Our Philosophy

Our innovative educators bring passion and creativity to their teaching and aren’t afraid to do things differently. Most of our students come from schools that were not structured to enable them to succeed. We believe that with the right mix of challenge and support, young people who have left school can get back on the path to college, and at CUNY Prep, we make sure they do.

  • Ricardo Almonte

    Ricardo Almonte
    College Success Coach

    Ricardo Almonte joined CUNY Prep as a College Success Coach in November 2016. Born and raised in the Bronx, Mr. Almonte is committed to working with underserved communities and believes that every student, regardless of identification, deserves an opportunity to succeed in a supportive and encouraging environment.

    “As an HSE-recipient and first-generation college student myself, I know how difficult it can be for students to make the transition from this setting to the world of higher education,” says Almonte. “I want to do everything I can to support CUNY Prep’s mission to empower students and help them make the most of their second chance at education.”

    Mr. Almonte earned his Master of Science in Higher Education Administration from the Baruch College School of Public Affairs in May 2016. He began his career as a peer tutor at Borough of Manhattan Community College before transferring to Vassar College where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Africana Studies, and has been working with students pursuing their high school equivalency and students in college ever since.

  • Elvin Aviles

    Assistant Director

    Elvin Aviles joined CUNY Prep as a Humanities Teacher in the Fall of 2011. He has spent much of his career working with underserved youth in various capacities. However, Mr. Aviles says CUNY Prep’s program is unique.

    “The philosophy of this school really drew me in,” says Aviles. “Every student has their own story as to how or why they left school. But here, they are respected as individuals and truly get a second chance.”

    Aviles was born in the Bronx, New York and attended New York City Public Schools through high school. He attended Baruch College in Manhattan where he earned a degree in History. After college, he began a career in education in the Jersey City public school district where he taught for five years.

    Aviles has completed a graduate degree at The New Jersey City University. He earned a Master of Arts Degree in Educational Technology. He believes in relevant and meaningful infusion of technology into instruction as a means to motivate and foster learning in 21st century students. As assistant director, this is one of his main focuses.

  • Frantz Barbier

    Math Teacher

    Frantz Barbier, a math teacher at CUNY Prep since 2004, prides himself on helping math-phobic students over their greatest hurdles.

    “The best part of my job is the sense of satisfaction I get each and every day knowing that I have helped my students master a specific skill or finally understand a content area that defeated them before,” he says. “It’s a great feeling to watch them light up when they get their tests back.”

    Barbier was born and raised in the northeast Bronx, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. He holds a bachelor of arts in English language arts and elementary education from Hunter College.

    “Teaching isn’t just a job for me; it’s my life’s work,” he says. “I am driven by my students’ ambition and determination to achieve the goals that they have set for themselves.”

    He is also in charge of special events.

  • Stefanie Dejesus

    Retention Specialist

    Bronx native, Stefanie Dejesus, began CUNY Prep as a College Success Coach in the fall of 2014 and has now been crowned retention specialist. She finds joy in making a difference within her community and has held numerous positions in the field of higher education throughout her career.

    Ms. Dejesus believes in her civic duty as a productive member of society. “CUNY Prep allows for me to play a significant role in my community, which is all that I have aspired to do my entire career. The Bronx has so many issues and even so, so many talented adolescents call this borough home; however, some fall through the cracks. CUNY Prep allows me to facilitate the students’ transition back into school and furthermore into college,” says Dejesus.

    It is Dejesus’ belief that guidance plays a key role in the success of the students in college. She believes it is our responsibility to help the student discover, develop and hone their skills for lifelong success.

    Ms. Dejesus currently attends Lehman College where she is currently pursuing her second Masters’ degree. Previously, she earned her MPA with dual specialization in management and operations and criminal justice policy and administration. In her free time, Ms. Dejesus likes spending quality time with her family and going to cross-fit classes.

