LePort Montessori Irvine Spectrum Staff

Spectrum North and Spectrum South Campuses

School Administration

Eric Daniels

Head of School

Dr. Eric Daniels has been an educator for over 15 years. He earned his B.A. in History and Rhetoric from Drake University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in American History from the University of Wisconsin. For over a dozen years, Dr. Daniels taught at the university level, holding full time positions at Duke University and Clemson University and an adjunct position at Georgetown University. Over the course of his career in academia, he received multiple nominations and commendations for excellent teaching.

After serving as a consultant for LePort’s curriculum development team and visiting the school many times, he immediately wanted to learn more about Montessori pedagogy and LePort’s unique approach in its Upper School. A short while later, he joined as a teacher and curriculum developer.

As an educator, his passion is in finding ways to ignite curiosity and engagement among students while guiding them toward intellectual autonomy. In his free time he enjoys reading, exercise, and hiking.

Rhonda Munro

Upper School Director

Rhonda Munro joins LePort Montessori having spent thirty years working and growing in appreciation for Montessori Education. Dr. Montessori’s comprehensive philosophy first came to Rhonda’s attention at a pivotal time, when she was simultaneously graduating from McGill University in Montreal and becoming a new mother. Since her academic studies had centered on how scientific ideas, such as the theory of evolution, impacted society, the scientific research basis of Dr. Montessori’s work made a deep and lasting impression and charted the course for both her career and family life.

Rhonda holds AMI certification at the Primary and Elementary levels and AMS at the Elementary level, and has training in Montessori Administration and Educational Leadership. She began her teaching career as an assistant in a Primary class and went on to teach Primary/Extended Day for three years, and Lower and Upper Elementary for eleven years each. While teaching, Rhonda served as head teacher and as an administrative team member. She designed and led parenting classes, mentored junior teachers, spoke at area schools, and organized workshops. She served as Head of School for three years and has worked as a consultant on Montessori administrative practices. Through her work in these positions, Rhonda has developed a deep understanding and awareness of the importance and impact every member of the school community has on maintaining harmonious school culture.

Jennifer Greaux

Lower School Director

Mrs. Greaux was first introduced to Maria Montessori’s method in college while assisting an AMI teacher in a lower elementary classroom. Throughout her college career, Mrs. Greaux continued to work as an assistant at both the primary and elementary levels. Inspired and curious she then became motivated to pursue her certification. Mrs. Greaux received her AMI Primary Diploma from the Montessori Education Center of Arizona in 1999. She also holds a B.S. in Speech and Language Pathology from Arizona State University.

Mrs. Greaux possesses a deep admiration and appreciation for the Montessori Method, believing that it is very fulfilling to help children develop, acquire knowledge, and build character.

Jacquelyn Shwam

Director of Admissions and Parent Experience (Lower School)

Originally from Ohio, Ms. Jacquelyn Shwam has spent most of her career in the Montessori world. She worked for several years with the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association (NAMTA), a Montessori teachers’ organization dedicated to continuing education for Montessori teachers and providing media resources about Montessori for both parents and teachers. With NAMTA, Ms. Shwam planned national conferences and events for Montessori teachers. She also coordinated the travel and display of a touring exhibit, showcasing 100 years of Montessori education around the world. More recently before joining LePort Montessori, Ms. Shwam worked for four years as the Administrator of the Montessori Institute of San Diego, both in the Institute’s AMI-affiliated Teacher Training Center, and in its model Children’s House. Ms. Shwam brings to LePort a wealth of knowledge and experience, both about the Montessori method and about school administration. She earned her B.S. in Journalism from Ohio University.

Karyn Gharib

Business Manager

Karyn holds a Master of Arts degree in German from the University of Oregon, and has over 15 years of experience teaching in English as a Second Language and early childhood classrooms. She also served as Head of School at Montessori preschools in the Atlanta and Portland metropolitan areas for over a decade.

Karyn became intrigued by the Montessori method during her undergraduate studies in education. She maintains a deep interest for this unique approach due to its profound respect for each child’s individuality, careful nurturing of each child’s curiosity, and on-going encouragement allowing each child to reach his/her greatest potential. She joined LePort in 2014, and is thrilled to be taking part in the invaluable work being done to guide children’s learning and development from infancy all the way through middle school.

In her free time, Karyn enjoys spending time with family, movies, music, cooking, and exploring the gorgeous natural surroundings in Orange County.

Chloe Innvaer

Business Manager

Chloe Innvaer has a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies with an emphasis in early childhood development from La Sierra University and is currently completing her master’s degree in English literature from the same establishment. While at La Sierra University, Chloe was an active part of Club Ed, the education club on campus, holding several offices including president. As part of the club, Chloe tutored, read to, and held events for students at local elementary schools. Prior to joining LePort, Chloe worked for Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for seven years in several different capacities, including working in the Human Resources Department, the Department of Education, and as an Assistant to the Director of Communications. Outside of work, Chloe enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with loved ones.

