Get to know The Growing Place staff
Corina Dekker, Director
Corina Dekker was born and raised in The Netherlands and has lived in The United States since 1990. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in education. As an early childhood educator, Corina enjoys watching children grow and develop from their daily experiences. Sharing her knowledge about the importance of the early years with staff and families is something she feels passionate about. Corina joined The Growing Place community in 2013 with a strong commitment to offering quality early childhood education in a Christian setting. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family, traveling and reading.
Debbie Fernandez, Office Manager
Debra (Debbie) Fernandez - a second generation native Miamian - was born and raised in Miami, FL. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Special Education. She is a Florida Certified K-12 teacher with ESOL endorsement and also has her Director’s credential. She believes in the power of education along with the power of play. Preschool allows the opportunity for both. She enjoys being able to support children with discovery, imagination, and curiosity. She came to The Growing Place in 1985 when she was looking for a loving, Christian environment for her two preschool children. She taught PreK-3 for three years while her children were attending. She went on to teach 4th grade and Kindergarten at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School. In 1988, she returned to The Growing Place to work as part of the administration. The Growing Place holds a warm spot in her heart. She has been married for 35 years to her high school sweetheart. She has a daughter, a son and 3 awesome grandsons.
Ellen Cianflone, Administrative Assistant
Ellen Cianflone was born in Carbondale, PA, snuggled in the Pocono Mountains – so, yes it was cold with loads of snow! That is pretty much why she ended up in South Florida. Ellen has earned two associate degrees - in math and science from SUNY Morrisville and business from Keystone College, LaPlume, PA. Prior to being hired at The Growing Place in 2012, Ellen worked with Standard Register as a project facilitator and as an Executive Assistant. Ellen is the proud mother of two children so this leaves little free time, but when it does occur, she enjoys crafting.
Kris Wood, Curriculum and Human Resources Coordinator
Kris Wood was born in New York City, NY and spent her formidable years in Leonia, NJ. She holds a bachelor’s degree in physical education with a specialty in therapeutic recreation and a Master of Arts in Drama Therapy. Growing up with an educational psychologist father, her early life was surrounded by the likes of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Myrtle McGraw, and Dr. Lewis Lipsitt to name a few. It is from Dr. McGraw that she learned “...and a child shall lead.” She feels that this mantra lends itself to the HighScope curriculum and the process of “active participatory learning” as the foundation of its philosophy. She joined The Growing Place 17 years ago as a mom when her eldest son attended. In her “free time” she enjoys being with her family, watching her son’s play soccer and water polo, and working out in the gym. On her bucket list is to do a mini-triathlon.
Ninorka Caballero, Lead Teacher
Ninorka Caballero was born in Venezuela and moved to Miami in 1995. She began her coursework in education in 2005 after her son was born, because she wanted to know as much as possible about early childhood in order to be “the best mother ever.” She has an associate degree in early childhood education and is currently working on her bachelor’s degree. She joined The Growing Place family in November 2014. She enjoys watching children’s personalities unfold and being part of their development. She spends most of her free time with her family.
Mary Cardentey, Lead Teacher
Mary Cardentey was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, and has lived in the United States since 1994. She holds a bachelor's degree in early childhood education. She has been working at The Growing Place since 1996. During her career as a teacher, she has had the opportunity to work with different grade levels. She works daily on building a positive, emotionally and physically safe environment where children feel loved and motivated to learn and stretch their knowledge. She also shares her love for nature with her students and encourages environmental stewardship on each one of them.
Veronica Castro, Lead Teacher
Veronica Castro was born and raised in Lima, Peru. She holds a degree in early childhood education. Before coming to Florida in 2008, she worked in two preschools in Lima. Veronica joined The Growing Place community in 2009 with much enthusiasm, ready to share her knowledge in child development and to offer high-quality education to children and their families. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She also likes going for walks and shopping.
Lucy de la Hoz, Lead Teacher
Lucy de la Hoz was born in Miami, Florida. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and an associate degree in early childhood education. Lucy loves working with children. “It’s so rewarding to see the smiles and the unconditional love that children give you every day.” Lucy joined The Growing Place community in 1991. In her free time, she enjoys shopping, going out to dinner and reading.
Alejandrina Dopico, Lead Teacher
Alejandrina Dopico was born and raised in Mexico and has lived in the United States for twenty years. She joined The Growing Place as a parent back in 1998. During that time, she fell in love with working with children and decided to go back to school to get her Florida Child Care Professional credential. As an early childhood educator, Alejandrina is a dedicated and creative teacher who provides her children with engaging, meaningful and active learning experiences. She re-joined The Growing Place in 2005 as her youngest daughter began school. In her free time, Alejandrina enjoys going to the beach and spending time with family and friends.
