Classroom Nido (Infant)

Lead Kinnari Pandya

Ms. Kinnari Pandya has been the Lead Teacher for the Infant Nido since 2007. She is originally from Ahmedabad, India, where she attended a Montessori school in her early childhood and studied Advanced Accounting and Criminal Law at Gujarat University. After settling in Arizona with her husband, Ms. Kinnari fulfilled her American Red Cross Nurses Training. Ms. Kinnari has her certificate for 0-3 years from North American Montessori Center Training and in 2012 also became certified from the Center For Montesorri Education, NY for 0-3years. Ms. Kinnari has two children: a son named Shaunak and a daughter named Vaidehi.

Classroom 3 (Early Toddler)

Lead Janelle Medders

My name is Janelle Medders. I am a wife and mother of 3 beautiful kids Lola, Londyn and Carver. I have lived in the Ahwatukee area since I was in grade school and love being in the area near my parents. I love to hang out with close friends, lead a neighborhood Girl Scout troop and sing Karaoke. I have made DGm my home for 17 years and have loved every minute of it. It’s been a privilege to see all the ways Desert Garden has changed and the ways it’s changed me.

Classroom 4 (Toddler)

Lead Maria Gamez

Ms. Maria Gamez is the Lead Teacher for Classroom 4 and is originally from Mexico. She has lived in Phoenix since 1995. Ms. Maria discovered her love for education working as a nanny and joined DGM as an Assistant Teacher in 2004. She earned her Montessori Certification for 0–3 years in 2007 and has experience in the Infant Nido and in both Toddler classrooms. Ms. Maria is bilingual and is one of the instructors for the Spanish Curriculum.

Classroom 5 (Toddler)

Lead Hillary Stewart

Ms. Hillary Stewart is our Lead Teacher for Classroom 5. Ms. Hillary has been a member of the Desert Garden Community for 16 years and has had the opportunity to work in all of our programs. She was an assistant in primary for 8 years and most recently was a valuable assistant in our Toddler community. Ms. Hillary completeted her training through CMTE and is one of few to be trained by Virginia Vaga, a world renown Montessorian and the creator of the infant/toddler program in the U.S. Ms. Hillary has now been a certified teacher since 2012. She lives with her husband and three children in Gilbert, AZ.

Classroom 1 (Primary)

Lead Katie Booth

Ms. Katie Booth is the lead teacher in Classroom 1. She is originally from Alaska and moved to Arizona to attend NAU, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Humanities and French. She had the opportunity to study abroad in Paris for a year, and loves incorporating French in the classroom. She has been in the Montessori classroom for the past 8 years, 5 of those as an AMS certified primary lead. Ms. Katie loves to travel and hopes to see more of the world with her husband Aaron, and their daughter Bria.

Classroom 2 (Primary)

Lead Tessa Mussel

Ms. Tessa Musel is beginning her 3rd year as lead primary teacher in Classroom 2. Ms. Tessa has served 5 years in the Montessori Environment at DGM and spent 1 year working at another Montessori in Chandler, AZ. She has studied child psychology as well as early childhood development and she received her Montessori Education Diploma in 2013 through American Montessori Society program at South Mountain Community College. In January 2014, Ms. Tessa and her husband Chris welcomed their first child into their family, and they are very excited to start an amazing new journey as they learn and experience new adventures everyday.

Classroom 6 (Primary)

Lead Anah Sison

Ms. Anah Sison is our lead teacher for Classroom 6. She was born and raised in the Philippines and now lives in Phoenix, AZ. She has a degree in Communications and received her Montessori Certification from AMS (American Montessori Society) for the primary age group. Ms. Anah enjoys learning with children as they are a constant reminder of how we should see life, with endless wonder! She loves to travel and learn about people and culture through food. She also enjoys playing the piano and guitar, skills she will incorporate in the class with your wonderful children!