Nilab Popal

Administrative Coordinator

Mrs. Nilab Popal graduated from California State University Northridge with a B.A. in Linguistics and a minor in English as a Second Language. She was born and raised in Germany and moved to California as an adult. Originally from a large Afghan family, Mrs. Popal’s bubbly personality and experience in customer service come in handy when working with the children. She is multilingual in German, Farsi, Dari and English and believes in the importance of a good education. Her goal has always been to work in a school environment. She is fascinated with how children develop language skills. She enjoys connecting multiple languages and their commonalities to her life. Her name, Nilab, means “Blue Water” in Farsi.

Bianca Solorzano

Director of Admissions (Lower School)

Bianca Solorzano has spent her entire career working in Montessori Education. She received her Bachelor Degree in Child and Adolescent Studies from California State University, Fullerton and her Associate Degree in Communication Studies. She is also AMI Assistants to Infancy Montessori trained from the Montessori Institute of San Diego. Ms. Solorzano has a passion for child development, specifically from pregnancy through age 3. She spent many years working directly with infants as a Montessori Lead Infant Teacher: giving lessons, assessing their development, teacher training, and transitioning at all sorts of ages. She also focused on parent education: guiding on infant development, giving parent talks, and working directly with the families. In addition to teaching, Ms. Solorzano led a variety of Educational Parent and Child classes at both the Infant and Toddler levels. Ms. Solorzano is also an independent consultant for families, guiding on all sorts of topics within infancy, assessing development, finding appropriate materials for their child, environmental setup, and more. She finds that basic development and Maria Montessori’s methods support each other in countless ways, which is why she loves what she does!

Infant

Stacey Dee

Head Montessori Teacher (Infant)

Ms. Stacey Dee’s love for teaching began during her senior year of high school while assisting in a toddler classroom and teaching gymnastics. She attended California State University, San Marcos and received a B.A. in Liberal Studies and a minor in Spanish. She received her Early Childhood Teaching Certificate from Riverside Community College in 2008, and completed her AMI Montessori teacher training for the 0 to 3 age group at the Montessori Institute of San Diego. Ms. Dee joined LePort in the fall of 2009. She studied the Montessori philosophy under the direction of Ms. Amy Kwong, the Head of School at LePort Irvine Orchard Hills. Ms. Dee finds the “Ah-ha!” moment the most rewarding part of teaching. She loves to see children master the materials and take pride in their work. In her spare time, Ms. Dee loves spending time with her daughter, who is also a LePort student.

Dunia Dawood

Assistant Teacher

Mrs. Dawood graduated cum laude from Irvine Valley College and holds an Associates of Science Degree in Child Development. Additionally, she earned a certificate in Child Development. Mrs. Dawood has a great passion for working with children and is committed to assisting them in their growth and development. She has worked and volunteered at various schools, assisting children from infants to age 12. Outside of the classroom, Mrs. Dawood enjoys reading and spending time with her family.

Norma Valenzuela Lara

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Norma joined LePort in July 2016 after graduating from the University of California, Irvine (UCI). There, she obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish for Future Teachers and Education Sciences. Ms. Norma has always enjoyed working with children of all ages, but her passion grew during her undergraduate years when she worked at the Infant and Toddler Center and Early Childhood Education Center at UCI. Ms. Norma rejoices every time she witnesses an infant reaching a milestone.

Outside the classroom, she enjoys traveling as well as spending time with her three younger nephews.

Natsuko Komori

Head Montessori Teacher (Infant)

Ms. Natsuko Komori graduated from the University of California, Irvine in 2003 with a B.A. in Japanese Literature and a minor in Education. She is currently working towards her teacher’s credential and master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education. Ms. Komori completed her AMI Montessori teacher training for the 0 to 3 age group at the Montessori Institute of San Diego. Ms. Komori joined LePort in early 2011, and immediately fell in love with LePort’s Montessori program.

Jaya Bhandaram

Assistant Teacher

Mrs. Jaya Bhandaram grew up in India where she earned her B.S in Education and attained her M.S. in Biological Sciences. She has a passion for working with young children and has been in the educational field since 1988. For 10 years, she was a science teacher for all age groups. In 1999, she relocated to the U.S. where she pursued her CBEST credentials and worked at the ABC Unified School District, as well as the Placentia Yorba Linda Unified School District. She went on to complete her Early Childhood Education certificate from North Orange County Community College and then began her Montessori career in Southern California. She joined LePort in 2012 and could not be happier. Her favorite things about being with the children are their innocent smiles and the pride they have when learning new things. When not in the classroom, Mrs. Bhandaram enjoys cooking, listening to music and spending time with her husband and two daughters.

Sidharta Jimenez

Junior Montessori Teacher

Mrs. Sidharta was born and raised in Mexico, next to the shores of the beautiful Caribbean Sea. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Law in Mexico. After getting married, she moved to the United States and redirected her career into teaching, following a long line of outstanding educators in her family. Mrs. Sidharta, or Mrs. Sidy as we all know her, has been working as a teacher for preschoolers since 2014. It was in her Early Childhood Education classes at Saddleback College where she learned and fell in love with the Montessori Method. She is currently enrolled in the Montessori Education postgrad at Universidad Central de Cataluña, in Spain.

In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, her son, and Rohi, their dog.

