Instructor Biographies

Communication Academy classes are taught by school teachers, college professors, professional authors and poets, and high school speech and debate coaches.

Public Speaking & Debate Instructors

Aeriol Ascher
Carolyn Edwards
Diego Perez
Gina Giovannetti
Gordon Barratt
Judy Peebles
Ki-Jana Hernandez
Mary Etta Eaton
Mitchell Lazarus
Paige Burgess
Tamarah Thomas
Zachary Rinkins

Writing & Reading

Alan Solis
Adrian Caesar
Amber Youshock
Darrell Dela Cruz
James McCurrach
Jennifer Chesley
John Duong
Kalyani Ramaiyan
Kathleen Briggs
Marie Ballentine
Nicholas “Max” Goodwin
Randi Beckman


Christopher Hobart
Jalale Thind
Karishma Jain
KimVi Le Tran
Meenakshi Venkatasubramanian
Melinda Nguyen
Paul Osserman
Priyanka Gupta
Swati Belwalker
Taruna Sethi
Van Trieu

Public Speaking & Debate

Aeriol Ascher

Aeriol Ascher is one of Communication Academy’s most experienced Public Speaking instructors, teaching with us since 2004. She is a professional Speaker, Author, Podcast Personality, Holistic Entrepreneur, Teacher, Mentor and Coach, with a Bachelors Degree in Theater Arts from Santa Clara University, a Masters of Religious Science and a Doctor of Metaphysics Degree with the Universal Life Church. Her classes are always lively, as she has a very hands-on approach to teaching and learning. Students love her engaging classes and can even name some of their favorite speaking activities in her classes such as ABC Dice and Zip Zap Zop!

Carolyn Edwards
Carolyn Edwards earned her BA in Theatre from Midwestern State University with a minor in Speech Communication. As a dedicated drama teacher in Pampa, Texas, she prepared students for local and district theatre competitions. Instruction included theatre history, playwrights, improv, projection, and stage presence. For three years, Carolyn taught drama and choir to students ranging from age 5 to 11 at St. Mary’s Junior. While at St. Mary’s Junior, she also coordinated various televised events. Prior to this she served as a teaching assistant at Midwestern State where she focused on being a stage manager for various productions. With additional experience in Lincoln-Douglas debate, Carolyn is well-versed in both speech and debate format. Among her accomplishments, Carolyn earned 3rd place in Literary Magazine for the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association. Carolyn pays special attention to teaching verbal and nonverbal communication skills and brings a spirited and friendly demeanor to the classroom. By incorporating theatre activities and singing into lesson plans, she is able to engage students and promote a fun learning environment.
Diego Perez

Diego Perez is a graduate student at California State University East Bay studying to achieve his Master’s degree in Broadcasting Communications. He received his BA in Mass Communication from Concordia University Irvine and competed in their Speech and Debate team after being recruited from City College of San Francisco. As a two time national finalist in the American Forensics Association, he has used his experience and knowledge coaching other students from different colleges and universities.

