Discovery Garden Staff

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Head of School

Cynthia Barraza

Cynthia is the DGMS Head of School and is originally from Chihuahua, Mexico. After finishing high school she studied a two year course in Montessori Elementary (6-12) in her hometown, giving her a Diploma accredited by the Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey. She then decided to move to El Paso, TX. There she earned a B.A. in Psychology, while working full time as an elementary Montessori teacher at “Montessori in the Orchard” in La Union, NM. When she got married she moved to Atlanta, GA, where she got to work for the Children Protection Services as a social worker. She then moved to Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, where she taught a 6-12 year old elementary Montessori class for another 2 years. She then decided to be a homemaker and mom for a couple of years. When she moved to Springfield in 2009 she got involved with the DGMS project and was part of the founding Board of Directors. Before working for DGMS she used to work on the weekends for Lakeland Behavioral Hospital, where she got to work first hand with the children in the hospital. In August of 2011 she took the Head of School position. She served as our Elementary Directress for two years, and after training to receive her Early Childhood certification from AMS in the summer of 2014, she served as the Primary Directress in 2014-2015. She has a Master’s degree from University of Missouri- St. Louis in Elementary Education. She enjoys playing with her kids, reading and jewelry making.

Toddler Community – Magnolias & Tulips

Angelica: Classroom Directress – Magnolias Toddler Community

Angelica is the Directress of the Toddler Community. She was born and educated in Mexico and graduated from Escuela Normal para Maestros de la Universidad del Estado de Morelos in Mexico with a degree in Literature. After graduation she taught literature and reading to Junior High students. She has lived in the United States for 25 years and has taught preschool, Spanish Literature, special needs children with the Easter Seals, and at-risk youth with Even Start in Joliet, IL. She and her husband moved to Springfield four years ago. In 2015 she completed Montessori Training in St. Louis to become certified through the American Montessori Society in Infant and Toddler education.


Iliana: Classroom Assistant – Magnolias Toddler Community

Illiana is from Mexico, originally from a beautiful and colonial city called Querétaro where she studied Business Administration. She is married and has three children, Thomas, Kevin and Andrew. 

She and her family have been living in the United States since 2003, and she’s have been working for DGMS for five years. She has received early child development courses and is so happy working and sharing her time with the little ones in the toddler community.

Karol Diniz Cunningham: Classroom Directress – Tulips Toddler Community

Karol is originally from Manaus, Brazil. Since a young age she has been involved in teaching, and interested in languages and child cognitive development. Karol holds a bachelor’s degree in Education and a licentiate degree in Psychopedagogy from the Federal University of Amazonas. Recently, she earned her Early Childhood credential from the American Montessori Society through the Hope Montessori Educational Institute. Karol also shared her love for people and language skills from 2005 to 2009 when she volunteered her interpretation services on Mission trips, mainly with “Amazon Vision Ministries”. Through the mission she met her husband, and now lives in Springfield since 2012. Karol enjoys riding her bike, dancing, reading, traveling, the beach, and is curious about different languages.

Madison: Classroom Assistant – Tulips Toddler Community

Madison was born in Texas but grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She has been in the Springfield area for about 5 years now. She is currently finishing her bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Development at Missouri state University. Madison just recently got married this past June! She has been an assistant at Discovery Garden since January of 2020, and has enjoyed learning more about the Montessori method. Madison loves to be outdoors, riding bicycles with her husband, reading, cooking, and being in her community. 

Primary Classrooms – Daisies & Sunflowers

Lynetta: Classroom Directress – Daisies

Lynetta is originally from Bolivar, Missouri. She attended College of the Ozarks and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting in 2011. Lynetta began her Montessori career in 2015 as a teacher working with primary students. In 2016, she obtained certification through the North American Montessori Center. Lynetta is married to her best friend and SBU alum, Jeremy. They have a son, David.

Kiah: Classroom Assistant – Daisies

Kiah was born in Harrison, Arkansas. She moved to Springfield after receiving an academic scholarship from Missouri State University. She graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2018 with degrees in Professional and Technical Writing and Creative Writing. She has been published three times for her short-form fiction stories. Kiah has also won three successful grants, including one for DGMS’ SPS program. Prior to working in the field of education, Kiah worked in marketing. She has coded, written, and designed numerous websites. She has also nannied and adores working with children. Kiah was drawn to the Montessori path after reading Maria Montessori’s teachings and believes that Montessori is the most empathetic and effective means of education for children. Kiah has traveled internationally and is deeply interested in other cultures and languages. She plans to pursue Montessori teaching certification in the future. 