Sandy Garcia

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Garcia completed her Early Children Education units at Irvine Valley College and continues to pursue a BA in Child and Family Development. Her love for teaching and children began when she was a nanny and grew when she volunteered in her high school’s special education classroom as well as preschools in both Tustin and Irvine. In her free time, Ms. Garcia enjoys hiking, going to the beach, and traveling with her friends and family. She is honored to be a part of the LePort family and hopes to continue sharing her passion for education, love for children, and sincere happiness with others.

Jodie Bato

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Jodie Bato was born and raised in southern California. Her love for children and passion for education have set her on a path towards a degree in Early Childhood Education. Before joining LePort, Ms. Jodie spent time volunteering at the UCI Medical Center in their Child Life Volunteer program where she provided support services for children and their families to ease their feelings of discomfort and fear brought on by hospitalizations. In her spare time, Ms. Jodie enjoys spending time with family and friends and learning new skills.

Yvette Rivas

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Yvette Rivas was born and raised in Orange County. While attending California State University Fullerton, she interned for a public school kindergarten classroom for four years. Ms. Yvette earned her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Child and Adolescent Development from California State University, Fullerton. She enjoys working with young children and helping in their development. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, swimming, reading, and music.

Cristina Rodriguez

Assistant Teacher

Cristina Rodriguez was born and raised in Santa Ana. Her interest in the development of the child arose after giving birth to her daughter. Watching her daughter grow and accomplish skills step by steps are great moments that bring happiness. Now she is an assistant teacher here at LePort while still continuing on with her education and enjoying every moment of it.

Brenda Chavez

Head Montessori Teacher (Infant)

Ms. Brenda was born in Guatemala and moved to the United States when she was a young child. At an early age, she helped take care of her siblings, and from that time forward she set her sights on a career in early childhood education. Before starting with LePort, Ms. Brenda worked as a nanny for nearly two years. She is currently enrolled in the child development program at Cerritos College, and will soon earn an associate degree in Early Childhood Development.

Amber Sherwin

Assistant Teacher

Toddler

Monica Alvidrez

Head Montessori Teacher (Toddler)

Ms. Monica Alvidrez received her Early Childhood Education permit from Irvine Valley College in 2003. She joined the LePort Montessori team in 2010 with over ten years of experience teaching in private preschools, as well as experience with second language learners. Ms. Alvidrez completed her AMI Montessori teacher training for the 0 to 3 age group at the Montessori Institute of San Diego.

Sara Zolfaghari

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Zolfaghari is a native of Iran, having earned her psychlogy degree from the University of Tehran. Prior to joining LePort, she was a substitute teacher for Sirat Preschool for 7 years where she developed her passion for childhood education.

When not in the classroom, Ms. Zolfaghari enjoys spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, and she is looking forward to her becoming a Montessori child.

Priya Rajkumar

Head Montessori Teacher (Toddler)

Ms. Priya Rajkumar received her ECE units from Irvine Valley College in 2014. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Food Science and Nutrition at SNDT University in India. She is a mother of two young children and understands the impression that quality early childhood education can make in a child's life, boosting their confidence and encouraging them to learn. She volunteered at her child's Early Childhood Learning Center and continues to volunteer at Alderwood Elementary in Irvine. Ms. Priya is very passionate about working with young children, helping them learn while encouraging their natural curiosity. She unwinds by listening to music, reading or playing board games with her children.

Jamie Kim

Head Montessori Teacher (Toddler)

Ms. Jamie Kim earned her B.A. in Mathematics for Secondary Education from San Diego State University in 2007. Her plan had been to pursue a teaching credential to become a Mathematics teacher, but this plan changed when she had her own children, and realized her love and fascination for the very beginning stages of child development. Ms. Kim learned about the Montessori method from a family member, and was immediately interested. She researched more and more, and ultimately decided to pursue a career in Montessori education. Ms. Kim earned her AMI Assistants to Infancy Diploma from the Montessori Institute of San Diego. She lives with her husband and her two young children in Orange County, where she and her family enjoy spending time at beaches, parks, and libraries.

Laleh Jamali

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Laleh Jamali grew up in Iran and moved to California in 2004 with her family. Ms. Laleh earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Chemistry from AZAD University in Tehran, Iran.

Ms. Laleh was first introduced to LePort when she decided to enroll her youngest daughter in the Primary program at the Westpark campus in Irvine. From the time her daughter started attending LePort, Ms. Laleh developed a passion for the Montessori philosophy and for working with children at LePort. She then decided to go back to school to earn her Early Childhood Education Certificate so she could achieve her goal. Ms. Laleh joined the Orchard Hills campus at the start of the 2015 school year.

In her spare time, Ms. Laleh enjoys spending time with her husband and their two daughters. They enjoy going to the movies, parks, and the beach with their close friends.

Maya Coop

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Maya Coop was born and raised in Prague, Czech Republic. She moved to Orange County in 1996, and later earned her Bachelor of Science degree from California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. Her family relocated to Hong Kong in 2008, where her career transitioned into teaching. Ms. Maya volunteered as a teacher’s assistant and a field trip chaperone, and also took part in the PFO (Parent Faculty Organization) for the Hong Kong International School. After returning to the United States, Ms. Maya completed additional Early Childhood Education classes at Saddleback College, in which she learned about Montessori teaching methods. She loves working with children of all ages. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, reading, playing tennis, and spending time with her wonderful daughter and son.