Gina GiovannettiGina Giovannetti is a graduate of West Valley College and holds three degrees in English, Women/Gender Studies, and Liberal Arts. She has over ten years of public speaking experience, both competitive and non-competitive. Gina’s experience comes from Leland High School, which is one of the largest and most successful High School Speech and Debate teams in the country. Leland ranked in the top 5 schools for Speech and Debate in California and top 10 in the nation. She competed in Dramatic Interpretation from 2004-2008 and was offered a job as a paid coach upon graduation. In 2014-2016, Gina had the honor of seeing her team place first in the California State Competition for Competitive Forensics. One of her students placed first in the state for Expository speaking in 2015 and 2016. She has also spoken in front of hundreds of high school teens at an annual week-long youth ministry retreat held by the Diocese of San Jose in Lake Tahoe and was a speaker at the annual Global Gender Symposium at West Valley College in 2014, delivered a presentation titled Malleus Malleficarum: The Historical Demonization and Unjust Persecution of Women Worldwide Under the Guise of the Supernatural.”
Gordon BarrattGordon Barratt grew up in Terre Haute, Indiana where he was a high school speech competitor. He attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois and graduated in 2012 with a degree in Political Science. While attending Knox, Gordon was elected Student Body President and Vice President of the Senior Class. He was also involved with several clubs and organizations, including volunteering with the local high school speech team, and serving as a judge at local speech competitions. Gordon Barratt received his MA in Teaching in 2017. He holds a teaching credential in Secondary Social Sciences and an Education Specialist credential. He has been teaching middle school Special Education since 2015. Currently, he works at New Brighton Middle School in Capitola, CA. 
Judy PeeblesJudy Peebles is a Business Skills Trainer, Group Facilitator, International Speaker and Business Coach.  She has a passion for journal writing.  Judy says, “Expert journaling tools, when combined with strong business skills, will help you create the business or career you desire. For instance, it can be used for creative brainstorming, planning, stress relief, and conflict management.” She is a dynamic and playful presenter. Her workshops, Journals and Journaling Jems™ cards teach tools & techniques that empower you to find your passion, life direction and personal path to success. Judy is accredited with Advanced Certifications as a Master Practitioner of NLP, Master Results Coach, and Performance Consultant. She is an accomplished Toastmaster and has competed in both the International Speech and Speech Evaluation Contests at the District level.
Ki-Jana HernandezKi-Jana Hernandez is a passionate and well versed speech coach, with 7 years of competitive experience. Ki-Jana has coached with the James Logan Speech and Debate team, as well as the Great Debaters of Wiley College. He has experience working with all speech events, as well as various forms of debate including Parliamentary, Public Forum, and Lincoln Douglas. Ki-Jana has traveled around the nation with speech and is a very dedicated educator. He has taught multiple age groups from elementary schools at MISD in Texas to middle school and high school students at the Stanford National Forensics Institute. Ki-Jana brings open communication, clear execution, and understanding to the classroom with a high energy teaching style. Ki-Jana Hernandez has competed in the California High School State Championship tournament 3 years consecutively, winning 2nd in the state in Thematic Interpretation. He has been to final rounds at multiple invitationals across the country in Dramatic interpretation, Duo interpretation, Prose, Poetry, and Impromptu. Also, he has competed at 4 national tournaments. Beyond high school, Mr. Hernandez earned the Melvin B. Tolson & Denzel Washington Speech & Debate Scholarship to attend Wiley College. At Wiley College, Mr. Hernandez joined the Great Debaters team, where he also earned a National Championship for his school at the oldest standing speech tournament, Pi Kappa Delta National Championship Tournament.
Mary Etta EatonMary Etta Eaton is a Silicon Valley leadership communications consultant, coach, and public speaking instructor. Mary Etta helps entrepreneurial tech leaders, scientists & engineers at Stanford and beyond to reach their professional goals by creating clear, concise, and compelling messages. Before teaching at Stanford, Mary Etta was a public speaking instructor for the Keys School. She also worked at Hewlett-Packard for over 15 years, serving as a Human Resources Specialist and leading teams of 5-75 marketing professionals. She brings a wealth of management expertise and high-tech leadership experience in Management Development & Training, HR, and Marketing/Sales Development. Mary Etta teaches all levels of public speaking and debate to students at Communication Academy, including Professional Public Speaking and private communications coaching. With an energetic teaching style, Mary Etta creates an active and engaging classroom atmosphere centered on collaboration and creativity.
Mitchell Lazarus

As a retired teacher, Mitchell Lazarus comes to Communication Academy with an extensive teaching background, teaching both elementary and middle school classes for the past 20 years. He specializes in teaching English, Science, Public Speaking, and Mindfulness.  Mr. Lazarus holds multi-subject teaching credentials in California and Illinois in addition to his degree in International Business. Currently, Mr. Lazarus tutors, substitute teaches in schools, and consults for businesses in marketing and training. His teaching style is very student-centered, often making use of Zoom’s breakout room features to encourage partner/group work when applicable.