Classroom 7 (Primary)

Lead Peggy Shupp

Ms. Peggy Shupp is starting her 25th year of teaching, her 17th at Desert Garden Montessori. She is a Wisconsin native and was able to enjoy 8 years of the California sun in San Diego before settling in Arizona in 1998. Peggy has an Associate’s degree in child development and 3-6 Montessori certification from AMI. Peggy has a son, Kobe, who is 13 and is in the 8th grade.
Peggy so appreciates being a part of the Desert Garden community. She has enjoyed cultivating relationships over the years and considers Desert Garden her extended family.

Lower Elementary (Downstairs Classroom)

Lead Denise Henry

Ms. Denise Henry has been with Desert Garden Montessori since 2011. She grew up in Chicago Heights, Illinois and moved to Arizona in 1983. She has been involved in the Montessori community for nearly 20 years. She has a B.A. in History from ASU and AMS Elementary teacher certification. Her daughter, a Montessori child, recently graduated from ASU with a BSN in nursing. Ms. Denise loves the DGM community and is looking forward to another great year with the Lower Elementary students and teaching team!

Lead Karen Snyder

Karen Snyder is a Co-Teacher for Lower Elementary and is from New Jersey. She lives in Ahwatukee with her husband of 33 years. She has one daughter, Cassie, a nurse living in Tucson. Karen is Arizona Certified for K-8 and has her Montessori Elementary Certification for 6–9 years. She has been with DGM since 1996. Miss Karen enjoys sharing lessons with children, and she feels the best part of teaching is watching a child concentrate. She believes education is the beginning of a child’s journey through life, and that each child is a most capable person. One of Miss Karen’s hidden talents is tap dancing, and she loves smiling and long walks.

Lower Elementary (Upstairs Classroom)

Lead Rosemary Jones

Ms. Rose is delighted to be a Co-Teacher in Classroom 11 with Ms. Jill. She grew up in a huge Irish Catholic family in New York. Ms. Rose, also known as Rosemary, has been a Montessori guide at the 6-9 level for 19 years! She has three lovely grown daughters and three even more lovely grandchildren who attend DGM. Ms. Rose loves spending time with her family, hiking, bike riding, cooking and reading. She loves the trust, dignity and respect offered by Montessori education for each and every child.

Lead Jill Carson

Ms. Jill Carson is a Co-Teacher for Classroom 11. She is certified in Primary 3–6 Montessori, Lower Elementary 6-9 Montessori and Spalding. She has been teaching at Desert Garden since 1997. She has two children who both attended DGM. Her daughter, Megan, is a nurse living in Phoenix, and her son, Matthew, is currently attending the University of Arizona and is studying Pre-Pharmacy. Ms. Jill’s inspirations are faith, family and friends. Fun Facts: Her favorite movie is “To Kill A Mockingbird,” she was once on an episode of “Trading Spaces,” and Ms. Jill ran a half-marathon in 2009. Ms. Jill continues to enjoy her love of children and sharing time with their academic experience.

Upper Elementary

Co-Lead Christine Helm

Hailing from the sunny islands of the Philippines, Ms. Christine has a bachelor degree in Psychology minoring in French Studies from Ateneo de Manila University. After her one-year stint of working in the Jesuit school where she graduated, she was bitten by the teaching bug and the rest is history. She moved to New York to take her post-graduate degree in Montessori Education for 6-12 Year Olds from the College of New Rochelle. Ms. Christine had the privilege of first leading a Lower Elementary class for a few years, before she took on the 6-12 year class at Trinity Montessori School in Rochester, New York. She gained invaluable experience from this as she was able to not only understand the foundational intricacies of the first half of the cycle; she also was able to take in the latter, more dynamic half of the 6-12 year continuum. She also had the privilege of being a field consultant for Montessori Education Center of the Rockies. This is her 15th year as a Montessorian and her 8th year in Desert Garden Montessori!

