In Montessori, teachers are often called guides since their role is to observe each child. Based on these observations, the teachers make necessary adjustments to the classroom to ensure each child's unique needs are being met. This approach allows each child to move at his or her own pace and optimize the sensitive periods for learning.
DR. KYLEA ASHER-SMITH, PHD
Head of School
Dr. Kylea Asher-Smith, PhD, has stepped in as Interim Head of School for the 2018-2019 school year. Kylea is a summa cum laude graduate of Emory University, and holds an MA in education from Antioch University—Santa Barbara, and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana University's School of Education. A dual-credentialed teacher, Kylea began her career in independent schools, working as both a teacher and in administration. She later became an associate instructor and university supervisor at IU-Bloomington and IUPU-Columbus, where she taught graduate and undergraduate education courses.
Kylea has received several education awards, including IU's Outstanding Associate Instructor Award, the Outstanding University Supervisor Award (conferred by the Association of Teacher Educators, Indiana unit), and the Marianne D'Emidio-Caston Achievement Award for New and Emerging Scholars for her education research. Kylea most recently served as Executive Director of UpToParents, a national organization that has provided free online workshops to over 200,000 separated and divorced parents. Kylea and her husband David are the proud parents of two Habitat students.
MS. AMANDA LUFKIN
Amanda has two children who began their preschool careers at A Children's Habitat in the Early Years room and she has loved watching them grow and thrive here every year since. Her favorite part of the workday is greeting the children in the morning.
MS. KATHLEEN CLIFF
Elementary II Lead Teacher
Kathleen grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, and has recently relocated to Indianapolis from Boston with her husband David. She has a BA from Earlham College in Human Development and Social Relations with a minor in Education and completed her graduate coursework in Elementary Education at Indiana University. She is currently working toward her Montessori 6-12 certification through The Center for Guided Montessori Studies. Prior to joining Habitat, Kathleen taught 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grades in public schools in rural Indiana and the Boston suburbs. In the classroom, Kathleen is passionate about guiding students toward a love of life-long learning and community engagement.
When she isn't teaching, Kathleen loves cooking, reading, camping, and playing with her cats.
MS. ELIZABETH WILLIAMS
Elementary I Lead Teacher
After merging a program she owned and taught for six years in Carmel, Elizabeth (Liz) knows great things are happening at A Children's Habitat and feels very fortunate to be a part of the school and staff. As a 2016 Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship recipient, Liz is one of 100 teachers in Indiana to be awarded the opportunity to pursue a life dream of traveling to Alaska and completing a wilderness school experience in Bloomington, Indiana. Through this incredible opportunity, she looks forward to creating a Right of Competence curriculum and ceremony for children ages 6 to 9 as they leave young childhood and enter middle childhood. To read her submission, Hinterland. (PDF)
Elizabeth received her teaching degree from Ball State and taught public school—grades 4 and 6. After moving to Florida, she was hired on staff at a new magnet school using the Montessori method. Elizabeth received her Lower Elementary training in Boston, Massachusetts, and later returned to Indiana to begin a Montessori elementary program in Westfield. After taking some time off to have babies, she began her own Montessori Elementary School and continued her training for Upper Elementary from Xavier University.
Elizabeth invites you to come by her classroom anytime for a visit. Her class is her happy place and she is always willing to share!
MS. MELISSA BRIEDE (BREE-DEE)
North Class and Kindergarten Lead Teacher
Melissa has always had a passion for young children, finding tremendous excitement in sharing when it all comes together for them in that ‘ah ha' moment. She has spent her career working with children—helping to build connections and develop independence is just a part of her make up. Melissa earned a Bachelor of Science in Child Development and Family Life from Indiana State University in 2004, and later received her Montessori 3-6 teaching certification from the United Montessori Association. Prior to becoming lead teacher, Melissa served as an assistant teacher for five years. During that time she completed her Montessori paraprofessional training at MECA-Seton, now Seton Montessori Institute, in 2009.
Before joining Habitat in 2009, Melissa completed an internship at Methodist Hospital as a Child Life Specialist where she worked with hospitalized children and their families, conducting therapeutic play sessions that provided opportunities for expressive therapy. From there, she served as the head teacher in a Montessori-inspired toddler classroom that emphasized observation to assess the developmental abilities of individual children. Melissa went on to spend two years working with Hamilton Southeastern School Corporation, focused on developing and implementing individual education plans for students with special education needs.
When not at school, Melissa enjoys spending time at home with her husband, children, and miniature poodle.