Paige Burgess 

Paige Burgess discovered the joys of theater in elementary school and performed through high school in both musicals and plays.  She received a B.S. in Journalism at the University of Colorado with an emphasis in public relations. After working as a reporter for the Peninsula Times Tribune, Paige went on to join a public relations agency serving such clients as Intel, Fujitsu, and NEC Microelectronics, as well as many start-up technology ventures. In this role, Paige trained executives to speak to the press in desirable ways. From there, Paige moved to a worldwide marketing agency, where she produced large corporate shows for companies such as Intel, Amgen, and National Semiconductor. When Paige paused in her career to homeschool her children, she continued teaching public speaking and writing to small and large groups of students.  She taught 1st and 2nd grades at a partial-day school, with an emphasis on an end-of-year public performance involving public speaking and singing.  Additionally, Paige took her passion for public speaking to launch the Team Research and Presentation (TRaP) League for middle and high school homeschooled students.  In the TRaP League, students have presented through debate, self-written plays, newscasts, interviews, and more, while also exploring the genres of expository, persuasive, creative and problem/solution writing formats.  As an instructor with the Communication Academy, Paige hopes to nurture student confidence in the areas of public speaking and writing through innovative methods.

Tamarah ThomasTamarah Thomas retired from teaching after 33 years. She has extensive experience with students from preschool through middle school. She holds a Master’s degree in Special Education and has done a great deal of work with students with special needs. Tamarah has also worked as a Speech/Language Therapist and Behavior Specialist, along with coordinating tutoring programs for various school sites and assisting with getting the right tools in place to help 2nd language learners. She was instrumental in helping us develop our writing curriculum for our elementary students and teaching classes for us. When she is not teaching classes for us, Tamarah tutors students and does educational testing.
Zachary RinkinsZachary Rinkins has a diverse background in communications and receive a B.S. in Journalism at the Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University. He’s the founder Rinkins Multimedia Ventures, L.L.C, which held weekly 90-second personal finance radio vignettes. The show featured Bill Cosby, Billionaire Bob Johnson, and many others. The show won the 2007 Florida Associated Press Broadcasters award for best newscast under five minutes. Zachary was also a member of the Professional Speakers Network. He delivered motivational speeches at public schools, churches, and civic group, which earned him a certification as a public communicator from the Motivational Training Center. By Kids for Kids was a weekly teen magazine show that Zachary hosted and produced. In 2015, he was a multiple champion of the Toastmasters International Speech competitions at the club, area, and district levels.

Writing & Reading

Alan SolisAlan Solis received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from San Jose State University and holds a B.S. in Physics and Computer Science. While at San Jose State, Alan taught Freshman Composition courses for two years. He is a published writer with a short story titled “A Hand in the Bird” published in the Beloit Fiction Journal as well as a poem titled “Campbell, CA” which appeared in the Best of Boston Literary Magazine. Alan’s life-long passion is Creative Writing, and as an instructor at Communication Academy, he has been able to cultivate the same passion for writing and interest in his students.
Adrian CaesarMr. Caesar holds a M.A. in Education and Single Subject English Teaching Credential from the University of Southern California. He also holds a B.A. in Communications from UC Davis. Mr. Caesar currently teaches high school English at a local Fremont High School, and has experience working with students of all ages through volunteer work at the Roberto Cruz Library Homework Club and Harker enrichment programs. His passion for English and teaching is evident in his engaging teaching style. Students love his high energy approach to teaching, and enjoy seeing writing come to life in his classes!
Amber Youshock

Ms. Amber Youshock joins the Communication Academy team with a background in communications, particularly with social media marketing, business communications, and crafting presentations. Ms Youshock holds a B.A. in Psychology from San Jose State University and currently works as a teaching assistant in Campbell schools. As an educator, she personalizes instruction, often working with students in small groups to support their learning objectives. Through her teaching, Ms. Youshock aims to increase student interest and participation. Ms. Youshock brings a student-centered and engaging approach to teaching. She is excited to help students learn the joys of writing!

