English Department

Leah Ballentine

English Language Arts, Drama

Contact Ms. Ballentine

This is my 9th year teaching~ my 5th at AMJ. I grew up in Los Angeles in foster homes and always knew that I would be a teacher because education helps me to achieve my goals and will help you to achieve yours.

I  enjoy acting, singing, and dancing, and have performed on the stages of Disney, The Centre Theater, and The Dorothy Chandler.

I graduated from Cal State Northridge on scholarships for both my BA in English and my teaching credential.  Finally, I love my husband, step kids, and pets.

Brian Wang

Literacy Intervention, Composition

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Brian Wang was born in Irvine, CA and grew up near Santa Ana, CA. He attended University of California, Santa Barbara and graduated with a B.A. in English with Minors in Education and Applied Psychology. 

While attending UCSB, Brian volunteered in various classrooms in order to learn how to become a better teacher. This will be Brian’s first year teaching at AMJ and he looks forward to developing a great relationship with students, parents, and the staff.

A’mahni Freeman

English Language Arts, Literacy Intervention, Culture Lead

Contact Ms. Freeman

Mrs. Freeman was born in Riverside, California but was raised in the Greater Los Angeles area. After completing classes at the community college level, she later transferred and received her BS degree in Business from the University of Redlands in Redlands, CA. She had always had the vision to teach; therefore she decided to pursue that vision by returning to school to seek her postgraduate degree in education with a single subject teaching credential in English.

 Mrs. Freeman has always had a healthy, natural connection with youth and believes that anyone can affect change in a child. She enjoys traveling with her family and endeavors to visit all of the beaches of the World.

Jacquelyn Hampton grew up in Compton, CA. She is the first in her family to graduate from college. Jacquelyn holds an M.A. in Teaching from the University of Southern California and a B.A. in Journalism from California State University, Northridge. 

Teaching at AMJ has empowered her to push all students to achieve academic success by believing in their potential, maintaining high academic expectations, and providing students with plenty support in reaching those expectations. She has an unwavering belief that all students can learn valuable skills, even when it is challenging for them.

Caroline Galarza

English Language Arts, Literacy Intervention

Contact Ms. Galarza

Ms. Galarza, born & bred in Hollywood, recently just moved to Long Beach. Graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University getting her B.A. Literature with a minor in Education. Ms. Galarza is entering her fourth year at AMJ.

Ms. Galarza has always enjoyed making healthy connections with her students & believes that every child can improve greatly in all skills, as long as they put in some hard work. Ms. Galarza looks to hold each and every student that walks in her classroom to high expectations & tries to open them up to learning.

She enjoys biking, hiking, running, along with a big fan of drawing & writing. Being a literature teacher, no surprise she’s a big fan of reading & podcasts to constantly continue her learning. 

Sylvia Hernandez

English Language Arts, EL Coordinator

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Born, raised, and currently residing in Lynwood, CA, Sylvia graduated Lynwood High School, and went on to receive her BA in English at California Lutheran University. 

Sylvia went on to obtain her MA in Education at Loyola Marymount University. This is her fifth year at AMJ, and currently the EL Lead.

Yolanda Amaral

English Language Arts

Contact Ms. Amaral

Ms. Amaral was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. 

She received her BA in English with a minor in Education Studies at UCLA. After taking a few years off from school she returned to UCLA to earn a Masters in Education.

Ms.Amaral taught 6th grade English for 4 years at Animo Phillis Wheatley and will enter her 5th year teaching at Animo  Mae Jemison.

During her free time Ms. Amaral enjoys exploring new restaurants in the city, going on long runs, reading and watching various shows on Hbo and Netflix.

Jessica Trejo

Literacy Intervention, Investigations, English Language Arts Lead, 8th Grade Lead

Contact Ms. Trejo

Jessica Trejo is an immigrant from El Salvador and a mix of several other cultures. She was raised in Watts and Compton and currently resides in the Inland Empire.

A USC MaST Alumni, Ms. Trejo began her career in education as a teacher’s assistant at John Adams Middle School. After earning her B.A. at California State University Los Angeles, she began to work at Los Angeles Academy Middle School. Mae Jemison is the third school she calls home and has been at Mae since its inaugural year.

Currently, Ms. Trejo is a Masters of Education student at Loyola Marymount University and seriously contemplating a doctoral program after. She is a Sunday school teacher, a worship leader  and an active member of COGOP WLA and its youth ministry.

Math Department

Danny Sanchez

Math Foundations, Math, AMU Rep

Contact Mr. Sanchez

Danny Sanchez was born in East LA and raised in Lynwood, CA (next to Compton).

He earned his BA in Education Studies at Cal State Long Beach.

This will be his 4th year surviving AMJ and he will be continuing his role as union rep of AMJ this year.

He enjoys drumming, playing video games, reading, and traveling.

Israel Grogin was born in Torrance California. He attended college at California State University Long Beach and received a B.S. In computer science. During his time in University he worked for The Department of Health Services where he created a web application that assisted in getting healthcare to Los Angeles homeless populations. 