Katie Fay, Lead Teacher
Katie Fay was born in England and raised in Texas. She holds a bachelor’s degree in geography with a minor in education and has spent her career teaching students from preschool through high school in England, Japan, and across the United States. As a mother of two young children, Katie understands the importance of making preschool a fun and nurturing environment in order to enable children to develop. 2016 is Katie’s first year teaching at The Growing Place, but she looks forward to being a part of a wonderful community. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends.
Marthy Ferrer, Lead Teacher
Marthy Ferrer was born in Miramar, Cuba. She is the youngest of four children raised in South Miami, and has been married for 33 years; and also raised her three children here. Marthy has been with The Growing Place since 2004 and holds a Child Development Associate (CDA) awarded by CDA National Credentialing Program. She is an active member of the HighScope Association, the North American Reggio Emillia Alliance (NAREA) and of The National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC). As an early childhood educator, Marthy has a passion for education and enjoys working with children by stimulating their curiosity, imagination and nurturing cognitive and social development. Along with spending time with her family, Marthy enjoys the arts, music, and photography.
Mara Gonzalez, Lead Teacher
Mara Gonzalez was born in New Jersey and was raised in Miami. She holds a bachelor’s of science degree in elementary teaching, a master’s degree in business administration and is currently seeking her doctorate degree in educational leadership. Mara joined The Growing Place in 1998 where she taught the Early Threes & Pre-K for 9 years. After working in higher education administration for ten years elsewhere, Mara decided to rejoin The Growing Place because working with children and families is what she enjoys most. Watching children grow and develop is something she feels passionate about. Most of Mara’s free time is spent on either a baseball field or a basketball court with her active athletic son.
Mary Ann Griese, Lead Teacher
Mary Ann Griese was born and raised in Miami where she lives with the loves of her life- her husband and two children. Mary Ann has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Bachelor of Science degree in Exceptional Student Education with ESOL endorsement. Mary Ann brings many years of hands-on experience working with children and is committed to creating a warm, loving environment where children are free to explore the joy of discovery and learning. In her spare time, Mary Ann, enjoys boating, reading and spending time with her family and friends.
Andrea Lages, Lead Teacher
Andrea Lages was born and raised in Brazil. She studied geography in Brazil and holds an associate degree in early childhood development from Miami Dade College. Andrea is currently working on her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. The mere understanding that children develop cognitive, gross-motor skills as well as character, social-emotional growth and executive functioning is captivating to her. The potential to empower young children’s lives is an enormous responsibility and a profound joy that Andrea takes seriously. Andrea joined The Growing Place in December 2016 and is excited to be part of our team! In her free time, Andrea likes to travel, laugh with friends and especially to spend time with her husband and two children.
Mayra Mestre, Lead Teacher
Mayra Mestre was born in Cuba and raised in Miami, Florida. She has an Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education and Art. She was a costume designer for various dance studios and schools. As a preschool educator, Mayra brings a creative and positive energy to her classroom. She is passionate about teaching young children and learning from them. Mayra has acquired many years of wonderful memories since she joined The Growing Place community in 1986. She is committed to ensuring that her children are safe, nurtured and loved. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family, cooking, and dancing.
Maria Morales, Lead Teacher
Maria Morales was born and raised in Cuba. In the fall of 1995, she decided to move to the United States. She settled in Miami, where some of her family members lived. Maria remembered how fulfilling it was to assist her childhood teachers in her elementary school back in Cuba. In 2006, Maria began her studies in child care at Miami Dade Community College and, in 2009, she received her Florida Child Care Professional Credential Certificate. In 2007, The Growing Place gave her the opportunity she had been looking for: to care, nurture and teach young children in a positive environment. In her spare time, Maria enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and continuing to pursue her educational goals.
Danielle Quintero, Lead Teacher
Danielle Quintero was born and raised in Miami, Florida, and earned her Bachelor's of Arts in International Relations from Boston University. She is currently pursuing a secondary degree in early childhood education and is very excited to have joined The Growing Place in 2015 as a Lead Teacher for The Walker's Classroom. In her spare time, Danielle loves to travel, yoga and performing improvisational comedy.
