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 Costello: 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 Kauffman: Teacher 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: 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.

Morgan Yansen: Teacher Assistant Tulips Toddler Community

Morgan graduated from Missouri State University in 2019 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. She will graduate from Xavier University this December with a Master’s Degree in Education with an emphasis in Montessori Education! She is excited to join the DGMS team this academic year! During her free time, she enjoys spending time with her 1-year old daughter, hiking, and traveling! She also has a secret love Nicholas Spark’s novels and Grey’s Anatomy. 

Primary Classrooms – Daisies, Lilies & Sunflowers

Lynetta Couch: Classroom Directress – Daisies Primary Community

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.

Tacha Urrutia: Teacher Assistant – Daisies Primary Community and Aftercare

Born and raised in Fairmont, MN , Tacha started her journey with babysitting/nannying. She would also assist her grandmother who taught during summer school. She attended a semester of college learning about early childhood education and made her way to Kansas City. She found a company that did nannying and subbing and connected with them part time and found a full time position as a toddler teacher. She made her way into animal rescue for a few years until a better opportunity arose to grow her experience with children. She then became a behavioral health tech at a children’s psych hospital for KU. Life had bigger plans for her as she made my way down here to Republic and settled down with my partner, our 8yr old son, and 4 animals. She is excited to become apart of the garden that’s grown here and loves the diversity that this school has to offer!

Sara Mitchel: Classroom Directress – Lilies Primary Community

Bio coming soon!

Ginger Strong: Teacher Assistant – Lilies Primary Community

Ginger has over 10 years experience teaching preschool. Before that, she was a cop and Marine. She is married and has a 27 year old son. In her spare time, she enjoys sewing and playing the piano. Her greatest joy has been being a mom!

Kim: Classroom Directress – Sunflowers Primary Community

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!

Lexi: Classroom Directress – Sunflowers Primary Community

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.

Elementary Classroom – Roses

Jamie Spanner: Classroom Directress – Roses Elementary Community

Jamie is originally from San Diego, but grew up across the Midwest, landing in the Springfield area for 15 years. She was previously the elementary lead at DGMS. After spending a couple years in Washington and Idaho, she has returned. This is her fifth year working in a Montessori environment. She holds a BA in Family Studies and Social Services, and obtained a lower elementary teaching credential from AMS. When she’s not at school or working on materials for the classroom, Jamie can be found guzzling coffee, admiring other people’s dogs, and volunteering at Stained Glass Theatre. 

Discovery Garden Support Staff

Carrie Colpitts: In-House Support Teacher

Carrie came to Springfield via Chicago in 2014. After studying education in Chicago, Carrie worked as a reading and writing teacher with Chicago Public Schools and as a learning specialist at a Montessori school in the city. In Springfield, she has worked in Springfield Public Schools and lead a chapter of a national non-profit. Carrie has experience training teachers in anti-racist and LGBTQ+ inclusive best practices.

In her free time Carrie sews, makes jewelry, creates other crafts, and volunteers with youth. She also spends time with her cats. 

Gretchen Taylor: Floating Assistant Teacher and Aftercare Support

Bio coming soon!

Sarah Lowe: Floating Assistant Teacher and Aftercare Teacher

Originally from Warrensburg, Missouri Sarah is a senior student at Missouri State University finishing her degree in Elementary Education. Sarah has always loved to work with children and was eager to get the opportunity to see firsthand Montessori programing and structure. Sarah is an active member in her sorority, Alpha Delta Pi, and has held various leadership positions including serving on the Executive Board ’19-’20. In her free time Sarah enjoys going on walks, reading, spending quality time with those that she loves, and the occasional nap! Sarah lives a faith-driven life and devotes her time to loving others.  

Mackenzie Seigler: Floating Assistant Teacher and Aftercare Support

Mackenzie is originally from Blue Springs, Missouri and is currently a junior at Missouri State. She is studying Biology Education: Unified Science. She is very involved in her sorority, Delta Zeta, and she served on the executive board from 20’-21’. She has always been passionate about working with children and is excited to learn about the Montessori school system. In her free time she likes to hang out with her friends and try new restaurants around Springfield. 

Claudia Ruiz: Chef

Claudia is a chef, who has taught culinary classes to children in Spanish and English. She loves animals and traveling. She cares for dogs and horses, and she enjoys sharing her experiences with children. Her daughter, Ona, a toddler at DGMS, helps to care for the animals daily. We are excited to have Claudia join us this school year.

Skyler Ortiz: Music Teacher

Skyler McAlister (Ortiz) is originally from Oklahoma. She moved to Missouri in 2015 to pursue a degree in Music Education from Evangel University. She has a lot of experience with children in the classroom preschool through 12th grade. Skyler graduated in December 2019 and is currently assisting her husband as a music leader in their church and teaches a Sunday school class. 

When she is not working, she enjoys being with her family, writing music, and being outdoors.