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Founder/Head of School

Terri Bissonette, EdD., Gnoozhekaaning Anishinaabe, is the Founder and Head of School of AIAD. As an educator with over 15 years of experience, Dr. B’s expertise encompasses K-12 literacy curriculum and instruction; Indian Education with an emphasis on pedagogy, closing achievement gaps, and building and sustaining effective school cultures. She also specializes in resiliency education and restorative best practices for schools serving students who have experienced trauma (especially within the context of historical trauma).


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Cetan Christensen

Founding STEAM Teacher

Cetan Christensen is a Colorado native, who loves all things connected to water. As an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota, and affiliations with Ponca from Oklahoma, she is excited to participate in rigorous education rooted in the culture and science of Indigenous communities of Turtle Island. She has a M.S. in Agricultural Biology from Colorado State University, where she studied riparian forest ecology, and a B.S. in environmental science, concentrating on water management and hydrologic science, from Metropolitan State University of Denver. Previous work experience has related to teaching at the undergraduate level, the application of scientific methods to answer ecological questions, mentoring, water quality, and environmental policy. Cetan is passionate about increasing diversity in STEM, and making science accessible for all. For fun, Cetan loves riding bikes with her son (7 years old), going for runs, listening to music, cooking, reading, painting, dancing, and learning!

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Founding Special Education Teacher

Sarah Eck has been in education for 5 years. She is from Owasso, Oklahoma and an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation. Special Education has become a passion for Sarah in these last couple of years. She specializes in building meaningful relationships with students, collaborating with general education teachers, and finding unique approaches to engage students.

She likes to hike, try different restaurants, and watch terrible horror films. She has a dog named Tituss.


Sophia Bagola

Lakota Language & Culture

Sophia is a member of the Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Sophia has been living in Denver for the past 15 years and has a BA degree in Political Science from Metropolitan State University.  Sophia is committed to Lakota language learning and teaching at The American Indian Academy of Denver. 

Sophia also has over 10 years experience in the field of education.

Melissa Moore


Art Teacher

Melissa is happy to join the community at AIAD, and is honored to hold the position of art teacher. After acquiring her BFA from the University of Mississippi and an MFA from Northern Illinois University, she entered her former career as a scenic artist in professional regional theater. She worked at various theater companies in Arizona, Wisconsin, Alabama and eventually landed in Colorado where she decided to stay. In her free time she loves making art, gardening, home-brewing, traveling, cooking and spending time with friends. She has two great kids, one in high school and one in elementary school. Melissa looks forward to getting to know the students in her art classes.

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Special Education

Brandon Quam is from the Pueblo of Zuni and has been working with students with and without disabilities for 14 years. While working towards his BA in journalism at the University of New Mexico, he worked for the City of Albuquerque with their therapeutic recreation program, as well as at an adult day-habilitation program and at a residential facility.


Brandon moved to Denver in the summer of 2013 where he worked at a Colorado Facilities School and obtained a Master of Arts in Teaching degree. In his free time, he likes to enjoy spending time with his husband and their two dogs, as well as playing guitar and mountain biking.




My name is Mariano Senter. I will be teaching 8th and 9th grade Humanities. I am excited, humbled and honored to be a part of this beautiful community. I look forward to being of service and doing what I can to break down barriers--while building confidence and skills.

Joanna Peña


Instructional Paraprofessional

Joanna is a Colorado native and grew up attending schools in the Aurora schools district. Joanna believes in providing equitable social and emotional learning for all students, that helps them possess necessary life skills. She strives to break down barriers while keeping relationships and community at the forefront. Joanna earned her GED through Colorado Youth For a Change and has goals to receive a bachelors in journalism and social work. Joanna is the Instructional Paraprofessional at AIAD and supports all great levels. 

In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her son, who she hopes will someday experience a community like the one we have at AIAD.

Nadine Mendez


Office Manager

My name is Nadine and I am the Office Manager at AIAD. This is my 24th year working in schools as an Office Manager, and I am grateful to be at this school to share my wisdom and experience. I was born in Denver and raised in New Mexico. I am fluent in English and Spanish, and have a BA in Business Management and Administration. I am a proud grandmother to 13 grandchildren.  In my free time I like to spend time with my family and friends, travel, and ride my motorcycle.

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Founding Dine’ Culture and Language Teacher

Ya’at’ééh, shik’éí dóó shidine’é. Shí eí Anthony Crank yinishyé. Shí eí Tł’ááshchí’í nishłį́, Tá'ch’íí’nii bashishchiin,Tábąąhá dashicheii, Tł’ízí łaní dashinalí, Ákót’éego diné nishłį́.

Greetings, I am Anthony Crank. I grew up in Montezuma Creek, Utah on the Navajo Nation. I am fluent in Navajo and grew up in a Diné community.  In 2000, I received my BA in Music from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, where I also studied the Navajo and Japanese languages. I was a Navajo bilingual teacher in Farmington, New Mexico, and then taught music at Navajo Preparatory School from 2001 - 2006. Most recently, I have been a music teacher in Denver, Longmont and Boulder. I live in Boulder with my wife, my two daughters, and my mother-in-law. I am very happy to join the American Indian Academy of Denver community.

