Learn more about our advisors.

Escuela Verde staff come from diverse backgrounds, but all share the same belief: that education is the key to personal liberation, that students must be owners of their education, and that learning is a life-long journey we are all traveling. All of our certified educational advisors are not only expert in their fields (some hold or are completing Master’s and PhD degrees), they are passionate about sustainability, student-led learning, and restorative justice. All have many years of teaching experience and comply with DPI standards.

2019-2020 Staff

Jean Carlo Aleman

Jean Carlo Aleman

Kitchen Coordinator

Bio coming soon!

(414) 988-7960 | jeancarloaleman@escuelaverde.org

Zaynab Baalbaki

Zaynab Baalbaki

Advisor — Social Studies & District Assessment Coordinator

Zaynab Baalbaki is extremely passionate about social justice, and especially about social justice in education. Her passion as a social justice advocate stems from her various experiences.

Zaynab was born and raised in Milwaukee’s south side. She attended UW-Madison, where she double majored in Elementary Education and Sociology and double minored in Educational Policy Studies and Chican@ & Latin@ Studies. During her time at UW-Madison she was able to study/teach abroad in London through the University of Roehampton. Additionally, she participated in an undergraduate research program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Next, she started her graduate school in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania, but finished her graduate school at Marquette University in College Student Personnel Administration. Zaynab was one of two people selected for a graduate internship in the Middle East at American University of Kuwait. Prior to working at Escuela Verde, she worked at Northwestern University.

Zaynab enjoys playing and watching soccer. Cooking and trying new restaurants is one of her favorite pastimes. Traveling is another passion for Zaynab. She has been to 9 different countries. Camping, biking and grilling out are her favorite outdoor activities. She has four brothers and one sister. Zaynab is Lebanese and Mexican. Multilingual/Multiethnic/Multicultural.

(414) 988-7960 ext . 308 | zaynab@escuelaverde.org

Max Balan

Max Balan

Sustainable Facilities Coordinator

Max Balan lived the first part of his life in Moldova and landed in Milwaukee in 1994. After spending many years working as a facilities coordinator and handy man, he comes to Escuela Verde with a lot of passion to make the world a better place – through hard work, intentional decision-making, and meaningful relationships. 

Max believes that just about anything can be fixed
or built with time, intention, hard work, and critical thought. He is excited to work with young people to both learn from them and to teach them in a collaborative partnership so we can all move forward even better than we are today.

(414) 988-7960 ext. 309 | max@escuelaverde.org

Nicola Ciurro

Nicola Ciurro

Advisor and Special Education Director

Nicki brings to Escuela Verde a wealth of experience in teaching and administration, having served as both a special education teacher, director, and school principal. It is her strong belief that a school should nourish each student’s ideas, interests and skills. She is a passionate advocate for each student, and strives to help each reach their full potential.

Nicki received a Bachelor of Arts in Art from Lander College, a Masters in History with certifications in Public History and Museum Studies from UW-Milwaukee, post-baccalaureate certification in Special Education from UW-Milwaukee, a Masters in Educational Leadership from Capella University, and coursework leading to licensure as a Pupil Services Director from UW-Milwaukee. And she is exhausted all over again just reading that.

Nicki worked in Milwaukee Public Schools and Nicolet before starting Wings Academy, a charter school designed to prepare students with learning disabilities for college. Following that, she worked for several other charter schools before discovering and falling in love with Escuela Verde.

While originally from Milwaukee, Nicki has lived in several places – Greenwood, SC, Tampa and Pensacola, FL, Rota, Spain, and Washington, D.C., before moving back to Milwaukee in the early 1990s. A mother of three, she lives in Bay View with her partner and her youngest son. She enjoys baking, knitting, playing the guitar, photography, volunteering at the Chudnow Museum, goofing around with their cats and dogs, and traveling.

