We are very excited about the 2016-2017 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 eighteenth year teaching. She spent eleven great years on the Mitchell Elementary School campus, and this is the seventh 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-four 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. Sue 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 is a senior at University of Florida, majoring in Nuclear Engineering, with a minor in Computer Science. Gardner, their daughter, is also at University of Florida. She is a sophomore and on a Pre-Occupational Therapy track through the College of Health Sciences. Mrs. Popp is 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—Administrator/Pre-K Teacher Substitute/After the Bell
Mrs. Jayne Vargas is originally from Dearborn, Michigan, and 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. In 1996, Mrs. Vargas decided to dedicate her time to staying at home to raise Michael and Mary. 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 28 years and they have two children: Michael, who graduated from Florida State in 2012 and works in the film industry in Los Angeles, CA and Mary, who is a senior at Florida State majoring in biology. This is Mrs. Vargas’ second year as a Branch After the Bell Teacher and Pre K substitute, and her first year as a full time Branch administrator.
Brooke Leske–Pre-K Teacher
This is Mrs. Brooke Leske’s ninth 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 is completing her Staff Credential Certificate through 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 four in November and Luke just celebrated his second birthday. Brooke’s favorite thing to do is watch FSU football or any other sporting event. Mrs. Leske is looking forward to her second year as a Pre-K 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 as a Supervisor of Customer Care for thirteen years. Ms. Celedon resigned from Verizon to raise her two children, Clara and Claudia. Clara was a 2008 graduate of Mrs. Popp’s Mitchell Elementary Pre-K 4 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 the fourth grade at Gorrie Elementary, and Clara is in the eighth grade at Wilson Middle School where Rebecca volunteers on both schools’ music booster and PTSA. Ms. Celedon has fulfilled her childcare facility class requirements and is starting her fifth year as an Assistant Teacher for 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. You can easily say that Mitchell was her home away from home. Laureen has a Staff Credential Certificate from the Florida Department of Children and Families. Mrs. Allen and her husband Kenny (a retired school administrator) have been married for forty-five 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 fourth year on staff at Branch.
Megan Farley–Pre-K3 Teacher
Mrs. Megan Farley grew up in Millburn, New Jersey. She received a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Early Childhood Education and Psychology from Kean University. She taught Kindergarten in both Baltimore County and City schools for five years. She also owned and operated a preschool/daycare for several years before deciding to stay home to be a full time Mom. Since moving to Tampa ten years ago, Mrs. Farley was a substitute teacher for Hillsborough County schools and served as a volunteer tutor at Mitchell Elementary School. Megan has obtained her Staff Credential Certificate from the Florida Department of Children and Families through a formal education qualification, and she is a member of NAEYC. Mrs. Farley spent her first two years at Branch as a Pre-K teacher, and she is excited about starting her fifth year as the lead teacher for the Pre-K 3 class. Mrs. Farley currently lives in south Tampa with her husband John, and has three children; Connor graduated from Boston College in May, majoring in Political Science and Economics, and Lizzie is a sophomore in the nursing program at Villanova. Matthew is a junior at Jesuit High School, and he also graduated from Mrs. Popp’s Pre-K program.
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-inlaw Susan, as well as their pride and joy granddaughter, Julia, all of whom live in Virginia. Mrs. Mudry retired from Mitchell in May and joins the Branch staff on a year-round basis after spending multiple summers helping Mrs. Popp at Branch Academy Summer Camp.
Casey Skanks–Pre-K Assistant Teacher and After the Bell
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 is currently attending Hillsborough County Community College. Miss Skanks attends University of South Florida to obtain 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 third year at Branch.
Julie Henley–After the Bell
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 for Paragon Real Estate Development Company and then worked as a Special Events coordinator for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Mrs. Henley stayed home for several years after her daughters were born and started working part-time as a substitute teacher at St. John’s Episcopal in 2002. Julie has been married for twenty-six years to Jeff Henley, and they have two daughters; Gracie is a sophomore at Auburn University, majoring in Communication Disorders, and Callie, who graduated from Auburn in 2015, is back at Auburn in graduate school, working toward her doctorate in Audiology, and has recently become engaged to be married in 2017! Mrs. Henley has mentored and tutored for Metropolitan Ministries in its after school program, founded the FED program, has volunteered in the Plant High School guidance and college resource room for the past eight years Julie has been a substitute at Branch since it opened, and she will be starting her fourth year as a regular After the Bell teacher.
Heather Nelson—Pre-K Assistant 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. She later worked in the travel industry and then stayed home after her children were born. 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 have a son, Wade, who is a University of Florida graduate and works in Gainesville and a daughter, Mary Helen, who is a sophomore at Auburn University majoring in Communication.