About Us

About Us


Maria Montessori

History of CEMCS


In the News

Faculty And Staff

CEMCS Faculty



Kindergarten 1 – Melissa Friel

Melissa was born and raised in Massachusetts, where she graduated from Tyngsboro Jr./Sr. High School. She moved to Savannah to attend SCAD, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She began her teaching career teaching abroad in South Korea. When she returned, she began working as a lead 3-year old teacher at a Montessori Early Childhood program while she earned her Master of Arts in Teaching from Armstrong Atlantic State University. When she completed her degree, she started working for SCCPSS, where she taught Kindergarten and 1st grade for 3 years. She then returned to Montessori Early Childhood for another 3 years while her son was attending. She is now earning her Montessori Certification through the North American Montessori Center.

Melissa married Thomas Christoper Friel, a proud Savannah High Alumni, in 2011. They have 2 children - a 5 year old boy (Archer) and a 2 year old girl (Matilda). She enjoys cooking for her family, swimming with her family, and hiking with her family. When she is not with her family, she practices yoga and Pilates. She also still creates art in her spare time.

Kindergarten 2 – Hannah Lewis

Hannah graduated from Towson University in Baltimore, MD, with a degree in Theatre. During that time, she discovered her love of teaching while using theatre skills and games as a way to inspire the children of inner-city Baltimore to read. She loved spending time with the 3rd graders involved in the program and knew that her life would take a turn toward education. This will be Hannah’s first year teaching Kindergarten, however she is a CEMCS veteran who has been an assistant teacher here for the past year and a half. She feels incredibly fortunate to have found such a wonderful family of educators here at CEMCS. She is currently working towards her Montessori certification in Lower Elementary through the North American Montessori Center.

Hannah was born in Easton, MD, but spent a lot of her time growing up near the beach in Ocean City. She loves going home to visit her family whenever she can. Hannah moved here to Savannah five years ago and has fallen in love with coastal Georgia. It reminds her of home. In her spare time you might find Hannah spending time with her boyfriend, Matt, and their two wacky dogs, Bob and Peter. They love exploring the outdoors, seeing live music, visiting family, cooking, hanging out at the beach, and traveling. In fact, traveling is one of Hannah’s passions, and she has traveled to and lived in several different countries around the world including Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the Dominican Republic, the Cayman Islands, and Nicaragua. She plans on adding many more places to that list.

Lower Elementary 1 – Denisaira Miller

Denisaira was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where she lived until 1996 when her mother made the decision to move her family to the United States. Her upbringing was filled with caring and thoughtful people, who possessed an abundance of culture, values, beliefs, and traditions that influenced her life greatly. Once her family settled in Michigan, Denise attended Michigan State University and majored in Pre-Law. She knew in her heart, though, that her true passion was being a teacher, helping children with their educational development and impacting them in a positive way, ensuring their potential is fulfilled. She therefore transferred to Kaplan University, where she majored in Elementary Education, and graduated with Summa Cum Laude honors.

Denisaira has two children, Luisier and Jiansier, who attend our school. The birth of her two children made her recognize that all children need support and nurturing, and because of this she decided to join the staff as a Teaching Assistant in 2012. She has been working with children ever since.

Denisaira graduated from Kaplan University with a Bachelor Degree in Early Childhood Education, and she completed the Elementary I Montessori training in Charleston, SC, with the Seacoast Center for Education. She has recently added Gifted certification to her credentials. She is excited to be a Montessori educator – to be someone for young children to look up to, someone who the children can trust, and who will always “go the extra mile” to ensure their success.

Lower Elementary 2 – Alana Brown

Alana is originally from Roseville, OH. As an Army veteran, she has lived in various places, including Virginia, Texas, and Columbus, GA, before finally settling in Savannah. Upon exiting the military, Alana began volunteering at Coastal Empire Montessori in her daughter's classroom, and it was there that she learned her love for teaching. Alana has completed Montessori Training through the Seacoast Center for Education and is enrolled in the GaTAPP (Georgia Teacher Preparation and Pedagogy Program) with Oconee RESA. She earned a Bachelor of Business in Human Resource Management.