  • Shannon Diaz

    Shannon Diaz
    Science Teacher

    Shannon Diaz began at CUNY Prep in September 2017. She recently relocated from Dallas, TX where she was born and raised. In Dallas, Mrs. Diaz taught science both at the high school and college level. Throughout her education career, she has dedicated her work to inner city students and disadvantaged youth, helping her students prepare for college. In addition to teaching, Mrs. Diaz worked with the AVID program, assisting first generation students with study techniques, note- taking skills and college applications.

    At CUNY Prep “I can teach in an environment where I am directly helping students realize their potential and push themselves to succeed,” she said. In the classroom, Mrs. Diaz pushes her students so they can become independent learners. She utilizes the Socratic method of asking higher-level, open ended questions to encourage critical thinking. “To be successful in the future, I strongly believe students need to be able to think critically and develop solutions. In the classroom I strive to foster an environment where students are challenged to think about information and relate it to the real world,” Diaz says.

    Shannon Diaz has a B.S. degree and M.S. degree in Biology from University of Texas at Arlington, where she ran cross-country.​

  • Kyle Dixon

    Writing Teacher

    Kyle Dixon is an educator, media consultant and co-founder of Precise Minds Filmworks Inc., a multimedia production company established in 2005. He is a proud graduate of prestigious Fisk University in Nashville, TN with a B.A. in english language arts and a specialty in african american studies.  Mr. Dixon grew to be conscious of the need to support local and global communities of color; therefore, he works with progressive people and organizations to lay strong foundations of leadership, excellence, and cultural awareness.

    As an educator for the past 15 years in the public and private school sector, Mr. Dixon has dedicated himself to empowering the youth’s socio-academic developments for higher education. “I see myself as a collaborative learner as well as an educator. I know that these students have genius inside of them waiting to be cultivated and I’m thrilled to be a part of their educational development. Their insight allows us to challenge each other to become critical thinkers and learners creating, for them, better educational opportunities to achieve their aspirations.”

    In addition, Mr. Dixon also teaches the H.I.P. H.O.P. 101 seminar that employs elements from Hip-Hop culture to enhance the perspective of how our society displays images and sounds to tell a story. He also participates in a few non-profits for youth in Harlem and Brooklyn that teach leadership through entrepreneurship and the African-Brazilian martial art of Capoeira.

  • Ngoc Duong

    Math Teacher

    CUNY Prep math teacher Ngoc Duong believes that math should be a hands-on learning experience with real-world relevant concepts.

    “My top priority is to create a positive classroom environment where students will be confident to use mathematical language to explain their work and to assist their peers,” says Duong. “I want them to realize that learning math is not only about solving problems but also about applying it in their real lives.”

    Duong, an immigrant from Vietnam, graduated from Hunter College with a BA/MA in Adolescent Mathematics Education. She joined the CUNY Prep teaching staff in the fall of 2014, and says she is sold on the schools college-bound focus.

    “Higher education gives people greater choices in life and helps open the door to your future,” says Duong.

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    She enjoys spending free time with her family, reading in Vietnamese and English, and swimming.

  • Kris D. Foreman

    Dean of Students

    Kris Foreman is typically the first contact for prospective students at CUNY Prep. As the coordinator of recruitment and admissions, he screens students to make sure they are a good fit for the school.

    “If they don’t have college as a goal, than this is not the right place for them,” he says.

    Foreman, who grew up in the Fordham section of the Bronx, down the road from CUNY Prep, says he feels personally responsible to help students reach their educational potential.

    “I believe my job is to create opportunities for students that enable them to value knowledge, respect themselves and push them to strive for higher education,” he says.

    Foreman joined CUNY Prep in 2006. He holds a master’s degree in social science in educational counseling and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Binghamton University. His hobbies include basketball, baseball, paintball, golf and collecting watches.

  • Aileen Giustra

    Fiscal Administrator and Budget Analyst

    Aileen Giustra works largely behind the scenes at CUNY Prep but has perhaps one of the more important roles. As the school’s fiscal administrator, she makes sure that staff members get paid and that classrooms are stocked with supplies.

