Lower School Teaching Staff
 
Our K-5 teaching staff...
AC
 Kindergarten
 
Amida Cary - Kindergarten Teacher
Amida began her teaching career wanting to create a different kind of education for her children than she could find atthe time. Amida graduated from Northwestern University in 1971 with a major in art history, a minor in English literature, and extra-curricular experience in non-violent counter-culture.
 
In her search for an alternative voice to education, she discovered a soul mate in the writings of Maria Montessori. Amida trained as a Montessori teacher with the St. Nicholas School for the Education of the Montessori Method of Education of London and NYC. She co-founded the Montessori Discovery School in Santa Fe. Some years later she and her family moved to Annapolis, MD. There she joined the faculty (and her children the student body) of the Key School, an independent school founded by tutors from St. John's College, while pursuing and receiving state certification in early childhood education. During her 20+ year tenure at the Key School, Amida gained exposure to the thinking of cutting-edge educators and,with phenomenal administrative support and peer collaboration, designed and implemented innovative units of study, notably "Ecosystems of the Chesapeake Bay" and "The Travels of Ibn Battuta" which received awards from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the National Geographic Society respectively.

In 2004 Amida moved to Berkeley and taught for a year at North Oakland Community Charter School before joining Park Day School's staff as a Kindergarten teacher in the fall of 2007. Amida is pleased to have found an educational home at Park. As a lover of cultural variety and the natural world, a perennial student, a teacher of Sufi meditation, and an advocate for children and Earth, she is especially proud of and resonant with Park's emphasis on building a diverse community of learners, teaching ecoliteracy and sustainability, introducing mindfulness training to children, and developing awareness about transgender children.
 
  
Elizabeth McDowell - Kindergarten TeacherElizabeth
Elizabeth grew up on the East coast as well as in the West Indies, on the small island of Bequia. It was there that her love of teaching was born as she volunteered at a small local school. Elizabeth graduated from Guilford College, a Friends school in North Carolina, with a BA in socio-anthropology. She received her Masters in Early Childhood Education from Norfolk State University. Before moving to Oakland, Elizabeth taught kindergarten for 12 years in the public school system in Norfolk, Va. Elizabeth has been working at Park Day School for 5 years. She began as an assistant in the Bridge-K program ending the year as lead teacher. The past 3 1/2 years she was the kindergarten assistant before stepping up to lead teacher during Amida's sabbatical.
When she's not teaching, Elizabeth enjoys singing, reading, traveling and being silly with her daughter Sophie, a student at Park Day School.
 
 
First Grade
 
Denise Montgomery - First Grade TeacherDenise
Denise returned to Park Day School in 2014 after a 5 year stint at St Paul's where she went through the BATTI Program (Bay Area Teacher Training Institute) and then taught kindergarten. Previously Denise taught k-2 Spanish at Park Day for one year covering a sabbatical, and also assisted and taught after school drama. Having received both a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) and an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in acting, Denise loves to weave theatre into her teaching. Don't be surprised if you find puppets, plays and a range of entertaining characters in her classroom.

Denise lives in Oakland with her husband, Spencer. In her spare time she enjoys gardening, yoga, Tibetan Buddhist meditation and outdoor adventure. 
 
 
 
Katy Howard - First Grade Teacher KatyH
Katy is an experienced classroom teacher with eight years in the classroom and a Masters in Education from Bank Street College of Education. Bank Street is one of the premiere programs in the country where fellow PDS teachers Lesley Bell (5th), Julie Bowers (6th), Renee Miller (3rd) earned Masters Degrees, and Timnah Steinman (MS) is currently pursuing an MS. Most recently, Katy taught at Merryhill Independent School in Sacramento before moving to the Bay Area this summer. She previously taught Kindergarten, first and second grade in the New York public schools.
 