In his spare time he enjoys making video games, computational art, and music. This is Israel’s first year at AMJ and he is looking forward to meeting everyone.

Tanesha May

Math Foundations

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Tanesha May was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She attended Loyola Marymount University where she received her B.S. in Mathematics and Psychology. During her time at LMU, Tanesha tutored statistics, helped psychology professors run their studies, conducted math research, and co-founded a service organization that focuses on mental health. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, reading, hiking, listening to music, trying new foods, and keeping up with all her favorite shows. This is her first year at AMJ and she is very excited!

Carolvee was born and raised in Long Beach, California.  She has taught for over 20 years in Los Angeles. In her free time she loves reading, swimming, going to the theater, Disneyland, and spending time with her godsons.

Mrs. Jimenez was born in Torrance, California, but grew up in Long Beach, California. She dreamt of being a princess when she grew up, but when she realized how difficult that would be she chose the next best career, a middle school teacher. She earned her BA in Liberal Studies and her teaching credentials from California State University, Dominguez Hills. Ms. Jimenez spent her first year teaching math in an LAUSD school. She moved to AMJ two years ago and will be starting her fourth year teaching this fall. In her free time, Ms. Jimenez likes to read mystery novels, binge-watch her favorite shows on Netflix, and spend time with her husband, family, and friends.

Mr. Minor was born in Compton, CA. He has received his BS in Mathematics Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills. He is a Noyce Scholar at the University and spent his semesters working at different schools learning new skills from various teachers. He has done research for the United States Department of Energy at Sandia National Laboratory in Livermore, CA as part of the STAR summer program and has presented his material at the NASA Ames center in Mountain View, CA.  Mr. Minor spends his free time with his dogs (Coco and Bear), as well as playing video games, reading books, and solving puzzles. 

Ephraim Gatdula was born in Hollywood and raised in Carson, California.

He earned his BA in Communications Studies as well as his math Single Subject Credential at Cal State Long Beach.

He has taught at public and private schools.  He’s taught both high school (Animo Watts) and junior high.  This will be his 4th year at AMJ.

He enjoys playing music, spending time with friends and family (Winston included), and traveling.  

He’s been happily married to his beautiful wife for three years and is expecting his first child (daughter) in December!

Mike E. Lopez

21st Century Learning Lab: Community Problem Solving

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Mr. Lopez was born and raised in Compton, CA where he graduated from Compton High School as salutatorian. He is a recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship and Robert Noyce Scholarship. He received his B.A. in pure mathematics from Occidental College along with his teaching credentials. He completed his M.A. in Math Education at Cal State Long Beach, where he is currently pursuing his Ed.D in Educational Leadership. Mr. Lopez has been teaching at Animo Mae Jemison since it was first founded in 2014. He has taught math foundations, core math, and technology 1, 2, & 3 in the past 4 years. Outside of school, he enjoys watching Korean dramas with his wife, collecting Yugioh cards, and spending Sunday evenings with his parents, siblings, and wife.

Science Department

Gryselda Luna

Integrated Science, Advisory Lead

Contact Ms. Luna

Ms. Luna was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. She received her Bachelor's degree from UC Davis. During her time at UC Davis, she became interested in becoming a teacher after participating in a science teaching internship. During her spare time, Ms. Luna spends her spare time with her family, fiancé, and her cats.

Dillon Koch

Integrated Science, Advisory Lead

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Ms. Koch was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. She graduated with her Honors Bachelor's of Science from Oregon State University (Go Beavs!), studying Human Development and Family Science, Chemistry, and Biology. During her time at OSU, she gave campus tours, worked in the residence halls as a Resident Assistant, and conducted research on poverty policy in Oregon. After that, she earned her teaching credential from Loyola Marymount University. In her spare time, she likes to spend time with her family and friends, knit, and visit Disneyland. This is her second year with AMJ, and she can't wait to continue to prepare 7th and 8th graders for high school and beyond!

Mr. Jacobo was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. He graduated from UC San Diego with a B.A. in Sociology with a concentration in science and medicine. He earned his Masters in Urban Education from Loyola Marymount University. 

Mr. Jacobo has been teaching science for four years and this is his first year at AMJ. 

In his spare time, Mr. Jacobo likes to hike, travel, play video games, and spend time with his family and friends.

Jennifer Jacques

Integrated Science, Environmental Science, Science Lead, AMU Rep

Contact Ms. Jacques

Mrs. Jacques graduated from the University of California Irvine with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry and a secondary science teaching credential with an authorization to teach English learners. Mrs. Jacques was trained in teaching the Next Generation Science Standards, which focus on the importance of student-driven investigation and learning. Before coming to AMJ, Mrs. Jacques worked at the Aquarium of the Pacific in their education department. Mrs. Jacques also has 10 years of experience working with teenagers through church. She enjoys playing board games with her husband and spending time with her friends.

