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Meet our Faculty

Lower School

Lori HarmsPre-K 1
I am originally from the small town of Biggsville, Illinois but  have been living in the Peoria area for over 25 years. I attended Western Illinois University, receiving my bachelor of science degree in Corporate Fitness.  After earning my degree, I moved here to Peoria and started working for the YMCA. After a brief time at the YMCA, I trained in Nuclear Medicine and worked for Methodist Medical Center as a Nuclear Medicine technician for eight years.  I always enjoyed my pediatric patients the most, so I went back to school at Illinois State University and received my bachelor’s degree in elementary education. I taught in Sheboygan, Wisconsin for four years before moving to Winfield, Illinois.  While in Winfield, I was introduced to Waldorf Education. I attended “ LifeWays” (training in Waldorf Education) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After moving back to Peoria, Illinois, I opened my class called “The Nest”, a Waldorf based education from my home and taught 18 month to 3 ½ -year- olds accompanied by their caregivers. My hobbies include running, crafting, and reading.   I first came to Peoria Academy as a parent to my daughter Helen, before being asked to become the Pre-K 1 teacher. I am thrilled to represent such an excellent school. I can be reached at lharms@peoriaacademy.org.


Ruth Buck Pre-K 2
I graduated from Iowa State University with a double major in Elementary Education and Communication Disorders.  My area of concentration was in reading which allowed me to receive a reading endorsement from the state of Iowa.  After graduation, I moved to Texas and taught in the Houston Independent School District where  I spent three years teaching first grade and then taught in the Title One Program until I took time off to raise my children.    My family and I spent five years in China, which was an incredible opportunity for all of us.   Some of my favorite past times are reading, traveling, spending time with my husband, and supporting my children in the activities they participate in.   I can be reached at rbuck@peoriaacademy.org.

Lise Higgins– PreK2

I am a life-long Peorian! I studied child development and sociology at ICC and Illinois State U. I taught at Montessori School of Peoria for thirty-two years and Anew School for three years working with children aged three through twelve. I also studied ballet in the Peoria area for many years and have enjoyed being in many community theater productions. I danced for Peoria Ballet for ten years and taught classes for twenty years. I have a certification in Pilates mat instruction.I have two adult children. My daughter is a special education teacher for Dunlap School District and my son is the head chef at Hearth Restaurant. I have been blessed with two beautiful grandchildren who I can’t get enough of! In my spare time, I like to read, cook, see theater productions and play with my grandkids.  I can be reached at lhiggins@peoriaacademy.org.


Joanie Rankin Kindergarten
I was born in Urbana, Illinois and graduated with a B.S degree in Elementary Education from the University of Illinois. I also hold an associate degree in Therapeutic Recreation. I am going into my ninth year as a Kindergarten teacher and enjoy teaching gymnastics, cheerleading, and yoga in Peoria Academy’s After School Enrichment program. I am a proud mom of four wonderful children three of whom are in college and one who is out of college working in finance. I also have two awesome stepchildren.  When not working my husband and I enjoy spending time visiting my children at college and going to football/baseball games. I am a big fan of Alabama and Illinois football and a die-hard Cubs fan. I also love to attend concerts and working out at the gym as well as eating Mexican food. I can be reached at jrankin@peoriaacademy.org.

 

Marissa Draney1st Grade
I grew up in Rockford IL and attended school at Northern Illinois University where I received my degree in Early Childhood Education. I taught three years of pre-k in Rockford before getting married and moving to the Peoria area in 2011. I started working at Peoria Academy soon after and fell in love with the school and community. This will be my eighth year at PA and my fifth year of teaching first grade. I enjoy working with students and helping them learn and grow to their full potential. When I’m not teaching I love to go hiking, traveling and spending time with family and friends.   I can be reached at mdraney@peoriaacademy.org.

 

Erin Watkins2nd Grade
After spending my childhood in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, I attended the University of Waterloo also in Ontario. I graduated with a BA in Social Development Studies with a major in human and social development, psychology, sociology, and social work.  After my finishing degree, I began working in the social work field but soon decided to pursue teaching and elementary education. I was fortunate enough to go overseas to the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education.  My time in New Zealand afforded me the opportunity to travel and explore a new country while training to become a teacher. Over the years, I taught and lived in Mississauga, Ontario, Montreal, Quebec. In 2012, my journey brought me to Peoria where I spent two years as a substitute teacher in District 150, Dunlap and Peoria Academy.  In 2014, I accepted a full time teaching position as a Second Grade teacher. After starting my family and taking brief maternity leave, I returned to PA as a Resource and Supplemental Instructor. My passion lies in witnessing the growth and development of the students I work with and I am continually amazed by what they can achieve.  My husband and I live in East Peoria with our two sons, Charles and Edison and our cranky cat, Beatrix. When I’m not teaching, you can find me on our family’s boat, playing with my boys, traveling and exploring new places, or reading great books. I can be reached at ewatkins@peoriaacademy.org.

