Lower School Teaching StaffOur K-5 teaching staff...
KindergartenAmida Cary - Kindergarten Teacher
Amida began her teaching career at Montessori school in Santa Fe, New Mexico. After working there for several years she and her family moved to the east coast where she spent over 20 years teaching in a progressive school in grades K, 1 and 4. There she created new curriculum including, for Kindergarten, "Festivals of India," and for fourth, "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, supporting changemakers, teaching ecoliteracy, and introducing mindfulness training to children.Elizabeth McDowell - Kindergarten TeacherElizabeth 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 7 years. She began as the kindergarten assistant before stepping up to lead teacher two years ago. When she's not teaching, Elizabeth enjoys singing, reading, traveling and being silly with her daughter Sophie, a student at Park Day School.Lamont Horston - Kindergarten Teaching AssistantLamont was born and raised in East Oakland and grew up playing basketball in middle school and all through High school taking him to Merritt College to continue. Lamont studies child development and has already obtained his AA working on his BA and much more. Lamont has been working with children since the 9th grade in summer camps, after school programs and coaching basketball. He is a big kid at heart and takes pride in making sure kids are always fit, engaged, and learning new things to the best of their ability!First Grade
Denise Montgomery - First Grade Teacher
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.
Jahi Johnson - First Grade Teacher
Jahi was born and raised in the Bay Area. He obtained a Bachelor's degree in Sociology from UC Riverside and returned to the Bay Area after finishing his coursework. For the past three years, Jahi has been working at Head-Royce School in grades 1-3. Jahi strives to give children the education, skills and tools they need to be successful in life. Jahi has worked with youth of all ages in various capacities prior to completing his Multiple Subject Credential and Master's of Education program at Holy Names University. He has worked as both a short and long term substitute teacher in multiple school districts, and coached basketball at Berkeley High. Jahi is the oldest of six and loves to spend time with his family whenever he can. He also enjoys being outdoors, running, cooking and reading.Katy Ailes - First Grade Teacher (maternity leave 2018-19)
This is Katy's fourth year at Park Day School. Previously, Katy taught at a small private school in Sacramento, California for two years and, before that, she was an early childhood teacher for six years in progressive public schools in New York City. She received her training at Bank Street College of Education in New York City while assistant teaching at Trevor Day School in Manhattan. Katy also taught for GO Project in New York City- an academic outreach program for at-risk youth. During her time at Park Day, Katy has been a member of the Agency by Design fellowship along with second grade teacher, Susan Lee and Design Make Engage program Director Ilya Pratt. This program brings together teachers from diverse schools around Oakland to collaborate and to consider ways of integrating maker-centered learning practices and routines into the classroom. Katy has enjoyed bringing this work into her own classroom as well as leading staff in professional development opportunities related to maker centered learning. Katy is a trained ballet dancer and she received her BFA in Ballet Performance from the University of Utah. She continues to enjoy taking class and going to watch the ballet. She also enjoys teaching ballet to children of all ages. In her free time, Katy likes to spend time with her husband Derek and their four cats, and she is expected her first child in September 2018.Alexandria Munoz-Garcia- First Grade Teaching Assistant
Alexandria is a Bay Area native, residing in Newark, Ca. She received her BA in Liberal Studies with a focus in Childhood Studies at Cal State East Bay in 2017. She has worked with both Fremont and Hayward Unified School District, working specifically in urbanized schools. She is currently pursuing her Multiple Subject Credential and Masters Degree in Education with the Bay Area Teacher Training Institute (BATTI), and is a Resident Teacher at Park and will assist in first grade. She is in her second year in this program.Second GradeMichelle McAfee - Second Grade Teacher
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 Northern 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 degree in Mass Communications and later completed the multi-subject 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 UC Berkeley's Bay Area Writing Project, and brings this program to teachers in Oakland through workshops, and students during the summer through BAWP's Young Writer's Camp. 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 writing.Susan Lee - Second Grade Teacher