In her spare time, Alana enjoys spending time with her family. She is married and has four daughters, ages 12, 11, 4 and 9 months. Her 2 oldest daughters are graduates of CEMCS.

Lower Elementary 3 – Laurel Gauthe

Laurel developed her love of teaching young children as she worked with toddlers and infants at a childcare center in Atlanta throughout high school and during breaks in college. She combined her passion for teaching and creating art with a Bachelor Degree in Art Education at the University of Georgia. Laurel taught art at an elementary school in Griffin, GA, before moving to Savannah and joining the CEMCO team in July 2014. She completed Lower Elementary Montessori certification in 2018 through Seacoast Center. Laurel adores teaching 6–9-year-olds because they are at the age of imagination. Maria Montessori said, "The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination."

Laurel loves travelling, visiting art museums, and learning about our world. Some of her favorite activities include gardening, kayaking, biking, drawing, and spending time with her husband, Andrew.

Lower Elementary 4 – Janine Neal

Janine was born in Ohio and grew up in Savannah, GA. She graduated from Valdosta State University with a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and earned a Master of Education in Counseling in 2006. Her passion is teaching and she has been doing so for 15 years. She has worked for the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System and for Richmond County School System in a variety of grade levels throughout the years. Janine is currently working on her Montessori Certification through the North American Montessori Center, and this year will be her first of many with CEMCS!

Janine loves spending most of her time with family and friends. She has a nine year old daughter whom
she adores. She enjoys traveling, reading, shopping, going to the beach, and most of all having fun with
her daughter. She enjoys working with children and is looking forward to a prosperous school year.

Lower Elementary 5 – Kelly Arseneau

Kelly was raised in Central Florida and developed a passion for teaching at a young age. Throughout her years as a student, she was a peer mediator/mentor and a tutor. Her academic excellence in high school earned her a guaranteed teaching position in Florida upon graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2010. She completed rounds of student teaching in Kindergarten, 4th grade, and 1st grade. With a Bachelor Degree in Elementary Education with Reading and ESOL endorsements she spent her first five years teaching 9th-grade reading. During those years, Kelly earned over 300 hours of in-service training and conducted several trainings for her peers. In addition to finishing her Montessori Certification, she is continuing her education at Georgia Southern University in the Applied Research and Evaluation graduate program. This will be her fourth year teaching Lower Elementary at CEMCS; her students have always valued her sense of humor, enthusiasm, and ability to make learning fun!

Kelly relocated to Savannah in 2015 with her husband and three boys and is excited to live in one of her favorite cities in the US! In her spare time, she loves spending time with her family, winning Nerf wars, reading (especially non-fiction), going to the beach, watching documentaries, and learning. She's looking forward to another exciting year here at CEMCO!

Lower Elementary 6 – Kylene Purvis

Kylene was born and raised in Tampa, Florida. She graduated from the University of South Florida in 1998, where she earned her Bachelor Degree in Communication and Science Disorders. She worked for four years in speech therapy for public elementary school students. During this time, Kylene earned her Master Degree in Early Childhood Education from Nova Southeastern University. She has taught for 15 years in Kindergarten through 3rd Grade. She earned her ESOL endorsement in 2008 and has recently completed her Montessori Certification with the North American Montessori Center.

Kylene moved to Savannah in 2015 because of her husband's job. After having a baby in May of 2015, she took a year off teaching and has returned to her passion. She and her husband, Brian, have two children - Kaden (10) and Kyla (3). In her spare time, Kylene enjoys spending time with her family, outdoor activities, reading, shopping, and learning yoga. She loves the following quotations from Maria Montessori: "Believe in the child” and "... the teacher's task is to first nourish and assist, to watch, encourage, guide, induce, rather than interfere, prescribe, or restrict."