History Department

Kristin O'Donohue

Ancient Civilizations, World History, History Lead

Contact Ms. O'Donohue

Kristin O’Donohue is originally from Bakersfield CA. Kristin attended California State University Bakersfield where she completed her BA in History, an English Language credential, and a Social Studies credential. Kristin also graduated this past year with a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. In her free time, you can find Kristin riding bikes with her husband in search of Thai food or at a Dodger game! Kristin is very excited to be beginning her sixth year of teaching and her third year at AMJ. She is looking forward to teaching 6th grade Ancient Civilization and 7th grade World History as well as serving on the Professional Development Team and the Instructional Leadership Team.

Erin Nasry

Ancient Civilizations, Advisory Lead, Testing Coordinator

Contact Ms. Nasry

Erin Nasry grew up in Redondo Beach, CA with her younger sister and brother. After graduating high school, she attended UCSB where she earned a degree in History. Upon graduating, she took a couple years off to travel before returning to CSULB for her teaching credential. 

This is her third year at Animo Mae Jemison teaching 6th grade Ancient Civilizations and coaching the soccer team. It will be her second year as testing coordinator, and first year as 7th grade advisory lead.  

In her free time, Erin enjoys traveling with her husband, going to the beach, playing with her dog, hiking, cooking, and hanging out with her family and friends. 

Daisy Estévez

World History, Ethnic Studies, Culture Lead

Contact Ms. Estévez

Daisy Estévez is from South Los Angeles. Daisy is the first in her family to graduate from high school and attend a four year university. Daisy received her B.A. in American and Chicana/o Studies from California State University, Fullerton. 

Ms. Estevez is in her 3rd year teaching at AMJ. Her main goal is to encourage all students to become critical thinkers and realize their potential. She values the cultural experiences of all students, and encourages every student to see themselves as a significant part of history.

In her free time, Daisy enjoys going to Lakers games, eating all the snacks at Disneyland, watching movies, trying new restaurants, and spending time with her family and friends.

Andres Montañez

U.S. History, Culture Lead

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Andres Montañez received his B.A. in Communications with an emphasis in Public Relations from California State University, Fullerton. After a few experiences in public relations, and some traveling, he returned to school and earned his Social Studies Teaching Credential from California State University, Long Beach. A few years later he returned, once again, to school and earned a M.A. in Educational Leadership from the Principal Leadership Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

Mr. Montañez will start his 13th year as an educator and 3rd year here at Animo Mae Jemison. In previous years he has worked as both a teacher and an administrator serving middle schools in the communities of Compton, South LA, and most recently Watts. 

In his spare time you can find Andres hanging out with his two children and wife. They spend their time eating at delicious restaurants (or kitchens). As a family they also enjoy building play forts out of boxes, having neon glow parties, and gardening. Two of Andres’ new found hobbies are building stuff and learning to play the ukulele.

Special Education

Allison Dugan

Resource Specialist, SpEd Lead

Contact Ms. Dugan

Mrs. Dugan is originally from Dallas, TX. She currently lives in Pasadena with her husband and new baby. She attended college at Texas Tech University, then moved to Phoenix, AZ where she began her teaching career. This is Mrs. Dugan’s 13th year teaching, and her third year at AMJ. She is excited for another year and looking forward to working with the next group of incoming 6th grade students. In her free time, Mrs. Dugan enjoys spending time with her husband and baby as well as her in-laws who live in LA. 

In her free time, Daisy enjoys going to Lakers games, eating all the snacks at Disneyland, watching movies, trying new restaurants, and spending time with her family and friends.

Ashley Leon

Resource Specialist

Contact Ms. Leon

Ms. Leon was born in La Mirada, California and grew up in the Inland Empire.  She attended California State University Long Beach where she received her B.A. in History.

Ms.Leon always wanted to be a Teacher but not just any Teacher a Special Education Teacher.She believes that a disability does not define who a person is or what they are ultimately capable of. She believes that it is a  persons character, resilience, dreams, and abilities that define who they are.

One of her favorite quotes is by Nelson Mandela which states that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

Whitney Luigs

Resource Specialist

Contact Ms. Luigs

Whitney will be going into her 5th year teaching. She taught English & SpEd support classes at Crenshaw High School in LAUSD for 2 years, then helped to found a charter high school in downtown LA for the past 2 years as the Lead RSP, co-teaching English & Math. She loves working with all learners and using creativity to teach a concept in multiple ways.

She got her BA in Sociology at Biola University and MA in Education Administration at LMU.

She loves drinking a spinach smoothie most mornings. She is from Orange, CA and lives in East LA currently. She loves spending time with her family on the weekends.

Emeizni Mandagi was born in Jakarta, Indonesia and moved to the US when she was almost 3 years old. She lived in Arizona for most of her childhood and briefly in Colorado before moving to SoCal. She attended college at UCLA where she received her B.A. in English with an Education minor.

She loves to dance and is currently on a dance team based in UCLA. She also loves to read contemporary and classic literature, hang out with friends, and watch anime during her free time.

This will be her first year working at AMJ and she is extremely excited for this upcoming school year!!

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Ánimo Mae Jemison Charter Middle School

12700 South Avalon Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90061

Phone: (323)-565-4450

Principal: Nate Geller