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, has co-coordinated BAWP Young Writers Camps, and enjoys spending summers teaching writing to enthusiastic Young Writers. She has also participated as a fellow with the Agency by Design Fellowship in Oakland.Ben Doyle - Second Grade Teaching AssistantBen is a teaching assistant as part of my internship with the Bay Area Teacher's Training Institute, a 2-year graduate program, in Oakland. The parent of a 3 year-old and an avid rock climber, Ben is a West Virginia native and got to California after a lengthy climbing-pilgrimage. After graduating from Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, Ben worked for Second Nature Wilderness Therapy in Georgia and then in Utah. In 2008, Ben made a trip to Yosemite and fell in love with the Sierra. He became an EMT and joined Yosemite Search and Rescue in spring 2009, working in Yosemite for 6 years as a Search and Rescue Technician and then as a Park Ranger. He left Yosemite in 2014 and landed in the Bay Area to support his (ex) partner. Ben now lives in Oakland and spends much of his time parenting and making trips to the Sierra to climb and the North Coast to dive. Ben loves to ramble in the wilds with his son, Sam and partner Tay.Third GradeDevin Homme - Third Grade TeacherDevin was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN by a community of teachers. He graduated from Macalester College in Minnesota where he studied education and creative writing. Before teaching at Park Day, he taught in a variety of educational settings ranging from running his own 5th grade classroom, to coaching soccer, to creating and implementing educational programming for youth and their parents at Planned Parenthood.He has been at Park Day for five years and his Masters Degree in Education is through the BATTI program which he completed in May 2016. When he’s not in the classroom, Devin can be found building forts and eating burritos with his three daughters. He can also be found laughing with his wife at the amount of children under five they have. If you look hard enough, you'll hopefully see him playing more soccer again.Sydney Borstel - Third Grade Teacher
Sydney has been teaching in K-3 classrooms for more than a decade, in a variety of schools and districts. Most recently, Sydney taught at LeConte School in Berkeley, and prior to that, at a dual-immersion Spanish-English school, as well as at Berkeley Rose Waldorf. Sydney has a passion for literacy development using reader’s and writer’s workshop models and integrating differentiated instruction in small groups and learning centers. She also enjoys developing projects that integrate subject areas through song, art and movement, and fosters social emotional learning by integrating Kid Power and Toolbox curricula. Sydney has her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from USF, and her Multiple Subject Credential from San Diego State University and the University of Queretaro, Mexico. She is currently completing the Reading Certificate Program through UC Irvine Extension. Outside of school, Sydney enjoys spending time with her family, teaching Yoga, coaching soccer and playing guitar. Sydney travels extensively to various Spanish Speaking Countries.Taisha Hudson - Third Grade Teaching Assistant
Taisha was born in Oakland, CA. She went through school in OUSD. After graduating from Castlemont High School, Taisha went to college at San Francisco State University. She graduated with an B.A. in Africana Studies in 2015. After college she participated in AmeriCorps for two years where she was an after school teacher and academic intervention specialist. Taisha’s favorite hobbies are basketball, going to the movies, working out, dancing, music science, math, camping, dogs, working with youth, hanging out with friends and family.Fourth GradeBen Sibrack - Fourth Grade Teacher
Originally from the East Coast, Ben has lived in the Bay Area for eighteen years. For the past twelve years Ben has been teaching fourth through sixth grades in the East Bay, on the Peninsula, and in San Francisco. Ben received his teaching credential from New College of California in the Mission district of San Francisco. This summer Ben participated in Harvard Graduate School of Education's Project Zero Classroom. Previously he has participated in the Exploratorium's Teacher Institute, and is trained in Non Violent Communication and mindfulness for students. Ben enjoys getting messy with science and art projects, writing, playing in nature,
and traveling the world.Kristy Hui - Fourth Grade TeacherKristy has a deep commitment to social-emotional learning and an enthusiasm for teaching science. Previously, Kristy taught at Alta Vista School, an independent, progressive school in San Francisco where she has taught second grade for three years. Over the past 10 years she has taught Kindergarten through fifth grade in diverse school settings, as well as internationally through the World Teach program. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, photography, reading, and exploring the beautiful Bay Area. Kristy is also a participant in the acclaimed SEEDS (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) program.Laura Jew - Fourth Grade Teaching AssistantBorn and raised in Oakland, Laura is an artist, writer, reiki practitioner, aromatherapist, and educator. With an MA in Education from Mills College, she brings her focus on social-emotional development and past experience in Special Education to the classroom.Fifth GradeLesley Bell - Fifth Grade TeacherLesley has been teaching for many years; over twenty-five at Park Day School. Lesley came to us from the Bank Street School in New 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.
