My name is Daria Ague. I was born in Michigan and attended Wayne State University in Detroit. I received a Bachelor’s of Science degree with a major in Geology. I went on to complete my graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley. I moved to Connecticut shortly after graduation. I have been a substitute teacher, building substitute and literacy aide for the past fifteen years in the Branford and Guilford public school systems. In May of 2017, I completed my teacher certification in 7-12 General Science and 7-12 Earth Science. I am very excited to be the 6, 7, and 8th grade science and math teacher and look forward to working with the wonderful families at St. Mary’s School.
My name is Lisa Malanson, and this will be my third year at St Mary School. I will be the 7th grade homeroom teacher. I will also be teaching Reading and Language Arts to the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. I feel so very blessed to continue to be a part of this community and extended family environment. I have my BA in Psychology and my Masters in Elementary Education. I love working with the middle school students, and look forward to a wonderful year. TEAMWORK is my motto, and I believe if we work together, we truly can succeed!
My name is Mrs. Mazon. I was born in Ecuador, and came to the United States thirty years ago. Since I came to Connecticut, I started to study English as a second language. My dream was to become a Spanish teacher. I attended Southern Connecticut State University, where I received my Bachelor’s degree in Education. Later I started on my Master’s degree. I have attended conferences on Religious Education, Early Childhood Education and Foreign Language all around the country. Prior to working at St. Mary School, I worked as a preschool teacher, middle school Religion and Spanish teacher. I have had the pleasure to teach at St. Mary’s School for the past seven years. This year in addition to teaching Spanish for grades K-8, I have 8th Grade Home Room and 6th, 7th and 8th Grade Religion. I have really enjoyed watching the children grow and flourish. I also find that working with the talented staff at St. Mary’s School has proven to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Additional Middle School Teachers
Mrs. Lori Hamilton – Physical Education Grades 6 – 8
My name is Lori Hamilton and I have been the Physical Education teacher at St. Mary School for the over 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!
Mr. Brendan Mason – Fife & Drum Corps
Brendan Mason is an active teacher, performer, and clinician in the New England area. He currently teaches general music at Saint Mary School in Branford, CT and instructs the ever-growing Saint Mary School Fife and Drum Corps, which was established in 2012. Brendan provides private lessons across Southern and Central Connecticut. Brendan also instructs several area drumlines, including the DCI Open Class 7th Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps, the Cheshire High School Marching Band, the Connecticut Patriots, the Stony Creek Fife and Drum Corps and the Col. John Chester Fife and Drum Corps. Brendan is a student of Paul Cormier, Mike Gagnon, Matt Mayotte, Timothy Cecil and later studied under Ken Green while attending Northwestern State University of Louisiana to pursue a degree in music education and percussion performance. Brendan started playing rudimental snare drum at the age of 6 as a member of the Col. John Chester Drum Corps. He soon began competing individually through the Corps, winning honors at the Connecticut, Massachusetts, Hudson Valley, and Northeastern States Championships. At age 9, Brendan became the youngest drummer to hold The Dan English Trophy as the Connecticut State Junior Snare Drum Champion, a distinction he has won more times than any other individual. Brendan is a member of the Connecticut Patriots and the Grand Republic Drum Corps. He has also performed with the Middlesex County Volunteers and The Top Secret Drum Corps of Basel, Switzerland. Through these groups, Brendan has toured both nationally and internationally, performing in Switzerland, France, Germany, and Australia. He has individually performed with notable musicians, such as Shania Twain, and was featured on an ESPN recording. Brendan is a proud member of USARD and NARD. He is also an endorsee of Reamer’s Drummer Service and Loyal Drums. Brendan is very excited to start his 3rd year as a faculty member and director of the fife and drum corps at The Saint Mary School!
Mrs. Gloria Nilsson – Art Grades 6 – 8
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.
Dr. Cliff Schexnayder – Grade 8 Algebra
Cliff Schexnayder is an Eminent Scholar Emeritus at Arizona State University. Before entering academia he worked with major construction contractors as field engineer, estimator, and corporate Chief Engineer. Additionally, he served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on active duty and in the reserves, retiring as a Colonel. He has held Fulbright Scholar appointments to the Universidad de Piura, Piura, Peru and the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile. He served as a consultant to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian for its THE GREAT INKA ROAD: ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE exhibit. Dr. Schexnayder has taught Algebra in the Middle School since 2014.
Mrs. Karen Staples – Social Studies Grades 6, 7 & 8
My name is Karen Staples and this is my sixth year at St. Mary School. This will be my third year teaching Social Studies for Grade 6, as well as history and geography for grades 7 & 8. I graduated from Quinnipiac University in 2007 with my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a concentration in Child Development, followed by my Master’s degree and Certification in Education in 2011 from Sacred Heart University. I have many years of experience working with children and I look forward to another great school year working with all of your children.
Mrs. Dorota Xeller – Music Grades 6 – 8
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.