Darrell Dela CruzDarrell Dela Cruz is a graduate of San Jose State University where his degrees include a B.A. in English with a Creative Writing minor, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing with an emphasis on Poetry.  His work has been published in literary magazines such as ReedZAUMThird Wednesday, and Thin Air. Darrell has taught both at the college and high school levels in Creative Writing, seeing his students go on to become published writers and celebrated poets. He is currently a board member for Poetry Center San Jose.
James McCurrachJames McCurrach has a Teaching Degree from Brown University. He taught elementary students in the Nauset Regional School District for 4 years. For the Woodside International School, James taught English, World History, and Geography for 13 years. With Team Up Tutors and Lekha Inc., he taught writing and reading skills specializing in writing fictional stories and improving organization and grammar. Additionally, James has had extensive experience with Public Speaking. During some earlier years after college, he was a Vice President of the then Bankers Trust Company (now part of Deutsche Bank). As a member of the Investment Department, he made continuing speeches to large groups who were interested in the Bank’s investment outlook. James currently works for the Millbrae and San Bruno Elementary School District as a substitute teacher in math, social studies, and writing.
Jennifer Chesley

Jennifer Chesley (Miss Jen) holds a BA in Early Childhood Education as well as an MA in Child and Family Services Specializing in Special Education (Mild/Moderate Disabilities) both from Ashford University. Jennifer has worked in education for four years total, with three years in substitute teaching and one year of teaching. In recent years, she has also served as the school librarian for the Moreland School District.  Jennifer has both public and private school experience with students in K-8th grade within highly diverse categories regarding culture, academic excellence, and limitations including, but not limited to, GATE, ADD, ADHD, Autism, Special Learning Disabilities, and at-risk youth. English/writing is Jennifer’s favorite subject so she is thrilled to be able to teach it, in hopes of encouraging a love for writing in her students as well. Jennifer is looking into earning her teaching credential in California after moving here from Arizona in recent years.

John DuongJohn Duong received his B.A. in Japanese with a minor in Education from San Jose State University. As a graduate student, he continued his education to earn a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. After receiving his credential, John served as an instructor at Rocketship Si Se Puede Academy in San Jose, where he taught 5th grade and 1st grade classes. As an educator, he facilitated both focused and open-ended discussions with his students to keep them actively involved in the learning process. John is experienced in behavior management, creating effective lesson plans, and establishing open communication with his students in order to foster academic progress.
Kalyani RamaiyanKalyani Ramaiyan received a B.S. in Science from Sharada College and an M.S. in Information Systems from the University of San Francisco. She has several years of experience teaching science, art, and technology to elementary school students. At Faria A+ Elementary, Kalyani taught daily lessons and setup projects for students in grades K-6. Her background includes building content management systems for clients under Symmetrical Designs. was created by her, which teaches the art of rangoli.
Kathleen Briggs

Ms. Kathleen Briggs joins the Communication Academy teaching team with an extensive background in English and teaching. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Oregon, and her Master’s degree in English at Northern Arizona University. Ms. Briggs’ teaching background stems from 1995 to present day, and ranges from 6th-12th grade education in English instruction. She has served as the department head and curriculum developer in her school for many years. Additionally, though her specialty is in English, Ms. Briggs is multi-talented, having also coached basketball and taught courses in algebra, history, marketing, business, business law, keyboarding, computers, yearbook, and student council. Her care for her students is very clear, and students enjoy her interactive teaching style.

Marie BallentineMarie Ballentine has taught with Communication Academy since 2016, teaching all of our course subjects (Junior Speakers, Public Speaking, Debate, Writing, and Math) and age groups successfully for years. She holds an Elementary Teaching Credential and has a diverse background in the corporate world having managerial positions in start-up companies such as ESP Safety Inc, RKI Instruments, Azaire Networks, and XKD Corporation. Ms. Ballentine has trained corporate employees to gain ISO 9001 certification and works with teens in Faith Formation. Her leadership skills have varied from successfully planning and directing non-profit fundraising events to introducing new systems to improve the workflows of companies. With a “step up” attitude, Ms. Ballentine motivates her students to work hard and become self-starters. Additionally, Ms. Ballentine was our After School Care Coordinator for Communication Academy’s After School Care program at Dilworth Elementary School, along with overseeing our program at Regnart Elementary School during the 2018-2019 school year.
Nicholas “Max” GoodwinNicholas “Max” Goodwin is a literary scholar with training in the performance arts. Holding his MFA in Creative Writing from San Jose State University, he currently teaches as adjunct professor of English at Ohlone and Evergreen Valley Colleges. Successfully coaching students toward a fulfilling college career is his specialty, but he is no stranger to the stage. While an undergraduate student, he was nominated for the Irene Ryan Acting Award for his performance in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. He’s also a published poet, but enough about him!
Randi Beckman