Upper Elementary 1 – Stephanie Thorne

Stephanie graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor of Science in Social Studies Secondary Education and from Georgia College and State University with a Master in Middle School Math and Science. This is her seventeenth year teaching and fifth year at CEMCS. She is excited to complete her Montessori Live training this year.

Stephanie enjoys cooking, camping, and going to the library. She is an early bird and a night owl with a fine appreciation of naps and good books in between. She especially loves to spend time with her two sons and her husband.

Upper Elementary 2 – Stefanie Kelly

Stefanie, originally from the Hoosier state of Indiana, has taught for 19 years in all types of settings – military, residential, public, private, elementary, middle school, high school, and college! She earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice/Criminology from the University of Cincinnati and a Master of Education with a minor in Special Education from Xavier University. She has taken additional courses both in Science and Math from Miami University. Stefanie is certified in Early Childhood Education, Special Education, Middle School English Language Arts, and Middle School through High School History, Economics, Geography, Political Science, and Behavioral Science. She is also a part-time college professor in the College of Behavioral and Social Science at Georgia Southern University.

Stefanie is a wife of 24 years, a mother of five amazing children (3 boys and 2 girls) and pets galore, a runner, a lover of all animals, nature and farm life, and an advocate for mental health awareness and our local Rape Crisis Center. She loves teaching and comes from a family of educators including both her sisters, her sister-in-law, her husband, and her son, who just completed his first year of teaching. Stefanie adores being creative and is thrilled with any and all crafts, like drawing and making things from scratch. She is also learning sign language and braille to better communicate with her youngest son. A firm believer in all things nature and animal-related, she hopes to hatch chickens and ducks in the classroom to assist in bringing science alive.

Some of Stefanie’s fondest memories of teaching involve hands-on adventures including: painting the setting of favorite books with her students, reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Katie DiCamillo, building an accessible garden for students to plant their own food to harvest and cook, experimenting with goats running up and down the playground slide to obtain ideas for building their own hooves, studying shadows on the playground, and cooking spaghetti and meatballs to learn to read a recipe and work with converting measurement. She looks forward to working with each and every student!

Upper Elementary 3 – Patty Clancy

As Patty enters her 30th year in education, she still enjoys and embraces all that teaching has to offer. She began her career by earning a Bachelor Degree in Elementary Education with a specialization centered in Early Childhood from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. She moved south and obtained her first experience teaching in the inner-city Atlanta School System area and then with at-risk Pre-K special needs students in a private school setting. Since moving to Savannah, Patty has taught at several public schools in Chatham County, adding a Gifted Endorsement to her certificate during that time. She also taught and was the assistant director at a private school for children with neurological disorders, where she learned a variety of invaluable methods for differentiation. She married and moved to Augusta, GA, for 7 years, which ended up being a highlight in her career. In 2007, Patty was named Teacher of the Year for her school and runner up for Columbia County. During the next few years, she obtained her Master Degree in Education Curriculum, became a Thinking Map and PBIS Trainer. She comes to us from Bryan County where she was teaching 4th and 5th grades, and where she was the recipient of two Donors Choose Grants for flexible seating and modality equipment for her inclusion students. Currently, she is working on earning her Montessori Certification from the North American Montessori Center.

Even though born in Dearborn, Michigan and raised in Sterling, Illinois, Patty considers Savannah her true home. She loves spending days out at the beach, reading, cooking out almost year round, and taking care of her fur baby, Stella. An opportunity to help raise a dear friend’s children happened upon her and she now finds herself busy doing many “Mom” related activities for Palmer (age 11) and Emme (age 7). They help keep her current on all things the “cool” parents do. Patty embraces the challenge of teaching in all aspects of life. She feels she learns as much as she teaches. Every day is different and should be welcomed with enthusiasm, a belief which she hopes to instill in her students.

