Sylvia Laurent, M.S.

Sylvia Yearbook

Sylvia G. Laurent is the director and owner of Miami Shores Montessori School in Miami, Florida and an adjunct professor in the Montessori program at Barry University. Ms. Laurent has over twenty years experience in the Montessori field as both teacher and school director. She holds a Master Degree in Montessori Education from Barry University. Ms. Laurent is certified by the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) in Elementary 6-9 and AMS credentialed in Early Childhood and Elementary levels I and II.

Helen Devere, M.Ed

helen-devereHelen DeVere has been director of the Orlando Montessori Teacher Education Institute for early childhood studies in Celebration, Florida, since 1990. She has a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Connecticut and a Master’s degree in early childhood/elementary education from Antioch New England Graduate School. Helen completed her AMS early childhood training in Boston with Ann Neubert in 1982, and her AMS lower elementary training with Seacoast Center for Education, NH, in 2006. She has been a classroom teacher at both levels.

Helen is founder (1985) and former director of Heritage Montessori School in Ridgecrest, CA, and co-founder (1998) and former director of Montessori School of Celebration (FL). She was also on the Board of Directors of the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (MACTE) for 3 terms.

Since retiring from her school, she is spending her time directing and teaching in OMTEI, teaching for other teacher education programs, giving workshops and seminars, doing accreditation visits for MACTE and seeing as much as possible of her grandchildren in TX and NY, who are 3, almost 2, and 1 year old.

Javier Gonzalez, Ph.D.

javier-gonzalezDr. Javier Gonzalez is a Barry University faculty member in theAdrian Dominican School of Education with over 25 years of experience in the field of early childhood and elementary education. He earned his PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with a cognate specialty in Early Childhood Education from Barry University in 2011. Dr. Gonzalez taught for the Dade County Public Schools as well as for the private sector. He also taught at Florida International University, Kennesaw State University and Chattahoochee Technical College. His teaching interests include child development, positive classroom engagement, and social studies and the humanities. His current research interests include pro-social classrooms and bullying in schools. Dr. Gonzalez has presented at numerous state, regional and national conferences. He is also a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI).

Elizabeth Campbell and Melanie Binder
elizabeth-campbell-and-melanie-binderElizabeth Campbell and Melanie Binder are trained AMS Toddler guides from Village Montessori Training Center in Miami, Florida and both work in the toddler community at the Montessori Children’s School of Key West, Florida. Elizabeth and Melanie are both very passionate and enthusiastic about creating a wonderful experience for the families that join their toddler community.


AnaMaria Rivera, Ed.D(c)
AnaMaria RiveraAnaMaria is a Professor, doctoral candidate, writer, consultant and public speaker in the topic of Transformational Leadership, and her doctoral research explores the topics of Transformational Parenting and Teaching. Her main career is in the Financial Industry, managing two successful Investment Funds, however, she devotes some of her time to be the Executive Director of Educate from the Heart, a Non-Profit that aims to take free Montessori training and materials to low-income communities in Latin America.

She has published several books on topics of individual transformation and has been teaching for about 14 years with Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and Temple University she has taught courses in Colombia, Singapore, China and Russia. Her courses aim to generate a personal transformation that has leadership start from within, from leading his or her own life into successfully leading teams and organizations.

AnaMaria has a BS in Industrial Engineering from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, an MBA from Harvard Business School and is currently a candidate to Doctor in Education in Transformational Leadership from Insight University.

Monica Gargiulo-Benitez

0123 - Benitez MonicaMs. Monica Gargiulo-Benitez has been an advocate and teacher of the Montessori philosophy for 25 years. She is the founder and director of Montessori Academy located in Pembroke Pines. FL. The school currently serves a community of over 680 families, catering to children from infants through 8th grade. Montessori Academy is accredited by the Association of Independent School of Florida and the National Council for Private Schools. Ms. Gargiulo-Benitez is also the founder and director of the Montessori Academy Training Institute; a Montessori Teacher Education Early Childhood Program accredited by MACTE and affiliated with AMS. Ms. Gargiulo-Benitez also serves as a consultant and an evaluator for the American Montessori Society, as well as for the Association of Independent Schools of Florida. Ms. Gargiulo-Benitez holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, and has earned her Montessori credential in Early Childhood and Infant-Toddlers from The American Montessori Society.