Ms. Christine has been happily married for 12 years. She and her husband have three dogs, Crunch, Fancy and Aspen who teach them love and patience each day. Among her many pastimes, she loves to make her own natural soaps, can jellies and jams, and tend to her organic edible garden. As an art enthusiast, her follow up works are creative with a bent on performing, literary and fine arts. She sets the bar high for the students and feels proud when they step up and exceed her expectations. Ms. Christine feels honored and blessed to be your children’s teacher guide this year.

Co-Lead Adrienne Alexander

Ms. Adrienne Alexander had the joy of discovering Desert Garden Montessori and the Montessori Method in 2006. This is her 11th year at Desert Garden Montessori. During that time, Ms. Adrienne earned her AMS Early Childhood Teaching Credential, spent five incredible years as a Lead Primary Guide, welcomed two beautiful children into her family, helped earn DGM its IMC Accreditation, and, with great excitement, will earn her Elementary 6-12 Teaching Credential through the International Montessori Council (IMC) this Fall. She is blessed to share the joy of teaching with her colleagues, Ms. Elizabeth, Ms. Christine, and Ms. Mary. The wisdom and perspective of her team is her daily inspiration and compass!

Ms. Adrienne is passionate about each area of the classroom, and believes strongly in the powerful, integrative curriculum of the Elementary Montessori environment. She has an extensive rock collection and has been known to give related lessons in her sleep. She adores mythology and literature of all genres and persuasions and finds the dictionary positively fascinating. Ms. Adrienne is an enthusiastic yogi and looks forward to sharing this amazing practice of peace, as well as her excitement for life-long learning, with the children. It is an honor and a privilege for her to serve your child this year as an Upper Elementary Co-Lead.

Co-Lead Elizabeth Bruner

Ms. Elizabeth Bruner has been in the field of education for 16 years with the past 15 years in a Montessori classroom. This is her third year at Desert Garden Montessori; she is very happy to be a part of this amazing school and the incredible community. She graduated from Ashford University with her bachelor’s degree in Social Science with an education prominence. She started taking her 6-12 Montessori training through the International Montessori Council last summer and will be completing her 6 – 12 Montessori training this summer in North Carolina, along with Ms. Adrienne. Ms. Elizabeth is passionate about teaching and inspiring children to establish a love of learning while helping them reach their full potential. She loves spending time with her family when she is not at school; one of her favorite activities is family game night! Ms. Elizabeth has been happily married for 21 years and has two beautiful children, a son who is 18 and a daughter who is 10.

Middle Years Program

Co-Lead Bill Hall

Mr. Bill earned his Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Arizona State University in 1999. This will be his 16th year teaching and his 7th year at DGM. He approaches designing and implementing curriculum with many different abilities and interests in mind. Mr. Bill has high expectations for all his students and strives to make the classroom a warm, inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable to take chances and support one another’s learning.

Mr. Bill enjoys traveling, reading, writing, eating great food and listening to music. He is really looking forward to implementing the IB Middle Years Program with the team!

Co-Lead Donny Nelson

Mr. Donny earned a Bachelor’s degree in Global Health and Religious Studies in 2014 and a Master’s of Education in 2016, both from Arizona State University. He has studied abroad, attending the University of Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland in partnership with ASU. He also served as a Corps Member for Teach for America, and AmeriCorps working as a Language Arts teacher in Mesa, Arizona. Prior to teaching, Mr. Donny served in the United States Army, worked as a locomotive engineer, and an Outdoor Safety and Survival instructor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Mr. Donny’s approaches to learning are rooted in Cooperative Learning and Collaborative Approaches, giving students real and relevant instruction as a means to Motivate, Educate, and Equip the next generation of world leaders and change makers.

Mr. Donny is an avid outdoorsman, who spends most of his free time training for Obstacle Course Races, photography, and spending time with his family.