 
Second Grade
 
Michelle McAfee - Second Grade Teachermichelle
Michelle was born in Irumagawa, Honshu, Japan and moved to Cape Cod, Massachusetts when she was three years old, later moving with her parents to California. From Japan to Cape Cod to the East Bay, through her exposure to a wide variety of cultures and experiences, she enveloped the concept of E Pluribus Unum (many uniting into one), the axle from which her teaching philosophy and curriculum stem. Teaching is her route to help build cultural bridges of understanding for young minds to traverse while they are developing empathy and learning to embrace diversity.

Michelle attended UC Berkeley for her undergraduate work and completed the credentialing program at San Francisco State. Through the program Teachers of Color in Independent Schools, Michelle taught at The Hamlin School for Girls in San Francisco and later, The East Bay Sierra School (currently Prospect Sierra) before coming to Park Day in 1992. During her sabbatical year at Park, Michelle was accepted for a research fellowship with the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance Project in Montgomery, Alabama. There she wrote literary reviews for classroom and professional development material, published articles, led classroom workshops, and made presentations at southern universities. Michelle has been trained as a teacher consultant for the Bay Area Writing Project and brings this program to teachers in Oakland through a series of workshops.

Michelle has two sons, Alessio and Nolan, the latter a PDS alum. Michelle enjoys beading, reading, nature, photography and digital art, attending plays, scrapbooking and journaling.
 
 
Susan Lee - Second Grade Teachers_lee
Susan has taught second grade at Park Day School since 2004. She grew up in southern California, and received her Bachelors as a double major from U.C.L.A. in Psychology and Asian American Studies. After teaching English to elementary and middle school children in Japan, she earned her California multi-subject teaching credential and M.E.D. from U.C. Berkeley through U.C.B's Developmental Teacher Education program. She is a teacher consultant for the Bay Area Writing Project and has taught during the summer at BAWP's Young Writers Camp.
 
 
 
 
Jessie Beck - Second Grade Assistant Teacherjessie
Jessie has been teaching both kids and adults for the past five years. In 2010, she graduated from Humboldt State University amongst the beautiful redwoods. She earned her B.A. with an emphasis in Art Education and Dance. For the next two years she taught K-5th grade art and P.E. at two different charter schools in Arcata. In addition to teaching art, Jessie has been teaching adults dance, as well as Zumba classes in the community for the past five years. Jessie has been working at Park Day School for the past two years. She also actively subs in the classroom. Jessie brings her creative experience and world travels to Park Day School.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Third Grade
 
Mona Halaby - Third Grade Teachermona
Mona grew up in many parts of the world. She is originally from Palestine, but grew up in Egypt, Belgium and Switzerland. At U.C.Berkeley she earned her Bachelors and Masters in Comparative Literature. She received her Multiple Subject Credential from Mills College.

Mona co-authored two books on parenting, No-Fault Parenting, and Preparing for the Teen Years. Her third book, devoted to her classroom practice,is entitled, Belonging: Creating Community in the Classroom. She has also published articles on story plays, and on math. Since 1989 Mona has taught in Berkeley at the preschool and Kindergarten levels, and then at Mills College Children's School in first through fourth grades. She has been teaching third grade at Park Day School for over a decade. Mona recently spent two years at the West Bank city of Ramallah, training the staff of the Ramallah Friends School in the facilitation of class meetings and non-violent communication.

When she is not teaching, Mona enjoys spending time with her family, sailing in the Bay and the Sacramento Delta, attending plays at the theater, and reading.
 
Devin Homme - Third Grade TeacherDevin
Devin was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN by a community of teachers. He graduated from Macalester College in Minnesota where he studied Education. Since then, he has taught in a variety of school settings ranging from running his own 5th grade classroom, to running educational programming for youth and their parents at Planned Parenthood.

He worked at Park Day for two and a half years as the Assistant Teacher in 3rd grade while he finished up his Masters Degree in Education through the BATTI program which he completed in May 2016. He is thrilled to be the new third grade lead teacher and work alongside some amazing and talented colleagues.

When he’s not in the classroom, Devin can be found building forts and eating burritos with his two and a half year old daughter while one of his two new twin girls naps in his arm. He can also be found laughing with his wife at the amount of children under three they have. Sometimes you’ll even see him playing soccer if you look long enough.
 