(414) 988-7960 ext. 306 | nicki@escuelaverde.org

Laurel Cutright

Laurel Cutright


Laurel comes to Escuela Verde excited to learn from the amazing staff and students, and co-create a vibrant, welcoming community.

Laurel was raised in Wisconsin and spent most of her childhood reading or playing outside. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Morris (a small liberal arts school out on the prairie), she fell into the world of Environmental Education. She worked with youth to restore native habitats in Minneapolis & St Paul before becoming an educator at the Urban Ecology Center. She is eager to develop a sense of place in the natural spaces surrounding Escuela Verde.     

Her hobbies haven’t changed much since childhood. She can be seen biking all over the city, gardening in her community garden, watching moonrise over Lake Michigan, or attending workshops about racial justice, history, and science. Each week she looks forward to a Sunday night potluck with friends. 

(414) 988-7960 ext. 305 | laurel@escuelaverde.org

Terrance Davis

Terrance Davis

Special Education Paraprofessional

Bio coming soon!

(414) 988-7960 | terrance@escuelaverde.org

George Giannis

George Giannaris

Advisor — English & Restorative Justice

George is a Milwaukee native, who is eager to bring his passion for social justice education to Escuela Verde. Having studied Secondary English Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he has had the pleasure of returning to his home city to work as a middle and high school teacher within Milwaukee Public Schools. His practice is largely informed by critical and culturally sustaining pedagogy. He has also earned a certificate in Alternative Education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

While teaching, George recognized the unique needs of LGBTQ+ students in the Milwaukee area, and in seeking ways to foster and support this community, he began work as the Coordinator of Youth Programs at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center. Looking to unite the fields of education and community activism, he is excited to have found Escuela Verde as a home that so authentically combines these two worlds.

In his free time, George likes to delve into his many nerdy fandoms (X-Men, Pokémon, & Game of Thrones to name a few), watch excessive amounts of streaming television, and connect with friends and loved ones.

(414) 988-7960 ext. 303 | george@escuelaverde.org

Patricia Gomez

Patricia Gomez

Emergent Bilingual Paraprofessional

Patricia works as a Bilingual Paraprofessional at Escuela Verde, her job with adolescents is a “privilege” as she says, ‘because helping them and guiding them through this stage in their lives, brings a unique experience to all of us.’

She was born in Zapatoca, a beautiful town in the mountains of Colombia. At the age of 30 she moved from her native Country to the US and decided to Study English at Lado Institute in Washington DC,  also became a Certified Bilingual Interpreter at Global Translation Institute, and started working with Immigration Lawyers to help the Latino Community in the Washington DC area, where she lived more than a decade, then moved to Minneapolis, MN where she continued her work with the Latino Community. During her time in DC she discovered her passion for Spiritual and Holistic approach to life so, she decided to study Reiki, and became a certified Reiki Master, with that, she volunteered to work with homeless, and children with trauma, and work closely with her teacher and Spiritual Leaders. 

Patricia dedicates time to her spiritual path and receives teachings from Native American elders, and her passion is her family, and traveling. She loves hiking and reading with her 13 year old daughter, and husband.

(414) 988-7960 | patricia@escuelaverde.org

Cynthia Gonzalez

Cynthia Gonzalez

Advisor — Bilingual Education & Parent/Caregiver Engagement

Cynthia Gonzalez is a strong advocate for maintaining bilingual education in secondary school settings. Her extensive educational experiences with youth align with Escuela Verde’s vision to provide transformative education as a way to engage students in learning. She believes that students are agents of change and are able to actively participate in critical issues surrounding their communities.

Her capacity at Escuela Verde as an Advisor involves guiding students forge their own learning path and provide students with learning opportunities inside and outside the school environment. Her collective administrative roles include, student enrollment and recruitment, parent engagement, and development of bilingual program. Cynthia’s research interest include language acquisition, bilingual and bi-cultural education, bi-literacy development, urban education, identity and culture, sustainability and environmental education.