Sandra Curless
SandraSandra Curless has been teaching piano and guitar in Montessori Schools since 2005 (2008 – present at Summit Questa Montessori in Davie, FL), adapting well-­‐known techniques to the Montessori style of learning. In order to capture the imaginations of the children, she began creating board games to teach basic concepts that children tend to ignore or overlook because the material in and of itself is not interesting. However, the children enjoyed the games so much that they very soon became experts in the basic concepts, able to quote verbatim from the glossary, and quite eager to teach others. The manipulatives and games have been a great help in teaching music in the Montessori Classroom. However, teachers and parents have also been expressing a need for books and 3-­‐part cards in a Montessori format so that more detailed information can be taught in the classroom. As a result, 12 books (nomenclature and expanded information) have been written by Ms. Curless, and 7 sets of 3-­‐part cards and flash cards have been created for classroom use. With these tools, any teacher can make music training available in the classroom. Ms. Curless is an exhibitor at the American Montessori Convention in San Diego this year, and has previously been an exhibitor at the Chicago AMS Convention and the Dallas AMS Convention.

Judy Dempsey, M.S.


Judy Dempsey has over 40 years of experience working in Montessori schools as a teacher, administrator, school head, and teacher trainer. She presently owns and operates Summit-Questa Montessori School in Davie, FL and is a co-director of Summit Montessori Teacher Training Institute, a MACTE accredited teacher training program. Judy sits on the boards of the Montessori Florida Coalition and the Association of Independent Schools of Florida, where she held the officer’s position of First Vice President and Director of Accreditation for five years. Judy just received the Distinguished Educator of the Year Award from AISF and just had her book, Turning Education Inside Out: Confessions of a Montessori Principal, published this past November. Judy has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, a Master’s Degree in Montessori Elementary Education from Barry University and is nationally certified by the American Montessori Society to teach children from 3 -15 years of age.

Bindu Mayi, Ph.D.

Bindu Mayi pic 2 (1)

I got my Ph.D. in Medical Microbiology from University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, Missouri. I did a post doctoral fellowship in Infectious diseases at Seattle Children’s hospital and University of Washington, Seattle. I am currently Associate Professor of Microbiology at Nova Southeastern University. I was one of 80 women who won the Oprah sponsored O-White House Leadership Project, where I won the award specifically for prevention of MRSA. I am also Board Member of Share-A-Pet, a pet therapy organization that has been serving the community since 2003. This is a book that is very near and dear to my heart, as it talks about two things I am intensely passionate about: mentoring children and raising awareness about prevention of infectious diseases. I feel this book has absolute gems of wisdom for children and adults, alike.

Beatriz Martinez-Penalver, M.S.

Beatriz Martinez-Penalver

Beatriz Martinez-Peñalver a licensed psychotherapist with over 25 years of experience in mental health seeks to make emotional literacy a mandated class in education.

As the president and co-founder of a 15-year old Community Mental Health Center, Healthy Connections, Martinez-Peñalver realized that mental health prevention must start in schools.

She knows that if we teach each child the powerful force that our thoughts possess, they will avoid developing erroneous thought patterns and self- defeating behaviors, and they will grow up inspired to create the extraordinary life they deserve. This, in turn, will prevent that in 15 to 20 years any of them come to her mental health clinic, or any other clinic in the world, for therapy.

She has taken a very proactive stand to make sure that emotional literacy becomes a mandated class. To make this happen she developed TRIUMPH STEPS, a curriculum that has reached private, Montessori education, aftercare programs at the YWCA, and now has stepped foot inside District 5 public school system. She is presently discussing the possibilities of implementing TRIUMPH STEPS at a district level. But she doesn’t stop there. She has gone to Tallahassee to meet with State Representatives to seek guidance on how to make her mission a reality.

Beatriz holds a Masters degree in Mental Health from Nova Southeastern University. She is a Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway certified trainer by Susan Jeffers, LLC. She serves as an Advisory Board member for the South Florida Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Also, belongs to the Board of Directors of The Christopher Ricardo Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Beatriz belongs to the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce Business and Education Committee, and the Business and Government Affairs Committee. She also, volunteers at the Coral Gables School and Community Relations Committee.

She is the mother of a precious 13-year-old daughter, and wife of a nationally known psychiatrist. She loves the outdoors, rollerblading, skiing, boating, scuba diving and riding in the back of her husband’s Harley.

Pepa Rivero de Wenrich


I am a wife, a mother, a Montessori educator, a Certified Leadership Parenting Coach, and the founder of Parent Coach Miami.  I was personally trained by John Rosemond, America’s most widely-read parenting expert. Through my business, Parent Coach Miami, I join John Rosemond on his mission: “To help America’s parents claim loving leadership in their families, thus ensuring optimal success for themselves and optimal well-being for their children”. Our unique approach teaches parents how to set healthy boundaries at home and how to handle daily family conflicts effectively, without yelling, bribing, or pleading.

