RISPE Faculty

Dena Nunez

As a seasoned bilingual educator with twenty-four years in the Providence Public School Department and as an English language learner myself, I understand the perils of language. Once engulfed in the crosscurrent of the ‘sink or swim’ situation, I eventually learned to swim. Upon learning to swim I sacrificed a little bit of myself in the process in hopes of becoming better on the other end. This experience taught me a valuable lesson about the human spirit. Our need to survive is greater than any force against us. Regardless of where students’ families have migrated from, the idea of acculturation remains an ongoing phenomenon. Children of immigrants are constantly balancing between home culture and school culture and this presents many challenges to educators.

Being a survivor of a silent period lasting over a year (what felt like a lifetime), I listen to what my students’ silence says about them. My experience has taught me that silence speaks volumes. As an Adjunct Professor at RISPE, my ultimate goal is to help the educators in the program to recognize that their voice can be used to protect, advocate, and give tools to our Multilingual Learners.

Zajerria Godfrey

Zajerria Godfrey is an innovative educator with nine years of experience with a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Zajerria also holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Special Education and Early Childhood from Albany State University. She recently just completed her certification in Cybersecurity and Info Sec at Georgia Institute of Technology. She holds a position at RISPE as Elementary Science Instructor. Zajerria’s purpose and passion for helping young children and adolescents has been demonstrated through mentorship, founding and coaching in a free recreational basketball program for inner city children, and her annual back to school drive. Zajerria believes it is our sole responsibility to provide opportunities for the next generation to leave the world a better place. She believes the labeling of children limits their opportunities and potential of being who they are destined to be. Zajerria has a passion for working with children with challenging behaviors and intellectual disabilities. Her long term goal is to provide opportunities for ALL children who may face challenges in a traditional educational setting to prevent the school to prison pipeline. In the future, she wants to open up a technology-based alternative educational setting for minority children and adolescents. In her free time, Zajerria enjoys traveling, spending time with friends and family, and working on her mind, body, and soul through fitness and a healthier living.

Nicholas Santavicca, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of English & Communication and the founding Director of the American Language & Cultures Institute at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Dr. Santavicca received his doctorate in ESL/Bilingual Curriculum & Instruction from Texas Tech University. He has held teaching and administrative positions in both K-12 and higher educational settings in the United States and abroad. His current research reimagines assessment practices and curriculum design through the lens of diversity for multilingual/multicultural students. Nicholas is not only an adjunct professor here at RISPE, but he also serves as one of our ESOL specialists!

Erika C. Tyson is a doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at Georgia State University. Her scholarship pursuits include interpreting the literacies of Black and Brown students through a culturally responsive lens. For over two decades, Erika has advocated for asset-based curricula and teaching practices within K12 spaces. She has served in a variety of roles including elementary, middle, and high school teacher, literacy coach, and elementary school administrator. Her social justice stance and extensive knowledge of literacy pedagogy fuel her passion for creating school spaces that humanize students of color. Erika is a proud mother of two amazing sons and enjoys sharing sporting and travel experiences with her family and friends.

Franjuan Valentine, Ph.D.

Dr. Valentine is a multilingual educator with over 20 years of experience and currently the CTE Special Education Representative in a Texas Public High School. Dr. Valentine enjoys reading, glamping, traveling, spending family time with her husband and 10 children, and sharing her "Why":

"I am passionate about educating others. I love to see the “got it” moment that students and teachers have when they understand a concept I am teaching or presenting. I am passionate about special education because it is my world. As a neurodivergent person, I have always loved to study how people think and learn differently. I have raised many foster and adoptive children that fit into a range of ability from superior IQ to cognitively delayed. It amazes me how we are all the same and vastly different at the same time."

Carol Pagan has a B.A and MAT in Elementary Education from Brown University. She completed the RISPE ESL Teacher Certification program in 2021. She has worked for the Providence School Department for the last twenty-two years. She has taught Bilingual Education, Dual Language and Regular Education in Providence. Currently she teaches Dual Language (English side). Carol is a passionate advocate of her students and families. Her own experiences as a language learner and previous ESL student have been the fuel that propel her to become a teacher and advocate of culturally and linguistically diverse students and families. She strongly believes that school must see and embrace the entire child and value their life experiences.

Karen Adamec has worked in K-12 education for over two decades in a variety of roles, including classroom teacher, literacy coach, and as an elementary, middle, and high school reading specialist. She received her Bachelors in Psychology and Elementary Education from Sacred Heart University, a Masters degree in Reading and an advanced graduate certificate in Dyslexia Knowledge and Practices from the University of Rhode Island.

In addition to her work as a public school educator, Karen is an independent consultant, working with individual schools, public districts, as well as professional organizations nationwide. In this role, Karen shares her experience and expertise around reading and writing development, evidence-based literacy practices, assessment, and creating effective intervention systems. She is passionate about equity, culturally responsive instruction, and the prevention of and intervention for reading difficulties in order to close wide and persistent gaps in achievement among diverse learners.

Karen lives in Rhode Island with her husband, three children and three dogs. She loves traveling and particularly enjoys hiking in national parks throughout the country. In her spare time, Karen enjoys reading, biking, gardening, and cooking.

Arine Lowery is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Teacher Education and Learning Science at North Carolina State University with a concentration in Social Studies Education. Her research interests include youth political activism and classroom discussions of political issues. Arine has worked as a classroom teacher, district social studies program coordinator, and teacher educator. Arine enjoys reading, shopping, and traveling in her free time.

Silvana Melo has been teaching for over 10 years and has worked with a variety of age groups ranging from Kindergarten scholars to college students. She currently works as an educator in a nature-based program focused on holistic education. She holds a licensure in Early Childhood Education and English as a Second Language and a Masters in Early Childhood Education. As an immigrant from Portugal, Silvana speaks fluent Portuguese and is passionate about working with multilingual students. She is also passionate about working with new teachers and supporting them in finding their identities within the classroom. Silvana enjoys traveling, reading good books, writing, swimming in the ocean and wandering through the woods.

Kalimi Baxter was raised in Harlem, graduated from Boston University and Walden University, and has been teaching for over 15 years. Starting as a theater teacher, Kalimi's passion for special education just grew and grew. As a person of color, and somone who knows the struggle of birthing oneself into an effective teacher, Kalimi understands how the credentialing process can be experienced as climbing a huge mountain all alone. As a current Dean working towards her Ed.S / principal licensure, Kalimi also brings years of experience and a diverse lens to her coaching practice. Kalimi is honored to work at RISPE with such a diverse community of talented teaching candidatesr. Promoting anti-racist pedagogical best practices is her mission.