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EF Academy Pasadena: Meet our faculty

EF Academy Pasadena: Meet our faculty

In the third part of this introductory series you get to meet the teachers at EF Academy Pasadena!

Somer Rikards – Art and English Teacher

Somer Rikards got her undergraduate degree in studio art, East Asian studies and Japanese language  from North Central College and went on to graduate with a Masters of Education in Teaching form the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. Prior to joining EF Academy Pasadena as the Art and English teacher, Ms. Rikards taught secondary English language arts and visual arts, U.S. and Hawaiian history, science, mathematics and PE. Because of her background in art, she tries to integrate creative projects and visual literacy into her classes to help engage her students and encourage critical thinking. She considers every class a new and exciting opportunity to nurture community and create something meaningful. Outside of academics, Ms. Rikards loves animals and enjoys talking about the latest Marvel movies, video games, and artworks.

Brian Wasik – Spanish and History Teacher

Brian Wasik is a committed, lifelong educator passionate about helping students to find their voice and to express it loudly. He has experience working with students from all backgrounds and has lived and worked in a variety of contexts including Washington, DC, New Orleans, LA, and Madrid, Spain. His first interest in international education came as a study abroad student in Sevilla, Spain, where he not only took a wide variety of courses relating to Spanish language and culture, but also volunteered with local students hoping to learn English. Inspired by his culturally immersive experience in Spain, Mr. Wasik quickly began teaching Spanish right after university in New Orleans, Louisiana (where his mom was born and raised) and got to share his newfound passion for the language and culture with students otherwise unfamiliar. It wasn’t long after that until Mr. Wasik decided it was ready to return to Spain, where he served as a Fulbright fellow to teach English and History in a bilingual school in Madrid. His experience teaching Spanish, English, and History to a diverse set of students has solidified his passion for teaching and learning in an international context and he is eager to bring this excitement with him to the EF Pasadena community this year!”

Heidi Leeds – Math Teacher

Heidi Leeds studied math and neuroscience at Williams College. Ms. Leeds appreciates incorporating her knowledge about how the brain works and learns into her teaching practices. Coming from rural western Massachusetts, Ms. Leeds loves the outdoors and is eager to explore the beautiful mountains and geographic diversity southern California has to offer. She has spent many summers as a coach and camp counselor at an outdoors sleepaway gymnastics camp in Burlington, Vermont and also has experience coaching competitive ski racing for a range of ages. She competed as a pole-vaulter for the Varsity Track and Field team at Williams and in her free time loves hiking, backpacking, skiing, or rock-climbing. Her favorite part of teaching and coaching is building relationships with students and she’s looking forward to getting to know all the new students at EF Academy!


Alannah Collat – Head of Advisory and Health & Wellness Teacher

Alannah Collat is a teacher and licensed-social worker from Honolulu, Hawaii.  She spent the last four years teaching AP psychology and social-emotional learning at Punahou School. Ms. Collat lived in Japan, Italy, and New York before moving back home to Hawaii to pursue her masterʻs from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is passionate about advocating for survivors of sexual abuse and volunteers for a Hawaii based anti-trafficking nonprofit in her free time. After school you can find her surfing, cooking meals for family and friends or spending time with dogs!

Jessica Williams – University and Academic Advisor

Jessica Williams is the University and Academic Advisor at EF Academy Pasadena. Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, Ms. Williams’ interest in college access was ignited from her own undergraduate experience as a Posse Foundation scholarship recipient. She began her professional career as a college admissions counselor for Kalamazoo College and Barnard College, but has recently shifted her focus to working with students on the high school level. She is committed to utilizing knowledge and skills acquired from her professional experience to educate, coach, and support all students and their families through the transition to post-secondary educational opportunities. Ms. Williams holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Kalamazoo College, and recently earned dual Master’s degrees in Counseling and an advanced certificate in College Advising from Columbia University.


Justin Clapp – Athletics Coordinator and Physical Education Teacher

As the Coordinator of Athletics and a Physical Education faculty member, Justin Clapp provides EF Academy Pasadena students with opportunities for physical, emotional and social growth, while building self confidence and creating a sense of community through athletics and physical fitness. Mr. Clapp’s extended academic and athletic background has taught him how lessons learned in the athletic arena can complement those in the classroom. Having played and coached American Football at the University of Hawaii, and winning a California State Football Championship at De La Salle High School, he enjoys sharing his passion for athletics with EF Academy Pasadena students. In addition to his athletic background, he has have spent extensive time abroad visiting 23 countries and feels that the lessons learned while immersing himself in different cultures informs his approach as an educator and Athletics Coordinator. He appreciates working with EF Academy Pasadena students to step outside of their comfort zone in pursuit of unique and diverse experiences.