Exceptional Children – Emily Barker

Emily is originally from Indianapolis, IN, and is a graduate of Indiana University. At IU, Emily had many opportunities to work in classrooms of all grade levels in a variety of schools. She also got to spend two months teaching in Ireland during the summer of 2016. She is beginning her third year at CEMCO and is looking forward to another good year!

Emily decided to move to Savannah after visiting with her sister and falling in love with the city. She's been here for two years and still enjoys it. She has a miniature Dachshund named Oliver who loves running around or curling up under a blanket. Emily enjoys traveling, watching sports, spending time outside, and sitting at the beach or at the pool.

Exceptional Children – Tracy Brozowski

Tracy earned her Bachelor Degree in Theater from Florida State University and her Master of Arts in Teaching from Columbia College, Chicago. This is her third year at CEMCS. She is excited to be back working in the Exceptional Children Department as a part-time Special Education Teacher. She has worked with exceptional children and adults for over ten years and is happy to be melding her love for Montessori and Special Education in this position.

Tracy grew up in Florida but has moved all over the US as an adult. She misses the mountains of Montana and the tacos of Texas but is happy to be back in the swampy south and close to her family. She and her husband adore Savannah and plan to make it home for quite some time. On the weekends, they can be found hiking, meditating, or watching the newest superhero movie.

Title I – Petra Echauri

Petra is originally from Newington, CT. Various opportunities took her from East to West and back again; she has also lived in Hawaii, Washington, D.C. and Northern California. Petra earned a Bachelor of Science in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology from California State University, Sacramento. While attending school, she worked as an assistant teacher and after-school program director for Woodland Montessori Children’s House. Her love for children had long been established, but that is where her love for Montessori education began. Petra completed the Montessori Live Elementary I Program in June 2017 and holds a MACTE Certificate in Montessori Education. She also has her Master of Education, Reading Specialist from Armstrong State University. This year Petra will serve as the Title 1 Resource Teacher focusing on reading and mathematics for third, fourth, and fifth grades.

In her spare time, Petra enjoys spending time with her family. She has a 10-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter, both of whom keep her busy and on her toes. She and her family try to get to Tybee Island or Hilton Head Island every chance they get, as the beach is their favorite place to spend time as a family. She takes great pleasure in watching her children grow and explore the world around them.

Response to Intervention (RtI) Coordinator & Title I Parent Facilitator – Leslie Sheppard

Leslie was born and raised in Savannah, GA, where she received her education in the public school system of Chatham County. During her high school years, Leslie worked at her aunt’s daycare, resulting in her having a passion for educating children. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Social Science from Ashford University and just recently obtained her Master of Social Work degree from Walden University. Leslie is currently studying to obtain her LMSW licensure in the state of Georgia. This is Leslie’s third year as CEMCO as our RtI Coordinator. Leslie has worked in the SCCPSS for over ten years in the special education department where she helped autistic children transition into the inclusion setting from the self-contained setting. Leslie loves the quote “We believe all children can achieve.”

Whenever possible, Leslie enjoys spending time with her family. She has two middle school boys. Leslie and her husband, James love doing activities and traveling together as a family whenever they can.

Art – Bethany Gill

Bethany graduated summa cum laude from Armstrong State University with a Bachelor of Science in Art Education. Following graduation, she also earned a certification in Early Childhood Education. Since graduating, Bethany has been working in a Pre-K classroom in a private daycare setting. While working as a Pre-K teacher, Bethany learned how to be patient, loving, and most importantly how to have fun! She is very excited to start her career in Art Education here at CEM. Bethany's concentration is in ceramic sculpture and portraiture, but she has experience working in a broad range of media. She is eager to share her experiences with her students while learning new things from them as well. Bethany believes that studying Art, and the artistic process itself, can teach children important life skills such as problem solving, decision making, empathy, collaboration, and of course, self-expression. She also believes that every child is an artist, and is determined to find some aspect of Art, whether it’s a certain medium, style, technique or subject matter, that excites every student who enters her classroom this year. As the artist Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Bethany has been living in Savannah for ten years and recently married her best friend. She now lives on Wilmington Island with her husband and their cat, Watson. She enjoys drawing, painting, sculpting, playing the ukulele, and reading. She also enjoys riding her road bike and kayaking on the skin-on-frame boats that she and her husband build together.