Eileen Walker - Fifth Grade Teacher
Eileen joins Park Day School after teaching 5th grade in Oakland for the past two years. Prior to that she was teaching in the Los Angeles area. Eileen's educational philosophy emphasizes the development of critical thinking, creativity, personal responsibility, and social-emotional development. During the past two years, she served as the schoolwide lead Science Teacher, helping to develop Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) competency amongst the teaching staff while also leading the school science fair for 150 students. Additionally, Eileen hones her passion for teaching writing by emphasizing collaborative and intensive reading and writing workshops. She cannot wait to exercise her educational creativity in an independent school environment! Eileen's BA is in International Relations, with a Spanish minor, from UC Santa Barbara. Prior to teaching, she worked in environmental sustainability, specifically focusing on water conservation. Her Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential is from Cal State Northridge. She is a social justice activist, volunteers at Berkeley Free Clinic, and works in Adult Literacy and at a youth Rescue Mission. While teaching is her professional passion, Eileen is also a traveler. She has spent two of the last three summers serving as a volunteer English teacher in Peru and Costa Rica, respectively.Sarah Sheaffer - Fifth Grade Teaching AssistantBorn 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). 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. Sarah has been working in both private and public schools since 2002 and has been with PDS since 2012.In her free time Sarah enjoys crafting (knitting, crocheting, quilting, making necklaces and hair accessories), 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.SpecialistsAmelea Canaris, K – 4 GardeningFor the past 11 years, Amelea has engaged in work that creates more awareness with youth around the environment, nature connection, gardening, food & nutrition. Amelea has studied theatre, dance and art education and received her BA in Environmental Education at Warren Wilson College where she developed skills in curriculum writing and outdoor education as well as program planning. She has been trained in Joseph Cornell’s "flow learning" and Sharing Nature program, participated in the Nature Play Corps, and worked with the Natural Learning Initiative in North Carolina. In 2012, she was a teacher-in-residence at the educational non-profit farm, Slide Ranch in Muir Beach, CA. Post Slide Ranch, Amelea was a teacher assistant for Compass Green's Mobile Greenhouse Project, a play leader at Adventure Playground in Berkeley, and a nature awareness instructor for Riekes Center and Synapse elementary school in Menlo Park. Amelea is co-founder and co-director of Hello Hills, an organization run by she and her sister, which offers nature-based summer camp, year-round environmental enrichment and after school programs for youth and families in the east bay outdoors. Recently, she has received 2 years of training in nature connection, permaculture gardening design and 8-shields mentorship from the Weaving Earth Center for Relational Education. She also works part time as a nature awareness instructor for Weaving Earth Center for Relational Education.Joseph Patton, 1, 2 and 5 GardeningJoe is thrilled to be a part of the Park Day School community as the Learning Garden teacher. With over five years of experience in gardening education, he recently graduated with a master’s degree in Geography at the University of Arizona, focusing on local food systems and public art. In Tucson, he worked as a field coordinator for The Community and School Garden Program, developing and leading garden education curriculum for K-12th grade students and assisting with the designing, planting, and maintaining of fruit and vegetable garden sites. Prior to graduate school, Joseph served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua, working on issues relating to food security and sustainable agriculture. His projects included designing and implementing food-processing and agribusiness workshops, leading a school garden program for youth, and installing solar panels in the community with the assistance of a USAID grant. Joseph is excited to collaborate with his fellow Learning Garden teacher, Amelea Canaris, on developing curriculum that nurtures Park Day School students' academic, social, and emotional learning.Grecia Zuniga-Bloom, K - 2nd Grade SpanishGrecia was born in Mexico to a family of teachers and has been working in the classroom for years, most recently in Orinda Public Schools. She has a BA degree in Communications from the University of Veracruz and a Scientific Film Minor from the International School of Film and Video. Since 2006, Grecia has been teaching Spanish and art to Kindergarten through fourth grade students and has found her passion in teaching Spanish. She brings her cultural roots to her teaching, as well as her interests in art and Mexican folk dancing.Alisa Peres 3rd - 5th Grade SpanishAlisa joined the staff of Park Day in 2014. She grew up in Brooklyn, NY and fell in love with Spanish in the fourth grade through a weekly class offered in her school. She told her parents she was going to live in a Spanish speaking country one day and since then, has travelled or lived in Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, and El Salvador. Alisa went to Boston University, where she received her teaching degree in elementary and special education. 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, including 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 Masters 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 lives in in Berkeley with her teenage son, and enjoys travel, playing music, gardening, and hiking.Vera Balarin - K-5 Math SpecialistVera joined PDS in 2016 as a math consultant. Vera graduated with a degree in mathematics, statistics, and computer science from the University of Zagreb in Croatia. After working as a programmer for several years in Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, and the U.S., she discovered her passion for teaching in 1999. She has been teaching mathematics and working as a math consultant and coach in various independent schools in Bay Area. Vera is looking forward to spending more time at PDS this school year and sharing her love and enthusiasm for mathematics with our young mathematicians.Sara Mohn - K-2 Learning Specialist