Melanie Bragstad

Head Montessori Teacher (Toddler)

Ms. Melanie Bragstad graduated from the University of York, England in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in Educational Studies and her master’s degree in Education. She did volunteer work at schools in Ghana and at children’s homes in Romania. After completing her AMI 3 to 6 diploma in Chennai, India, she worked in Montessori schools in Japan, Singapore, Jamaica, and Hong Kong. Ms. Bragstad has strived to expand her knowledge of the Montessori philosophy, permeated by her enrollment in the 0 to 3 AMI course in Vancouver, Canada. She is passionate about helping children realize their full potential in order to build a strong foundation for their future. When not studying or working, you can find Ms. Bragstad meandering through ancient ruins around the world. She is also an accredited infant massage instructor through IAIM.

Lilia Lemus

Assistant Teacher

Mrs. Lilia Brito was born in Mexico and raised in California. She received her Associate’s Degree in Arts from Santa Ana College and is currently working on her bachelor's degree at California State University, Long Beach. Mrs. Brito has worked with children for over 10 years from infants to five-year-olds. Prior to joining LePort Montessori, she worked at a Montessori school in Lake Forest. From an early age, Mrs. Brito volunteered at Pio Pico Elementary School, where she herself attended school. Mrs. Brito recently got married in May 2017. She loves hiking and drawing. In addition to English, Mrs. Brito is also fluent in Spanish.

Ivette De Haro

Head Montessori Teacher (Toddler), Spanish Immersion

Ms. Ivette De Haro was raised in South Orange County. She is currently attending Saddleback College where she will soon complete her A.A. in Liberal Studies. While attending college, her primary focus has been on Childhood Development, and she has earned several Early Childhood Education units. Her love for children has also inspired her to pursue a Certificate in Early Childhood Development. She worked as a nanny for several years, and during this time she was exposed to the Montessori method through the children for whom she cared. Ms. De Haro’s greatest joy is helping children explore.

Lisa Parker

Head Montessori Teacher (Toddler)

Ms. Lisa Parker graduated from California State University, Long Beach in 2013 with a BA in Child Development and Family Studies. She has always had a passion for working with young children. Before LePort, Ms. Parker worked for a non-profit after school program for three years. During her schooling, Ms. Parker completed her fieldwork in the toddler room at California State University, Long Beach, which only reaffirmed her career choice of teaching.

Ms. Parker is drawn towards early childhood education because she wants to help provide young children with the confidence and solid foundation that will set them up for success throughout their life. She finds bridging the gap between home and school is extremely important, and feels educating parents is just as important as educating children. Ms. Parker approaches each day as a new learning experience and is always looking for ways she can improve both herself and the program in which she is working.

Maria Villegas

Assistant Teacher, Spanish Immersion

Bio coming soon.

Kindergarten / Preschool

Veronica Malfatti

Head Montessori Teacher (Primary)

Ms. Veronica Malfatti was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. She graduated from the Triple Threat program at Randolph Academy, an elite performing arts school, in 2014. Being a Montessori child and raised by an AMI credited Montessori mother, Ms. Veronica realized her true passion was working with children. She graduated with the 3-6 Primary training from the AMI Foundation of Montessori Education in Toronto in 2015. After graduating, Ms. Veronica immediately accepted a position at Humberside Montessori and worked there for two years before joining LePort. 

In addition to teaching, Ms. Veronica enjoys keeping up with her performing arts side by playing piano and guitar, singing, and dancing. She also loves to travel and go to the beach. Ms. Veronica is very grateful for the amazing opportunity to work with the children at LePort and guide them in their development using the incredible Montessori method she believes in and loves. 

Briana Cupp

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Briana was born and raised in Orange County. She is currently obtaining her bachelor's degree in Child Development at California State University, Long Beach. Ms. Briana previously worked as a nanny and preschool teacher. She always had a deep appreciation of the Montessori method and is beyond thrilled to be at LePort. In her free time, Ms. Briana enjoys going on hikes, playing soccer, and reading with her young son.

Emma Jones

Head Montessori Teacher (Primary)

Ms. Emma earned her B.A. in Marketing from the University of Thailand, and received her primary diploma from MISD. She has worked with children from 3 to 6 years old for over a decade. Ms. Emma has traveled abroad throughout the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and volunteered at the United Nations Organization. She enjoys learning about different cultures and has studied many languages including French, Japanese, Turkish and Arabic, in addition to her native Farsi. Ms. Emma has a son and husband that make her life colorful, and she enjoys skydiving, biking, skiing and writing in her free time.

Alexandria Lagunas

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Alex is a native to Southern California. She obtained her B.A. in Child Development from California State University, Fullerton. She is very passionate about working with children and has spent many years as a volunteer working with them. She hopes one day to venture into becoming an elementary teacher.

Ms. Alex has three beautiful boys that have kept her life playful and wonderful. She enjoys reading, hiking, and being with her children.