Fourth Grade
 
Ben Sibrack - Fourth Grade Teacher BenS
Originally from the East Coast, Ben has lived in San Francisco for the past fifteen years. For five years, Ben has taught 5th and 6th grade Science and Language Arts at the San Carlos Charter Learning Center. Prior to San Carlos, Ben taught fifth grade in Pacifica, at Sunset Ridge Elementary. Ben also has experience working with many different populations in several San Francisco schools. He received his teaching credential from New College of California in the Mission district. Ben enjoys getting messy with science and art projects, writing, laughing, dancing, playing in nature, and traveling the world.
 
 
Julius Hampton - Fourth Grade Teacher Julius-2
Born and raised in Los Angeles by a family of educators, Julius decided to follow in his family’s footsteps to become a teacher. After receiving a degree in Sociology from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Julius moved back to California to obtain his teaching credential through the Bay Area Teacher Training Institute (BATTI).

Most recently Julius has taught at Mt. Tamalpais School, an independent school in Mill Valley, as a fourth grade homeroom teacher. At Mt. Tam, Julius was responsible for teaching math and social studies to first through fifth grade students. Prior to working there, Julius was a BATTI intern at Head-Royce in first, second and fifth grade.

He also has experience in many other avenues of interest to us here at Park Day, including teaching theater, dance and visual arts to elementary students in Connecticut. He taught Aim High at St. Paul's and Head's Up at Head Royce, both programs serving low income middle students of color. Julius' work toward equity also includes co-leading work at Mt. Tamalpais School through the National Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity Project, and serving as the education intern for the Anti-Defamation League's A World of Difference Institute in LA. Julius has training through Mindful Schools, SEED and and Making Math Real, all of which he incorporates into his work. Julius also enjoys hiking, biking, meditating, creating art, and spending time with his family.
 
 
Sarah Sheaffer - Teaching Assistant 4th and 5th Grades SarahS
Born and raised on the coast in the Pacific Northwest, Sarah graduated with her Bachelors of Arts degree in 2001 from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Feeling pulled to make a choice between teaching and psychology, she chose psychology and graduated in 2007 from John F. Kennedy University with her Masters degree in Counseling Psychology-Holistic (integrating body, mind, spirit, and culture). She provided individual, couples, family and child therapy before before getting hired as an Inclusion Facilitator (one-on-one aide) at Walden Center & School in Berkeley where she worked for 7 years. In this role she was able to fuse together the two areas she loved: teaching and holistic psychology. During that time she also assisted in the classroom as well as substitute taught. She's spent this past year at Park as a Dedicated Aide.

In her free time Sarah enjoys crafting (knitting, crocheting, quilting, making hair pretties and making chunky bead necklaces), going to concerts, and supporting local sports teams at games (go A's)! She especially enjoys spending time with family and friends and visiting Washington and the ocean as much as possible.
 
 
 
 
Fifth Grade
 
Lesley Bell - Fifth Grade Teacher lesley
Lesley has been teaching for over twenty-five years; over twenty at Park Day School. Lesley came to us from the Bank Street School in Yew York City and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. In her teaching, her goal is to create an environment for children in which their natural curiosity and penchant for connectedness, open-mindedness, and empathy for others is fostered.
 
Lesley enjoys playing the flute, developing curriculum, and the outdoors. Her daughter is an alum of Park Day School.
 
 
Erica Ryan - Fifth Grade Teacher Erica R.
Erica graduated from the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley in 2002 and went on to earn her teaching credential at Mills College. She comes to us from Berkwood Hedge School, 
where she taught for nine years as the Environmental Science Specialist and Fourth Grade lead teacher. She values teacher leadership and served on the Board of Directors at Berkwood Hedge for six years. She is excited to bring her passion for teaching to the Park Day community where environmental science education, social justice, inquiry, and critical thinking are at the heart of an integrated academic program.

In her free time she enjoys going on bicycle adventures, sailing, playing cards, and cooking for her friends. She also loves to cultivate green spaces, and is committed to the time it takes to maintain her home garden.
 