 

Sheri Horn 3rd Grade
I grew up an Army brat and moved all over the country as a child. I believe I attended nine different schools! My husband, Dennis, and I moved to Peoria three years ago and this is my fourth year at Peoria Academy. Our son, Austin, lives in Freiburg, Germany where he is a musician. I’ve taught everything from preschool to sixth grade in my 27 years of teaching. I found my happy place in third grade and have been teaching it for 16 years. I earned my Bachelors in Ancient History and Classics from the University of Kansas. I earned my elementary teacher’s certification and my Masters of Education from Eastern Michigan University. My hobbies include running, biking, reading, cooking and watching movies. I can be reached at shorn@peoriaacademy.org.

 

Kay Kellenberger4th Grade
I grew up in Elgin, IL and moved to the Peoria area about 10 years ago. I received my bachelor’s in education from Iowa State University and my master’s degree at Aurora University. For over 18 years, I have taught in multiple school settings­­­—public, parochial, private, and international (Tokyo, Japan). In addition to teaching, I’ve enjoyed providing care as a CNA at an assisted living home, breeding purebred golden retrievers, and working as a head market designer for Tanners Orchard.
Some of my favorite pastimes are spending time with family & friends, being outdoors, learning new things, and enjoying a good cup of coffee. I don’t know if laughing is considered a hobby, but I sure enjoy doing that too!  I can be reached at kkellenberger@peoriaacademy.org.

 

Julie Gianessi Supplemental Instructor/ Lower Elementary Lab Coordinator
I grew up in Pekin and have lived in Central Illinois my whole life. I graduated in 2001 from Eastern Illinois University with a degree in Elementary Education. I like teaching at Peoria Academy because I can encourage students’ curiosity and foster their love of learning.
My love of teaching started at an early age, as  I frequently made my brother, neighbors, and cousins play school with me. My daughters now go to Peoria Academy, and I learn quite a bit from them. Together we like to hike, play games and root for the Chicago Cubs! We also like to travel. This summer we drove to Niagara Falls and Lake Placid. I can be reached at jgianessi@peoriaacademy.org.

Middle School


Sarah Rae Middle School Science

Most of my childhood was spent in Côte d’Ivoire (oui, je parle français!). Although I didn’t study education as an undergrad, I immediately, upon graduating, started a business teaching homeschoolers French and English literature. After a few years, I thought I might want to travel the world, teaching English. I came to Peoria to drop off my bags at my grandma’s house, and while looking for an overseas job, I subbed in PD150 and loved it! I realized that I should probably just be a classroom teacher after all.  After more studies, Illinois certified me to teach K-9th grade (with endorsements in Science, ELA, Social Studies, and French). I am so happy I chose this path! Before starting my dream job as Peoria Academy’s middle school science teacher in 2012, I taught 4th grade at ASOY in Cameroon. I am currently working on a Master’s in conservation and biology education that “requires” me to travel to exotic places like Costa Rica, and “forces” me to learn more about Earth’s ecosystems and what I can do to help preserve them. A few things I love: exploring, climbing, dancing, learning, my husband Nick, my daughter Lucy, people in general, and SCIENCE! I can be reached asrae@peoriaacademy.org.

 

Erika WrhelMiddle School Math

I was born here in Peoria, Illinois.  My family moved two times when I was young, so I graduated from high school in Germantown, Tennessee.  I attended Mississippi State University and earned two bachelor’s degrees in Accounting and Elementary Education.  I stayed in Mississippi and taught 1st grade for three years before a brief stint in Connecticut. I moved back to Peoria to be near family and found Peoria Academy right before they were opening their doors.  I was excited about creating a curriculum from scratch. Finally not teaching with someone telling me I should be on page 75 on day 27. I have the ability to be flexible and create the most meaningful learning experiences for my students. I have loved teaching here ever since!  As the years have flown by, I have met and married my own prince charming, have the privilege of being Mom to two precious girls, and help my husband run the family business in whatever capacity I can. In my free time, I enjoy playing with my girls, cooking, traveling and reading.  I can be reached at ewrhel@peoriaacademy.org.

Romel Salazar– Lower/Middle School Spanish

I was born in Ecuador, South America. When I was ten years old, my family moved to Chicago. I grew up in Chicago where I obtained my education receiving a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Italian from Northeastern University in Chicago. Later, I went to the University of Illinois College of Medicine for two years where I met my wife and subsequently changed career plans. We got married and moved to Peoria where I taught Spanish at the Montessori School in Peoria for 3 years and was Mr. Mom for our 2 children. Later I taught middle school Spanish at Father Sweeney School for the Gifted and transitioned to teach at Peoria Academy where I have been for 18 years and continue to have  passion for teaching. My pastimes are spending time with my wife and kids, traveling, walking and exercising, reading and listening to jazz music and watching old movies. I am also a Beatles fan and always enjoy a good sense of humor.

Annette MeyerMiddle School Social Studies

I grew up in a small town in Southern Illinois and attended Webster University in St. Louis where I doubled majored in history and secondary education.  I moved to Peoria in July of 2005 with my husband, and shortly afterward began working at Peoria Academy as the Activities Director. After five years in that position, I transitioned back into the classroom and took over the middle school social studies assignment. I love being part of the middle school team and have been blessed to work with many exceptional students over the years. When I am not at school I enjoy taking trips with my family, reading, cooking and playing the piano.  I can be reached at ameyer@peoriaacademy.org.