Sydney Moss – History and English Teacher

Sydney Moss is a graduate of both UC Berkeley and Harvard Divinity School. Professionally, her goals align with the successful education of her students, as she understands that schooling offers a chance for young people to change their lives for the better. She balances a meticulous though patient approach to learning, and she prides herself on fostering the individual interests of students through creative expression. Personally, she is a pianist and writer, as well as a former collegiate athlete, so she emphasizes extracurricular development as well. Ms. Moss has previously worked in marketing, systems engineering, and higher education, most notably as a guest lecturer at Harvard.

Laura Reilly – English Teacher and Learning Commons Coordinator

Originally from Buffalo, NY, Laura Reilly earned her Master’s in Education from Canisius College, where she also completed her undergraduate work in Political Science, Urban Studies, and English. After several years working as an English, History, and Science teacher in New York and California, Ms. Reilly moved into educational leadership in independent schools in Los Angeles, where she has served as an interim Head of Middle School and Assistant Director of Middle and Upper Schools. She has also worked as a social-emotional learning curriculum consultant for a Los Angeles based non-profit and as an educational therapist. Living in neighboring Altadena, Ms. Reilly can be found enjoying cinema, getting lost in literature, and spending time with her fiancé, stepson, and their two dogs.

Dr. Therese Laux – Design Technology & Computer Science Teacher

Therese Laux is the Design Technology & Computer Science teacher for EF Pasadena. She has over 20 years of experience guiding students in discovering what they are good at, what they love to do, and how to turn their passion into a career. As an award-winning educator, she has been recognized by both business and education from the local to international level. She is a Fulbright Award recipient, Apple Distinguished Educator, and National Center for Women and Information Technology Regional Award Winner. She also serves on the advisory board for SXSW-edu, an internationally recognized education conference dedicated to fostering innovation and learning within the education industry. Dr. Laux is also leading the music club. She has a rich musical background as a former band director in addition to extensive performance experiences. Her favorite gigs have included playing drums in an all female, original rock band; percussion in symphonic orchestras, and leading an island band for which she produced their first recording. A native Nebraskan, she enjoys being outside year-round in her new home state of California!

Susan Foley – Drama Teacher

For her undergraduate studies, Susan Foley studied the history of ideas in the Great Books program at the University of Notre Dame, where she also appeared in many theatrical productions and spent a year at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. After two years studying Noh theater and martial arts in Kyoto, Japan, Ms. Foley pursued graduate studies in the Theater Department at Northwestern University, specializing in Greek theater and phenomenology. After a stint with the famed Second City’s Improv Theatre in Chicago and several years beating down the doors of Hollywood casting directions, Ms. Foley returned to teaching at a private school in Los Angeles. While there, she coached two captains for the USA Debate team as well as the #1, #2, and #3 debate teams in the country – but she is well-aware that her enduring claim to fame is her appearance on the US-version of “The Office.” She is especially thrilled to have found a home in a mission-driven school that is dedicated to nurturing the dynamic leadership necessary to meet the challenges facing our world both today and tomorrow. She reports: “I’m most alive when I’m learning – whether it’s from my students or my friends or conversing with sage voices from the past in the books I read or characters I bring to life onstage, I am always in hot pursuit of ideas, viewpoints, and experiences. In short, I’m interested in everyone and everything.”

Ryan Washburn – Learning Support Teacher

Ryan Washburn is a dedicated Learning Skills Specialist and English teacher with a passion for helping students understand who they are as learners. Focused on developing strong relationships with his students, Mr. Washburn provides personalized coaching to help students increase their self-efficacy skills and develop a sense of curiosity in their learning journey. Mr. Washburn received his certification in Secondary Special Education from Johns Hopkins University, his master’s degree in International Relations from Boston University, and his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Boston College. During his time at Boston University, he completed a study abroad program at the Universidad De Belgrano in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was here, that he developed a passion for international education and a deeper sense of empathy for the unique experiences of international students. Mr. Washburn believes that every child has the potential to bring something unique and special to the world.

