Mrs. Barbara G. Leto is the founding Principal of AEA, which opened its doors in 2008.  Before moving into an administrative role, Mrs. Leto taught 3rd and 4th grades for many years.

Prior to beginning a career in education, Mrs. Leto studied Theater, Drama, and Dance at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC. 

Mrs. Leto holds a BA in Education from Queens College, an MS in Education from Adelphi University; and an SBL from Baruch College.  She has also taught as an adjunct lecturer for the Graduate Education Department at Queens College.

As the principal of AEA, Mrs. Leto has built a school that has the Arts embedded into all curriculum areas.  Through her dedication and hard work, Mrs. Leto has created a place that her staff, students, and families are pleased to call home.

Mrs. Leto lives in Queens with her husband and 4 children.  She enjoys traveling, going to the theater and the ballet, and spending time with her family at their lake house.





 Mrs. Susan Gallo has worked for the NYCDOE for the past 28 years.  She began her career as a Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Specialist before becoming an ESL teacher and then ultimately the Assistant Principal of AEA.

Mrs. Gallo holds a BA in Psychology with a minor in Latin American Studies from Marist College; an MS in Education specializing in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from The College of New Rochelle; and an MS in Educational Leadership from Baruch College.

As a founding member of AEA, Mrs. Gallo works tirelessly for the children and families of our school community.  She is extremely proud of the school and all of the hard work that Mrs. Leto and the entire staff put in everyday to make AEA the wonderful place that it is.

Mrs. Gallo lives on Long Island with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her 2 dogs, Martini & Hennessy.  She enjoys spending time with her family in the Berkshires and is an avid painter.










Robert De Jesus has been teaching for over 19 years. This is his 10th year at AEA. He has taught Pre-K for 10 years.  Mr. De Jesus graduated from the University of Puerto Rico. He obtained his master’s degree from St. John’s University.  He enjoys reading, movies and listening to music.

Mr. De Jesus loves teaching Pre-K at AEA!!         



Lisa Weissbach has been teaching for over 27 years.  This is her 10th year teaching at AEA.   She loves teaching and especially loves teaching Pre-K.

Ms. Weissbach graduated from Baruch College with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.  Later attended St. John’s University and earned her master’s degree in Elementary Education and also earned a degree in Administrative Degree from St. John’s University.

In her spare time you can find Ms. Weissbach at the beach or shopping.  She enjoys traveling, movies, and chocolate! 

She looks forward to many more years of teaching the students at AEA.




Erika Garger is so excited to be a part of the AEA family teaching Kindergarten. Ms. Garger was born and raised in Queens, New York, where she still resides. She went to a performing arts high school where she majored in dance and even performed at the Metropolitan Opera House. She then went to SUNY Buffalo for her Undergraduate Degree in Psychology and Hunter College where she graduated with a dual Master’s Degree in Special Education and General Education. Ms. Garger enjoys reading, watching movies, and going on vacations. She loves drinking tea, eating dark chocolate and considers herself a connoisseur of cheese.  Her favorite place to travel is to Walt Disney World and she is obsessed with all things Disney.  Ms. Garger looks forward to an amazing and successful school year! 




Laura Ugbomah is excited to teach K-218 this year! She has been teaching in the Department of Education for 15 years, and has taught Kindergarten through 3rd grade. She worked alongside Mrs. Leto, Mrs. Gallo, and Mrs. Bates to found AEA and has taught there since it’s opening in 2008. Laura loves infusing the arts into her curriculum, and writes original scripts for the AEA productions. She has a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature and a Bachelor of Science in English and Elementary Education. Mrs. Ugbomah lives with her husband, her two sons Christopher and Jayden, and her dog Zuko. She also comes from a long line of teachers! Her mom, grandmother, and aunt are all teachers, too. She loves reading, drawing, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.  Mrs. Ugbomah is looking forward to a great school year!  





Deana Bates is a founding member of The Academy for Excellence through the Arts, and is thrilled to be teaching 1st grade! She lives in Queens with her husband who teaches physical education at a middle school in Forest Hills, and her two children, Abby and Dylan. Mrs. Bates attended college at Towson University in Maryland, where she earned her degree in Elementary Education. She then moved back home to Queens, where she obtained her Master’s in Children’s Literature from Queens College. In her free time, Mrs. Bates enjoys reading, going to the beach, traveling, and rooting for the NY Yankees. She is looking forward to a fantastic year in first grade!



Clara Nabavian holds a MS in Early Childhood and Special Education from Hofstra University. Teaching is her second career and she is thrilled to have been in the classroom for the past four years. She is originally from Gibraltar but has also lived in England.  She currently resides in Long Island with her husband and four children.  In her free time, Mrs. Nabavian enjoys traveling, taking nature walks, reading, baking and spending time with her family.

Mrs. Nabavian is a dedicated individual who takes her commitments very seriously. She is ecstatic to be joining the AEA team and is looking forward to be working with such an outstanding faculty. She is very excited for a fantastic year and a long career at AEA!



Rosanna Sferrazza is a first grade teacher at the Academy for Excellence through the Arts.  She has been teaching for the Department of Education for 17 years.  Ms. Sferrazza has been working at AEA since it opened in 2008.  Rosanna has a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and Drama, Theater and Dance.  She has a Master’s Degree in Special Education.  Ms. Sferrazza is also recently certified to be a school building administrator as well.  As a member of the AEA family Ms. Sferrazza has been the Director of Sound for many school productions. Ms. Sferrazza has also had previous professional experience with theater lighting and production outside of her teaching profession.  In her spare time Ms. Sferrazza enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, attending Broadway plays and having dinner with friends.    