MR. STEPHEN BALL
North Class Assistant Teacher
Stephen has been a Montessori elementary teacher for the majority of his adult life. After graduating from the University of San Diego with a BA in Political Science and a minor in Marine Studies, Stephen received his 6–9 training from CMTE in New York. He later received his 9–12 training from MMTTC in Chicago. Stephen has taught all over the United States and parts of Europe and is looking forward to the challenge of a new age group and getting to know the students and families of our school.
When not at school, Stephen enjoys outdoor sports, playing music, and reading.
MS. JOYCE SIMMONS
South Class Lead Teacher
Joyce began her teaching career after earning a BS in Elementary Education from the University of South Florida and taught third grade for nine years. She has been part of the Habitat family since 2009 when she enrolled her oldest daughter at A Children's Habitat. She was enamored with the Montessori method and attended the Columbus Montessori Teacher Education Program in Ohio to obtain her AMS teaching certificate.
MS. MINDA HOHL
South Class Assistant Teacher
Minda Hohl is proud to be teaching in the South classroom at A Children's Habitat. She has been a part of Habitat since 2008— teaching in the South class since 2011. Minda can also be found at Habitat during the summer months for camp! During the school year, you will most likely see her first thing in the morning at our drop off line—she loves having the wonderful opportunity to greet and welcome our students as they begin each day. Minda also loves being outdoors (especially in warm weather), wearing flip-flops, reading a good book, and cooking a great meal.
When not at Habitat, she can be found spending time with her husband and furry four-legged children.
MS. JESSICA FLAHERTY
Early Years Lead Teacher
Ms. Jessica helps your little ones grow in her role as the Early Years lead teacher for A Children's Habitat. After ten years of working within the Montessori community as a 3-6 assistant or lead teacher, she spent the 2014-2015 school year discovering the joys of teaching children 18-36 months. Jessica is fascinated by this age group and so happy to be working with them! She has been using American Sign Language (modified for our little friends' hands) for four years now and enjoys incorporating this into our daily curriculum.
She and her husband, who is an excellent cook, have an amazing and wonderful daughter, also at ACH. In her imaginary free time, Jessica reads a book a day, bike rides along the banks of rivers, and gardens in her huge yard, followed by a swim in the ocean, of course.
MS. ERIN DOWNS
Early Years Assistant Teacher
Through Erin's many experiences at A Children's Habitat she has become passionate about the excellence of the Montessori Method. Erin is excited to join the staff and Ms. Jessica as an assistant in the Early Years classroom and knows Habitat will be an amazing place to learn even more about who she will greet each day with respect, kindness, and gratitude for their absorbent minds. Erin's goal as an assistant is very much represented in Dr. Maria Montessori's words that she would like to be able to say each day "I have served the spirit of those children, and they have fulfilled their development, and I kept them company in their experiences."
At home Erin and her husband have two Montessori kids—ages 4 and 7. They all enjoy exploring nature, exercising, and playing lots of games. Erin loves food, music and traveling! Any opportunity she has to create with art, design, flowers, or events brings her great joy.
MS. SUZANNE RATNAYAKE, MSW
Suzanne Ratnayake, MSW, has served as an assistant teacher at Habitat, and this year has assumed the role of Outdoorsy Montessori lead teacher. Suzanne attended Indiana University, where she graduated with a BA in Biology and Spanish. After teaching ESL to children and adults in Rome, Italy, for several years, Suzanne returned to Indiana to attain her Masters degree in social work, working with both adults and children in a variety of clinical settings.
Ever since enrolling her first child at Habitat in 2014, Suzanne began to wonder about ways to connect children to nature in a Montessori setting, and quickly set out to spearhead the efforts to create the Outdoor Classroom in 2015. For three years, Suzanne led the Outdoor Classroom Committee, consciously focused on evolving the space as needs arise. Suzanne is a trained Montessori paraprofessional through the esteemed Seton Institute in Chicago, and has recently completed the "Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood" workshop through Project Learning Tree and Growing Up Wild. These trainings have informed Suzanne’s ability to fuse Montessori methods and outdoor education.
MS. BONNIE MILLER
Bonnie Miller joins Habitat this year as our School Aide. Bonnie holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education and special education from Marian University, and has enjoyed a three-decade career in the field. Bonnie has taught special education classes in elementary schools, and has also worked cooperatively with general education teachers on supporting and including students with special needs in a general education setting.
A longtime proponent of Montessori education, Bonnie sent two of her own children to a Montessori school, and she has most recently become a trained paraprofessional through the Age of Montessori. Bonnie has served at Habitat as a substitute teacher in past years, and is the proud grandma of two Habitat students.