I offer one-to-one parenting coaching, private parenting classes and presentations for schools, parishes or community organizations. I also work with caregivers or any adult who is working or living with children. I share John Rosemond’s parenting approach with my clients because it is clear, simple, easy to implement, and has an immediate positive impact on the lives of the entire family. I also share the experiences and tools that I learned as a Montessori teacher which helped me see the child from a new and fascinating point of view, and to be a more understanding and flexible mother.  Last but not least, I share my personal experiences as a mother of a cross-cultural family, which is a fascinating and challenging life!

William Cortezia, Ph.D.

William(cropped)Education: Proud Barry Alumni – Bachelors of Science in Political Science with a Minor in Sociology 1996, Philosophy Doctorate in Education Curriculum & Instruction – Adrian Dominican School of Education 2013, Masters of Art in Sociology of Education – Central Michigan University 1999.

Professional:Fitchburg State University, Assistant Professor – Education Department 2013-Present. Graduate Chair Early Childhood, Elementary and Middle School Programs 2015-Present.

Angela Storch-Updike

Angela UpdikeHeadshot

Angela Storch-Updike has been a Montessori teacher for seventeen years and has had the privilege of working with students from K- 8 grade. She has been teaching Child Development for seven years, specializing in the impact of the brain on learning and the Montessori environment. Angela has spoken at various conferences and conducted numerous parent seminars on How Boys & Girls Learn Differently, Creating an Anti-Bullying Environment in the Classroom and most recently at Lynn University on Adolescents, Anxiety and Coping Skills.   Her ongoing interests in current Brain research and love of Montessori has led her to create this presentation: Montessori & The Brain: Mainstream Using 10 Key Principles.

Angela is also the founder of Practical Parenting for Teens. An organization started at the end of 2016 to help parents, teens and educators navigate the unchartered territory of adolescence and the myriad of pressures students face in a 24/7 society.

Ashly Chavez, M.Ed

Ashly Chaves

Ashly R. Chavez moved to Miami from Wellington Florida in 2014. She holds a B.A. in Elementary Education from Florida Atlantic University. After graduating, she proceeded to work in a traditional school as a 1st grade teacher in her hometown, an equestrian community filled with great public schools one of which she attended as a child.

Passionate about children and education, she learned that Montessori was her true calling. She attended Summit Montessori Teacher Training Institute (S.M.T.T.I)  for early childhood. Thereafter, she obtained her masters degree in Elementary Education with a specialization in Montessori at St. Catherine’s University.

Ashly has experience working in Montessori classrooms, leadership roles, working with children with disabilities, as well as teaching yoga in after-school programs for several Montessori schools. Grateful for remarkable mentors along the way, Ashly is able to share her love for Montessori in various ways.

Stephanie Lipp and Tracey Etelson

Stepahie Lipp & Tracey EtelsonStephanie E. Lipp is a Doctoral student in the Curriculum and Instruction program with a specialization in Curriculum Evaluation and Research at Barry University. She has an MAT degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education from Queens College in New York and a Bachelor’s from Syracuse University in Inclusive and Elementary Education. She holds a Montessori Elementary I credential from SMTTI. As an adjunct instructor, Stephanie taught Adolescent Psychology for the Montessori Educator piloting the second course for Barry’s first cohort in the Secondary Montessori Certification Program. She also taught for two years at Bridges Montessori in Stuart, FL, and one year at Turtle River Montessori. She has a 5-year old son who was enrolled in a Montessori program from 18 months to 5 years old.

Tracey Etelson holds an MBA from Southern Methodist University. She was the Founder and Head of School of Bridges Montessori in Stuart, Florida for 23 years. Tracey is a teacher trainer at SMTTI. She teaches both the “Personal Development and Spiritual Growth” and “Community Building and Peace” courses for the Montessori Infant/Toddler and Elementary educators. All three of her children were Montessori educated.

Jessica Garcia, Ph.D., ABPP

Jessica GarciaDr. Jessica Garcia is a Board Certified Child and Adolescent (ABPP) Psychologist in private practice at Pediatric Psychology Associates. She specializes in the assessment of learning and attentional difficulties, autism spectrum disorders, emotional challenges, and behavioral problems in children and adolescents. She conducts comprehensive neuropsychological, developmental, and gifted evaluations with children and adolescents for the purpose of guiding treatment and intervention. She also conducts consultations and psychotherapy with children and adolescents and a facilitates a social understanding group program in Weston.

Levi Defilipp, M.S.

