nina-portugalNina Portugal, Humanities Teacher and Reading Specialist 

  • University of Southern California, BA in English
  • Loyola Marymount University, M.Ed with a focus in Literacy

Ms. Portugal loves to teach 9th grade English and transition students to high school. She is happy to be teaching at Life Academy after teaching 9th graders in Chicago, Spain, and at Castlemont High School in Oakland. She is passionate about reading and enjoys teaching a breath of texts ranging from Plato “Allegory of the Cave” to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. She firmly believes in helping students read well, speak well, and write well and works hard everyday to prepare her students. When she isn’t teaching, Ms. Portugal is also a yoga teacher in Oakland and can be found reading, practicing yoga, and enjoying everything Oakland has to offer. 

yuji-okamuraYuji Okamura, Humanities Teacher

  • University of California, Davis, BA in Economics and Anthropology
  • Stanford University, MA in EducationOkamura decided to leave the country for three years ago graduating college to teach English in the Japanese countryside, and then come back to America to work at various banks. After getting bored of doing that, he went back to school to earn a master’s degree and come back to teaching. He is stoked to learn with the students at Life Academy, and when he is not teaching, he is either surfing the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean or training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

annie-tickellAnnie Tickell, High School Humanities

  • Columbia University, BA in Anthropology
  • Stanford University, M.Ed in Secondary Social Science & English

Annie has been teaching at Life since 2015. She came to teaching after studying social conflict in South Africa and coaching middle and high school athletes in New York and Philadelphia. She believes that strong education is at the root of healthy communities, and is deeply committed to her Oakland community (although a large part of her roots and heart will always be in Philly – Go Eagles!). She approaches education from a learning perspective, and is constantly blown away by the vigor and curiosity that her students bring to the classroom. Her goal is to have all of her students identify as confident readers and writers by the time they graduate. When she is not teaching, Annie enjoys biking around the Bay, cooking, and eating delicious food.

rich-boettnerRich Boettner, High School Mathematics

  • Arizona State University, BA in Mathematics

Mr. B. has been teaching in Oakland since 1992, first at Frick Jr. High, then Fremont H.S. and since 2001 as one of the founders of Life Academy.  When not teaching he is usually doing something active like 200 mile bicycle rides with his wife Liz, or running marathons. He has a 13 year old daughter who wants to be a professional actor.

elena-martynElena McDonald-Martyn, High School Mathematics and Computer Science

  • University of Pacific, BA in History

Ms. Martyn started teaching in East Oakland in 2012.  She received her BA in History from the University of Pacific in 2011 graduating Cum Laude.  At UOP she was president of the Phi Alpha Theta history fraternity.  Although she loves history, during her college career her love for math never died.  She attended Mills College School of Education, where she received her teaching credential in 2012.  I feel that all these years of preparation have led me here, to Life Academy, to teach and to learn from this dynamic community.


kateri-dodds-simpsonKateri Dodds Simpson, Resource Specialist and Humanities Teacher

  • Scripps College, BA in Creative WritingKateri has taught in East Oakland since 2006, and remains continually in awe of her students’ resilience, strength, and vivacity.  In addition to working with her caseload of incredible students, Kateri is excited to bring her college readiness and academic advising expertise to Life Academy.  When she isn’t googling how to graph linear equations, you can find Kateri fundraising for college access for DREAMers, trail-running, or begging her two small children to apply crayons directly to the walls.


caitlin-christensenCaitlin Christensen, Special Education Teacher

  • University of California, Berkeley, BA in Child Development and Community Education
  • Columbia University, School of Social Work, MSW

Ms. Christensen started at Life Academy in 2013 as the girls’ volleyball coach. During this time she worked as a social work at an Oakland non-profit and transitioned to teaching Special Education in 2016. During her free time, you can find her playing volleyball, rock climbing, or reading. She also greatly enjoys spending time with her nieces and nephews and traveling the globe.


michael-aponteMichael Aponte, Special Education Teacher

  • University of California, San Diego, BA in Human Development

Originally from southern California, Mr. Aponte graduated from UCSD with a BA in Human Development and began working as a Behavioral Therapist in the Bay Area, serving children with Autism and their families in the community. After a few years, he took advantage of an opportunity and began working for Life Academy in 2016 as a Special Education Teacher. During his free time he enjoys figuring out what makes people tick, playing with his dog, Rocket, and talking endlessly about Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Comic Books to anyone who will listen, much to the chagrin of his partner, Erin.


rowan-driscollRowan Driscoll, High School Chemistry and Biology

  • Davidson College, BS in Biology
  • Brown University,  MA in Teaching Biology

Rowan has been working at LIFE since 2012 and teaching high school and middle school in Oakland since 2004.  A self professed nerd, Rowan’s favorite curricular projects are the Identity Project, the Atomic Ice Cream Certification, pGLO transformation.  When not teaching, Rowan takes time to be a proud father playing and learning outside in beautiful Northern California.