Elizabeth Rodriguez, Lead Teacher
Elizabeth Rodriguez was born and raised in Cuba and has lived in the United States since 1996. Elizabeth holds a degree in physical education from Cuba and - after moving to the United States - Elizabeth earned a Florida Child Care Professional Credential (FCCPC) in early childhood education (birth to five years of age). Her passion for children has led her in joining The Growing Place, where she has remained for the past 15 years. She loves to be a positive influence in children’s lives and help them as they go through important stepping-stones in their development. In her free time, Elizabeth enjoys watching movies and spending time with her friends and family.
Ginna M. Vargas Duran, Lead Teacher
Ginna M. Vargas-Duran is a current education student seeking a bachelor's degree in early childhood education, with a minor in special education. She was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia, and has lived in the United States since 2004. As an early childhood educator, Ginna enjoys helping and promoting children's learning through their interests in a natural environment. Ginna joined The Growing Place community in 2015 and feels eager about teaching and sharing experiences with children. Ginna enjoys cycling, reading, outdoor activities and spending time with family and friends.
Stephanie Bott, Assistant Teacher
Stephanie was born in Chicago and spent her childhood living in Europe and up and down the east coast of the United States. She has a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master’s degree from Georgia State University in mental health counseling where she focused on play therapy and working with children and families. For the last 12 years, she has worked in botanical gardens, first at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and then at The Kampong in Coconut Grove. She started her career as a preschool teacher and is very happy to be back in the classroom at The Growing Place starting in the fall of 2017. Stephanie loves providing young children with opportunities to play, explore and discover and is passionate about helping children grow socially and emotionally. She enjoys taking nature walks and long road trips exploring the country with her husband and dog, Maia and spends a lot of her free time with her large family including her niece and seven nephews.
Gabriela Bryan, Assistant Teacher
Gabriela Bryan was born in Cuba, spent her early childhood in Peru, and moved to the United States in 1972. She holds a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University and a Professional Florida Teacher Certification in Prekindergarten/Primary Education (Age 3-Grade 3). She began her educational career as a Paraprofessional with gifted and bilingual students and has taught adult English classes. She joined The Growing Place professionally in 1993 as an assistant in the preschool, then spent several years as Lead Teacher in the preschool and first grade. She currently works as the Assistant in the Kindergarten class. Gabriela cherishes her work with the children of The Growing Place because it gives her an opportunity to guide students as they develop in their own unique way into the people that God has meant them to be. Gabriela enjoys spending her free time with family, listening to music, reading, and traveling.
Luz Caceres, Assistant Teacher
Luz Maria (Lucy) Caceres was born in Matanzas, Cuba, came to the United States in 1969 where she lived in New York for three years; and has been in Miami for the past 44 years. She is a graduate of Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School. She pursued a career in retail until the birth of her first child when she took on the rewarding experience of being a mom. For the past 17 years, she has been a Girl Scout Troop Leader, Shake-A-Leg volunteer, and a Teacher Assistant. Her ability to interact and motivate children to learn, play and grow as individuals is her biggest attribute. She joined The Growing Place this year, in hopes of continuing her love for educating children. Lucy’s family motto is “Ohana," which means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten, as warmly depicted in the Disney movie "Lilo & Stich." Lucy enjoys camping, photography, and crafting.
Erlin Cruz, Assistant Teacher
Erlin Cruz was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She holds an associate degree in psychology. She is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in elementary education K-6 with an ESOL endorsement and is excited to join The Growing Place in 2016. Coming from a big family, she has established a love and care for children. She discovered her love for children when being responsible for her nieces and nephews. Watching them grow is part of the reason why she’s passionate about working with children. Erlin’s hobbies include going out to the movies, kayaking and having brunch with her friends.
Emily Curtin, Assistant Teacher
Emily Curtin is a 1995 graduate of the University of Richmond, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Speech Communications. Emily joined The Growing Place in 2014. Prior to working at The Growing Place, Emily was the Loyalty Marketing Manager at Norwegian Cruise Line and the Director of Loyalty Programs for Sandals Resorts. She is a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but now resides in Coral Gables with her husband and three boys.
Eyvi Marlene Galo, Assistant Teacher
Eyvi Marlene Galo was born and raised in Honduras. In 1997, she moved to the United States and began to work with children. Since then, she knew she had the potential to do what she wanted the most: teach in an early childhood education setting. In 2011, she joined The Growing Place staff. While working at The Growing Place, she began to study child care at Miami Dade College. In 2015, she received her Florida Child Care Professional Certificate. One of her goals is to learn every day and to grow as an educator at work. In her free time, she enjoys traveling and reading.