Administration

Christopher H. WilsonInterim Head of School

Christopher Wilson has served a leader in independent education for nearly two decades.  With deep experience working with students from early childhood to twelfth grade and as both a senior administrator and head of school in Maryland and Massachusetts, Mr. Wilson is excited to be part of the thriving global community at Peoria Academy.  Mr. Wilson holds a B.A. in History from the University of Maryland, a M.A. in History from Stanford University, and a M. Ed. from Loyola University in Maryland in Educational Leadership. 

 

Sherry Hayes Director of Finance and Human Resouces
I attended Illinois State University and graduated with a B.S. in Finance.  After graduation, I joined my father at his motorcycle dealership and worked there for over 30 years.  After we sold the business, I served as the office manager at an equipment dealership for five years. My husband Stan and I are empty-nesters and live in Chillicothe.  My son Adam lives in Chicago and stepson Mark lives in Pekin. In my spare time, I enjoy yoga, water aerobics, reading and spending time with my family. I am thrilled to be at Peoria Academy and look forward to getting to know the PA families. You can contact me at shayes@peoriaacademy.org.  


Jennifer Harlow Advancement Associate
I grew up in the Peoria area and attended ICC and Bradley University where I earned my B.S. in Family and Consumer Sciences. During my time in college, I focused my studies on education and family life and held an internship with the Family Life Educators at Crittenton Centers. After graduating I accepted a position here at Peoria Academy and fell in love with the Peoria Academy Community. I am excited to take on my new role as an Advancement Associate and continue to watch PA grow and evolve. One of my favorite parts of my job is that I get to build relationships with both the students and their parents.  My husband Ben and I spend our weekends botching DIY projects for our first home or attending car shows in our 1981 Trans Am. In my free time, I also enjoy sewing, cooking, and baking deliciously unhealthy treats. I can be reached at jharlow@peoriaacademy.org.

 

Danielle Dolan– Office Manager

I come from a very close-knit family and I have continued those values with a little family of my own. My fiancé and I are parents to a beautiful daughter named Zoey who will be two years old in February. Of course, I couldn’t leave out our adorable fur-baby: a cat named Nisa. Being with my family is what truly makes my heart happy. When I’m not spending time with family or friends, I enjoy baking yummy desserts or getting in a little shopping in my spare time. I would call myself a music and movie enthusiast. I enjoy all genres of music and there’s nothing better than snuggling up with the family for a great movie night. I am currently enrolled at Indiana Tech working on my degree in child development as well as healthcare administration. I am so very excited to begin my journey at Peoria Academy. I can’t wait to meet everyone and be part of such a warm and loving community of people. ddolan@peoriaacademy.org

 

Enrichment

David Blasco Music
Originally from Streator, Illinois, I have a degree from Northern Illinois University in vocal performance.  I have traveled throughout Europe singing and directing. I am a featured soloist on recording from these trips.  I have also sung at Carnegie Hall in New York. Currently, I am the choir director at St. Marks Lutheran Church in Washington, Illinois, sing with Cantus Novus choir in Bloomington Illinois, and the Music teacher at Peoria Academy.  My husband and I have a dog named Samson. I can be reached at dblasco@peoriaacademy.org.


Anne CarignanAnne CarignanEC – 3rd grade/ Spanish
Canadian by birth, my family and I moved to Chicago, Minneapolis, and finally Peoria.  My love of languages began in high school where I took Spanish, French, and Latin simultaneously.  In college, I continued with both romance languages and then proceeded to Oberlin College where I earned my Masters of Arts in Teaching.
I’ve traveled to Europe, and for obvious reasons, my two favorite cities are Madrid and Paris.  My late sister and I loved to vacation in Punta Cana and Puerto Vallarta.
I’ve taught all grade levels throughout my career.  Peoria Academy is ideal because of our inquisitive children who want to learn, supportive parents with whom we communicate, a talented faculty who focus on what’s best for our students, and an administration that is encouraging and open.  What which gives me the greatest joy in teaching is when parents and teachers tell me that my students are speaking Spanish outside of our classroom! I can be reached atacarignan@peoriaacademy.org.

 

Adam Arenas – EC-8th Physical Education
I was born and raised in Cali, Colombia, where I got involved in sports, coaching, and teaching since 1998 at the age of 14 years old. In 2008 I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Sports and Physical Activity, then in 2011 obtained a second degree in OSHA standards. On this same year, I received a scholarship to do a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction of Physical Education in Ponce, Puerto Rico. After graduating in 2014 I moved to New York City and had the chance to continue teaching sports at PS 85 and coached weightlifting at Bronx Barbell Club. In 2018 my Family and I moved to Peoria, Illinois and instantly fell in love with its people and beauty. I was lucky enough to find Peoria Academy where I was able to work as a substitute teacher since March of 2018 and as a summer camp counselor. Then my dream came true! I recently joined the Peoria Academy staff team as the official Physical Education teacher, and I couldn’t be happier to be part of this amazing community. I can be reached at aarenas@peoriaacademy.org.

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