angel-corralAngelica Corral, High School Life Science Teacher, Internship Coordinator

  • University of Washington, BS in General Biology, double minor in Environmental Science and Education
  • UCLA, M.Ed in Secondary Science

Ms. Corral was born and raised in the Fruitvale neighborhood in East Oakland and has been teaching life sciences for 6 years. Previous to Life Academy, Ms. Corral taught in the Watts neighborhood of South LA, where she learned that perseverance, critical consciousness, and passion are absolutely necessary when educating youth to be citizens of the world. Ms. Corral is a diehard Warriors fan, likes to go to concerts, and has a love of all animals. Most weekends are spent outside hiking or walking around the lake.


jessica-oyaJessica Oya, High School Science Teacher

  • Scripps College, BA in Biology and Religious Studies
  • Graduate Theological Union, MA in Ethics and Social Theory
  • Alliant International University, Teaching Credential in Secondary Science

Jessica Oya has been teaching at Life Academy since 2009. She loves it when students are able to explain what they see using mathematical principles and scientific evidence and she loves having kids push boundaries on what they think is possible.  Oya loves teaching at a small school with project based learning, and loves teaching siblings over time!  Outside of school Oya plays rugby, hikes, climbs, bikes, and runs all over the Bay Area and beyond and enjoys spending time with her best friend, Little Dog.  She is also a fabulous chef and enjoys pickling vegetables.  

marc-huaMarc Hua, High School Mathematics 

  • UC Berkeley, BA in Statistics
  • Stanford University, MA in Education

Growing up in San Diego under a single-parent household, Mr. Hua is proud to be one of four siblings to overcome poverty and attend college. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a Bachelor’s in Statistics and Stanford University with a Master’s in Education. Go Bears! Prior to Life Academy, Mr. Hua spent eight years educating and mentoring students at various elementary, middle, and high schools in the Bay Area. He is a firm believer that hard work, dedication, and positivity will get you far in life. Outside of school, Mr. Hua enjoys finance, music, cooking, video games, and all things basketball.

yaniraYanira Velázquez, Program Coordinator, College and Career Information Center

  • San Francisco State University, BA in Family/Consumer Studies & Raza Studies

Born and raised in East Oakland’s Fruitvale district, Yanira graduated from Skyline High School.  While attending undergrad at SFSU, she worked with the East Bay Consortium’s Cal-SOAP’s CCIC as a part time college advisor since 2010. She now works at Life Academy, Metwest and Skyline offering college access services to students. Yanira is very passionate helping youth have access to higher education and guiding students with any post graduation plans. She also loves to read!

Julie Pham, College and Career Readiness Specialist

  • University of California, Los Angeles, BA in Asian American Studies and Chicano/a Studies, minor in Education

  • New York University, MA in Sociology of Education

Born and raised in Oakland, Julie attended Life Academy and graduated in 2008. During her time at UCLA and NYU she learned that in order to obtain social justice, she must use education as the key to success and to create agents of change. Being an agent of change herself her passion for mentoring youth in the world of post-secondary readiness has landed her right back at Life Academy. When not supporting teachers and students, she can be found traveling, reading, and running so that she can continue being a foodie.

Yumi Matsui, High School Humanities

  • University of California, Santa Barbara, BA in Women’s Studies

  • Stanford University, MA in Education

Ms. Matsui has returned to Life Academy after 6 years abroad. She has been teaching for 14 years – 8 years at Life and 6 years in Colombia, Korea and most recently Singapore. Her time abroad provided many opportunities for personal growth, traveling, and forming a family. However, the community and friendships in Oakland and at Life Academy have brought her back. She is excited to be working with Oakland youth especially some of her former students. When she is not at school, she enjoys yoga, cooking, and eating with her partner and daughter.

Hillary Walker, 7th-Grade World History, College Writing for Seniors

  • University of California, Davis, BA in History and African American Studies, minor in English
  • Florida International University, MA in Latin American and Caribbean Studies
  • University of California, Berkeley, MA in Education

Hillary Walker spent eleven years teaching middle and high school in Berkeley, before joining the Life Academy community.  Among her odd collection of endeavors during the same span of time: supporting teachers’ inquiry work with Mills Teacher Scholars, being a Teacher Consultant and coach with the Bay Area Writing Project, and representing teachers’ voices with the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.  When she is not at school, she enjoys being outdoors with her children, gardening, and trying to revive her dream of writing music reviews and children’s books.  She is passionate about creating opportunities for students to see themselves in history and explore their own histories through writing.

David Gardner, High School Math Teacher

  • University of Chicago, BA in Sociology
  • Mills College, MA in Education

David joins Life Academy after six years of teaching in San Francisco, and he loves working with students on rigorous, meaningful mathematics. He is excited to be part of a community of committed students, families, and staff who share his belief that all students deserve access to a quality education. When not at school, you can usually find him exploring with his son, reading, cooking, and discussing soccer as though it were the key to unlocking grand mysteries of the universe.

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