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 is married to her high school sweetheart. She has a daughter, a son and 4 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.
Luz Caceres, Lead 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 since 1972. 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. She has been a Girl Scout Troop Leader, Shake-A-Leg volunteer, and a Teacher Assistant. Lucy holds a child development credential. 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.
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 since 1993. 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.
Jillian Fairman, Lead Teacher
Jillian Fairman is from Jamaica and moved to the US when she was 4 ½ years old. She has lived in Queens and Long Island New York before making Miami her permanent home in 1991. Jillian was in the retail world has a visual manager for many years. After her daughter was born in 2003, she continued working for a company that had her traveling to different stores and working long hours. Jillian soon realized that the retail world was no longer what she wanted and because she always had a passion for working with children, she felt her true calling was to go into teaching. Jillian received her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education with a minor in English from F.I.U. in 2011. Teaching has been a rewarding journey for her thus far. When Jillian is not teaching, she enjoys spending quality time with her husband, daughter, other family, and friends. She enjoys, movies, going to Barnes and Nobles, reading a good book, anything outdoors, Jazz music, writing, crafting and dancing.
Marthy Ferrer, Lead Teacher
Marthy Ferrer was born in Miramar, Cuba. She is the youngest of four children raised in South Miami. She met her husband in Miami and has 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.
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.
Maria Anjelica Lopez, Lead Teacher
Maria Angelica Lopez was born and raised in Venezuela where she lived for 30 years before moving to the United States. She holds an associate’s degree in 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.
Lucia D. Mendoza, Lead 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.
Mayra Mestre, Lead Teacher
Mayra Mestre was born in Cuba and raised in Miami, Florida. She holds an early childhood development credential and credits towards an associate of arts in early childhood education. 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.
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.
Mariah Bouwland, Assistant Teacher
Mariah Bouwland was born in Miami, Florida. However, she moved to Amsterdam and lived there for four years, before moving back to Miami in 2001. She has both Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Psychology. She got her Bachelor’s degree from Florida International University, and spent time focusing on child development courses within the psychology field. She particularly enjoys working with children because they are very loving and intriguing to watch grow and develop. She also noticed that as a teacher one can learn so much from children and that working with children is very rewarding. She joined the TGP family in 2018. In her spare time, she enjoys dancing, traveling, reading, and spending quality time with friends and family. She plans to pursue her Masters degree in School Counseling.
Kathryn Boza, Assistant Teacher
Kathryn Boza, a Miami native, was raised in Coral Gables by an Irish mother and a Cuban father. She believes that family is the most important foundation where personality is created. She has a Bachelor's degree from Florida International University with a major in Psychology. Kathryn earned a Master's of Science in Mental Health Counseling from Nova University. She exhibits an affinity for psychology and for the study of human nature and human development. Kathryn has developed programs and activities to build children's self-esteem and social skills. She worked therapeutically with children and parents in a substance abuse prevention program. Ms. Boza has worked in settings and agencies such as The Institute for Child and Family Health (formerly The Children's Psychiatric Center), and Catholic Charities. She feels vocationally inclined to the service of children. Kathryn joined The Growing Place in November 2018. She believes that children are a "blank slate" in which we as teachers and parents can make the positive difference that will last a life time. She is a lover of her Miami environment for many reasons. The weather is one of them. Also she loves to exercise daily and enjoys running. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family and traveling.
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.
Kayleen Castillo, Assistant Teacher
Kayleen Castillo was born and raised in Miami, Florida with parents from Honduras. She graduated from Miami Southridge Senior High. She is currently working on her Bachelor’s degree in Education. As an Assistant Teacher at The Growing Place, she loves to watch the children learn and experience something new every day. She is honored to have the opportunity and responsibility in making this happen. Kayleen joined The Growing Place community in January of 2018. In her spare time she likes to travel, explore new things everywhere, and build and race cars with her father.
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.
Camilla Enriquez, Assistant Teacher
Camilla Enriquez was born and raised in Miami, Florida and is the daughter of Cuban-American parents. She is currently pursuing a degree in psychology at Florida International University. Since high school, Camilla has always found joy in working with children and loves seeing children develop as unique individuals through education and self-expression. She joined The Growing Place community in 2018 with a dedication to helping young children grow through education and the values of Christian faith. Overall, Camilla has a passion for helping others and making people happy in any way she can.
Valeria Frangie, Assistant Teacher
Valeria Frangie was born and raised in Maracaibo, Venezuela. When she was 19 years old she started working as a Teacher Assistant at The Carousel School (an international preschool in her hometown) while she worked on her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. She worked for 9 years as a Teacher Assistant. Working with children has always been her passion. She enjoys watching the children develop and evolve through the school year. Valeria joined The Growing Place in August 2018. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her friends, going to the beach and traveling; she also loves the arts and photography.
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.