Levi Defilipp


Mr. Defilipp is a graduate student in clinical psychology at Nova Southeastern University. He is specializing in the evaluation and treatment of children with a variety of learning, emotional, and behavioral challenges. He holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology and is currently completing his advanced practicum with Pediatric Psychology Associates in Aventura.


Emily Breaux M.Ed.

Emily Breaux

Emily Breaux is the Infant/Toddler Director at Montessori Academy in Nashville, TN, an AMS accredited school that serves children from Infant-8th grade.  She is also an instructor at the Montessori Training Center of Brentwood (MTCOB).  She has a Masters degree in education, and two certifications, 0-3 and 3-6.  She received her 0-3 credential from Village Montessori. She has been a teacher since 2004, and an administrator for 3 years.


Sara Aronson 

Sara AronsonSara Aronson is currently the Program Coordinator of the Montessori Training Center of Brentwood (MCTOB).  She previously was a lead teacher guide at Montessori Academy, an AMS accredited school.  She holds an AMS 0-3 certification from Village Montessori.  She has worked in Montessori classrooms since 2009 and has made it her mission to bring the Montessori philosophy to parents of the youngest children in her school’s community.  She has enjoyed presenting at several Montessori conferences.


Samuel Perkins, Ph.D.

Dr.PerkinsHaving been an educator for more than 25 years, Dr. Perkins has served Pre-K to doctoral students. He earned his Ph.D. in Higher Education with a specialization in TESOL. He has been a faculty member in the Adrian Dominican School of Education (ADSOE) at Barry University for 17 years, and currently serves as Director of the Undergraduate Education Program in addition to serving as the University’s Certification Ombudsman. He is also actively involved in assessment and compliance at the school, university, and state levels. In addition to assessment, his teaching and research interests include culture; language development and usage; student engagement; and the holistic development of students, educators, and educational stakeholders.

Nancy Amar, OTR/L BSc

nancy-amarNancy is a pediatric occupational therapist (OT) whose greatest passion is working with children. She graduated from McGill University, in Montreal Canada in 2003 and began as an OT in adult rehab but quickly redirected her career to working with children.

Nancy has experience working with children diagnosed with autism, ADD, ADHD, Asperger syndrome, and other Sensory Processing Disorders. Nancy also has extensive experience with premature infants and children with physical handicaps. Regardless of their challenges, Nancy helps all the children she works with to attain the next developmental level so that they can be independent and just be kids!

As a pastime, Nancy has always had a passion for design and the arts. She combined her knowledge as an OT with the talents of a well-known designer in Miami and together they create “Sensory Smart Designs” for children with autism and other sensory disorders. They were featured two years ago on the “Today Show” during Autism week. Nancy has participated in various speaking engagements throughout her career; most notably at the SPD Foundation Symposium in 2011.

Nancy is dedicated to parent education and making knowledge available to all caretakers. She recently started a blog called where she regularly posts step-by-step instructions for various therapeutic activities and fun crafts. She now has a large following and loves to keep in touch with her readers.

“I want every child to feel good about who they are. I don’t want them to feel stuck in their body and not know how to express themselves. I want them to feel that they are understood. And it doesn’t always have to be verbally. I want them to be happy and to integrate into our society”.

Nancy’s goal is to make every child comfortable and confident in the body that they have so as to learn alternate ways of expression. She teaches them skills and provides them with a sensory experience that promotes a union with the environment. She believes this is the first stepping stone to learning, creating and becoming the best they can be.

Lorena Tasker

Lorena TaskerLorena Tasker is the Assistant Director at Miami Shores Montessori School. She has 16 years of teaching experience, first as a lower elementary teacher in Argentina and later as an Early Childhood AMS certified lead teacher in Miami, Florida. She holds an Associate Degree in elementary education and is graduating in May from Barry University with a Bachelor’s Degree in administration. Passionate for children and education, Lorena genuinely believes in self-development as a path for growth and service to others.

Leslie Lasseville, Ed.S

Lasseville_Leslie_00351.jpgLeslie Lasseville, a native of South Florida, is passionate about Montessori Education. She holds a Bachelors degree in Liberal Studies, a Masters degree in Elementary Education and an Education Specialist degree in Montessori Education, with AMS Elementary I & Elementary II credentials from Barry University. She recently also received her Administrator’s Credential from Houston Montessori Center. Leslie has worked at St. Christopher’s By the Sea Episcopal Montessori School on Key Biscayne for over 16 years. She’s taught Lower and Upper Elementary and currently serves as Principal of the school. She is an Adjunct Professor at Barry University for their Montessori Teacher Education Program. She enjoys sharing her excitement about Montessori with others and developing new ways to promote it’s outstanding transformative benefits.