Christina Ciolino is excited begin another year at AEA. Prior to teaching the second grade at PS 303, Mrs. Ciolino taught fourth grade for four years on Long Island. Mrs. Ciolino received her teaching degree from St. Josephs College and is certified in both general education and special education through sixth grade. She also recently graduated with her masters in educational technology from LIU Post and loves implementing new lesson ideas into the classroom. Mrs. Ciolino grew up in Holbrook on Long Island where she currently resides with her husband and daughter. When Mrs. Ciolino is not in the classroom, you can find her by the water on her boat or at the beach enjoying the sunshine. She never misses an opportunity to enjoy some fresh beach air! Mrs. Ciolino enjoys getting to know each of her students so that she can help them see great success during the school year. She looks forward to getting to know each of you as the year progresses!





Jaclyn Palmieri is ecstatic to announce that she will be joining Ms. Ciolino as a 2nd grade teacher.  Prior to joining the AEA team, Ms. Palmieri had taught Pre-Kindergarten for several years on Long Island.  Ms. Palmieri received her teaching degree from St. Joseph’s College and is certified to teach both general and special education through sixth grade.  Ms. Palmieri is currently attending Touro College and is soon to receive her Masters of Science in Literacy Education.  Ms. Palmieri was born and raised in Long Island, and currently lives in Northport with her family.

Ms. Palmieri has a background in both gymnastics and cheerleading.  She loves to lead an active and healthy lifestyle.  In her spare time, she enjoys relaxing at the beach, traveling to new places, and trying new restaurants.  Ms. Palmieri looks forward to getting to know each and every student and is looking forward to a successful and fun school year!







Theresa Shannon has been a teacher for over 24 years. This is her 7th year teaching at AEA, and she is delighted to be working with the third graders and their families.   Ms. Shannon is passionate about teaching.  She endeavors to inspire and challenge children to love learning.

Ms. Shannon graduated from Queens College with a BA in Elementary and Early Childhood Education.  She received her Master’s Degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Adelphi University.  She is also a member of the Golden Key National Honor Society in Education.

When not teaching, Ms. Shannon likes to crochet and read historical fiction novels.  She also enjoys traveling, watching NY Giants football, and relaxing on the beach.  She spends the summers in Rhode Island with her family.

Ms. Shannon feels fortunate to be a part of the AEA community, and looks forward to another fantastic year!




Helen Tsihlas welcomes you to class 3-302. She has taught in the NYC public school system for over 22 years, and many of those years she spent teaching 4th grade Gifted and Talented classes. However, her teaching experience ranges from K-4. She is a Hunter College graduate with a BA degree in English Language Arts and a MA in Education.

She is a very caring, sensitive, patient and hardworking individual that motivates students on all levels. Her classroom is a home away from home. Her goal is to provide a safe, interesting and nurturing learning environment; one that inspires and challenges all students of different levels as she watches them blossom into independent and responsible learners by the end of the year. As an educator, she is in a constant rhythm of acquiring knowledge. Every year she is very fortunate to learn something new from each and every one of her students. Thus, over the years she has acquired a wealth of lifelong teaching experiences, ones that she cherishes and in turn, continues to share with her upcoming classes.  

She enjoys traveling, cooking (trying new recipes) and spending time on the beach. She especially loves spending time with her husband and three children, two sons and a daughter.

She always looks forward to the adventures of a brand new school year.






Encore! Encore!

Laura Rizzuto Bonthuys is beginning her 5th year as the drama and physical education teacher at AEA. Prior to joining the AEA family, Mrs. Bonthuys worked in schools in District 27 and District 28. She has a true passion for teaching and learning. Mrs. Bonthuys is a huge supporter of infusing the arts into classroom instruction. Her ultimate goal as an educator is to encourage her students to become life-long learners.

As a child in elementary school to a teen in high school, Mrs. Bonthuys attended Joe Stanford Dance Studio. During her dance experience, Mrs. Bonthuys participated in tap, jazz, lyrical, ballet, hip-hop and modern dance. One of her fondest memories as a child was when she danced competitively with her dance team.

Aside from her love for dance, Mrs. Bonthuys enjoys a good adventure. She finds any opportunity to travel and engage in high-impact activities.

She graduated from Queens College earning a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Science degree in Elementary Education with a specialization in Language and Literacy.

Mrs. Bonthuys is ecstatic for what’s to come this school year.





Yasou! Anne Marie Vasilakis is thrilled to be working at AEA for her 8th year. This is her 12th year teaching as a New York City public school teacher.  This is a particularly exciting school year for her as she becomes the new STEAM curriculum specialty teacher at AEA.

She was born and raised in Queens.  Mrs. Vasilakis attended the University of Albany, where she earned her degree in Rhetoric and Communications.  She then moved back to NYC where she worked at MTV and Fuse.  She then received her Master’s degree in Childhood Education at Hunter College.  In her spare time you can catch her at the park playing with her two children, traveling to visit her friends and family in Greece, and rooting for the Mets and Jets! Mrs. Vasilakis is looking forward to an amazing year.