 
Sarah Sheaffer - Teaching Assistant 4th and 5th Grades SarahS
Born and raised on the coast in the Pacific Northwest, Sarah graduated with her Bachelors of Arts degree in 2001 from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Feeling pulled to make a choice between teaching and psychology, she chose psychology and graduated in 2007 from John F. Kennedy University with her Masters degree in Counseling Psychology-Holistic (integrating body, mind, spirit, and culture). She provided individual, couples, family and child therapy before before getting hired as an Inclusion Facilitator (one-on-one aide) at Walden Center & School in Berkeley where she worked for 7 years. In this role she was able to fuse together the two areas she loved: teaching and holistic psychology. During that time she also assisted in the classroom as well as substitute taught. She's spent this past year at Park as a Dedicated Aide.

In her free time Sarah enjoys crafting (knitting, crocheting, quilting, making hair pretties and making chunky bead necklaces), going to concerts, and supporting local sports teams at games (go A's)! She especially enjoys spending time with family and friends and visiting Washington and the ocean as much as possible.

 
 
 
Specialists
Amelea Canaris, K - 4th Gardening Amelea



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Alisa Peres, K - 2nd and 6th Grade SpanishAlisa
Alisa grew up in Brooklyn, NY.  She fell in love with Spanish in the fourth grade through a weekly class offered in her school, and told her parents she was going to live in a Spanish speaking country one day.  Since then, she has travelled or lived in Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, and El Salvador.  Alisa went to Boston University, where she received her teaching degree.  One of her first jobs as a young teacher in California was teaching Spanish at the Walden School in Berkeley, where she was deeply and permanently impacted by progressive education.  After seven years at Walden, Alisa went on to teach Spanish and music in a number of other schools in the east bay, most recently, at Manzanita SEED Dual Immersion Elementary School in Oakland.  Through her work with an organization called Guitars In The Classroom, she has also taught many classroom teachers throughout the Bay Area to play guitar and integrate music into all aspects of their curriculum. In 2015, Alisa earned her Master's in Education with a concentration in Language and Literacy.

Alisa was a founding member of the performing group Colibrí, with whom she performed Latin American folkloric music for twenty years. She currently has one more year of study to complete a master’s degree in Language and Literacy.  She lives in in Berkeley with her teenage son, and enjoys travel, playing music, gardening, and hiking.

 
 
 
Humberto Cuevas 3rd - 5th Grade Spanish Humberto
Humberto comes to us from the Eastern side of Cuba. While on the island, he studied law at the University of Camagüey, and was also involved in writing and theater projects. At the end of his studies Humberto left his native country and traveled overseas, ending up in England where he lived and worked teaching for a year in Oxford.

Since moving to the Bay Area in 2008 he has taught Spanish to all ages and different levels, most recently at Centro Latino in Berkeley. Here, Humberto worked with children and adults fem beginner to advanced levels. Humberto has a passion for languages and culture, and enriches his classroom with a variety of language techniques and project infused with cultural studies. Humberto has also worked as a Spanish interpreter with Alameda County Social Services and various school districts.

He travels whenever he can, and enjoys spending long hours at home cooking bona fide Mexican food.

 
 
Sara Mohn - K-1 Learning Specialist SaraM
Sara holds a Masters Degree in teaching from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. She also completed the Educational Therapy Graduate studies at Holy Names University. She has seven years' experience teaching, including one in Japan. She has taught grades 2-4 as a self-contained classroom teacher, and has been a reading support teacher for third-graders, as well as an intervention tutor while completing her ed therapy work. She has training in Orton-Gillingham and Slingerland reading methodology. We are very happy to have Sara on our staff, and she will be here 80% time. Outside of her professional life, Sara likes to spend time with her husband and two young daughters, take long runs on trails, and play fetch with her furry pup, Millie.  
 