    “I really enjoy all the relationships that I’ve formed, not only with CUNY Prep staff, but also with CUNY’s central office and even our vendors,” she says. “I’m very grateful for their support and hard work.”

    Giustra joined CUNY Prep in 2006, but she’s worked in the CUNY system since 1996. She has a varied and diverse career history that has covered everything from maintaining databases to Spanish translation services.

    Giustra enjoys playing with her dog and birds and tending to her plants. She’s also a huge fan of Salsa music and loves going to concerts.

  • Tracy Hill

    CUNY Prep @ Night, Supervisor

    Tracy Hill joined the CUNY Prep family in 2006.  She teaches the physical, life, earth and space sciences. In addition to teaching, she is the Curriculum Developer and the Director of CUNY Prep at Night.  She wears more than one hat and believes in hard work.

    Hill started her career as a senior laboratory scientist for a global corporation, working on projects for pharmaceutical companies, oil refineries and even N A S A. But she switched to teaching because she wanted a profession where she could see the direct results of helping people.  She taught science at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn for six years before coming to CUNY Prep.

    Ms. Hill’s motto is, “Work hard in silence. Let your success be the noise.” She believes teaching gives her and her student’s continuous opportunities to learn and explore new things. “Education can bring community together because weaknesses will be strengthened and strengths will be challenged,” she says.

  • Nashana Holmes

    Social Studies Teacher

    Nashana Holmes has worked in the field of education for over 10 years. She obtained her BA in English Literature and MS in Education with distinction from Mercy College. Nashana started her career as a 1st grade teacher in New York City’s Board of Education. Realizing that she wanted to continue teaching but wanted to service a different population, Nashana went on to work with disconnected youth at FEGS as an Instructor. She fulfilled this role for 5 years and was promoted to Senior Instructor. In that role, she supervised four teachers, providing them with lesson plan support and mentorship. In 2013, Nashana was nominated for New York Association for Continuing/Community Education Outstanding Teacher Award by her Senior Director. She won the award and was awarded in Albany, New York along with 9 other teachers in the state of New York. Nashana has also worked at Hostos Community College as an Instructor for their Bridge to LPN program and CUNY Fatherhood program.

    Nashana enjoys working with youth academically and socially. For this reason, she started a youth ministry in 2006 at her church called YIELDED Ministries. The ministry serves youth ages 6-29. She runs bible classes, workshops, volunteer experiences, and leadership classes for youth and youth leaders. Her youth participated in Hurricane   Sandy Relief efforts in New Jersey, New York Cares Day in Staten Island, POTS lunch service program, Holiday Luncheon for Bronx works, and an Annual Toy Drive. Nashana is very committed and dedicated to her youth in ministry, for this reason she was licensed as a Youth Minister by the state of New York appointed by her Pastor in 2015.

    Nashana loves working with youth and helping them reach their fullest potential. Her motto is that she must learn so that she can teach, she must get so that she can give, she must empower so that she can inspire, and in doing this she will fulfill her purpose and mission to “YIELD”.

  • Andre Larmond

    Operations & IT Coordinator

    CUNY Prep relies heavily on technology in the classroom, and it is Andre Larmond’s job to keep our growing inventory of high-tech tools in top working order.

    Larmond, who first joined CUNY Prep in 2004, is responsible for everything from software updates on the computers to assisting in keeping the network running smoothly.

    “I really enjoy supporting the staff here as they help our students build a better future for themselves,” he says.

    Larmond has a degree in Digital Media Arts from TCI College. He is enrolled at New York City College of Technology, pursuing a degree in computer engineering technology. He’s a parent to a very busy little girl and a new baby boy; in his spare time, he enjoys reading, going to the gym and taking in a movie or comedy show.

  • Jenna Martinez Lynch

    Jenna Martinez
    Literacy & Yoga Instructor

    Jenna Martinez-Lynch teaches literacy and yoga and mindfulness at CUNY Prep.

