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Andersen's Dolphin Academy

We are deeply indebted and grateful for the DEANs support of Andersen's Dolphin Academy Teachers! While many are familiar faces, we are fortunate to have some new additions as well! Each brings their own personality, experiences, and expertise to our program. Dolphin Academy Teachers provide a variety of support to our teachers and students. They meet 1:1 with our primary students in administering assessments and pull small groups to support and enrich all students! As needs change, so will our outstanding Dolphin Academy Teachers. Know that all of our students are benefiting from this program- we are so fortunate and appreciative of the DEANs’ support!!!

Differentiation is a critical high-impact teaching strategy used by teachers to craft lessons and projects that provide the right amount of support and challenge for every student. This structure is flexible, allowing students the opportunity to exit a support group once it no longer presents a need and move into the opportunity to be challenged. Both groups are intended to extend the learning of the lesson. Andersen is excited to offer both extension activities and enrichment projects.

Enrichment projects are projects based on a topic the student is interested in that will lead to new in-depth learning or be based on the topic discussed in the classroom. To help challenge these students, teachers will create enrichment projects that allow them to dig deeper into the content. These projects can use students' prior knowledge as a baseline, and the project will push the student deeper into the topic. The project enhances a student's education by bringing new concepts to light or using old ideas in new ways.

In short:

  • Enrichment projects and extension activities challenge gifted students without extra work when they are finished with classroom work.
  • Enrichment projects and extension activities allow students to apply new knowledge to the next level.
  • Enrichment projects and extension activities allow gifted students not to do repetitive work. (Gifted students resist repetitive work.)
  • Enrichment projects and extension activities allow students to have their own educational experiences.

We know that by utilizing our Dolphin Academy Teachers, Andersen students will have every opportunity to reach their maximum potential.

Andersen Elementary is proud to provide extended learning time with one of the seven certified teachers generously funded by the Dean's Group. Extension classes create additional time and opportunities for students and teachers to connect over their content. Extension classes are provided to students identified as needing extra support and those ready for a challenge!

The Crew

My name is Rebecca Garcia. For the past two years, I have had the pleasure of working as a Dolphin Academy Teacher. Before my time at Andersen, I taught in Mission Viejo for close to 20 years. I have a Master's Degree in Education and a Bachelor's degree in psychology, emphasizing child development. Education is my passion, and I am grateful to be part of the Andersen Team. I believe every child can learn. It is my job to help each individual reach their full potential to become a productive and independent scholar. 

Rebecca is our technology expert. She will work alongside Kristi Kirsch to provide students with the knowledge required to be a 20th-century learner. Additionally, Rebecca will provide ELA support and enrichment to our upper-grade students focusing on deepening their understanding of theme, character development, and vocabulary. Students will enhance their critical thinking skills as they embark on deep discussions and projects analyzing texts.

My name is Jeff Vonnahme. I've been teaching at Andersen for seven years now and have been blessed to watch our students grow academically and socially. I have coached the Andersen Robotics Team and am excited to keep the program going challenging students to integrate tech, mechanical, and collaboration skills needed to run a successful team. I enjoy spending recess and lunch on supporting students' learning and playing in mini-tournaments! I love watching our kids become independent learners and strive to instill in them my love of education. 

In addition to supporting the Robotics Program, as our math expert, Jeff will provide support and extension to our middle and upper-grade students. Advancement in math does not mean "learning next year's curriculum," but rather, Jeff will focus on delving deeper into math concepts and ensuring students develop a deep understanding of numbers so they can apply this knowledge to more challenging concepts.

My name is Elizabeth Wiley. I've been teaching in the district for 23 years, teaching everything from preschool to 3rd grade. With an emphasis on physical education, my goal has always been to teach inclusively. I attended UCI as an undergraduate and Concordia for my credential. (Irvine, graduated Summa Cum Laude). I love to fish, sail, cook and spend time with my family. I love to garden, and plumerias are my favorite flower! I walk the beach daily. I love my job and am excited to return to see students in person!

Tapping into her primary experience and love of PE, Elizabeth will work with our primary team as a dual expert! She will engage our primary students in interactive and fun physical education activities, focusing on the skills needed for successful playground and social navigation. Elizabeth has spent the past year (and her summer) honing her primary ELA skills. While primarily focused on the expert implementation of our SIPPS (Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words), Elizabeth is well-versed in all things literacy. Elizabeth will work with our younger students as they explore print and start their journey of becoming expert readers and writers!

