We are very excited about the 2018-2019 school year at The Branch Academy and would like to tell you a little bit about each of us. Although we each have specific job responsibilities related to our positions in the office or in the Pre-K and Pre-K3 classes, we all look forward to caring for and getting to know each child as part of one “Branch Family”.

Sue Popp–Pre-K Teacher/Director

This year will be Mrs. Popp’s twentieth year teaching. She spent eleven great years on the Mitchell Elementary School campus, and this is the ninth year of The Branch Academy. At Mitchell, Mrs. Popp taught Art through the Art Enrichment Program for four years prior to joining the Pre-K team, and she enjoyed seven years developing the preschool program and incorporating her love of art into the early childhood curriculum. Sue was born in Charlotte, North Carolina and moved to Georgia with her family during her elementary years. She and her husband of twenty-six years, Mark, moved to Tampa in 1993. Mrs. Popp is a graduate of the University of Georgia and obtained her State of Florida Professional Teaching Certificate for Pre-K3 through third grade. She also holds a National Director’s Credential, has a Staff Credential Certificate through a formal education qualification from the Florida Department of Children and Families, and is a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (“NAEYC”). Sue and Mark have two children. Their son Dustin graduated from the University of Florida with a major in Nuclear Engineering, and a minor in Computer Science. He lives in Austin, TX and works for IBM in their innovation lab called the Cloud Experience. He is engaged to his high school sweetheart, Haley Greene, and the Popp family is delighted to celebrate their wedding in March 2019! Gardner, their daughter, is a senior at the University of Florida. Gardner is studying to be an occupational therapist and enjoys working at the nationally acclaimed preschool, Baby Gator, in Gainesville. She is grateful to have had the opportunity to work at South Tampa Kids Therapy during available times when back in Tampa. Mrs. Popp is still getting used to “empty nesting” at home but grateful for the staff and students that make up her “school family” and feels that the establishment and success of The Branch Academy has been one of her greatest blessings.

Jayne Vargas–PreK3 Teacher and After the Bell Teacher

Mrs. Jayne Vargas is originally from Dearborn, Michigan. She is a graduate of Michigan State University where she obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. Mrs. Vargas taught kindergarten, and then first grade for 12 years in the Dearborn Public Schools system. In 1994, Jayne moved to Georgia where she taught for two more years in the Columbia County Public Schools teaching kindergarten and then third grade. Jayne and her family moved from Georgia to Tampa in 2003. Mrs. Vargas spent many years volunteering as a homeroom mom at Mitchell Elementary, on PTSA committees Mitchell, Wilson, and Plant, working on band fundraisers, chaperoning school trips, etc. She has been married to Dr. David Vargas for thirty years and they have two children: Michael and Mary. Michael graduated from Florida State in 2012 and works in the film industry in Los Angeles, CA. He will marry his high school sweetheart in May 2019! Their daughter Mary, graduated from Florida State University in 2017 with a degree in biology and has now obtained her Masters from The University of South Florida in Medical Science with an emphasis in Women’s Health. She is currently applying to Medical schools. This is Mrs. Vargas’ forth year at The Branch Academy and she is excited to be going through the progress of obtaining her Director’s Credential to assist administratively in both the Day School and After the Bell.

Brooke Leske–Pre-K Teacher

This is Mrs. Brooke Leske’s eleventh year teaching. Mrs. Leske was born in Miami and grew up in Tampa. She attended The University of South Florida where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. After graduating from USF, Brooke obtained her State of Florida Professional Teaching Certificate for PreK through third grade. Mrs. Leske began her teaching career at Bellamy Elementary, where she taught first and second grade. She then taught first grade at Mitchell Elementary for four years before taking maternity leave. Brooke fulfilled her childcare facility classes and completed her Staff Credential Certificate with a formal education qualification with the Department of Children and Families. She is married to a Michigan man, Darren, and they have two precious children; Adeline will be six in November and Luke just celebrated his fourth birthday. Brooke’s favorite things to do are being outdoors with her family and watching FSU football or any other sporting event. Mrs. Leske is looking forward to her fourth year as a Pre-K Lead Teacher at The Branch Academy.

Rebecca Celedon–Pre-K Assistant Teacher

Ms. Rebecca Celedon was born in Port Jefferson, New York. She was raised between Port Jefferson and Vienna, Austria because her father worked for the United Nations located in Vienna. Rebecca attended college at Pace University in New York City, where she studied toward a Bachelor of Business in Administration/Marketing. She relocated to Tampa, Florida, where she was employed by Verizon Wireless, and had a business career as a Supervisor of Customer Care for thirteen years. Ms. Celedon resigned from Verizon to raise her two children, Clara and Claudia. Clara is a 2008 graduate of Mrs. Popp’s Mitchell Elementary Pre-K class. Rebecca’s younger daughter Claudia graduated from The Branch Academy in June of 2012 after two great years in Pre-K3 and Pre-K. Claudia is in sixth grade at Wilson Middle School and Clara is in the tenth grade at Robinson IB. Rebecca is involved with both schools, helping with PTSA. Ms. Celedon is starting her eighth year as an Assistant Teacher in Pre-K.

