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Jennifer Hammond (DeGrandi) has been a Pre-Kindergarten teacher in Hartford, CT since 2008. She spent time at McDonough School, Moylan School, Martin Luther King Jr. School, and finally found her home at ESM. Ms. DeGrandi was a Special Education teacher for three out of her six years in Hartford. She ran an inclusion classroom with hearing impaired children where sign language was integrated into every lesson. She continues to use some sign language in her everyday teaching. Jennifer grew up in East Hartford, CT with her mother, father and brother.

She graduated from EHHS in 2002. In high school she was an all-state swimmer and even broke a few school records! In her free time she loves to go hiking, visit new restaurants, cook and spend time with her family. Jennifer wants to inspire children to always do their best, love themselves, be confident in who they are, always ask questions, and there is always more to learn!

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Ms. Lisitano has been teaching Pre-Kindergarten at ESM since 2006. She is very excited that she is able to be a part of such an amazing school and work with the students at ESM! Prior to working at ESM, she was an assistant teacher in a cooperative nursery school and a nanny in the summers. While working at the preschool, she completed her Bachelors of Science and graduated with a degree in Early Childhood Education from Central Connecticut State University. In 2012, she received her Master’s degree in Elementary reading and literacy from Walden University

Ms. Lisitano was raised in Haddam, Ct where she lived with her parents and four sisters. Her mother, who has been a preschool teacher since 1974, was her inspiration to become an early childhood educator. She now lives in Higganum, CT, with a family of her own. In the summers, She enjoys spending time with her three children at the beach and camping throughout New England.


Ms. Sierra-Halla grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut with her mother, father, 3 sisters and 3 brothers. She attended Central Connecticut State University, where she received her bachelor's and master's degrees in special education. Ms. Sierra-Halla always knew she was going to be a teacher. She proudly followed in her father's footsteps, who was the first Latino professor at CCSU. She began her teaching career 27 years ago in the Hartford Public Schools and has taught pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. She quickly realized that early childhood was her passion, and has been teaching the youngest learners ever since! She was named Teacher of the Year at McDonough School in 2011.

Ms. Sierra Halla believes that the school is a perfect match for early childhood learning, as there are many opportunities for hands-on experiences. She lives in Wethersfield, Connecticut with her husband and two teenage boys. She enjoys reading, camping, cooking for family and friends, as well as gardening.

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Ms. Nicolay 1st

MS. AKERLEY 1st Grade

Seeing bright and eager faces every morning is why Ms. Akerley teaches First Grade. Every day and every year is a new adventure with six and seven year olds that believe anything if possible. She has taught First Grade at ESM for the past two years and Special Education for five years.

She is the proud mother of four amazing children and two dogs. She enjoys spending time with my family and friends and spending time outside. In the summer, she and her family spend time on Martha’s Vineyard. They love the beach. Teaching is an adventure, each day unlike the rest.

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Mrs. Gray is a lifelong resident of Connecticut, growing up in Wallingford. She graduated with a BA in Child Study and a certification in Early Childhood Special Education Special Education and a Regular Education certification in grades 1-3.  She has a MA in Holistic Thinking from the Graduate Institute and is currently enrolled in graduate classes at the University of Hartford.  Mrs. Gray has been teaching in Hartford for twelve years, teaching grades 1-3.  

2013 marked the beginning of her amazing journey here at ESM.  ESM is a place where she finally feels at home.  She is so very proud to be a member of the ESM staff.  In her spare time she likes to read, play with her young son, and enjoy spending time with her husband and family as well as exploring the woods near her home.

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Before working at ESM, Mr. Watrous came for some Professional Development workshops. The well-lit atrium, koi pond, aquatic lab, and butterfly vivarium immediately attracted him to the building. Mr. Watrous has been teaching since 2003.

One of his favorite activities to do with students during the year is to go raking leaves in the neighborhood during fall Enrichment Clusters, then use the compost we make in the earth tubs to plant seeds in the spring in the greenhouse. Outside the classroom, he loves to spend time with his wife and 2 boys, play Words with Friends, and do outdoor activities like splitting wood or shooting hoops.

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Mrs. Calca grew up in Enfield, Connecticut and received her Bachelor of Science degree from Sacred Heart University. She also earned a Master’s degree in Elementary Reading and Literacy from Walden University. She has been teaching kindergarten for 9 years.