Sara holds a Masters Degree in teaching from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA, and a graduate-level certificate in educational therapy from Holy Names University. Before joining Park Day, she was a classroom teacher for seven years, 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. Additionally, she has worked as an intervention tutor while completing her educational therapy studies. She has training in Orton-Gillingham, Slingerland, and Lindamood Bell structured reading methodologies. Sara is an 80% employee here at Park Day School. Outside of her professional life, Sara likes to spend time with her husband and two daughters, take long runs on trails, and play fetch with her furry pup, Millie.Ilya Pratt - Director, Design+Make+Engage Program
At the heart of Ilya’s educational practice is a deep curiosity about 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. As the director of Park Day School’s Design+Make+Engage program and the Innovation Workshop, Ilya provides integrated and collaborative programming supporting STEM, community service and social justice curricula. In addition, Ilya is a member of the Agency by Design Oakland leadership team, facilitating a teacher fellowship in maker-centered learning classroom practices. Ilya was a Maker Leader for Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) Project Zero, Agency by Design, a research project exploring the promises and practices of maker-centered learning. She has also been an instructional coach for the HGSE online course, Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom. 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 the Sonoma State University Maker Certificate program. 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.Noreen Axelson - Learning Specialist: 3rd - 5th Grades
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 in Education. She has worked as a learning specialist and educational therapist for almost 20 years and has been a learning specialist at Park Day School since 2012. Noreen has three grown daughters and lives in Berkeley with her husband (a retired lawyer and newly licensed registered nurse), her younger daughters who are saving rent by living at home, two cats, and a step-cat. She spends her free time reading, gardening, and experimenting with gluten-free cooking.
Lisa Ostapinski - Visual Arts Teacher, K-5th Grades
Originally from San Diego, Lisa has been an Oakland resident for 23 years. She is a professional painter who has taught art in the Bay Area for over 16 years, in independent school as well as through the Museum of Children's Art in Oakland. She holds a BFA in studio art from Mills College and an MA in art and art education from the Teachers College in New York. Lisa started making art when she was about three years old with her grandparents at home who were both artists and she never stopped. She believes in the power of the arts to transform, to inspire, to imagine, to bring people together, and in the words of Toni Cade Bambara to "make the revolution irresistible."When Lisa isn't painting or teaching art she is spending time with her family including her seven year old son, hiking, cooking, gardening and dancing. She has enjoyed the study of African Brazilian and Haitian dance for 20 years.Monsieur (Monty) Joyce - Lower School Physical EducationOriginally from New York City, Monty has worked in youth development and education for almost 10 years and holds a BA in Communication and Media Studies from Fordham University. Originally working in the non-profit sector, Monty ran a local branch of an award winning childhood obesity prevention program called CATCH Healthy Habits for almost 3 years, working with youth in low income communities and teaching healthier nutrition habits and physical activity. His work in children's health and wellness lead him to the San Francisco Bay Area where he worked as Playworks Coach in San Francisco's Bessie Carmichael Elementary School for 2 year where he taught social emotional physical education classes, coordinated recess and coached intramural sports. This is his 3rd year at Park Day School where he also coaches for The Mighty Apples teams in various sports.When Monty isn't teaching, he enjoys playing sports, traveling, reading and exploring the wonders of Northern California.Jackie Rago - K-5 Music
Jackie has more than 20 years experience teaching music to preschoolers through adults, most recently serving as Teacher and Music Program Director at Escuela Bilinque Internacional (EBI) for 10 years. Jackie holds a BA from Holy Names College / Music and Arts Insitute of San Francisco and completed Orff-Schulwerk teaching certification from Dominican College, San Francisco. She is also an accomplished performer and continues to keep that aspect of her musicianship alive. Last summer, Jackie studied music in Ghana with a group of teachers that included Jim Santi-Owen, our middle school music teacher. Jackie will bring her Venezuelan culture and expertise to our music program, as well as incorporate robust Spanish language learning. She has been a highly sought after presenter, inspiring teachers around the world. Jackie will bring much joy and heart to our program and community. She is creative, passionate and her approach fits beautifully with Park Day's progressive model.