Stephanie Babcock-Wright, Executive Director

Stephanie is a social scientist and educator who has had careers in both law enforcement and education. She possesses the following degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and French from Bucknell University, a Master of Arts in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, a Master of Science in Criminal Justice from Suffolk University, a Master of Education in Middle Grades Education from Armstrong Atlantic State University. Additionally, she was one of a handful of Georgia educators chosen to participate in the innovative CharterLeader Program - a rigorous, residency-based Educational Specialist program, through Kennesaw State University, designed to grow charter-school leaders and strengthen the charter-school sector in Georgia. Stephanie is certified to teach Early Childhood Education, Middle Grades Education and Gifted Education, as well as being certified in Performance-Based Educational Leadership. Before becoming an educator and teaching middle-grades Mathematics for several years, Stephanie served as Deputy Director of the Office of Research and Evaluation at the Boston Police Department, where she did crime, intelligence and statistical analysis. Public-school educated herself, she is a strong believer in the value of public schooling and the idea that all families should have access to positive educational alternatives for their children.

Stephanie’s association with CEMCS began when she enrolled both of her boys, Sam and Ben, when the school opened back in 2008. She has been here ever since – as a parent, a CEMCO Board Trustee and Officer, then as Director of Operations. She is now serving in her 6th year as the school’s Executive Director. She has always believed in the power of the mission and concept of the CEMCO Founding Board and remains intensely-committed to the school’s success. As she watches the growth, progress and graduation of more and more students here – including her own children – she becomes even more deeply convinced that CEM’s commitment of “doing Montessori right” serves children and families faithfully. Stephanie has also participated in Montessori training for School Directors through both the Montessori Foundation and the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector. In addition, she serves on numerous local and statewide committees and leadership groups, often through the GA Charter Schools Association, and increasingly engages in educational reform initiatives across the state. She is a proud member of the Savannah Charter Schools Collaborative and loves working with her charter colleagues here in town in order to advocate for children, families, teachers, and staff.

Stephanie is a transplanted Yankee who has lived in many areas of the United States, as well as in France. She is a workaholic who also enjoys family time, being a soccer mom, watching sports, reading, continuing to get healthy, and traveling anywhere that’s interesting to explore. Her Montessori-educated children love learning and voraciously take in the world around them, which makes being their mom extremely fun and rewarding. In her never-ending pursuit to grow as a person and become the best educator and guide possible for the school, she is working on enhancing her mindfulness by taking up yoga and meditation this year.

Katherine Davis, Head of Montessori Curriculum and Instruction

Katherine was born and raised in the Savannah, GA, area where she attended Armstrong Atlantic State University. While studying Art History and Techniques there, she found a passion for teaching art, which quickly turned into a passion for the art of teaching. Katherine graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Art Education and taught Kindergarten at CEMCS for 5 years. During that time, she earned her MACTE-accredited Certification in the Early Childhood Program with Montessori Live. Since becoming the Head of Montessori Curriculum and Instruction, Katherine has earned her Montessori Live School Leadership Certification and aspires to continue formal Montessori training for the Upper Elementary grades.

Katherine resides with her husband, Matt, who is in the Air National Guard, their three sons Sean (12), Hendrix (4) & Harper (4) and their 2 dogs & 1 cat. In her spare time, Katherine enjoys boating, fishing, camping, putting puzzles together, and cooking. Her two favorite quotes from Maria Montessori are, "Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create" and "Play is the work of a child.”