Her inspiration for teaching comes from her mother, who spent many years as a high school math teacher. Mrs. Calca believes in helping kindergarteners reach their highest potential while making learning fun.  In her free time she enjoys bowling, and even competed on a NCAA Division 1 team while in college at Sacred Heart. Bowling has given her many opportunities to travel to different parts of the country and meet many new people, including her husband. They currently live in Vernon with their two little boys.

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Mrs. Nelson has been teaching for more than 30 years with the majority of them in a kindergarten classroom.  She was born and educated in Massachusetts. Mrs. Nelson began her teaching career in Houston, Texas and moved to CT in 1989 and has been here ever since.  She is married to Bob, a middle school teacher. Mrs. Nelson has three wonderful sons, Bobby, Evan, and Tommy. Mrs. Nelson’s family loves animals and have quite an assortment residing with them:  a Blue and Gold Macaw named Candy, a yellow-nape Amazon named Hot Rod, a Cockatiel named Herbie, two Dachshunds named Frank and Beans, and two African water frogs named Thing 1 and Thing 2. 

When she is not at school, she spends countless hours watching her son,Tommy play hockey. Mrs. Nelson loves Kindergarten, the Red Sox, anything Dr. Seuss, collecting children’s books, the beach, watermelon, her family and reading. She loves all things science and has found the perfect school in ESM.


MS. VOORHIS 2nd Grade

Miss. Voorhis is over the moon to be a part of the ESM staff and teaching third grade!   Miss. Voorhis loves teaching students but most of all enjoys learning from them, she feels everyone has something to teach. She enjoys a bright, home-like classroom where the children become like family. She is a Disney princess at heart (Snow White) who loves to have fun being hands on with her students.

She was born in Deer Park, NY so from time to time you might hear her Long Island accent come out.  She went to Sacred Heart University and received her BA in psychology and sociology and decided to continue her education at Sacred Heart receiving her MA and certification in elementary education.  Before coming to ESM she worked at an art-centered magnet school in Norwalk as a classroom assistant in 1st grade and taught 3rd grade in an intense summer reading program.

In her free time she loves relaxing at home and spending time in Long Island with her family but most of all spending time with her own child (her puppy) Tuxx!


Mrs. Clavette is passionate about helping children reach for their dreams through education.  Before coming to ESM as a first grade teacher, Mrs. Clavette was a special education teacher for 10 years.  She also has a MA in Corrective and Remedial Reading.

One of her favorite learning experiences with the students is to raise and release Monarch Butterflies as part of a Service Learning Project. Outside the classroom, she loves to spend time with her husband, son, and two dogs. She also enjoys reading, biking and traveling.  Her favorite place to travel to was London, England!

MRS. CARON 2nd Grade

Mrs. Caron has always been passionate about teaching; it was her dream to become a teacher since she was a young child! Mrs. Caron has been teaching at ESM since 2014. If you step into Mrs. Caron’s classroom, you will notice that she loves everything to be organized and clean! She is committed to creating a classroom atmosphere that is stimulating and encouraging to all students.

Mrs. Caron attended Eastern Connecticut State University and received her Bachelor’s Degree in 2010. She continued her education at Eastern and received her Master’s Degree and certification in Early Childhood Education. Prior to teaching at ESM, Mrs. Caron was an Associate Instructor in first grade, and taught Pre-Kindergarten at various CREC schools. 

Mrs. Caron grew up in South Windsor, CT and now lives in Vernon with her husband and rescue dog, Ziggy! Outside of school, Mrs. Caron enjoys hiking, going to the beach, and attending Boston Red Sox games.

MRS. Weber 3rd Grade

MRS. LITKE 3rd Grade

Mrs. Litke grew up in West Hartford. While she was in high school she started working at a summer day camp where she fell in love with teaching. She went on to study Elementary Education at Central Connecticut State University. She has a Bachelors degree in Elementary and Early Childhood Education and a Masters degree in Elementary Education.  

After graduating she became a second grade teacher. Then she moved to third grade where she has been teaching since 1988. She enjoys spending time with her two daughters and her husband.  Vacationing in Florida with her family is her favorite summer activity. She looks forward to working with your child this year.

