I am so honored to be a part of the St. Mary’s staff and community. I have taught several different grades throughout my teaching career. My greatest joys in life besides teaching are spending time with family and friends, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity locally and around the country, and I now have been blessed with a grandson, who is almost 3 years old. In my free time, I enjoy sailing, golfing, travelling, walking by the shoreline, and reading. Thank you for the blessing of being part of this amazing school community!
Mrs. Janice Cunningham
Janice graduated from Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden, attended Fairfield University where upon she received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees. She taught first grade for the past ten years at St. James School in Manchester, Connecticut. The Cunningham’s relocated to Branford five years ago. Mrs. Cunningham is thrilled and feels very blessed to be working at St. Mary’s School, and we feel the same way about her.
Hello! My name is Martha Jennings. This is my third year teaching at St. Mary School. I feel absolutely blessed to be working in such a loving and supportive, faith-filled educational environment. Prior to teaching at St. Mary, I was an ABA paraprofessional in the Public Schools working primarily with students on the autism spectrum for over twelve years. I attended Southern Connecticut State University for my undergraduate degree in elementary education, as well as continuing on to my masters degree in education at Grand Canyon University which is a faith based university. Teaching has been a lifelong dream for me and it is truly amazing to be able to love what I do every day. I believe in making learning fun,and educating the whole child through a variety of meaningful, hands on, and engaging learning experiences. I enjoy teaching my students by exploring various subject areas at once, while utilizing a variety of manipulatives and hands on experiences. These meaningful educational experiences allow the students to discover themselves, while stimulating a lifelong passion for learning. When I am not teaching, I enjoy spending time with family and doing volunteer service. I enjoy taking part in fundraising events at the VFW Post 7666. I am a member of the auxiliary there, as well as the auxiliary chaplain.
Mrs. Carol Marra – Early Years Aide
Mom of Nicole, Christopher and Lauren. Nonna of Jonathan and Gaberiel. Employed for 23 years as a Buyer for Oce Imaging Suppliers. CCD teacher and Chancellery Choir member at St. George Church in Guilford. Board member Guilford Interfaith Volunteers. St. George coordinator for Amistad Catholic Worker House in New Haven. Resides in North Guilford with spouse Bob, daughter Lauren and Luna the cat.
Additional Early Years Teachers
Mrs. Lori Hamilton – Physical Education and Library
My name is Lori Hamilton and I have been the Physical Education teacher at St. Mary School for the past ten years. As a lifelong resident of Branford, I myself graduated from St. Mary School. Knowing first-hand the benefits of a Catholic education, I was thrilled that my three sons were also able to graduate from St. Mary’s. I received my Bachelor’s degree from Fairfield University. I am SPARK certified and a member of Shape America. St. Mary School has always been a part of my life, and I look forward to continuing to make fitness fun for all!
Mrs. Gloria Nilsson – Art
Mrs. Gloria Nilsson is very excited to begin her first year as your art teacher at St. Mary School. She has been teaching art for the past eleven years to students from 4 to 100 years of age. She enjoys teaching all ages but especially appreciates teaching art to children and teens. “Helping young people create art helps them to express themselves, gives them a purpose and becomes very meaningful in their lives. In all of my teaching experiences, the true gift is what I get back from my students which is so much greater than what I could ever imagine.”
Mrs. Nilsson is a professional teaching artist. She is a graduate of Pratt Institute with an Associate’s degree in Graphic Design and has worked full time, as well as a freelance designer, for over fifteen years. Her career has since transitioned into the fine arts, where she has been honored with several awards, including the Tassy Walden Awards New Voices in Children’s Literature, Illustrators Portfolio. She has exhibited her work in numerous juried shows, galleries, public venues and outdoor exhibitions. Mrs. Nilsson has been invited to give classes and workshops at art centers, public and private schools, retirement communities, galleries and art studios as well as demonstrations in Connecticut, including Spectrum Art Gallery in Centerbrook, Chester Village West Retirement Community, the Cheshire Art League and the Madison Art Society. “My professional art background has allowed me the freedom to explore a variety of mediums and I bring all of that experience to the lesson plans that I am inspired to create.”
She has taught many art disciplines and has created quality art lesson plans, which include The Elements of Art and The Principles of Design. Her lessons encompass many skill levels to cultivate self-expression and a desire to learn. “I am committed to challenge myself and I continue to enrich my diverse art background as I am constantly learning new genres and mediums of art. My intention is to continue on with what the very talented Mrs. Corina has begun, and I look forward to pass down my artistic knowledge. Reinforcing the connection of art with other disciplines and the interaction with our world around us, to encourage self-expression and to inspire enthusiasm for the arts.
Mrs. Nilsson is married and has two grown children. She has been a Connecticut resident for over thirty years and is a parishioner of St. Lawrence Church. She finds the shoreline extremely inspiring and a constant reminder of the beauty and grandeur of God’s creation.
Mrs. Traci Rhodes – Resource Teacher
Hello, my name is Traci Rhodes. This is my first year at St. Mary’s School. I graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and hold my Connecticut State Initial Educators certification in Kindergarten – Sixth grade. I have many years of experience in both regular and special education. I have taught Prek-Sixth grade with most of my experience falling in the third, fourth and fifth grades. I also have a number of years working in special education as a paraprofessional. During this time I have worked with a number of abilities, challenges and a wide assortment of disabilities. I feel that everyone is capable of learning, but we all have our own way to gather information. As a teacher it is my job to understand the best way to access a student’s learning and help them reach their potential as a student.
Mrs. Dorota Xeller – Music
Dorota Xeller, has an MA in English literature and a BA in voice (soprano). She has music training in opera and piano. She spent 12 years in Schola Cantorum Opoliensis performing in Europe, two years in St. Cecilia’s Chorus performing at Carnegie Hall. Mrs. Xeller has been an ESL teacher in Manhattan, a preschool teacher at NMS and an early childhood teacher at NMS. She is a Certified Parent Educator that worked at Indian Neck School in Branford for four years. She has also studied guitar for two years and ballet and modern dance for five years. She is currently a Co-Chair at the Women And Family Life Center in Guilford helping many shoreline families in need. Mrs. Xeller is a founder of Twinkletoes Music company that provides music and movement to six schools on the shoreline.
She resides in Madison with her husband Rob, children Mya and Ryan, and a dog named Floyd.