Judith Huaman, Assistant Teacher
Judith Huaman was born in Lima, Peru, and she came to Miami, Florida in 2002. She holds a bachelor’s degree in science, a Teacher Certification in mathematics for middle and high school, and an associate degree in early childhood education. She started working at The Growing Place Child Center as an Assistant Teacher in 2011. It was here when she discovered that her goal in life is helping guide and educate young the children, and help them become kind, giving, and productive adults as they grow up. Judith likes to read, listen to music and travel in her spare time.
Monica Lazo, Assistant Teacher
Monica was born in Lima, Peru. She came to the United States in 2001 with her family. Monica has a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Monica loves to teach because she enjoys guiding children to find their path in life and give them opportunities to explore their environment and develop skills to resolve any problems they might find along the way. Monica enjoys working at The Growing Place because of its Christian principles, and its productive work environment, that helps her to teach children to grow and follow the word of God. Monica believes each and every child has a potential to bring something unique and special to the world. In her free time, Monica likes to travel and spend time with her family.
Maria Linna, Assistant Teacher
Maria Linna was born in Finland but raised in Savannah, Georgia. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders and is also a licensed speech therapy assistant for children. Maria enjoys focusing on a child’s ability to understand and use language through fun, purposeful play. She joined The Growing Place in 2017 and is thrilled to be a part of a community that is focused on guiding a child’s overall development and growth. In her spare time, she enjoys practicing yoga, scrapbooking, and going to Disney.
Maria Anjelica Lopez, Assistant Teacher
Maria Angelica Lopez was born and raised in Venezuela where she lived for 30 years before moving to the United States. She has completed three years of undergraduate study in early childhood education. At 19, she began working as a teacher at a local preschool in her home country of Venezuela. It is here where she truly began to develop a love for nurturing and teaching students to the best of her abilities. She is passionate about trying new things and learning as much as she can to later share with those around her. Maria Angelica began working at The Growing Place in August of 2017 with an eager heart and fresh ideas to offer. Recently she discovered a love for making ‘string art’ crafts which involves carving different images and quotes on wooden boards. This has become her favorite hobby.
Ana Lowe, Assistant Teacher
Ana Lowe was born in Cuba and raised in Miami. She is currently working on her bachelor's degree in early childhood education. Ultimately, Ana would like to become an administrator where she believes her qualities can contribute to the children’s success. Ana enjoys seeing the children grow socially and academically. For her, the ultimate reward is seeing a child put what they have learned into practice. She is committed to her profession and is passionate about educating young minds and sharing the love of God with them.
Olga Martinez, Assistant Teacher
Olga Martinez is originally from Mexico. She moved to Miami seven years ago when she was blessed to marry her amazing husband - now the father of her two beautiful children. Both of her children attend The Growing Place. Olga holds a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in science, with a focus on Multidisciplinary Studies for International Teachers. She has had the privilege of working as a Teacher Assistant for Kindergarten and then later as a Lead Teacher for the 3 to 4-year-olds back in Mexico in an internationally recognized school. Olga joined The Growing Place in 2014. She is excited about working at the school, as she shares the same philosophy in teaching The Growing Place. In her free time, Olga enjoys spending time with her family and bike riding.
Lucia D. Mendoza, Assistant Teacher
Lucia D. Mendoza was born in Nicaragua and raised in Miami. She obtained an associate’s degree in education from Miami Dade College and is currently working on earning a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. She has seven years of experience teaching in early childhood education. Lucia believes that every child is unique and, as an educator, her passion is to play a vital role in the development of young children. Through providing high-quality learning experiences, Lucia hopes to provide a strong foundation for learning. Lucia joined The Growing Place family in 2017. She enjoys spending quality time with her family, staying active, and discovering new interesting places to travel.
Hilda Morin, Assistant Teacher
Hilda Morin was born in Cuba, raised in New York and moved to Miami in 1976. She is married and has four adult children, four vibrant grandchildren, and two amazing dogs. Hilda holds a Child Development credential, a Directors credential, is certified in adult and pediatric first aid CPR/AED, Food and Safety Management, and has her license in real estate. Hilda has been working in early childhood education since 1985 in private pre-schools, after-school programs, and youth development organizations. Hilda also holds memberships in National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), Southern Early Childhood Association (SECA), and HighScope. In her free time, she enjoys spending quality time with her family, cooking, arts & crafts, music, reading and ice skating.