Randi has served as a teacher, trainer, and child therapist for nearly 10 years. She received a MA in International Relations with a focus on Human Rights from the University of San Diego and she earned a Masters in Social Work from San Diego State University. In addition, she possesses a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Studies from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. Ms. Beckman has extensive experience serving as a public speaker throughout the community, speaking on global topics centered on human rights. Ms. Beckman is working on publishing her first book. She has a passion for writing, teaching, and inspiring students. As an instructor, she draws upon her experience working as a School Counselor in order to help motivate students in the classroom and to make learning fun. She especially enjoys helping people to improve their public speaking, communication, reading, and writing skills. She currently works as an Instructor at Communication Academy teaching a variety of courses centered on communications, personal development, reading, and writing.


Christopher HobartChristopher Hobart has a variety of teaching experience related to math, physics, and engineering. As a tutor for Burlingame High School, Mr. Hobart mentored students in AP-level mathematics through pre-calculus to the level of no longer needing individual tutoring. With AWESOMEngineering, he taught students physics and engineering, with topics that revolved around gravity, friction, gear systems, and simple machines. Many of their projects were hands-on such as crane models, gondola models, catapults, and simple cars. Mr. Hobart is excellent with communicating progress reports to parents and ensuring each and every child is supported. Additionally, Mr. Hobart was our Site Director for Communication Academy’s After School Care programs at our Bollinger Road location and also at Regnart Elementary during the 2017-2019 school years.
Jalale ThindJalale Thind has a special passion for learning and teaching Mathematics and Science, and treats each course he instructs as an opportunity to learn just as much as his students do. Jalale received his B.A. in Education, Math, Physics, and Chemistry. He has over 14 years of experience teaching Chemistry, Singapore Math, Math Olympiad, and chess to students from elementary to college levels. Jalale has experience coaching and judging many Math, Physics and Chemistry competitions and has participated as a test writer for these competitions as well. Jalale has earned several teaching awards for his dedication in designing curriculums that utilize hands-on and real world applications which help students gain a better understanding of the subjects he instructs. Jalale’s enthusiastic approach to teaching comes through in his lessons and teaching techniques and his interaction with his students.
Karishma Jain

Karishma Jain has over 10 years of teaching experience, spanning a variety of roles. In India, Ms. Jain taught home based classes in all subject areas, working closely with students, parents, and administrators. In California, Ms. Jain is an instructional assistant and substitute teacher in local Cupertino and Campbell schools. Additionally, Ms. Jain has over 2 years of experience teaching enrichment classes and tutoring in multiple subjects, including math, Vedic math, coding, writing, and public speaking. Prior to teaching, Ms. Jain worked as a financial analyst. She is excited to inspire students to enjoy learning and build their confidence!