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Ms. Oriente 3rd Grade

    I have been teaching since 2012 and became a teacher at ESM in 2014. Before ESM, I taught Kindergarten at an independent school in Connecticut for 2 years.  I graduated from Central Connecticut State University in 2011, with a degree in Elementary Education with a focus in Mathematics.  I am continuing on with my education and getting my Master’s degree in Literacy at Sacred Heart University.  My dream as a child was always to teach.  One of my elementary school teachers was my biggest inspiration.  She taught me that learning could be fun through different teaching styles.  Many of her lessons were reinforced with songs to help us remember.  I still can recall the 50 states in alphabetical order. My favorite thing to do in my spare time is travel.  My favorite place I have travelled to was Ireland.  The scenery and people made my journey fun, exciting and extremely educational. In the short time I have worked at ESM, I have made many friends and the support of my colleagues has made my time remarkable.  I look forward to a wonderful school year, and many more to come!

MRS. Aragon 4th Grade

Ms. Aragon came from Colombia when she was 10 years old, and she was an ESL student. Her first job was right here at ESM as a Parent Educator, before it became a magnet school. She graduated from CCSU and is very excited to be back as a teacher! She has a beautiful big family and two amazing children, but her family wouldn’t be complete without her cute-crazy dog Oreo.

She is very lucky to be able to teach at the same school that her daughter attends and she can’t wait for her son to start school here as well. She loves teaching, She has an amazing team, and she loves being a part of the ESM family! During her free time she spends time with her family and she loves to travel!

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MR. RALPH 4th Grade

I would like to introduce myself to all. I am a fourth grade teacher at ESM and totally enjoy working with the students. I have been involved in many exciting events throughout my life. I was a CIA operative in the jungles of Thailand, where we held joint covert operations to overthrow the government at that time. I cannot go into many details, as this was highly classified. From my travels in Thailand I was asked to head a research team which discovered the Titanic. My mission was to be the first in a manned submarine to travel to great depths in search of treasured artifacts. From there I was summoned by the King of Spain to instruct tourists on how to run with the bulls during the festival. Though gored twice, I managed to survive and add to my extensive travels. I could go on forever, but by now I have regaled you with some of my most interesting travels. That is not to say that climbing Mount Everest, sailing around the world alone, or swimming with whales in the Pacific Northwest isn’t worthy of this page, but you should have figured out through this biography that I am the most interesting man in the world.

Truthfully folks I do love your children and love teaching them. As for me I love cooking anything and have done enrichment clusters based on this passion. I have two boys who love hockey and lacrosse, which I coach for. I also love Saratoga in the summer and the equine athletes that ask nothing, but give all, and have been an avid golfer for over forty years. I am a firm believer in open communication, so please don’t ever hesitate to contact me about anything, including my passion for cooking. 

Mrs. Pegolo 4th

MR. Gould 5th Grade

This is Mr. Gould’s first year teaching at Environmental Sciences Magnet at Mary Hooker. A graduate from Central Connecticut State University, Mr. Gould has been pursuing his dream of teaching for as long as he can remember. He loves teaching Science, particularly at ESM, because he appreciates all the great resources that are offered here, and enjoys working closely with our resident scientists.

Outside of school, Mr. Gould is a passionate New York Yankees fans and attends games in the Bronx as much as possible. Additionally, Mr. Gould grew up playing hockey and still enjoys playing today in “Men’s Leagues” with his two brothers and father.  

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MRS. Sanchez 4th

Mrs. Sanchez is a teacher who loves a bright and exciting classroom.  She considers her students to be like her family and looks forward to seeing their bright and shining faces every day. When stepping into Miss Sanchez’s room, you will find tons of student work and engaged children working together with their peers.  Mrs. Sanchez has been teaching for 9 years and has experience teaching grades 2, 3, 4, and 6 but 4th is her absolute favorite!  When not at school, Mrs. Sanchez loves spending time her husband Dave. 

Mrs. Michalski 5th Grade

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MR. Smith 6th Grade

The challenge of successfully preparing children both academically and emotionally for their upcoming years inspired me to become a teacher. ESM’s unique blend of traditional academic disciplines and non-traditional innovative programs sets ESM apart from its magnet school peers. Prior to ESM, I taught for seven years at Milner School in Hartford. My final three years I taught 6th grade during that time I discovered that was the grade I enjoyed the most.

My hobbies include following and watching a variety of sports and athletic teams. Also, I enjoy cooking and participating in activities to help stay fit and healthy. I have a B.A. in Public Relations from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. In addition, I received my M.S. in Elementary Education from the University of Hartford and a 6th year certification in Administration from American International College in Springfield, MA. I currently reside in Wethersfield, CT.