Laureen Allen–Pre-K Assistant Teacher

Mrs. Laureen Allen grew up in South Tampa and was educated at Mitchell Elementary School, Wilson Junior High and Plant High School. She graduated from The University of South Florida with a degree in Elementary Education. Mrs. Allen was a student intern at Mitchell and taught first grade there for thirty-six glorious years. While at Mitchell, Mrs. Allen was affectionately known as “SMA” for Short Mrs. Allen. Laureen has a Staff Credential Certificate from the Florida Department of Children and Families. Mrs. Allen and her husband Kenny (a retired high school principal and now a USF adjunct professor) have been married for forty-eight years and have two wonderful sons, Jay and Kenneth. Even before joining the staff at Branch, Mrs. Allen and her husband could be found here as frequent volunteers; their grandson Gracin graduated from Branch in 2014. Laureen’s favorite activity is spending lots of time with her large, Italian family! This will be Mrs. Allen’s sixth year on staff at Branch.

Deborah Mudry–Pre-K3 Assistant Teacher

Mrs. Mudry is a life-long educator. She spent 38 years in the Hillsborough County School system as a kindergarten paraprofessional. Thirty-three of those years found Mrs. Mudry at nearby Mitchell Elementary where, over her long career, she handled student assignments such as reading, math, writing and various creative projects. She has helped many Mitchell kindergarten students make the transition to first grade and work their way through not only Mitchell, but also numerous South Tampa elementary, middle and high school programs. A native of Massapequa, NY, Mrs. Mudry attended Point Park College in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania where she studied Elementary Education. Debbie has lived in Tampa since 1971 with her husband Rich. They keep track of their Dartmouth-educated son, Rich Jr., and daughter-in-law Susan, as well as their pride and joy granddaughter, Julia, all of whom live in Virginia. Mrs. Mudry retired from Mitchell in 2015 and this is her fourth year as part of the Branch staff on a year round basis after having taught Branch camp since our first summer in 2011.

Casey Skanks–Pre-K Assistant Teacher and After the Bell Teacher 

Miss Casey Skanks was born and raised in Tampa, and she attended Tampa Bay Elementary School, Coleman Middle School, and Jefferson High School. Casey graduated from Jefferson in June of 2014 and she will graduate this December from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in business. Casey is the daughter of Dee Skanks, one of Mitchell Elementary’s main office secretaries, and Joe Skanks, a Pasco County firefighter. Miss Skanks has an older sister Chelsea who graduated from Plant High School in 2010 and who is a graduate of University of South Florida. This will be Casey’s fifth year at Branch working as a member of our support staff in Pre-K and playing a major role five days a week in our After the Bell program.

Julie Henley- Day School Sub and After the Bell Teacher 

Mrs. Julie Henley was born and raised in Houston Texas, and she graduated from the University of Texas with a BS in Speech Communications. After graduating from college, Julie moved to Tampa and worked as a Special Events coordinator for a non-profit organization. Mrs. Henley started working part-time as a substitute teacher at St. John’s Episcopal in 2002. Julie has been married for twenty-nine years to Jeff, and they have two daughters; Gracie is a senior at Auburn University, majoring in Public Relations. Callie is graduating in May 2019 with her Doctorate of Audiology from Auburn University. Mrs. Henley has mentored and tutored for Metropolitan Ministries in its after school program, founded the FED program and volunteered in the Plant High School guidance college resource room for years. Julie has been a substitute at Branch since it opened, and she will be starting her sixth year as a Day School staff member and an After the Bell teacher

Heather Nelson–After The Bell Teacher
Mrs. Nelson was raised in South Tampa. She spent her summers in high school and college working at the Hyde Park and Seaborn Day Schools. After she got married, Mrs. Nelson spent the past fifteen years moving around the country with her military husband. During that time she was busy working and volunteering in Sunday schools, VBS, and preschools all over the country. She loved working with children so much she decided to have three of her own! Mrs. Nelson has three daughters—Audrey (2nd grade) and Zoe (K) who are at Mitchell, and shiloh is part of our Pre-K family here at Branch Academy! Her connections with Mrs. Popp run back a couple of decades. Her brother, Cody, was a Mitchell student and friend of Mrs. Popp’s son Dustin during their early elementary years. (He also had Mrs. Allen as a first grade teacher!) Heather is grateful to be back in Tampa with her mom while her husband is temporarily serving in Korea and happy to be part of our Branch family.

Nancy Bayless- After the Bell Teacher and Day School Sub

Mrs. Nancy Bayless was born and raised here in South Tampa. After graduating from Furman University with a BA degree in English Education, Nancy taught English and sponsored the Yearbook Staff at Tampa Prep. As a parent volunteer she spent many hours helping in the Mitchell Media Center and chaired the Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) Committee. She enjoyed volunteering in the Plant PTSA and helping coordinate events for the Band and Chorus. Nancy has loved working with children in a variety of roles from Young Life leadership to teaching Sunday school and Children’s Choir. For years she has volunteered as a Children’s Leader in the South Tampa Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) Class and currently serves as the Children’s Supervisor there. Nancy and John’s daughter, Mary Helen, is a senior at Auburn University majoring in Communication. Their son, Wade, is a University of Florida graduate. He and his wife, Grace Ann, live in Tennessee where Wade is attending PA school. This is Nancy’s third year as a part of The Branch family.