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Meet the 2-3 teaching team

December 12, 2019 | Shanna Pargellis

Meadows, Mountains, & Forests

Cindy Kuperus, Teacher of the Mountains Class
Lead Teacher of Literacy & Math

With degrees from Calvin College and Michigan State University, as well as a 30-year career as an educator, Cindy Kuperus has taught for 20 years at Mustard Seed School. Her passions have planted the seeds for so many traditions, including the original Notable American Wax Museum event, Poetry Night, the Community Expo, and other model performance assessments. Cindy’s graduate study in curriculum and teaching and her interest in multicultural education has led her to teach in both Nicaragua and China and to travel and study abroad in Ghana, South Africa, and other places. In addition to her current work in instructional planning, Cindy has become a traveled scholar of the world who is continually concerned about what it truly means to live in community. She is a model of intellectual hospitality and personal hospitality wherever she goes. Her deep concern for community not only shapes the lives of children and parents, but the entire teaching team as well.

Rebekah Lowe, Teacher of the Meadows Class
Teacher of Literacy, Math, & Social Studies

Hello, my name is Rebekah Lowe, and I am the Lead Teacher for the Meadows Class this year! This is my first year teaching at Mustard Seed, and I could not be more excited to be here! I graduated from The College of New Jersey with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and Psychology. Through my teaching program, I was able to teach in a variety of classrooms, both suburban and urban, giving me the chance to teach in different settings. After graduating, I taught English abroad in Suwon, South Korea, which allowed me to learn about new cultures and meet people from around the world.

I love to travel to new countries and try out new foods and restaurants! Living abroad gave me the chance to try some interesting dishes. I also love to read books and watch movies in my free time.

All of these experiences make me look forward to our unit on immigration as well as learning about people’s unique stories that they have. This year, my hope is to get to know the students well and build a positive classroom community.

Melia McHugh, Teacher of the Forests Class
Teacher of Literacy, Math, & Science

My name is Melia McHugh and I am the Lead teacher in the Forest Class. I am a mother of 3 sons (2 of whom attend MSS) and an avid reader. I started my teaching career, after getting my bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Delaware and my Master’s degree in Secondary Social Studies Education from The College of New Jersey, as a high school teacher in South Brunswick, New Jersey. I made the choice to be a stay-at-home mom after my second son was born but started to substitute teach at MSS when my oldest son started Kindergarten. This gave me the opportunity to form relationships with teachers and students at all grade levels. I taught one year in the Nest before having my third son and returned to MSS this past Spring in the 4/5 class as a maternity leave replacement teacher. This year I look forward to working with students to build a safe, loving community that loves to learn.

Zach Nordling, Teacher of the Fountains Class
Teacher of Literacy & Math, Director of IDEAS

Zach Nordling is a graduate of Calvin College, with an extensive background in Fine Arts, Social Studies, and Science Education as well as a degree in Elementary Education. Upon his arrival at Mustard Seed nearly five years ago, it became almost immediately obvious that Zach was meant to take on the direction of our IDEAS program in the Shared Space, as well as sharing classroom instruction in literacy and especially mathematics. From the start, Zach has become recognized for the ease with which he establishes trust and rapport with students and for the adept and novel ways in which he engages learners in demanding creative and academic pursuits. Recently, in a Harvard online study group, Zach articulated the growth mindset that he wants to see whenever he teaches: “. . . the culture of our classes is one of energy and excitement in the work – there is an expectation that you will need to make many corrections, mistakes and changes to your work before it is your best, and that this is expected and can even be enjoyable.”

Heather Welesko, Literacy Teacher and Assistant Teacher

Heather Palmer Welesko holds degrees in English and Fine Arts from Shippensburg Univiersity, a Masters of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a second MA degree from Evangelical Theological Seminary. Heather, in addition to being a published writer and poet, has served as an instructor of English, writing, and world literature at Kean University and Harold Washington College in Chicago. Finally, she has, in her years at Mustard Seed, included early literacy education in her wide repertoire through work with both Columbia Teachers College and Lesley University. For Heather, faith, love, and education are a moving, breathing thing. She is committed to the collaborative relationship wherein education, formation and faith come together. In her time at Mustard Seed, that continues to be obvious, as is her intuitive understanding of children, her profound sense of organization, and her contagious passion for learning.

Sam Martino, Assistant Teacher

A life-long resident of Hoboken, Sam Martino is an alumnus of Fordham University and Mustard Seed School. In 2014, Sam graduated from Fordham University with a Bachelor’s Degree in History and a minor in music. His experience also includes more than seven years in music performance and instruction (guitar and ukulele), camp leadership, and teaching. At the same time, his expertise in history and geography includes extensive knowledge of the Hudson River area and its representation in art, music, science, and history, as well as geography. As a graduate of Mustard Seed in 2006, a veteran summer volunteer, a long term substitute teacher, and an exceptional assistant teacher, Sam has had an opportunity to see the school’s mission in action, particularly with grades 2 & 3.