Morgan Hosseintehrani

Assistant Teacher

Mrs. Morgan Hosseintehrani received her bachelor’s degree in translation and interpretation in Tehran, Iran, where she found her passion in working with children and worked as a teacher and an assistant teacher in two preschools. After moving to California, she earned her home day care license from the state of California, completed training, and assisted in a home day care. She received her Early Childhood Education Certificate from Irvine Valley College where she worked as a volunteer in the Childhood Development Center. In addition to her love for working with children, Mrs. Morgan loves art, especially painting, and has been painting since she was a child. She also loves spending quality time with her family and adores her cat.

Neda Farabi

Head Montessori Teacher (Primary)

Ms. Neda Farabi was born in Iran and received a master's degree in Educational Psychology from BIHE. She then became a professor in the Psychology Department there, teaching several courses in preschool education. In addition, Ms. Neda worked for five years in a child development center in Tehran, serving as an educational director and counselor for children with learning disorders before she and her family relocated to the United States in 2013. Ms. Neda started working at the LePort Spectrum North campus in 2014, and from that time set her sights on completing the Montessori Primary training. She obtained her Association Montessori Internationale Primary 3- to 6-year diploma through the Montessori Institute of San Diego in May 2017. Ms. Neda has two wonderful children and a loving husband who have all been very supportive of her. Her personal interests include hiking, reading and memorizing poems, reading books, playing guitar, watching movies, and various social activities.

Tiffany Nguyen

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Tiffany (Tiff) Nguyen was born and raised in southern California. She has earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Child Development at California State University, Los Angeles specializing in Child Life Hospitalization. Prior to joining LePort, Ms. Tiff was a Behavior Therapist who worked with autistic and special needs children by providing 1-on-1 intervention to help normalize their everyday lives. She has many years of experience working in clinical, school, and in-home settings where she was able to work hands-on with children from infancy to age 13. Working with children has always been a passion of hers and nothing has ever been more rewarding than making a difference in their lives.

Outside of work, Ms. Tiff enjoys cooking, baking, arts and crafts, watching Netflix, going to the park, and spending time with her husband, son and daughter.

Elsie Echeverria

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Elsie Echeverria is a California native who has had a lifelong interest in working with children. She earned her Associate’s degree in Sociology from Santa Ana College and is pursuing continuing studies in childhood and adolescent development. Prior to joining LePort, she worked for four years at the Anaheim YMCA’s Anaheim Achieves program, providing educational, literacy, and enrichment activities for children. She has volunteered at Wayfinders Community Services Program in Anaheim. She enjoys working in the Montessori environment.

Angela Naito

Head Montessori Teacher (Primary)

Mrs. Naito grew up in Toronto, Canada before coming to California for high school. She received her B.A. degree in liberal studies (education) from the California State University Fullerton in 2007, and a multiple subject credential from the same university in 2008. Mrs. Naito has always had a passion for working with children. She has been a tutor of children with special needs, and discovered how she could meet the unique and individual needs of all children through the Montessori approach.

Mrs. Naito started with LePort as a Primary Assistant Teacher at the Woodbridge campus five years ago. She knew early on that she wanted to lead her own classroom, so she completed the Association Montessori Internationale Primary training at Montessori Institute of San Diego in June 2015. Mrs. Naito transitioned into the position of Primary Junior Teacher in fall 2015, then enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to take on the role of Primary Head Teacher at the Spectrum South campus in April 2016.

Mrs. Naito is happily married to her wonderful husband, Brian, and recently gave birth to their son, Brandon. She is very industrious with all crafts and creative endeavors, from film editing to knitting baby blankets.

Emily Ward

Head Montessori Teacher (Primary)

Ms. Emily Ward graduated from Humboldt State University in 2007 with a B.A. in Elementary Education. Upon graduation, she traveled overseas where she lived and taught English through the J.E.T program in Japan. In 2008, she traveled to Pumdi, Nepal where she worked and assisted with developing local preschool curriculum. During Ms. Ward's travels, she encountered Dr. Montessori's pedagogy and saw it being implemented throughout a wide range of cultures and communities. In 2012, Ms. Ward received her AMI Primary teaching credential from Montessori Northwest and her M.Ed from Loyola University of Maryland. Ms. Ward enjoys backpacking, teaching kids yoga, and traveling.

Frida Yeo

Junior Montessori Teacher

Frida Yeo has her bachelor's degree in Economics and Management from the University Of Surabaya, Indonesia. She got married and moved to the United States with her husband and gave birth to two beautiful girls. After volunteering at her children's school, she became interested in working with children, and went on to earn her Advanced Early Childhood Certificate from the University Of California, Los Angeles.

Frida worked one year at First Methodist Church Preschool in Santa Monica and three years at Clover Elementary School in Los Angeles as an Instructional Assistant. She likes to spend time with her family in her free time. She enjoys traveling and cooking with her children.

Daniela Becerra

Head Montessori Teacher (Primary), Spanish Immersion

Ms. Daniela Becerra completed her AMI Montessori Primary training at the Instituto Paolini de Puebla A.C. center in Puebla, Mexico. She has a bachelor’s degree in Education from Universidad Iberoamericana in Torreón, Mexico. After her Montessori training, she was the lead teacher for three years at Montessori Kali school’s Primary class in Los Cabos, Mexico. She is excited to be a part of the LePort community and to provide enrichment in our Spanish Immersion program.