    “I believe in a holistic teaching philosophy that emphasizes social and emotional learning. I see my work as co-creating spaces with young people where they can cultivate a deep connection to their hearts, bodies, and minds so that they can foster compassionate connections with their communities,” says Martinez-Lynch.

    Martinez-Lynch holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master’s degree in International Relations from Alliant University in Mexico City. She is a 300-hour meditation teacher, a 200-hour yoga teacher, and a certified children’s yoga teacher.
    When she’s not at CUNY Prep, you can find her teaching yoga and mindfulness in schools around the city, leading literacy workshops with the Literacy Assistance Center, and riding her bike around Brooklyn.​

  • Edwin Perez

    Public Safety Officer

    Officer Perez has worked with the CUNY Public Safety Department for four years.  He has worked with CUNY Prep since the beginning of 2016.  Perez brings a calm yet strong presence to the school.  Much of this can be attributed to his years of service with the United States Marine Corps.  He says his philosophy in working with our students can be summed up by saying, “Don’t let your emotions get the best of you and don’t settle for conformity; set goals for yourself.”  Officer Perez says he tries to reinforce the idea that Consider CUNY Prep is the students’ first step towards accomplishing the goals they set for themselves.

  • Glenmore Reynolds

    Science Teacher

    Glenmore Reynolds joined the CUNY Prep faculty in 2005. He’s been living in the United States for 20 years, but was born and raised in Jamaica, where he saw the positive effects of education firsthand.

    “I saw many people lift themselves and their families out of poverty through education, so I know it can be done,” he says.

    Before coming to CUNY Prep, Reynolds worked in the corporate world, the health industry and was a science teacher at a boys boarding school in Jamaica. He earned his bachelor’s degree in the adult degree program at Lehman College.

    “I stand as a living witness that a person from humble beginnings need not succumb to colorless dreams and dwarfed goals,” he says.

    Reynolds says the best part of his job is watching the hearts and minds of his students change as they transform themselves at CUNY Prep.

    Reynolds enjoys reading, traveling, cricket and soccer.

  • Jenny Ristenbatt

    Principal and Director

    Jenny Ristenbatt was appointed director and principal of CUNY Prep in fall 2010.  Before that, she spent three years as associate director, working alongside Derrick Griffith, the school’s founding principal.

    “I am very proud and honored to lead CUNY Prep,” she says.

    She believes in the power of CUNY Prep’s educational model, which is based on the core concepts of resilience, reflection and success.

    “We don’t judge our students on whatever led them to leave school, but we ask them to reflect on their patterns and behaviors as they start a new pathway with us,” she says. “We show them how to bounce back from their past struggles and develop a new way of thinking that is key to their becoming successful college students in the future.”

    Ristenbatt began her work at CUNY Prep as a forensic science teacher in 2004.  She earned her bachelor of science degree in forensic science then got a master’s degree in supervision and administration. During her career, Ristenbatt also has been a New York City public middle school science teacher and adjunct instructor for The City University of New York.

  • Natali Sierra

    Administrative Coordinator

    Natali Sierra joined CUNY Prep as Administrative Coordinator in January 2016. Her responsibilities include: support of program phases, initiatives and activities as well as maintenance of alumni database, records and social media accounts.

    “This position combines my organizational skills with my interpersonal abilities. It allows me to foster a closer relationship with our lifelong learners. I feel privileged and honored to play a role in the transition process from a CUNY Prep student to a college graduate.”

    This Bronx native holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from SUNY Plattsburgh. Ms.  Sierra previously served as a program coordinator and database manager at a nonprofit adult education program, also in the Bronx.

    Since 12 years old, when she volunteered at a local church to feed 300+ homeless families affected by a neighborhood fire, Sierra has always found genuine happiness in giving back to her Bronx community.