Chris Gasca, Assistant Teacher

Chris Gasca first learned about Mustard Seed School through his wife, Clarissa, who is an alumna. Impressed with the education and the community, they enrolled their three children. Mr. Gasca saw firsthand the love, Godly character, and incredible skill of MSS teachers. He joined the staff as a substitute teacher in 2016 and felt right at home. Today he’s an Assistant Teacher in the Forest Class and works with second and third grade students. He loves spending time with children in the park where he has been known to be a fierce competitor in foot races and team sports. He thoroughly enjoys building relationships with MSS students, especially learning beside them and helping them grow in character and self esteem. Whether through academics, extracurricular activities, or providing emotional support, Mr. Gasca always looks for the best way to invest in every single student.

Zachary Licato, P.E. Teacher

Zachary Licato holds a B.A. degree in English from William Patterson University and will soon hold an Master of Education degree in K-12 English Language Arts Education. As a native Hudson County resident and an alumnus from Stevens Cooperative School, Zachary is deeply involved in sports and coaching (especially baseball) and local community life. According to Zachary, when children have the opportunity to experience themselves as a member of a team, they become more prepared to understand their place in their neighborhoods and even the global community. Still, more, when recently asked, Zachary expressed the extreme importance of understanding how social media can deeply influence children’s development (positively and otherwise). Zachary has already served beautifully as a long term substitute last spring. Now, he joins our staff again as an assistant teacher in grades 4&5 (mornings) and in grades 2&3 (afternoons). Do stay tuned, though. He has recently co-authored a book of poetry that will be published within a year.

Aiko Mauldin, Teacher of Music, Choral Director, & Music Chair

Aiko Mauldin continues to lead our music program for children in the Nest through 5th grade and coordinate private music lessons for children learning the instruments. Aiko is a graduate of San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Manhattan School of Music, with certification in Kodaly and more than 17 years as a music educator. She has been recognized for her expertise in the Kodaly approach, her outstanding direction of choral and ensemble performance, her partnership with the Weil Institute at Carnegie Hall, and her passion-driven approach to music education. As Aiko enters her tenth year at Mustard Seed School, she has produced more than 18 annual spring concerts, 9 Firefly Recitals and Christmas Concerts, three annual Choral Festivals, multiple performances at Carnegie Hall, and a televised musical partnership with Peter Yarrow. She often shares, very memorably, that her favorite musician (J.S. Bach) completed each composition with a treasured phrase: soli deo gloria. We are thankful that the same phrase marks Aiko’s many compositions here as well.

Tania Oro-Hahn, Teacher of Spanish Language, Grades 1-8

With a master’s degree in Urban Education from NJCU, specializing in World Languages, and a degree in Visual Arts from Rutgers University, Tania Oro-Hahn continually intertwines so many skills and passions as a teacher. For years, Tania served with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, where her gifts for leadership and direction were well recognized, as well as her efforts to enlarge students’ well-being by increasing their cultural understanding. Then, for well over ten years at Mustard Seed School, Tania has been developing world language instruction. Here, at MSS, Tania has nurtured both bilingual students and those students for whom Spanish is a new language. Just as importantly, she has stretched students’ cultural understanding of the world in which they live. Here, she has moved children again and again to find their voices and then to make their voices heard in two languages. We are so excited that the reach of Spanish Language instruction now includes grades 1 through 8. We are also excited to announce that her work will now also include co-managing the recently won vital worship grant from the Calvin Institute for Worship Renewal. This grant work for the year will further our understanding and celebration of diversity and inclusivity in community worship and throughout our school culture.

Shanna Pargellis

Lower School Director

A life-long learner, Shanna Pargellis is always full of questions and curious about possibilities. As a founder of the school she has been delighted to shape and experience this dynamic and growing learning environment. A continuing goal over the 40 years is to know and care for each child so that each one grows not just academically but in the arts, faith, and service. She believes that listening to the child and learning holistically prepares one to lead a life of meaning and purpose and joy.

Currently she is the Lower School Director for grades one to three, but she has had many roles at the school: teacher, board member, parent, acting head, early childhood director, guitar player, song leader, space designer, furniture mover, and celebration planner.

While she has appreciated all the places one can explore in the city, she enjoys gardening in her own small backyard and spending time in green spaces. She also loves to ask the beautiful question.

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