William ‘Bill’ Kovach, Chief Financial Officer

Bill is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati where he earned a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree with a major in Accounting. He is a CPA and has had quite a varied professional career. Bill has spent time in the public accounting field, served as the Controller of a multi-billion dollar construction program, and provided consulting services to various state and local government entities. As a mid-career course change, Bill focused his attention on the not-for-profit industry and became the Chief Administrative Officer of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, TX, the largest Episcopal congregation in the United States. Bill also served as the Executive Director of the Open Door Mission (a residential drug and alcohol recovery program for homeless and indigent men) and then finished out that segment of his work life as the Executive Vice President and CFO of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society – South Central Region.

Bill was born and raised in Ohio but spent the last 35 years living in Houston, Texas. He and his wife, Peggy, moved to Savannah in 2015 to relax and enjoy all that Savannah has to offer. They have five children, seven grandchildren and one very pampered cat. Bill likes to spend his spare time working on home renovations and travelling. He’s been to 47 of the 50 states - with a goal to cross the remaining 3 off his list in the next couple years.

Teresa Middleton, Business Manager

Teresa was born and raised in Columbus, GA. A basketball scholarship after high school afforded her the opportunity to attend Georgia Southwestern University in Americus, GA. There she earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science. Teresa moved to the Tacoma/Seattle area with friends after graduation and made her home there for several years. In 1994, she returned to Columbus, GA, where she met her husband, John, on the Fort Benning golf course; they were married in 1996. Because Teresa holds education in high regard, she pursued and earned a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Troy State University a few years later. In October 2005, the couple was blessed with the best gift ever, the gift of life – Jade, their beautiful baby girl was born and their lives were enriched with the joys of parenthood. She completed her PhD in Educational Psychology from Capella University in 2017.

Teresa is a professional leader and logistician with experience in fast-paced environments. She has demonstrated strong organizational, technical, and interpersonal skills. She is a hardworking, dedicated, highly motivated self-starter, committed to superior customer service. She is confident and composed in interpersonal relations at all levels. She is detail-oriented, able to effectively multi-task, resourceful in ensuring successful mission completion, and she is blessed with outstanding results to her credit. Teresa served 28 years in the United States Army Reserves; she retired October 15, 2012. As a citizen soldier, Teresa is also blessed with a successful civilian career in Information Systems.

Jennifer Williams, Student Wellness & Information Specialist

Jenn was born and raised in Melbourne, FL. After high school graduation, she married Jeremy, who was in the US Navy. They were stationed in several different states all over the US for the next 15 years. In January 2010, they left the Navy life for beautiful Savannah, GA. Jenn was the Administrative Assistant of the school from 2011-2013. From 2013-2015, Jenn went back to school to further her education; she graduated with a Health Care Assistant Certification with endorsements as both Certified Nursing Assistant and Patient Care Technician from Savannah Technical College. This will be Jenn's 8th year at CEMCS!

Jenn has 3 great children, aged 22, 18, and 13. She also has a beautiful 2-year-old granddaughter, who is the apple of her “Oma's" eye. She enjoys spending her free time with them and their various activities. When she gets time to herself, she enjoys reading, baking, relaxing, and raising backyard chickens. Jenn is always looking for more ways to grow both personally and professionally. This year she will be pursuing training opportunities to help enhance the social/emotional well-being of both students and staff.

Twilia Melvin, Administrative Assistant

Twilia was born and raised in Ridgeway, SC. After graduating high school, she worked as a paraprofessional at the elementary school where her mother worked. She then joined the US Army in 1998, which is where she met her husband William. They were stationed at Ft. Lee, VA, for a while, which is where she ended her career in the Army; her husband continued his path with the US Air Force and they moved to Savannah. Twilia took a position as an accountant at a car dealership, where she worked for many years and gained much administrative expertise. Twilia's education includes studying Criminal Justice at Midlands Technical College in Columbia, SC, and Central Texas College in VA. Twilia has worked at CEMCS since August 2013 and loves making the Main Office work.

Twilia enjoys spending time with family and is very family-oriented; most of her free time is dedicated to them.

Copyright CEMCS Website by 300pix.com