Lower School Teaching StaffOur K-5 teaching staff...
KindergartenAmida Cary - Kindergarten Teacher
Amida began her teaching career wanting to create a different kind of education for her children than she could find at the 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 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.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 - 1st 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 Howard - First Grade Teacher (maternity leave 2018-19)
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.Alexandria Munoz-Garcia- First Grade Teaching Assistant
Alexandria, a Bay Area Teacher Training Institute (BATTI) Resident Teacher will assist in first grade. She is in her first year in this program, which leads to a Multiple Subject Credential and Masters Degree in Education.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 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 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 and has taught during the summer at BAWP's Young Writers Camp.Ben Doyle - Second Grade Teaching AssistantThird 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. 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 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 four they have. Sometimes you’ll even see him playing soccer if you look long enough.Sydney Borstel - Third Grade
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 - Kindergarten / 2nd 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 a 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. Tasha’s favorite hobbies are basketball, going to them movies, working out, dancing, science and hanging out with friends and family.Fourth GradeBen Sibrack - Fourth Grade Teacher
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.Kristy Hui - Fourth Grade TeacherKristy has a deep commitment to social-emotional learning and a particular flair for teaching science. Previously, Kristy taught at Alta Vista, an independent, progressive school in San Francisco where she has taught second grade for three years. She has taught Kindergarten through fifth grade in diverse school settings, as well as internationally thorought the World Teach program. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, photography and exploring the beautiful Bay Area. Kristy is also a participant in the acclaimed SEEDS (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) program.Laura Jew - Teaching AssistantLaura will be the fourth grade teaching assistant. Laura is currently assisting Katy's first grade, and has previously assisted in third and fourth grades at Park Day. Laura is a credentialed teacher.Fifth GradeLesley Bell - Fifth Grade TeacherLesley 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.
Eileen Walker - 5th 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 - Teaching Assistant 5th GradeBorn 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.SpecialistsAmelea Canaris, K - 4th GardeningFor the past 10 years, Amelea Canaris has engaged in work that creates more awareness with youth around environmental, farming, food & nutrition issues. 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. Recently, she has received training in deep nature connection, permaculture design and 8-shields mentorship from the Weaving Earth Center for Relational Education. In her free time, she enjoys collaborating musically and co-teaching outdoor programs with her sister.Grecia Zuniga-Bloom, K - 2nd and 6th 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 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.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 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. Ilya founded Park Day’s Design+Make+Engage program and the Innovation Workshop. She is a Maker Leader for the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), Project Zero, Agency by Design project, exploring the promises and practices of maker-centered learning. In addition, she is a coach for the HGSE course, Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom, and an adjunct professor for the Sonoma State University Maker Certificate program. 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 and Ullens School in Nepal. 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 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 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.
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 EducationMonty has his BA in Communications and Media Studies from Fordham University, and experience coaching and assisting PE here at Park Day, and as a Playworks Coordinator previously. Monty also has worked in youth development programs and tutoring, as well as being one of our teaching assistants this year in both third and fourth grade. Monty has developed warm relationships with everyone in our community, and the children are very excited to have him in this lead PE position.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.