 
 
Ilya Pratt - Director, Design+Make+Engage Programip
At the heart of Ilya’s educational practice is an unrelenting drive to figure out how things work, whether it is a child’s approach to problem solving or an engineering design solution. Ilya has worked with children and educators for over three decades, in school and non-school settings. Diverse lifelong interests including building, racing bicycles, industrial arts and woodworking, have complemented her professional work.  Ilya founded Park’s Design+Make+Engage program and the Innovation Workshop. She is a Maker Leader for the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Project Zero, Agency by Design project, exploring the promises and practices of maker-centered learning. Previously, Ilya founded Park Day School’s Learning Resource Program, one of the first in Bay Area independent schools. She has taught for the Boston Children’s Museum, Ullens School in Nepal, and she is currently an adjunct professor for Sonoma State University. Ilya’s lifelong learning includes B.A. Studio Art/Art History; M.A. Special Education and Certificate in Educational Therapy; extensive trainings in neuropsychological perspectives and addressing learning differences; and a host of workshops related to industrial arts, digital fabrication, and maker-centered learning. Ilya joined the Park Day staff in 1989.
 
 
Noreen Axelson - Learning Specialist: 2nd - 5th GradesNoreen
Noreen graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Psychology and Social Welfare. She put those skills to work in the practice of corporate finance law for several years and began a family before returning to her college passion to earn a Certificate in Educational Therapy and a Masters Degree in Education at Holy Names University. She has worked as a learning specialist and educational therapist for the last 10 years. She joined Park Day School as our learning specialist for grades 2-5 in the Fall of 2012. Noreen has three daughters who are rapidly taking wing and leaving the nest. She lives in Berkeley with her husband (a lawyer and certified yoga instructor), her youngest daughter, two cats, and a turtle, and spends her free time reading and experimenting with edible gardening and gluten-free cooking.
 

Kelly Takunda Orphan, Music Teacher, K - 6th Grades
kelly3 Kelly Takunda Orphan, a vocalist, percussionist, songwriter and dancer, has performed music around the world. She was raised in a family of mixed-heritage musicians in the Bay Area, sang in her church choir, studied piano, voice and percussion and toured with Babatunde Olatunji before moving to Africa and discovering her deep-rooted passion for music and dance in Zimbabwe. Along with leading her own band, The KTO Project, she is currently performing with Nosotras, specializing in music and dance from Latin America.

Kelly holds a BA from San Jose State University in Creative Arts with an emphasis in Ethnomusicology as well as a minor in music. She also completed the Orff Schulwerk certification program in 2001 at Mills College in Oakland, CA.

Since 1995, Kelly has worked as a music specialist in Richmond, San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland public and private schools, as well as in many private schools, In 1997, Kelly began to build a music program at Park Day School where she is currently teaches music to K-6 students, and directs three choirs and a percussion ensemble. 

 
Jenny Lee, Visual Arts Teacher, K-5th Gradesjennylee
Jenny joined the staff in 1991 as an after school dance/drama specialist and has collaborated with classroom teachers in a variety of ways including choreographing and authoring plays. She launched Park’s art program in 1994. Jenny teaches a range of skills and techniques, while encouraging each student to interpret these traditions while having fun discovering their own styles.

Jenny has a background in classical art training, fashion design, dance performance, graphic arts, doll making, costuming and children and adult theater. Her favorite art forms include drawing, ink portraits and working with found objects. She brings all these elements to her work with students and bases her teaching on multicultural awareness of creative expression.

For Jenny art is a process that reflects the individual child,unifies the school community and provides a powerful voice to the larger world. Some of Jenny's work can be seen at jenni4leeart.com

 
 
Celia Richard - Lower School Physical Education CeliaR
Celia has 12 years' experience working in independent schools. She has served as the Athletic Director, K-5 Physical Education teacher, and Middle School Physical Education teacher at Children's Day School in San Francisco over the past 8 years. Previously, Celia was the Head PE and Swimming Teacher at St. Paul's here in Oakland, and holds her California Clear Single Subject Teaching Credential in K-12 Physical Education.

Celia has a BA in journalism from Pepperdine University where she was on scholarship for swimming. She is a native of Oregon and loves all things outdoors, especially the beach. She enjoys gardening, baking, and any adventure with her two daughters. 
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