KimVi Le TranKimVi Le Tran earned her B.S. degree in Business Administration and her minor in Mathematics for K‐8 Teaching from San Jose State University. She also earned her A.A. degree in Mathematics for Secondary School Teaching from Evergreen Valley College. To pursue a teaching career, she earned her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from San Jose State University. KimVi has a student‐centered teaching style in which students play an active and participatory role in their learning.
Meenakshi VenkatasubramanianMeenakshi Venkatasubramanian has over 7 years of teaching experience at various levels.  She has completed B.Sc, M.Sc and M.Phil in Mathematics from Madurai Kamaraj University, India and has been teaching Mathematics for M.Sc and B.Sc graduates before getting married to moving to Noida, India.  At Noida, she held a position as a teacher for Math for Middle and High school students. After moving to US in the year 2010, she has actively been equipping herself in Abacus and has even taught and trained children for Abacus Olympiad.  Her latest venture was about learning the Vedic math and has completed Beginner and Advanced level with distinction. Her way of teaching involves taking real-life examples and turning them into problems that can be solved mathematically. She is also skilled in teaching AMC, ACT, SAT, AP level Math and Math Olympiad. Ms. Meena currently works with the after school care program at Stratford Elementary.
Melinda NguyenMelinda Nguyen earned her B.A. in Psychology with a Minor in Education at UCLA. She went on to earn her M.A. in Education and Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from UC Berkeley, then added on the Single Subject Mathematics credential during her second year of teaching. Her interest in communication began with a desire to overcome her fear of public speaking. Since joining and becoming Co-President of her high school Speech & Debate club, her love for teaching and communications has flourished. Melinda’s public speaking experiences include competitive public speaking in Interpretation, Impromptu, Oratory, and Prose & Poetry speaking. In college, she dabbled in Parliamentary Debate, After Dinner Speaking (like Oratory), and Impromptu. Melinda’s teaching experiences include teaching students across the K-8 grades in various capacities since 2010. Most recently, she has taught 8th grade math in San Jose. Her experiences both in and out of the classroom have proven to her that in order to succeed, having strong communication skills is vital. She looks forward to helping her students recognize their own voice and introducing the joys of public speaking and math to her students.
Paul OssermanPaul Osserman retired after a 34-year career in public education. After completing his education at Stanford University with a Master’s degree in Education, Paul has taught 18 years at the elementary level and 16 years at the middle school level. His credentials include Single Subject credentials in Music and Math and a Multiple Subject credential. Paul loves teaching and inspiring students through coaching chess clubs, MathCounts teams, and teaching and coordinating GATE classes. He has been selected as Teacher of the Year, BTSA support coach, and student teacher mentor. When he is not teaching, Paul plays jazz and enjoys travelling. 
Priyanka Gupta

Priyanka Gupta has a strong background in mathematics and computer science. She has an MS in Computer Science, and is pursuing a second MS in Computing Systems. Driven by a passion to inspire the next generation of leaders, Ms. Gupta looked into opportunities to work with youth. Excited to do so, Ms. Gupta spearheaded the Communication Academy’s Indian Heritage course through our after school program at Dilworth and Regnart Elementary schools. Additionally, Ms. Gupta has worked with Communication Academy to teach Public Speaking, Writing, and Math classes. An avid learner, Ms. Gupta is willing to learn new skills and in turn, engage her students in new ways.

Swati BelwalkerSwati graduated with a Master’s in Commerce from Prune University and attended graduate school at National University where she received Level 1 credentials in General Education (multiple subjects) as well as in Special Education. She also holds a Master’s in Business Administration from MIT School of Management. Swati has over 15 years of experience at the middle school level having worked for Cupertino Middle School. As an instructor, she taught study skill classes focused in mathematics to a wide-range of students. She also completed the CBEST, CSET, and RICA. Swati has been a math instructor at Communication Academy for over 5 years, and she prides herself in promoting student interest as well as creating a classroom environment that fully engages her students.
Taruna SethiTaruna Sethi has a California Single Subject Math Teaching Credential, a M.S. in Mathematics, and B.A. in Education. She have over 10 years of experience teaching math in California middle schools. Taruna uses a wide variety of teaching aids; she uses motivational and implementation strategies to engage students in active learning. Incorporating modality principles and technological approaches is important to her for bringing new styles of teaching.
Van TrieuVan Trieu graduated from Santa Clara University with a B.S. in Math.  To pursue a teaching career, she enrolled in the teacher preparation program at San Jose State University where she earned her California Teaching Credential in 2005. Van has been teaching math since 2005 at the elementary through high school level. She has taught in the San Jose Unified, Berryessa Union, East Side Union, and Oak Grove School Districts. She feels that students learn best when an instructor uses a variety of instructional strategies and offers individualized support. By incorporating class discussions and cooperative learning in her classes, Van strives to facilitate an inquisitive class atmosphere.