her blend of grace, hard work, and humor, you can find Marie at home with her cat and dog, on a road trip, or fulfilling her duties as an assistant sea glass hunter on Grand Manan Island.
Joe Lively, Counselor

Joe Lively started his career in direct service as a case manager in various intervention programs for court-involved and at-risk youths at Congreso de Latinos Unidos. Joe then transitioned into the role of after school coordinator for Congreso’s EXITOS program. Joe earned a Bachelors of Science and a Bachelors of Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University in the disciplines of Psychology and Religious studies.
Sali CHE Hamid

Sali CHE Hamid has been in the education field all her life. She was born and raised in Qatar, and her educational journey spanned several years and three continents. Ms. CHE always loved to help and serve those in need, and wrote a grant called S.T.I.G.M.A. (Support to Identify and Gather my Abilities) to support her working in engaging persons with autism. She also served as a community health educator in numerous public and charter schools.
Jason Weinberg, Teacher

Jason Weinberg began teaching after gaining a broad background in publishing, advertising, bookkeeping, and non-profit business development. That’s what he loves about el Centro—using diverse experiences and knowledge to help students reach their unique learning goals. He believes in taking a “consultant” role in helping students succeed and overcome obstacles so they can develop responsibility, independence, and grit. Jason also enjoys riding his bike, baking, and being with his wife and children.
Tenia Azzaam-Thompson, Coordinator of el Centro’s Gateway Program

Tenia Azzaam-Thompson is an advisor and coordinator of el Centro’s Gateway program. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tenia arrived at el Centro de Estudiantes in 2012 after teaching science for 15 years in the District. Tenia holds Master’s Degrees in Education and Biology from Lincoln University, is a mother of two, and enjoys traveling. Tenia’s educational motto is “students come first,” and she loves the Big Picture model because she believes it gives students the opportunity “to think outside the box.”
Jilpa Desai, Advisor

This is the first year for Jilpa Desai as an advisor, and she has a wide range of experience in education, teaching mathematics and science to students from the seventh to twelfth grades. Jilpa earned her Master’s Degree in Education, and she also holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health and a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry. Through her practical experience and knowledge, Jilpa has incorporated a variety of methods in her instruction, and put her “spin” on the field of education.
Stephanie Contreras, Resilience Specialist

Stephanie Contreras, resilience specialist since 2012, utilizes a trauma-sensitive approach to prepare students for academic, social, and emotional challenges. Through programmatic workshops, individual counseling, and partnerships with stakeholders, Stephanie creates and sustains a network of support for our students. Stephanie has also worked in a residential treatment facility. She is passionate about traveling, and has initiated a successful student study abroad program where students have had the chance travel to Amsterdam and Costa Rica. She holds an MA in Childhood Studies from Rutgers University.
Sara Zubroff, Advisor

Sara Zubroff, advisor since 2013, also designs literacy curriculum, coordinates the language lab, and facilitates Senior Project Seminar. In past lives, Sara taught Language Arts in Philadelphia and at Daley Community College in Chicago, earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh, traveled around the world in 100 days, volunteered in an animal shelter, and waited tables at live music venues. Sara received her teaching certification from Chestnut Hill College. In her spare time she enjoys reading and spending time with her dog and her family.
Tim Spady, Advisor

Tim Spady, a lifelong resident of Philadelphia, has been serving and teaching urban youth since 2007, when he began working for the Steppingstone Scholars Program. Tim went on to Franklin and Marshall College, where he studied sociology. Tim has been an advisor for El Centro de Estudiantes for 4 years and will be pursuing a Master’s Degree in organizational development and leadership at Saint Joseph’s University. Tim is also a songwriter, musician, and the assistant minister of music at New Covenant Church of Philadelphia.
Nina Bilynsky, Advisor

Nina Bilynsky, advisor since 2014, hails from a family of educators: her grandmother taught in a displaced persons camp after World War II, and her parents were both Philadelphia schoolteachers. Nina earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Tyler School of Art, then acquired experience in the creative and service industries before coming to education. She holds a Master’s Degree in Education from Holy Family University with certifications in Secondary Art and Special Education. Nina has taught at a public high school, a Catholic school, and a school serving students in foster care.
Matthew Prochnow, Co-Director at el Centro de Estudiantes

Matthew Prochnow is a Co-Director at el Centro de Estudiantes, where he was a founding advisor from 2009-2013 and Director of Real World Learning from 2014 – 2015. He is a runner and heads the school’s Students Run Philly Style squad when he isn’t building transformational internship opportunities. Matthew has lived in Philly for almost ten years and holds a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education (History) from Temple University. He works a lot.
Douglas John Cox, Advisor

Douglas John Cox, advisor since 2013, earned a B.S. in business administration with a concentration in management from Claflin University. Douglas has been teaching in Philadelphia for 12 years total. He is a pioneer of using chess and social networking to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged youth. Douglas aims to empower youth through teamwork, courtesy, integrity, and perseverance. In large part due to Douglas’ leadership and enthusiasm, el Centro students in 2014-15 solved over 800,000 math problems through the First in Math program.

In addition, in Douglas’ first full year as an advisor, one of his students received a chess scholarship.
John W. King, Advisor

John W. King, advisor since 2014, is entering his 20th year in education. His K-12 teaching credits include Philadelphia public and charter schools, and he is also an adjunct professor, having taught history, social studies method courses, and film at Temple University, Peirce College, Widener University, and Villanova University. John is also a published author of the autobiographical The Breeding of Contempt. John received a bachelor’s degree in History/Political Science and a master’s in Education from Temple University. John is working on his PhD in Higher Education at Widener University.
JuDonn DeShields, Co-Director

JuDonn DeShields begins his seventh year in education and fifth year at El Centro excited to be a Co-Director. Having previously served as an advisor and student academic support counselor, JuDonn is eager to help advisors to refine their craft and to work toward making their work as impactful as possible for their students. As a Philly (South Jersey) native, JuDonn loves all things Philadelphia—food, football, jawns, and youngbols.
Madeline Martinez, Facilities Manager and Attendance Officer

Madeline Martinez has worked at el Centro since 2010. A longtime resident of the Norris Square neighborhood, Maddy is a key element of our community outreach efforts. Along with Marie, Maddy is the person who truly keeps el Centro running; she doesn’t just wear many hats– she wears them all! In addition to managing the physical school building, Maddy also tracks attendance, serves as a translator, and often provides comfort and direction to our students (and staff!).