Maria de Jesus Gonzalez, Assistant Teacher
Maria Gonzalez was born and raised in Mexico City, and moved to the United States in 2008. She has completed all the courses for the Department of Children and Families and she is studying for an associate’s degree in Child Development. Maria also has her scholar diplomas from Mexico. As an early childhood educator, she loves to play with children, engaging their creativity and enjoys watching them grow throughout the years. Maria loves to create strong bonds with the children hoping to make a powerful impact on their childhood. She joined The Growing Place community in 2018. Maria has two daughters and a beloved husband. Her family enjoys spending time together and creating lasting memories.
Lindsay Greene, Assistant Teacher
Lindsay Greene is from Columbia, South Carolina. She recently earned a Bachelor’s of Music Degree in Voice Performance from Boston University. Lindsay loves working and connecting with children by personally interacting with them and helping them learn and grow, by getting to know each unique personality. She joined The Growing Place family in 2018. In her free time, she continues her opera studies, takes classical voice lessons, and enjoys cooking and baking.
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.
Eilyn Juan, Assistant Teacher
Eilyn Juan was born and raised in Cuba and has lived in the United States since 2014. She studied Law at Havana University and holds a Bachelor’s degree. As an early childhood assistant teacher Eilyn enjoys working with children and loves to see their spontaneity and transparency. Eilyn joined The Growing Place community in January 2018. She is committed to supporting and growing with the children through the Christian values. In her free time, she enjoys spending quality time with her daughter and reading.
Pamela Kiefert, Assistant Teacher
Pamela Kiefert, Assistant Teacher, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She moved to Keokuk, Iowa while in the middle of fourth grade. In 1987, she moved to Miami, Florida. After 20 years working in the business world, she went back to school to obtain her Florida Child Care Professional Credential. Since becoming a teacher she feels she found her true calling. She finds guiding and helping children grow socially and emotionally every day is such an honor. Pamela joined The Growing Place in the summer of 2018. In her free time, she enjoys catching up with family and friends, loves hanging out with close friends and is ecstatic about her new role as a grandmother.
Tharah Laguerre, Assistant Teacher
Tharah Laguerre was born in Haiti and moved to the United States in 2002. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with an emphasis in early childhood development from Florida International University. She is currently working on her Master’s in early childhood education. She has always loved working with children because she loves seeing how they grow in new environments and witness all their achievements. She joined The Growing Place in August 2018. In her free time, she enjoys going out with family and friends, reading, drawing and traveling.
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.
Anabella 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.
Kendra Savillon, Assistant Teacher
Kendra Savillon was born and raised in Miami, FL. She graduated from Coral Gables Senior High School in 2012 and was a part of the Early Childhood Education Program. She has a background in nursing and is attending Miami Dade College to obtain an Associate’s degree in Education. She joined The Growing Place team in December of 2017. Prior to working at The Growing Place, Kendra worked at the University of Miami Hospital. She has two children of her own and understands the importance of education and early learning. She is excited to watch her students grow and be a part of their development and success. In her free time, she likes to spend time with her family.
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 4 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.
Maggie Tsavos, Assistant Teacher
Magdalen (Maggie) Tsavos was born in Michigan and was raised in Greece. She holds a TESOL Certificate in teaching English from the Trinity College of London and a Certificate of Proficiency in English from the University of Cambridge. She has been an educator since 1999 and has always been particularly interested in finding effective teaching strategies to help children overcome difficulties, become more confident and enjoy the journey of learning. Maggie considers working with children a blessing. There is nothing more rewarding for a teacher than being able to play an important role in their early steps in education and finding a place in their heart. Maggie joined The Growing Place family in August 2018 and eagerly shares her knowledge, experience, and passion. Keeping the children safe and happy is of top priority. She loves spending time with her husband and two sons, reading, gardening, crafting and cooking.
Maria Victoria Albuin, Art Teacher
Maria Victoria Abuin was born and raised in Venezuela. She moved to Miami in 2011 to further her education and recently finished a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Art at the University of Miami. Maria Victoria enjoys helping children explore and understand the world through the arts, as she believes it to be an important emotional outlet and source of individual expression. Maria Victoria joined The Growing Place in 2018. Outside of the workplace, she enjoys making ceramics and experimenting with different art media as well as having an interest in sustainability and nature.
Natalie Blanco, Music Teacher
Natalie Blanco was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She holds an Associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education. As a music and dance teacher and a babysitter, Natalie enjoys watching children grow and develop from their daily experiences especially in respects to their love for all things musical. Natalie is passionate about her love for music and children, and enjoys teaching children about the importance of music, and how much fun it can be! Natalie joined The Growing Place in spring of 2018. She greatly appreciates and enjoys the opportunity she has to work with children in a Christian setting and to be able to teach them the importance of worshipping the Lord through music. In her free time, she enjoys singing in the worship ministry at her church, playing piano, dancing, reading, and spending time with her family and friends.