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Founding Humanities Teacher

Hello! My name is Rachel Sohns. I am so excited to start my 15th year in education as a Humanities teacher here at AIAD! I grew up in Sherman Oaks, California and moved to beautiful Denver after completing my B.A. in History and Sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I began my teaching career in Los Angeles Unified School District, but missed Colorado so I returned about 10 years ago. Currently, I live in Aurora, CO with my husband, Ray, and our two dogs, Bowie and Teddy. In my free time, I love to cook, read, go to concerts, and walk my dogs.

Liz Torres

Liz Torres

STEAM Teacher

Hello! I am Ms. Torres and I'm a Mom as well as a teacher and lifelong learner. In addition to teaching, I have a background in audio engineering and love to crochet and spend time with my son in the mountains. We love to hike, visit scary places, and play video games.



Multilingual Education Administrator/English Language Development

Julia Fochtman was born and raised in Colorado and attended DePaul University in Chicago, where she studied Anthropology. After graduating, she spent five years overseas, mostly in South Korea and a year in Australia. She returned to Colorado in 2019 to attend the University of Denver, where she received a masters in Curriculum and Instruction for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners.


Julia is beginning her seventh year in education, and very excited to do so at the American Indian Academy of Denver. 

In her free time she likes to travel, spend time being active outdoors, cook, and be with her loved ones.




My name is Matthieu Caldwell and I have spent most of my life in the Denver area. My passion for science arose as a curious child who loved being outside. I attended the U.S Air Force Academy, ran cross country and track and field and served as an intelligence officer for three years. After serving in the Air Force I began coaching distance runners and teaching science. Outside of being an educator and a coach I enjoy spending time with my family, training for and racing marathons, and yoga. 

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Mark de la 

Dean of Students/Math

Mark has been teaching math since 2004.  He graduated from West High School in 1995 and then graduated from Metro State University with a BA in Accounting in 2005.  Even though he went to school for accounting, he chose to become a math teacher in the same community he grew up in.  His passion is about being a positive role model to his community and family.  He and his family are part of Grupo Tlaloc, Danza Azteca, here in Denver.  He believes his identity as a Chicano helped him become who he is today and would like to help the youth around him (his students) to find their identity to also help them find who they want to be.

Maxine Tabaha


Instructional Paraprofessional

Ya’at’eeh, Maxine Tabaha yinishye and I’m a member of the Dineh Nation from AZ., aka, Navajo. I was born and raised in Dine T’ah and Dineh Bizaad was my first tongue. My Clans are: One Who Walks Around Another; Dark Streaked Woods; HoneyComb Rock and Water’s Edge People; These four clans acknowledge both my maternal & paternal extended family. I am also the parent of my wonderful son, Brandon, who is working on finishing his final year at UCD in downtown Denver.

After serving in the US Army as a Combat Signaler, I moved to Denver to further my education. I received an AAS in Visual Communications, a BA in Art and Literature, and a BA in Special Education. I have 15 years of experience in K-12 education. I have experience in my Native Community as a Summer Reading Camp assistant with the Denver Indian Center as well as a Counsellor for the Forestry Trails Maintenance Program for Native Youth. 

I am happy to be a part of AIAD because it has been my dream to work in an educational environment that encourages, highlights, prioritizes Learning about our Native American/Indiginous Values, Philosophy and Traditions. “Ah’ehee”, Thank You.


Angela Eagle (Co-Chair), Sicangu Lakota.

Angela is a long time Denver community member who brings office administration experience to our board. She is also a grandmother of two DPS students.

Nicholas Martinez (Co-Chair).

Nicholas grew up in Denver and is the Co-Founder of Transform Education Now (TEN), an organization committed to advocating for and empowering disenfranchised parents, families, and communities. Nicholas brings expertise in parent and community organizing to our board.

Kelley Mitchell (Secretary), Dineh.

Kelley has been working and advocating for AIAD as an original founding committee member since 2017. She works for American Indian College Fund and brings a higher education focus to the board.

Brendan Morrison (Treasurer), Tsimshian Nation 

Brendan was born in Ketchikan, Alaska the area where his dad’s family is from. Shortly after he was born his dad joined the Navy, so he grew up traveling a lot in a military family and being exposed to various Indigenous cultures. Brendan received his degree in Political Science and Public Administration from the University of North Dakota and now works as licensed financial professional brokered with New York Life. 

Sena Harjo (Founding Director), Seminole/Choctaw/Creek.

Sena is a long time Denver community member who brings subject matter expertise and community networking to our board. She is also a early childhood educator and a doctoral student at the University of Colorado at Denver.

Anne Chapman (Founding Director), Osage.

Anne is the former founding principal of DCIS-Fairmont, taking that DPS school from red to green in one year. She brings school administration and school start-up expertise to our board.

Michael Frandina (Founding Director).

Michael is an attorney who brings over 10 years of legal experience, especially in tribal and environmental law, to our board. He is also the father of two DPS students.

WaziHanska Cook (Founding Director), Oglala Lakota.

WaziHanska is the Senior Managing Director of Teach for America’s Native Alliance. He has over 30 years of experience in the field of education, specializing in educating Indigenous youth. WaziHanska is also a former president and former board member of National Indian Education Assn.

Lori Ventimiglia (Founding Director).

Lori is the Director of Advancement for the Tipi Raisers, a cross-cultural youth serving organization. Lori is also the former Director of New Schools Development at Colorado League of Charter Schools. She is also the founder of a successful Colorado charter school.