Cynthia received her Bachelors from Alverno College in 2009 and a masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in 2016. She is researching how translanguaging as a pedagogical practice affect students’ bilingualism/biliteracy development and culture identity. She is a proponent of students reading, writing and speaking in their native language and cultivating an environment where this is the norm. She is part of the Latino task force of United Way of greater Milwaukee, currently sits on the board of Serve Marketing and is an active volunteer to many non-profit organizations.

She balances her life as an educator with biking, running, cooking/baking, reading, and connecting with loved ones. Cynthia has traveled to several countries in South America, where she dreams to live and teach someday. She has a ten-year-old nephew who she adores and inspires her daily work.

(414) 988-7960 ext. 302 | cynthia@escuelaverde.org

Elizabeth Gonzalez

Elizabeth Gonzalez

Administrative Coordinator

Elizabeth Gonzalez is excited and honored to be part of the excellent team at Escuela Verde. It is a privilege for Elizabeth to work with the students and parents of Escuela Verde.

Past positions she has held in the community have included work as a Bilingual English/Spanish Medical Interpreter. She has worked and volunteered in different clinics. She is delighted to be serving others! As a descendant of a Mexican family, she thanks her parents for teaching her the values and principles of life.

She loves spending time with her wonderful husband Miguel and three loving children, Valeria, Natalia and Victor. She’s also a proud parent of an Escuela Verde graduate. She has always believed that the key to success is education and that our youth are our future.

(414) 988-7960 | elizabeth@escuelaverde.org

Honey the Community Dog


Community Dog

Honey loves the days she gets to spend at Escuela Verde. Several students created a workshop to help her become an emotional therapy dog, and now she spends every Tuesday and Thursday working at school. Her goal is to help make everyone here as happy as they can be, and while doing so is happy herself. Her favorite subjects are wellness and lunch. Her hobbies are playing fetch, spending time with her family, canoe camping and chasing frogs in the pond on her land.

(414) 988-7960 | honey@escuelaverde.org

Kristal Krebs

Kristal Krebs

Advisor — Reading Specialist & Food Coordinator

Kristal Krebs earned a masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has a professional background in Reading Education, English Language Arts, and English as a Second Language instruction. 

Kristal has taught for 6+ years throughout Wisconsin and is a supporter of transformative education in urban settings. She uses language, literature, food, song lyrics, culture, and community in her pedagogical praxis. She believes in students using their own knowledge, languages, stories, and experiences in and outside of the classroom because it encourages  them to collaborate, think critically, and share their voice.

In addition to holding a position as the Reading Specialist and ESL Advisor at Escuela Verde, Kristal is also a mother who is interested in film, music, and outdoor adventures. When she isn’t teaching or filming concerts, she is exploring the world with her son or at home with her two dogs.

(414) 988-7960 ext. 304 | kristal@escuelaverde.org

Luisa Mejia

Luisa Mejia

Building Caregiver

Luisa es oriunda del estado más bonito de México, Jalisco- que lleno de montañas y vida en todas partes dejó en ella toda esa alegría y belleza. Hoy Luisa nos regala su herencia todas las tardes con su gracia y amor cuidando de nuestra escuela.

Luisa llegó a Escuela Verde buscando un lugar donde sus hijas pudieran crecer más allá de lo académico y convertirse en personas que dirijan sus caminos según sus convicciones. Si nuestra escuela provee un ambiente acogedor y pacífico, es porque Luisa mantiene en mente que el ambiente educativo es crucial para el desempeño de los estudiantes y así contribuye ella a nuestra comunidad.

Luisa is originally from the most beautiful state of Mexico, Jalisco – which full of mountains and life everywhere left in her all that joy and beauty. Luisa gifts us her inheritance every afternoon with her grace and love taking care of our school.

Luisa arrived at Escuela Verde looking for a place where her daughters could grow beyond the academic and become people who lead their paths according to their convictions. If our school provides a welcoming and peaceful environment, it is because Luisa keeps in mind that the educational environment is crucial for student performance and this is her contribution to her community.