Pilar Costello

Assistant Teacher, Spanish Immersion

Mrs. Pilar Costello was born and raised in Lima, Peru. She earned her B.S. in Accounting from Ricardo Palma University, and specializations in Management and Finances from ESAN Graduate School of Business. Mrs. Costello worked for over ten years in the business field until she relocated to United States.

Mrs. Costello became interested in the Education field and the Montessori philosophy through a friend who is a Montessori teacher. She earned her Early Childhood Education credits from Saddleback College and joined LePort in 2014. In her free time, Mrs. Costello enjoys spending time with her husband and her dog.

Gabriela Del Valle

Head Montessori Teacher (Primary), Spanish Immersion

Ms. Gabriela Del Valle grew up in Mexico, and received her Bachelor of Science Degree in 2002 from the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City. She has always been passionate about languages, travel, and different cultures, and so she chose to pursue training as a second language teacher (she received her Second Language Certification from the University of California, Irvine in 2008). As for Montessori, the Montessori Method has been a part of Ms. Del Valle’s life from the time she was a child. She grew up in a family that valued the Montessori Method, having witnessed its wonderful outcomes over the course of two generations. So, when it came time to send her own oldest son to school, Ms. Del Valle chose to enroll him in a Montessori preschool. Over the course of his first year in school, she was newly amazed by his happiness and growth in the program. Thereafter, she eagerly enrolled herself in the AMI Montessori training program. Ms. Del Valle is a native Spanish speaker whose own children are bilingual, and she deeply believes in the value of a language immersion program to achieve bilingualism from an early age. She is thrilled to have found the combination of both Montessori and language immersion education at LePort Montessori.

Adriana Ramirez

Assistant Teacher, Spanish Immersion

Adriana Ramirez holds a bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts from California State University, Fullerton. Before transferring to Cal State Fullerton, Adriana attended Santa Ana College. During that time, she worked as an assistant manager at a restaurant in Lake Forest. After nearly 5 years on the management team, she decided to pursue her passion of working with young children, and accepted a position as an assistant teacher and inclusions aide at the YMCA. Adriana is always excited to see her students and assist their ongoing learning, because she believes that learning should be fun. Adriana is a fluent speaker of both English and Spanish. In her free time, she enjoys reading novels, listening to music, and visiting museums. Once in awhile she gets inspired by the sunset or the clouds, and practices her talent as an artist. Overall, Adriana strives to be happy and is always enthusiastic about learning something new.

Elementary

Celine Jebsen

Head Montessori Teacher (Elementary)

Ms. Celine was born in Norway, but has lived abroad most of her life. The United States is the tenth country she's lived in! Ms. Celine completed her AMI Primary training in Dublin, Ireland in 2012 after which she worked as a nanny for two families in Dublin. She is currently completing her AMI Elementary training at Montessori Northwest in Portland, Oregon as well as her M.Ed. in Montessori Education at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland. Before entering the world of Montessori, Ms. Celine earned a B.A. in International Relations from Schiller International University in Madrid, Spain. Ms. Celine is passionate about Montessori theory and the holistic approach to the child, supporting each child's unique journey of self-development. Outside the classroom, Ms. Celine enjoys spending time with her two dogs, Mini and Pip, hiking, and doing snow and water sports. She also enjoys Pilates, the culinary arts, photography and traveling; she is looking forward to discovering the Southern California coast.

Kara Gregory

Junior Montessori Teacher

Kara Gregory graduated from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) with a BA in English. She then continued at UCI, earning her Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential and Masters of Arts in Teaching. Before joining LePort in 2014, Kara worked with elementary students in nearby Tustin Unified teaching language arts and math intervention programs. She also worked with a literacy nonprofit, bringing an intensive reading program to schools in need across Orange County. While attending a LePort Parent and Child class with her young son, she discovered a strong connection to the Montessori method in the classroom. In her free time, Kara enjoys traveling, being outdoors with her friends and family, reading, and catching up on her shows.

Moji Diba

Head Montessori Teacher (Elementary)

Mrs. Moji received her B.A. in German and English from the University of Victoria, Canada. She has a Multiple Subject Clear Credential with emphasis in Cross-Cultural and Language Development and a M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from Concordia University Irvine. As an experienced, trained Montessori teacher, Mrs. Moji believes in inspiring her students to become lifelong independent learners. She is a happily married mother of two boys. Mrs. Moji enjoys reading, gardening, and playing the piano.

Gabriela Valles

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Valles received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. Additionally, she was a member of the women’s soccer team for four years. Ms. Valles has always had a passion for children and particularly enjoys helping them succeed in every aspect of their lives. Prior to joining LePort, she coached high school soccer and worked in the behavioral health field as a behavior coach. Ms. Valles worked with children who suffered from severe behavioral and/or mental health issues and ultimately assisted with the overall improvement in their day-to-day lives. In her free time, Ms. Valles enjoys playing soccer, making crafts, spending time with her friends and family, as well as watching her nephew grow from day to day.