Aaron Leialoha Lopez – English Language teacher

Aaron Leialoha Lopez has been involved in educational settings since he was a high school student working as a tutor with elementary students. As an educator, mentor, coordinator, volunteer, and among many other titles, Mr. Lopez feel fortunate to have worked with multiple students of all ages and all over the world because it has exposed him to new ideas and concepts that have helped him to appreciate everything and everyone around him. Moreover, Mr. Lopez also loves learning and exploring beyond the classroom, especially cultural exchanges to offer and gain alternative ways of thinking or perceiving the world. Other activities that he is passionate about are reading, traveling, movies, working out, playing sports, having spontaneous adventures with his friends, EATING (as long as it’s not spicy of course), and many more…

Daniel Manning

Daniel Manning has spent the past seven years educating high schoolers in the arts and sciences. After graduating NYU with a BFA in Drama, Mr. Manning continued his studies in Physics and Differential Geometry, and worked to re-design high school curriculum to fast track STEM students towards higher level material. Outside of teaching, he continues to work in the dramatic arts writing screenplays, and is currently developing two feature films with Zero Gravity Entertainment. Mr. Manning draws inspiration from educators such as Joe Bouler, Paul Lockhart, and Richard Feynman who worked to inspire students in STEM fields to engage challenging material with relentless curiosity.

Noah Montgomery – Bio teacher and lab technician

Noah Montgomery is a biology teacher and lab technician at EF Academy Pasadena. Mr. Montgomery attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, receiving his undergraduate degree in biology with a concentration in environmental studies and competing as a student athlete on the football team. He then went on to receive his Juris Doctorate from the University of Oregon School of Law where he served as an executive editor on the Journal of Environmental Law and Litigation and as a tutor of legal writing and research. Mr. Montgomery is now shifting from practicing law to a career in education to build meaningful relationships with students and help develop the next generation of global leaders. He is excited to begin teaching and to join the rest of the founding faculty and students in establishing a special community at EF Academy Pasadena!

Michelle Barnett – Registrar

Michelle Barnett is a mother of four with 20 plus years of experience in education. She has a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Management from the University of Phoenix. Her passion for education has allowed her to work closely with students that range from beginning, returning, or completing their educational journey. With a strong foundation of ethical beliefs and values she leads and performs a variety of specialized technical and clerical tasks in connection with the admission, registration, records, academic progress and success of students.

Ms. Barnett is excited to meet our EF Academy students! She is looking forward to providing support and motivating our students by partnering with them and their families to achieve their individualized short and long-term educational goals.

Dr. Michael Yoss – History Teacher

Dr Michael Yoss was born in Cape Town, South Africa. After completing the first year of the B.A. Architecture program at the University of Cape Town, he switched to the B.A. Journalism course at Rhodes University, Grahamstown. He graduated with a B.A. Journalism degree as well as a B.A. History Honors degree [one year later]. His first post-college experience was as a copywriter for an advertising agency in Johannesburg. This budding career was interrupted by his decision to take a stand against the apartheid regime and to leave the country as an undeclared political refugee. After a six-month sojourn in London [U.K.], he relocated to Los Angeles where he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. While managing a clothing design business that he co-founded in California and later moved to Vermont, he indulged his passion for History by studying [part-time] for an M.A. History degree at the University of Vermont. When the opportunity to read a doctoral degree in Modern History at the University of Oxford presented itself, Dr Yoss relocated to the United Kingdom for three years. The decision culminated in the long-hoped for opportunity to teach at private institutions in Los Angeles, New York, Hangzhou [China], and San Miguel de Allende [Mexico]. This diverse experience enables Dr Yoss to bring his passion for teaching not just the content of the discipline, but also the all-important skills [critical thinking, critical analysis, research, writing, and verbal expression] that will enable students of all abilities to apply them to every discipline and, ultimately, to pursuing fulfilling college and professional careers.

Jennifer Ho Pease – French Teacher

Jennifer Ho Pease accidentally became a Francophile when she discovered Paris and France on a high school trip. She simply had to figure out the language behind the culture, art, and history, so she set a goal, majoring in French and Linguistics with a concentration in the Romance languages, then moved to Aix-en-Provence to study literature at the Université de Provence and to teach English. After many years in Aix and a maîtrise, Ms. Pease landed back in California to continue her studies at Berkeley and to teach French. Since then, she worked as an editor/freelance writer while raising a family and has recently been teaching third and fifth-grade English. The love of French never left, however, so she’s thrilled to again share her communication-oriented passion for French, as her son, who is currently learning it, can confirm! She lives in South Pasadena and dreams in French.