Lexi: Classroom Directress – Sunflowers

Lexi Miles is originally from Whitefish, Montana. After moving to Missouri for college, she graduated from Cottey College in 2012 and moved to Springfield a few short years later. Lexi began her Montessori journey after applying for a part-time office position here at Discovery Garden, only to be presented with many more opportunities for growth thereafter. Lexi has studied at Hope Montessori Educational Institute. Her love for the arts, language, environmentalism and the spiritual well-being of all humankind can be found both in and outside the classroom. When she is not at school, you can find her doing yoga, jogging, collaborating with the local music community, or running her photography business as Ms. Miles Media.

Kim: Classroom Directress – Sunflowers

Kim is originally from Des Moines, Iowa. From 2008-2011, she studied Music Education and English Education at Emporia State University and University of Central Missouri. While she deeply loves music and currently writes it as a hobby, she also discovered her interest in english education after getting involved in the International Department in both universities and teaching English in Korea for a short time, but felt that neither one of those professions were where her life was headed. In 2013, she was offered a job as an assistant in a Montessori classroom having no prior knowledge to what Montessori even was. After careful observation of helping set up the classroom and assisting in there for one school year, that same year she decided to get her training in the Montessori method! She graduated in 2015 with an AMS Certification and her life has been forever changed by it! Whether brand new or a veteran to the method, she’s so glad to be sharing this Montessori journey with you and your precious littles!

Elementary Classroom – Roses

Stacy Gray: Elementary Classroom Directress

Stacy Gray is the lead teacher of our Lower Elementary classroom. She came to us as a temporary substitute for the Elementary in March of 2017. Originally from a small town in Southeast Kansas, she graduated from Pittsburg State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. In 1997, she began her teaching career in the Missouri public school system primarily in the 3rd and 4th grades. In 2005, she earned her Master’s in Elementary Education from Missouri State University and holds a lifetime certificate in the grades of 1-6 for the state of Missouri. She has lived in Southwest Missouri for over 20 years.  Stacy participates each year in the BCFO fashion show to raise awareness for breast cancer. When she is not busy spending time with her active children, she loves shopping, and finding new and exciting recipes to cook for her family.

Discovery Garden Support Staff

Lynette: DGMS In-House Support

Lynette is the full-time support staff member who works with all lead teachers. She was born and raised in Springfield and attended Missouri State University. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Special Education and Elementary Education, a Master’s degree in Special Education, and has worked in the public school system for 28 years. She enjoys spending time with family and friends, going to the lake, reading, and riding countless miles on her bicycle.

Heather: Creative Movement Teacher

This is Heather’s third year teaching Creative Movement at DGMS. She developed the technique while on faculty at Tulsa Ballet’s Center for Dance Education, preparing young dancers for the pre-professional program. She also worked as Tulsa Ballet’s Company Manager at the time, managing the 30-member AGMA company for their 6-production season, regional and international tours. 

Heather has her Bachelor’s in Dance and Non-Profit Management from Oklahoma City University. She taught Ballet, Tap, Jazz, and Performing Arts Management at Tulsa University and Oral Roberts University, also choreographing musicals for ORU, Cascia Hall Preparatory School and Tulsa Opera. She has been certified in STOTT Pilates, mat and equipment. Heather and Michael O’Sullivan have 2 children, Luke and Norah, and a boy due Christmas Day 2020.

Katie Kimbrough: Daisies Teacher Assistant and Primary and Elementary Aftercare

Katie was born and raised in Lawrence, Kansas. She moved to Springfield in 2012 to attend Missouri State University. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish, and is currently finishing another degree in Art History. Katie joined Discovery Garden Montessori School in August of 2020 to help with the SPS Learning Support Program. In January, she transitioned to help the Daisies community several mornings of the week. She also helps the Primary and Elementary aftercare program.  In her free time she enjoys going on bike rides, kayaking, doing trivia with friends, and listening to podcasts.

Skyler Ortiz (McAlister): SPS Support Staff and Substitute 

Skyler was born and raised in Ardmore, Oklahoma and moved to Springfield in 2015 to attend Evangel University. Originally, she planned to study Worship Leadership at Evangel but ended up changing to Music Education her sophomore year. She has 4-5 years experience with children newborn all the way up to 12th grade and a strong passion for teaching and helping children succeed and prepare for their future. When she’s not teaching, she is with her family, husband, or friends, singing on my church worship team, doing outdoor activities, or traveling.

Dara Chepan: SPS SUpport Staff and Substitute

Dara has a BS in Education from the University of Georgia and has worked in both the Springfield Public Schools and Marshfield School District. She enjoys volunteering in the community, going on new adventures while traveling, and yoga. 

Gretchen Taylor – Primary and Elementary Aftercare and Substitute