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MRS. Berggren 6th Grade

Mrs. Berggren grew up in San Mateo, California the only girl in a family of six children. She spent her childhood roaming the Wild West coast beaches, riding horses in the Skyline Mountains, back packing in the Sierra Nevada’s, and snow skiing at the Lake Tahoe resorts. Directly after high school she moved to Colorado for a year in which she worked at Vail Ski Resort. Her job entailed skiing to work and back every day!

Shortly after returning to California she moved to Connecticut with friends. Elisa studied at Central Connecticut State University where she earned a master’s degree in elementary education, and recently, a 092 certificate in educational leadership. She loves working in a large, diverse, progressive urban school district that offers many opportunities to help students and families.

She believes that all students have special unique qualities and that it is within these qualities greatness can be found. She has taught 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th grade. She and her husband have two grown children, a marine biologist and an electrician. She spends her free time doing things like traveling the USA on a motorcycle, relaxing on beaches in Aruba, studying Spanish in Salamanca Spain, and climbing ancient temples in Tikal Guatemala.

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MS. Couch 6th Grade

I've been teaching since 2000. I enjoy sharing love for the world around us through each class and each student. Making connections between nature and the arts is very exciting to me!

Let's connect, communicate, and discover our purpose while on this middle school journey together.


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MS. Reisch 7th Grade

Ms. Reisch knew she wanted to be a teacher ever since she was a little girl wandering through the school supply aisles at Target. She could never imagine herself in a different career and is excited to be living out her dreams and working with such a fabulous group of kids here at ESM. The community and support at this school are unique and she has felt incredibly welcomed as a new member of the team this year. She just moved to Connecticut, leaving sunny Southern California for that East Coast charm and its ever so anticipated winter season. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in English and Sociology from UC Santa Barbara, a school literally surrounded on two sides by the Pacific Ocean, so snow is NOT something she is familiar with! She loves photography, reading a good book, being outside and traveling. And talking. She love talking. She has traveled to numerous places across the United States, visited the Caribbean Islands, trekked across Western Europe and spent a summer living and teaching in Costa Rica! There are few places in the world that she would say no to visiting, as long as she has good company! She is looking forward to an awesome school year and can’t wait to grow and learn alongside her students this year!

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MS. O'Connor 7th Grade

This is Ms. O'Connor's second year at ESM. She serves as a team leader for 7th grade. She is originally from New Jersey and spent the summer at the shore and in Ocean City, Maryland. 

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Mr. Grimaldi 7th Grade


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MRS. Bleiler 8th Grade

Ms. Bleiler is originally from New Haven, Connecticut. She received her bachelor's degree  from UConn, where she double majored in English and History. Both of her graduate degrees  are from Southern Connecticut State University. After college Ms. Bleiler became a librarian to  share her love of reading. After 8 years of being a public library director, the terrorist attacks of  September 11, 2001 caused her to rethink her career, and she decided to become a teacher. Ms. Bleiler began working for Hartford Public Schools on April 26, 2004. She taught at Clark,  West Middle and Burns Latino Studies academy before joining the staff of ESM in 2011.

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MR. Johnson 8th Grade

Mr. Johnson has been teaching Social Studies at ESM for 2 years. He loves teaching at ESM because he gets the chance to work on major projects with the students and make an impact on the world. Before ESM, Mr. Johnson attended CCSU, worked as a camp counselor, and after-school care provider. For fun, he loves to enjoy the great outdoors, go hiking, kayak, and play Madden.

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Ms. Karen Zyjeski 8th Grade

My name is Karen Zyjeski and this is my first year teaching at ESM. I am currently the 8th grade Mathematics teacher. I went to Central Connecticut State University for my undergraduate degree and studied business with a major in marketing. I worked as a marketing coordinator for four years before deciding to teach. I was teaching many adults and thought it would be more worthwhile to be able to teach kids on a daily basis. I then spend a year in an accelerated program at University of New Haven to receive my Master's Degree in Secondary Education with a certification in Business and Marketing. I worked throughout the past several years to become certified in middle school mathematics. I have taught grades 7-12 throughout my 11 years of teaching.

I love to cook and bake, take pictures, travel, and most importantly, spend time with my beautiful daughters Brooklyn and Nicole. I love sports and I'm a huge football fan, but I also enjoy baseball! My love is for the Oakland Raiders and I am also a fan of the New York Yankees!

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