My name is Barbi Townsend. I have been teaching in Newport Mesa for the past 20 years. I am so excited to be returning to Andersen, where both my boys attended! I received my bachelor's at Long Beach State and my credential and ESL/Bilingual Certificate of Competency at Azusa Pacific. I also have a master's degree in Educational Administration. In addition to teaching, I have been involved with the PTA, the school play, been a Cub Scout leader, and utilized my love for photography as the yearbook chair. I am ready for all this year has to offer!

This year we are so excited to tap into Barbi's expertise in Language Acquisition and Development and offer students the opportunity to learn the Spanish language and its culture. In addition to offering all students leveled Spanish instruction, she will work with our upper-grade students on understanding the structure of language by doing deep dives into understanding the structure of language and writing. We are so excited to offer this unique opportunity to our students.

Hello Andersen Families, my name is Kristi Kirsch. This year starts my 15th year as Andersen's Instructional Assistant for Technology. Before that, I was a part of Andersen as a parent.  I have had the privilege to help bring Andersen's technology from a small room of 20 desktops to a computer lab of 40 with a handful of desktops in each room, to a Chromebook and Google School where we are now 1:1 Chromebooks. As the technology changed, we also transitioned from a traditional computer lab, with rows of desktops, to what we now call our Think Tank - a space that has flexible seating and moveable tables and chairs to better support collaborative work. In addition to our Think Tank, with the support of our DEANs and student input, we created our Makerspace. This is where our students learn about and work on their Engineering Design Process, solve problems, have an introduction to coding and robotics, building challenges, circuitry, and more. During all of this, the big focus is their Growth Mindset - learning to try again, learning to change their language from "I can't" to adding that "YET" in there; know that if something doesn't work out the first time it's an opportunity to try again, to improve, to learn and grow from the mistakes that happen.

My passion is supporting our students and teachers in learning how to use their devices and the Google suite of tools and, with the implementation of our Makerspace five years ago, helping to build a Growth Mindset. I am so happy to have students and teachers back in these spaces and I look forward to continuing to support them as they grow their critical thinking, collaboration, engineering, designing, making, technology, and Growth Mindset skills!

My name is Mackenzi Stuart. I am so excited to join the Andersen Dolphin Academy team! This is my 5th year in Newport Mesa and my 8th year teaching. I am lucky enough to have been able to teach everything from Preschool all the way through 6th grade. I received my bachelor’s degree in Education as well as my credential from Texas Christian University. Outside of school I love sailing, spending time with my family and friends, and skiing. My favorite part about being a teacher is building relationships with the students and family along with watching the students grow as learners and citizens. I am excited to see all of the Andersen Dolphins learn and grow this year! This year Mackenzie will be supporting our 3rd and 4th grade students with English Language Arts & Writing, and our 2nd graders with math. We are so fortunate to have added Mackenzie to our team!!

My name is Allison Barnett. This is my second year teaching at Andersen. I love the Andersen community of learners and I am so excited for the wonderful year that we have ahead of us. Prior to working at Andersen I taught first grade at a charter school in Inglewood. I have a Masters degree in Education and a Bachelor's degree in Human Development. Teaching is my passion! I love watching my students learn and grow as individuals throughout the year. Through my experience I have become passionate in my commitment to three things: instilling a sense of self-worth among all students, inspiring students’ interest in core academic content, and developing a life-long love for learning and exploration. 

This year Allison will be supporting our kinder and 1st grade students. Allison is well versed in early literacy and works well with our primary teams, creating small groups and individualizing the curriculum so all students thrive.


Hello. My name is Michele Cohen and this is my fourth school year at Andersen Elementary. I’m so happy to be returning to my favorite school! I attended Cal State Long Beach for college and Chapman University for my Credential and Masters. I worked as a second grade teacher in LAUSD for five years before returning home to Orange County. I love traveling the world, spending time with my family, and being the best mommy I can be to my adorable one year old son. I look forward to a great school year and making it a memorable one that your child will remember! :)

This year Michele will be working with our ELD students, providing support as they master the English language. She will also be working with different grade levels filling in and supporting where needed.