(414) 988-7960 | luisa@escuelaverde.org

Walter Sams

Walter Sams

Advisor — Math & Technology

A native of Northeastern Ohio, Walter has worked and been educated all over the U.S. Some of his notable previous employers are the National Audubon Society, 4-H, Y.M.C.A., Northern Illinois University, Stanislaus County Office of Education, and Milwaukee’s own Urban Ecology Center. An Associate’s Degree in Natural and Historical Interpretation from Hocking College helped get him started in the field of Environmental Education. Most recently, Walter earned his teaching credentials from the University of Wisconsin: Milwaukee.

Walter Sams comes to Escuela Verde from the world of informal Environmental Education. His 10+ years teaching students of all walks of life about science, history, and interpersonal relationships by exploring the outdoors contributes to his outlook and attitudes about personalized learning. The ultimate decision to bring his attention indoors to the young people of Milwaukee has been a long time coming and he has enjoyed settling in this fine city.

Walter currently resides in the Silver City neighborhood with his wife and 2-year old hound Cooper. He looks forward to Escuela Verde’s move into his neighborhood and enjoys watching the positive changes happening in the surrounding area.

(414) 988-7960 ext. 307 | walter@escuelaverde.org

Bethany Vannest

Bethany Vannest

Advisor — English & Special Education

Bethany Vannest has had many different job titles throughout her life, but the ones she likes the most – and the ones that fit her best – are student and educator. Her belief that literature has the power to free minds led her to pursue a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in English Literary and Critical Studies and Women’s Studies in 2005. A passion to share her belief compelled her to complete a certification in Secondary English Education in 2011. And the passion to make education more just and accessible for learners of all kinds led her to add a license in Cross-Categorical Special Education in 2013.

She has been involved in various capacities in a feminist bookstore, a natural foods cooperative, a bakery cooperative, a small farm, and a farmers market – all experiences that have contributed to her views that education happens everywhere, learning doesn’t end when the school day does, and teaching is not reserved only for those deemed “highly qualified”.

Outside of her time at Escuela Verde, Bethany finds peace and happiness in nature and with animals. Her two favorite places are in her cabin in the Northwoods with her husband and dog and volunteering with the rescued farm animals that live at Autumn Farm Sanctuary.

(414) 988-7960 ext. 301 | bethany@escuelaverde.org

Joey Zocher, PhD

Joey Zocher, PhD

Advisor — Science & Community Engagement

With nearly twenty years of urban science teaching experience, Joey is a passionate teacher researcher with scholarly interests in ecopedagogical praxis and scientific literacy with urban youth.

Joey believes Escuela Verde’s student-centered, project-based learning approach to teaching and learning is the missing link to student success. Through integrating sustainability and restorative justice into a school-wide curriculum, students not only have the ability to make learning relevant to their lives, but are enouraged to take action for positive change in their communities. Drawing from her experience as the Urban Ecology Center’s Washington Park program director, she is passionate about including community voice and resources to provide authentic experiences for all students.

Joey’s hobbies include playing music in several independent bands, playing roller derby with the Brewcity Bruisers and spending time with family and friends restoring native prairie, wetlands and creating a permaculture orchard on a small plot of land in central Wisconsin. Joey received her B.S. in biology, psychology, women’s studies and secondary education and M.S. in environmental education at UW-Stevens Point. She completed her Ph.D. in Urban Education with a specialization in curriculum and instruction and science at UW-Milwaukee. She has taught graduate and undergraduate courses on curriculum ideologies and science pedagogy at UW-Milwaukee and has been an active board member for numerous local, state and national boards including Milwaukee Urban Gardens, Brewcity Bruisers, Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education and the North American Association for Environmental Education’s Environmental Justice Special Interest Group.

(414) 988-7960 | joey@escuelaverde.org