Monica Pizzaro, Assistant Teacher
Monica Pizarro was born in Mexico. She earned a bachelor's degree in administration techniques in Mexico. She has many years of experience working in the field of education with different ages and curriculums. With the objective of seeing young children’s potential, nurturing their talents and self-esteem, she opened her own pre-school and gym facility for young children in Mexico City. In 1998, she moved to Miami. Committed to her passion, she continued her education in Miami. She holds a Staff Credential, Infant and Toddler Care Certification, and a Director’s Credential. She has attended several seminars nationally and internationally. She is a member of the Florida Reggio Collaborative. She is also certified in “Concept-based Instructing" from Dynamica from Peru. Monica understands the importance of the first school years’ experience in children’s lives. This was the main reason she decided to join The Growing Place. She believes in the importance of a peaceful environment where children develop organically and with moral values. Monica loves all kinds of music and she makes it part of her daily life, though she lacks rhythm and pitch, she still tries! She enjoys meeting people from all around the world and learning about diverse cultures, traditions, and food.
Beatriz Rodriguez, Assistant Teacher
Beatriz Rodriguez was born in Bogota, Colombia, where she worked in the banking industry for ten years. She has lived in Miami with her husband for over 30 years, raising their two daughters and working as a childcare professional. Her priority is to provide each child with love, safety, and security. She enjoys working at The Growing Place because of the high quality of care and Christian education. Beatriz joined The Growing Place in 2009. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, walking, and bike riding.
Carmen Rodriguez, Assistant Teacher
Carmen Rodriguez was born in Havana, Cuba. She moved to the United States in 2002, where she lives with her two beautiful daughters. She has been working at The Growing Place since 2011. She loves working with children and watching them learn and grow. In her free time, she enjoys listening to music and dancing.
Annabella Ruiz, Assistant Teacher
Anabella Ruiz was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She graduated from Immaculata La Salle High School in May 2016 and is currently working on her associate degree at Miami Dade College. As an Assistant Teacher in Kids Club at The Growing Place, she loves to watch children learn something new every day and is honored to have the responsibility to help support the development and growth of children. Anabella joined The Growing Place in 2017 and is enjoying the school community. Whenever she has spare time, she spends it studying, traveling, and exploring the beautiful city of Miami.
Tatiana Sanchez-Calderón, Assistant Teacher
Tatiana Sánchez-Calderón was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, and has lived in the United States since 2015. She is currently pursuing her Florida Child Care Professional Certificate (FCCPC- formerly CDA) at Miami Dade College. Her interest in working with children dates back to when she was a college student. She has been involved as a volunteer in different non-profit children organizations, including “Save the Children.” She joined The Growing Place in 2017. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends and reading.
Carolina Sirven, Assistant Teacher
Carolina Sirven was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She holds a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and is currently in the process of getting her master’s degree in speech pathology. As an early childhood educator, Carolina’s goal is to guarantee that all children are treated equally and that they are given many opportunities to learn. Carolina joined The Growing Place in 2012 with a promise to ensure that children learn, feel welcomed, accepted and respected within the classroom. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, staying active and spending time with family and friends.
Joanna Stollenmaier, Assistant Teacher
Joanna came from the land down under, the beautiful island of Tasmania, Australia. She moved to Miami in January 2016 with her husband, Colton. She loves working with children and has done so for over four years. She was a Pathfinder Master Guide Instructor back in Australia and she is certified in early childhood education and care. Working with children is the most rewarding job she has ever had; it is a ministry in itself to teach children God's amazing love for us. She started working at The Growing Place in August 2016 and feels blessed to be a part of such a wonderful community here. A few of her favorite things in life are family, the beach and traveling the world.
Grace Garcia, Art Teacher
Grace Garcia was born and raised in Miami Shores and now lives in the same neighborhood with her husband and two daughters. She holds a CDA and has some college background. She started as a preschool teacher and later became the art teacher at the elementary school where she worked. In total, she has 17 years of experience working with children. She enjoys teaching students about art and watching them create and seeing their creative expressions come alive. Outside the classroom, she enjoys going to the beach, traveling and spending time with her family.
Carisa Wilson, Music Teacher
Carisa Wilson-Koury has called Miami home for the majority of her life. She attended the University of Miami earning a Bachelor of Music and the University of North Texas for graduate work in music performance. Throughout 25 years of private and school teaching experience, including as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Miami School of Music’s MusicTime program, Carisa has enjoyed sharing her love of music and God through musical and developmental instruction and seeking to meet the goals of each student and family. Carisa joined The Growing Place community in 2015. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, writing and speaking on children’s education and within women’s ministries, kayaking, camping, and looking for beautiful sunrises and sunsets that magnify God’s artistry and glory.