Claudia Siem

Head Montessori Teacher (Elementary)

Ms. Claudia Siem is originally from the San Francisco area and relocated to Orange County, California in July of 2013. She received her AA in Child Development with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education from City College of San Francisco, and a BS in Public Administration from the University of San Francisco. Prior to joining LePort, she taught at a preschool in San Francisco for over seven years! Ms. Claudia is also a certified lifeguard, with experience in teaching swim to both children and adults. Ms. Claudia is thrilled to be able to teach in a Montessori environment and she believes there is much for adults to learn from children. Outside of the classroom, she enjoys reading, motorcycle adventures, and spending time with her family, friends and Beagle named Charlie.

Cassandra Kolacinski

Montessori Elementary Math and Science Specialist

Mrs. Kolacinski was born and raised in Orange County. She received her B.A. degree from the University of California-Irvine in Psychology and Social Behavior. After working for a year for a sales and marketing company, she decided to go back to school to pursue her true passion of teaching. She went back to the University of California-Irvine and graduated with her M.A in Teaching, along with a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. She later added a Single Subject Mathematics Credential.

Mrs. Kolacinski has taught Math 6, Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1 in San Diego County and Los Angeles County, she is ecstatic to have returned to her native Orange County! She is very excited to be working at LePort and truly believes in their teaching principles and approach. Mrs. Kolacinski hopes to create a love and excitement for learning in her students, by making learning meaningful, relevant and enjoyable!

Outside of the classroom, she enjoys traveling, trying new things and spending time with her husband and dog, Layla.

Elizabeth Lyons

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Elizabeth Lyons has been involved in education for many years. In high school, Ms. Lyons was inspired by the way her English teacher opened her mind to new ideas. She also admired the way he made the classroom feel like a safe place to learn and discuss freely. Prior to joining LePort, she volunteered at after school programs and summer camps. Upon receiving her bachelor's degree in Communication Studies from San Francisco State University, she worked as a tutor which eventually inspired her to pursue a career in education. Ms. Lyons decided to continue her education through UCLA Extension and is currently receiving her Early Childhood Education Certification. In her spare time, Ms. Lyons enjoys being outdoors whether it is hiking, swimming in the ocean, or practicing yoga in the park.

Jess Gagne

Head Montessori Teacher (Elementary)

Ms. Gagne graduated from the University of Connecticut's Neag School of Education, obtaining her B.S. in Elementary Education and her M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction. She loves learning and reading, and enjoys music, yoga, the outdoors, and public radio. Ms. Gagne has been working with children for most of her life, and has had the privilege of international work experience in Peru and most recently in London, where she studied and researched for her Master's Degree. She is excited to be working in the Montessori environment, and has enjoyed her experience at the CREC Montessori Magnet School in Hartford, CT, as well as several other traditional schools. She loves to collaborate and discuss ideas.

Tiffany Bithell

Montessori Elementary Humanities Specialist

Mrs. Bithell has lived in Orange County her whole life. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from California State University, Long Beach, with a B.A. in Liberal Studies and a concentration in History/Social Science. As part of her degree program, she also earned her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential.

Prior to joining LePort in 2008, Mrs. Bithell had the opportunity as a substitute teacher to teach many different subjects to students in grades K-8. In her many years at LePort, she has taught both history in fourth grade and language arts in various grades. This has given her the opportunity to develop a range of curriculum that is engaging and challenging. Mrs. Bithell particularly enjoys LePort’s private school setting because of its close-knit environment and unique approach to educating the whole child. In addition to teaching, Mrs. Bithell enjoys spending time with her young son and having the privilege of exploring the world with him, and guiding him through many of life’s firsts. She also spends time reading, traveling, doing crafts, and hiking with her family, which includes her dogs!

Middle School

Steven Sarwine

Head Montessori Teacher (Middle School)

Mr. Sarwine earned his B.A. from California State University, Fullerton, where he studied English. He found his passion for education during his early years working for summer camps and after school programs. This passion blossomed after teaching in both large and small classroom settings. He formed a strong affinity towards history through his years of teaching multiple levels, reading profusely, and even traveling to various destinations around the world. 

In Mr. Sarwine’s spare time, he would most likely be found with his nose in a book, camping with friends or family, walking his dog, or cheering on his favorite team, the LAA Angels. 

Cindy Tabin

Montessori Middle School Math and Science Specialist

Mrs. Cindy Tabin received her bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies from the University of California, Riverside and her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from California State University, Fullerton. Mrs. Tabin has worked with children for many years, both in and out of the classroom. Prior to joining LePort Montessori, Mrs.Tabin taught fifth grade, conducted private tutoring for a variety of ages, and managed a Mathnasium math learning center. She has been fortunate to have had opportunities to teach students with a range of different ability levels, from gifted students to students with special needs, and is keenly aware of the need to individualize to a student’s particular skill level. Mrs. Tabin also believes in the importance of connecting personally with her students, mentoring them to grow as responsible and successful citizens. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her husband, family, friends, and cat. She loves to play sports--on any given day of the week, chances are you’ll find her at one of the many parks in Orange County, playing softball!