Adjunct Faculty Carlos Encinas

Mr. Carlos received his undergraduate degree in Biotechnology Engineering from Sonora Technological Institute in 1993 and later earned a doctorate degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona, focusing in the area of control of gene expression by nuclear receptors. He also holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Arizona, with an emphasis on finance and new product development. His teaching experience has been at the undergraduate level teaching organic chemistry theory and laboratory as well as biochemistry and calculus and at elementary level as an advisor. Carlos strives to make the most of the Montessori philosophy and the International Baccalaureate program by guiding the students on their own journey of discovery and growth while helping them enjoy and unravel the mysteries of nature through observation and science. Carlos aims to lead the students in identifying real life problems and turning them into (hopefully) profitable opportunities, focusing on the journey rather than the destination. Carlos lives in Ahwatukee with his wife and two sons where he enjoys playing with his two sons, traveling, listening to music, reading, and sports.

Organic Kitchen

Linda Mercier

Linda started with Desert Garden in 1999 years ago. She has been the Kitchen Manager for the past several years and is also a AMI certified Montessori Primary Teacher. Linda has taken her experience of working in the classroom to the organic kitchen where she and her team prepare healthy nutritious food for all the DGM hot lunch students.

Media & Digital Arts

Freddy Cante

Mr. Freddy has had a love for film making and pretty much anything having to do with the creative arts from an early age, whether it be design, photography or film making and has taken that passion and made a successful career out of it. Freddy is a graduate of the University of New Mexico where he attained his Bachelor’s Degree in Media Arts with a concentration in film and video, as well as holding an Associate’s Degree in Graphic Design.

Freddy worked in graphic design in his early years before venturing into the field of video. With over ten years of video production experience he has worked for various production companies, an entertainment magazine creating video content for their site and created online educational course videos. In addition he has freelanced for various companies such as Blackberry, Redbull and various promotional companies throughout the Valley.

Currently Mr. Freddy works at Desert Garden Montessori creating video and marketing content for the school as well as a weekly video newsletter. He is also responsible for filming the various events and happenings that go on throughout the unpredictable school year. Mr. Freddy teaches video classes and can occasionally be seen helping out with everything else in between.
Freddy is originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico and has made the Valley his home for the past few years.

With a warm smile and love for venturing into the creative unknown Mr. Freddy approaches each video project as if it was his first. From the first frame to the last shot of a video, Mr. Freddy’s passion for creating entertaining and engaging video content is what fuels his passion and why he enjoys the wonderful friends and staff that he has made during his time at DGM.


Johana Bautista

Hola! Yo soy Johana Bautista. I am originally from Colombia, South America. I moved to the US fourteen years ago and since I arrived I have been teaching Spanish throughout the Valley. I came to Desert Garden Montessori seven years ago, and I have been involved in the Spanish program since then. I have three kids, they are Abigail, who is in her second year of LE; Samuel, who is starting UE and Juanjo, who is currently at Horizon. Seeing my kids blossom in this wonderful environment made me curious about the Montessori philosophy and methodology and I decided to get some Montessori training. I currently hold a BA in Psychology from ASU and an AMS Infant-Toddler certificate from CMTE/NY. I am currently taking the Lower Elementary training. This year I will be working with the LE students in Classroom 8. Teaching at DGM has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me and I can’t wait to keep sharing my language and culture with all of your wonderful niños!!!☺


Eric Caballes

Health & Wellness

Ronda Jameel

Ms. Ronda has 20+ years in the fitness and wellness industry and is the owner & founder of Run2DEnd, LLC. She is a graduate of Southeast Missouri State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Promotion and Wellness with a minor in nutrition, and a graduate of the University of Phoenix with an MBA in Health Care Management.

Her professional certifications include: ACE Youth Fitness Certified Coach, RRCA Certified Running Coach, ACE Certified Personal Trainer/Group Exercise Instructor, Certified Yoga and Cardio-Kickboxing Instructor, and is CPR, First Aid and AED certified. Ronda is currently working towards her International Youth Strength and Conditioning Certification and USATF Certified Coach Levels I & II. She loves to share her passion of fitness and wellness with others through teaching and making a healthy lifestyle a FUN part of life!

In her free time she loves spending time with Max (9yrs) & Ryn (7yrs) – who attend DGM, hanging out with her husband, running, swimming, hiking, playing Ultimate Frisbee, reading, traveling, and sometimes just relaxing.

