“She [the Montessori teacher] must acquire a moral alertness which has not hitherto been demanded by any other system, and this is revealed in her tranquility, patience, charity, and humility. Not words, but virtues, are her main qualifications.”

~Dr. Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child

Montessori Nature School Classroom Staff

Colleen Smith
Nature Preschool Lead Guide: Trailblazers
After School Nature Club Program Coordinator
Colleen recently graduated from UNC-Pembroke with a degree in Physical Education. In addition to child care experience, she has served as an intern with Scotland County Parks & Rec and completed her service learning with elementary and high school students.
Contact Colleen

Jaycie Tonelli
Nature Preschool Co-Lead Guide: Tree Huggers
After School Nature Club Leader
Jaycie recently graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in Psychology and is currently working towards her Masters. She has experience working with children of all ages and abilities as a caregiver and nanny, as a student assistant at UNC hospital and as a Support Professional at Arc of the Triangle.
Contact Jaycie

Amanda Shay
Nature Preschool Co-Lead Guide: Tree Huggers (incoming Fall 2022)
Amanda has worked as an assistant and lead teacher in elementary special education and preschool settings and most recently as a program director at a residential camp for children and adults with disabilities. She holds a BA in Sociology from the University of New Hampshire and a certificate in Early Childhood Education.
Contact Amanda

Mary Travis
Lead Nature Preschool Guide : Puddle Jumpers
Scope & Sequence Coordinator: Grow + Guide Teacher Training
Mary holds a Masters in Geography and a BS in Sustainable Development from the University of Southern Mississippi. She has most recently taught at the college level but comes to us with several years of experience in early childhood education as a Preschool teacher and through her work in children’s public library programming.
Contact Mary

Katie George
Assistant Nature Preshool Guide: Puddle Jumpers
Katie holds an associate’s degree in Human Services and has been an intern counselor with Moore County schools for the last three years.
Contact Katie

Montessori Toddler Community Classroom Staff

Chinarose Stayskal
Lead Toddler Guide: Butterflies
China studied Early Childhood Education at Cabrillo College in California and went on to lead preschoolers and elementary aged-children in Parks and Recreation programs. China has also worked as a dance instructor and as a chef and is a seasoned gardener. She completed her Montessori Beginnings training for assistants through CGMS in 2018 and is currently in the process of earning her MACTE Accredited 0-3 Montessori Lead Teacher Certification with CGMS.
Contact China

Yudy Barragan
Assistant Toddler Guide: Butterflies
Yudy earned her associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Sandhills Community College and worked as an educator at Sandhills Children’s Center for many years before becoming a nanny over the past two years.
Contact Yudy

Kelly Ficker
Lead Toddler Guide: Caterpillars
Kelly has a Masters in Education Policy and a BA in Communication. She is also a trained Kids Yoga instructor and is currently pursuing her Nido & Toddler Lead Guide Montessori Diploma through the MACTE accredited Prepared Montessorian Teacher Training Institute. Kelly comes to us with many years of related experience as a Library Associate for Early Childhood Outreach at the Southern Pines Public Library, youth program assistant, preschool lead teacher and after school care program director.
Contact Kelly

Kealee Morris
Toddler Assistant Guide
Kealee has completed Trillium Montessori’s Assistant Teacher Toolkit and trained with our toddler staff on site as the toddler floating support assistant for the first semester before joining the Caterpillar classroom.

Lisa Smith
Toddler Floating Support Guide
Lisa is a former nanny and homeschool educator and has worked in administrative positions previous to joining us at The Garden. She is currently completing the Montessori Beginnings training through CGMS for Toddler Assistants.

Gabby Bender
Substitute Guide
Gabby holds a BA in Early Childhood and a Masters in Learning Disabilities from Rowan University. She has taught and worked with children in preschool through 5th grade since 2008 and has also been a parent of Garden students since 2019.

Kelly Fagan Echavarria
Yoga Instructor
Kelly has decades of experience working with children both in Special Education for Moore County Schools and teaching children’s yoga and mindfulness classes. Kelly is the co-owner of The Connection Corner in Southern Pines where she holds her yoga and mindfulness classes through Namaste with Kelly for children of all ages and abilities.

Betsy Yamron
Lead Art Specialist and Wild Hearts Floating Support Guide,
After School Nature Club Leader
, Parent & Child Process Art Coordinator
Betsy holds a Bachelor’s in Art History from Wells College and has worked in a hobby shop and a bookstore where, as the event manager, she created and ran art classes, clubs and reading programs for children. Betsy began her Seeds & Roots training in May 2021 and has worked as a substitute guide at The Garden before moving into this role.
Contact Betsy

Gabby McNamara
Gabby joined our community as a parent 3 years ago, but she has also worked in various classroom roles for over 10 years including as a Preschool teacher and assistant, elementary grades teacher and assistant and as a tutor. She holds a BA in Early Childhood Education and Sociology and a Masters in Learning Disabilities. She has completed the Montessori Beginnings and Fundamentals courses through CGMS.

Kathryn Hall
Toddler Community Program Director
Operations Director

Contact Kathryn (910)420-8762
Kathryn holds a BS in Environmental Science and a Masters in Educational Leadership from Lynchburg College. Kathryn has nearly 10 years of experience in higher education, working as Assistant Director and Coordinator of Residence Life and as Graduate Hall Director. She completed the Montessori Foundations 3-6 training and the Montessori Beginnings 0-3 training through Center for Guided Montessori Studies. She also completed the Mastery of Montessori Leadership training through Holistic Montessori Solutions in 2020.

Elizabeth Demeyere
Wild Hearts Program Director
Outreach Director

Contact Elizabeth (910)420-8762
Elizabeth earned her degree in Developmental Psychology and has spent nearly 10 years of her career in early education. She also has a Masters in Organizational Development and Leadership and is a board certified coach through the Institute of Life Coaching. She is the founder of Rooted Resiliency Coaching and offers professional and personal coaching to help people meet their goals through one-on-one or group support.

Megan Muniz-McAleavey
Wild Hearts Teaching Coach
Megan holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts and spent several years working with children of all ages before discovering Montessori in her time working at The Garden as both an assistant and lead guide from 2015-2017. She went on to earn an Elementary Montessori Credential and taught at the Lower Elementary level and is currently on track to complete her Primary Montessori Training in 2023.

Ellen Graham
CEO & Founder
Admissions & Resources Director

Contact Ellen (910)315-0990
Ellen earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from UNC-Wilmington. She went on to earn her NC Early Childhood Credentials and attended Graduate School at Western Carolina University for Special Education before founding The Garden in 2014. She is also the founder of Kindermusik with Ellen, an early childhood music and movement program which has been in operation in Southern Pines since 2011, and additionally has over 20 years of experience in childcare and early education with training in Montessori for Early Childhood, Developmental Play Therapy and Early Intervention for Infants and Toddlers.