Additional Staff

Frances Zauhar

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Frances was born and raised the youngest of eight on a farm in Minnesota. She moved to New York to pursue her photography degree and also to work with children. An opportunity arose to move to California where she completed her degree in Early Childhood Education, and from there, she taught second and third graders at the YMCA. Ms. Frances also ventured into the health field and earned her CNA and CHHA certifications. She enjoys working with people, and children in particular have been her greatest joy.

Cynthia Gonzalez

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Gonzalez has always had a passion for working with children and is excited to expand her knowledge in teaching while working together with a team of amazing and creative teachers and children. She is in the process of obtaining her associate degree in Early Childhood Development at Santa Ana College and is working on her bachelor’s degree in Child Adolescent Studies at California State University, Fullerton. She is committed to providing families with a foundation of learning and strives to create and maintain an environment where children can grow and thrive while exploring the world around them.

Galdina Franco

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Galdina Franco was born and raised in Orange County. She graduated from Santa Ana College with an associate's degree in Liberal Arts and is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Child and Adolescent Development. Prior to joining the LePort Spectrum North team, Ms. Galdina worked with lower elementary students at the Anaheim YMCA. She is passionate about working with children and excited to a part of the LePort family.
 
In her spare time, Ms. Galdina enjoys spending time with friends and family, going on hikes, and reading.  

Lisa Burt

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Lisa is a life-long resident of California. After raising three children and volunteering in many of their activities, she decided to pursue her interest in assisting in the education of young children. She is excited to able to contribute her knowledge to LePort Montessori. In her spare time Ms. Lisa Likes spending her time with family, cooking, gardening, and just being outdoors.

Patricia Shaw

Assistant Teacher, Spanish Immersion

Mrs. Shaw was born and raised in Mexico and moved to California in 1985. Prior to joining LePort, she worked in the medical field, but had always desired working with children. Mrs. Shaw attended Laguna Technical College to receive an education in Human Development and Childhood Education. Outside of the classroom, she enjoys reading, movies, music, and most of all, spending time with her two sons and family in Mexico.

Fariba Bavafa

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Fariba Bavafa has 20 years of background in Agricultural Research. After immigrating to the United States with her family, her love for children inspired her to pursue a certificate of Early Childhood Development from Irvine Valley College. She had a wonderful experience volunteering at IVC's Child Development Center. She is blessed with this great opportunity to work at LePort Montessori. Ms. Fariba loves to see independence in children, and also loves to work with children in all ages especially infants.

In her free time, Ms. Fariba enjoys meditation, reading, traveling, and spending time with her husband and her two wonderful sons.

Mara Rodriguez

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Mara Rodriguez was born in Mexico and raised in Irvine, California. After numerous babysitting jobs she realized she had a passion for taking care of children. Ms. Mara then worked at a Montessori school for two years and later became a nanny. Through this experience, she fell in love with the Montessori method of teaching. When she had the opportunity to attend FIDM in Los Angeles and major in Interior Design, she took a break from working with children. While she excelled in that area she realized that, ultimately, she missed working with children, and so returned to Irvine Valley College and pursued a degree in Childhood Psychology. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her labrador, Nala, painting, and traveling across the world with her friends. Her goal is to learn five languages and to make a positive impact on the lives of children, for she is grateful for the impact they have made on hers.

Julia Pruden

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Julia Pruden joined LePort in October 2016. She completed her Early Childhood Education units at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo in 2013, and also obtained a Child Development Associate certification. Ms. Julia has always enjoyed working with children, especially guiding them in their learning and discovery of the world around them. Ms. Julia has been working in early childhood education since 2015 and is excited to support children in the Montessori environment at LePort.

Tess McEvoy

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Therese McEvoy graduated cum laude from the Teacher's College of the State University of New York at New Paltz in 2007, with a BS in Elementary Education and an MS in Literacy Education, Birth-12 years. She has been happily teaching and tutoring children between the ages of 2 and 13, for over 14 years. Ms. McEvoy believes in a natural, gentle, individualized style of teaching, and therefore feels very inline with the Montessori method of learning. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, photography, music, cooking, knitting, and gardening.

Marisol Mena

Assistant Teacher

Ms. Marisol was born and raised in Orange County. After a part-time job working with children she came to realize that teaching and helping in their development was her passion! Ms. Marisol has recently graduated from the University of La Verne with her Bachelors of Science in Child Development. She is excited to be a part of the LePort team as they share the same Vision of teaching, and focus on developmentally appropriate education for all children. Working in a special education classroom for the past 4 years, she has come to understand how every child is different and deserves an education that will be appropriate to them. In her spare time she enjoys; reading, hiking, Disneyland trips, and exploring new travel opportunities.

Stay in touch with LePort Montessori

Please fill out the form to receive additional info, as well as invitations for upcoming event. If you share your phone number, our admissions team will call to answer your questions or set up a tour.

By providing us with your phone number, you consent to being contacted by LePort Montessori and/or its affiliated schools regarding their educational programs, whether such contact is by phone, autodialer, recorded message, or text. Please note: Your consent is not required as a condition of enrollment.