In addition to teaching Physical Education and Wellness, Ms. Ronda also coaches our DGM Track Team. The team competes in Cross Country in the fall season and Track and Field during the spring season. Events include 100m – 1500m races, running long jump, mini javelin, shot put and relays. Beginning this year, Ronda will be assisting with DGM Student run Garden Café in the mornings.

Fun Fact: Ronda has had the opportunity to share the joy of fitness/wellness to ages 18 months to 102 years young!

Learning Support

Dr. Jagdish Dave

Dr. Jagdish P. Dave’, Ph.D., Psy.D. has had a rich educational, experiential and professional background in Eastern and Western cultures. Dr. Dave’ came to the USA from India in 1959 on the Fulbright Exchange Program. In 1964 he obtained M.A. and Ph.D. in Education from the University of Chicago. In 1992, he obtained another doctoral degree, Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology from Illinois School of Professional Psychology. Since his relocation to the USA in 1959 Dr. Dave’ has been involved in creating innovative programs to meet the needs of culturally and ethnically diversified student populations.

Dr. Dave’ has taught for 15 years in India and for 40 years in the USA as a high school teacher and as a college and university Professor of Psychology. He has received several awards for his contributions as an educator and for his community services which include an award as an Outstanding Educators of America, Faculty Excellence Award (twice) and Community Service Award at Governors State University. Dr. Dave was Centennial President (2004-2005) of Ahwatukee Foothills Rotary Club.

During the past ten years his focus has been on holistic health, stress management, mindfulness parenting, and multidimensional and multicultural wellness conferences and workshops.

Dr. Dave’, is a member of Phi Delta Kappa, American Psychological Association, International Association of Stress Management and International Rotary. Dr. Dave’ at 88 is semi retired as a University Emeritus Professor of Psychology, is a stress management consultant and has a private practice in Phoenix, AZ. He offers workshops in stress management, wellness, and mindfulness parenting, multi-cultural counseling and provides community service to several organizations. He has authored two textbooks in Psychology and numerous articles, audio and videotapes on holistic health, stress management, wellness and spiritual growth. Currently he works a consultant, counselor and educator at Desert Garden Montessori School in Phoenix, AZ.

Mary Navarro

Ms. Mary Navarro will be joining the Learning Support Team this year. She holds a Bachelors’ Degree from Arizona State in Elementary Education, as well as two Montessori Credentials for Lower and Upper Elementary. She is an Arizona native and lives in Chandler with her wonderful husband, Robert, and their three children- Josh (15), Lincoln (2), and Estellamarie (10 months). She loves cooking, drinking lots coffee and spending time with family and friends. Mary’s educational interests include Special Education and brain research. Her areas of interests intertwine with Montessori Philosophy with the ultimate goal of developing independent, self-sufficient, lifelong learners.

Linda Christensen

Ms. Linda Christensen is part of the Learning Support Team at Desert Garden Montessori. She has been employed at Desert Garden since 2001. Ms. Linda grew up in Minnesota where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education. After teaching in the regular classroom, Ms. Linda discovered her passion was teaching reading to young students. She went on to complete additional studies in teaching reading and most recently completed the seminar, Screening for Dyslexia. Ms. Linda has two young children who attend DGM. In her free time, she enjoys reading, spending time with her family, and being in the outdoors.

Crystal Lindquist

Crystal has obtained a B.A. in Psychology and a Master’s in Social Work. Her professional experience has included being a researcher at Arizona State University, Child/Family Therapist, School Social Worker and Child Development Specialist. She has a specialization in Infant/Toddler Mental Health and is currently becoming certified to be a trainer in Conscious Discipline.

Sukhi Sharma

Dr. Suki Sharma, D.O. is a mom to an 8 year old at Desert Garden Montessori and a Child/ Adolescent Psychiatrist. She was trained in general psychiatry and completed her fellowship at Maricopa County Hospital in Child/Adolescent Psychiatry.