    In her free time she enjoys baking, reading, and most importantly, spending quality time with family

  • Tameka Thompson

    College Success Coach

    Tameka Thompson joined CUNY Prep in Fall 2016 as a College Success Coach. She has worked in Higher Education in areas such as Financial Aid, event planning, and diversity programming.

    Thompson was born in Brooklyn, New York but moved to Pennsylvania where she spent most of her life. She values the opportunity that a college education has provided her and wants to instill this same passion in students. “CUNY Prep is truly one of a kind. It places such an emphasis on college readiness and provides students with a supportive network of staff and faculty who care about the success of each student.”

    Thompson received her Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Africana Studies from University of Pittsburgh. She holds a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration from Marywood University. Thompson believes in the innate ability of all students and people to succeed and wants to dedicate her life and career to helping individuals embrace their potential for personal and academic growth

  • Andrew Thornebrooke

    Andrew Thornebrooke
    Social Studies Teacher

    Andrew Thornebrooke joined CUNY Prep as a social studies instructor in the Fall of 2017. Mr. Thornebrooke takes pride in his dedication to the pursuit of equity in education and believes that every student, regardless of background or belief, is deserving of the opportunity to better themselves through learning.

    “As a person who earned a GED and went on to college as a first-generation, low-income student, giving my students the knowledge they need to navigate the world is my top priority,” he says. “Understanding history and government is vital to our lives, but these subjects need to be taught in a way that is imminently relatable in order to be useful.”

    Originally from Portland, Oregon, Mr. Thornebrooke has worked in numerous fields as a cook, a logger, an editor, and a teacher. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Philosophy from the Urban Honors College at Portland State University and is currently a graduate student in Medieval Studies at Fordham University.
    Thornebrooke enjoys writing speculative fiction and playing miniature wargames in his spare time. He lives in the Bronx with his spectacular wife.

  • Elizabeth Trudo

    Writing and Math Teacher

    Elizabeth Trudo, a writing and mathematics teacher, started at CUNY Prep in the winter of 2015. She feels that, while a strong scholarly background offers a myriad of opportunities, somebody can learn from almost any experience, especially through cultural exposure and service learning.

    Transplanted to New York City from Colorado, Trudo has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Manchester University in spanish literature and mathematics.  She has tutored street children in Mexico, taught adults in the South Bronx, and was educational coordinator of adult education at Highbridge Community Life Center.

    “CUNY Prep is unique from other programs because of the high standards we have for the students. This is supplemented by the support and care the staff has for them,” she says.

    When Ms. Trudo is not at CUNY Prep, she is chasing her two small children.  She enjoys white water rafting, reading, and embroidery.

  • Juan Velazquez

    Public Safety Officer

    His 12 year career with the Public Safety Department has made Lt. Velazquez a critical thinker with a solid foundation and great leadership and interpersonal skills.

    Lt. Velazquez joined the CUNY Prep team in March 2016. He immediately felt a sense of purpose among faculty, staff and students. “I saw how I could be a role model to the students at CUNY Prep.” He believes the acronyms T.E.A.M (Together Everyone Achieves More) and P.R.I.D.E (Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Discipline and Empathy) embody the CUNY Prep Public Safety Department

  • Tamika Wilson

    Assistant to the Principal

    Tamika Wilson is a big part of the school’s central nervous system, handling everything from student Metrocards to scheduling and event planning, to fielding phone calls. Like most staff at CUNY Prep, she wears a lot of hats in her role as Assistant to the Principal.

    “I really like the fact that every day is a little different,” says Wilson. “I especially enjoy interacting with the students and watching them grow during their time here.”

    Wilson, who joined the staff in 2005, says she continues working at CUNY Prep because she appreciates the opportunity students have here.

    “I really see a lot of myself in the students,” says Wilson. “I’m proud to be part of a program that recognizes that sometimes young people get off track and all they need is a second chance.”

    Outside of work, Wilson is a busy mom of two boys and loves to roller skate and sing. In fact, you’ll often catch her humming in the hallways of CUNY Prep.