Emerging Minds Montessori Academy Staff

All of our staff are life-long learners and committed to furthering their knowledge in many areas.  We are all committed to ensuring that our environment is safe, conducive to learning and remains authentic to the Montessori philosophy.  All lead teachers at EMMA are trained at the level in which they teach.  The staff is encouraged to continue their education yearly through conferences which the school attends together as well as classes independently chosen by each staff member.  In addition to regular continuing education hours, our highly trained staff members are required to maintain certificates in the following areas: CPR/First Aid and blood-borne pathogens, Food Handler, Active Bleed, and Fire Extinguisher training. 

As you will see, we come from different backgrounds and have different skill sets. What we all share is our strong belief in the Montessori philosophy and our mission to reach youth to educate them and prepare them for the world as independent, global thinkers. In addition to an exceptional academic education, they need to learn practical life skills and understand and respect nature in order to be successful functioning members of society. It is our mission to provide an exceptional, authentic, Montessori education to students of all socio-economic backgrounds.

The best way to change the world and make it a better place is to educate the children. As Maria Montessori said, “If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are makers of men”.


Jeanne Weigel

Co-Founder / Head of School – Academics & Admissions

Miss Jeanne began her educational journey in 1979 when she attended Villa Julie College in Baltimore, MD in the Early Childhood Development program.  She continued her education at the South Florida Montessori Education Center after she joined her youngest 3 children in their Montessori school as an assistant in 1995.  


Miss Jeanne was a certified lead 3-6 teacher from 1999 until 2008.  She is a co-founder of Emerging Minds Montessori Academy and also remained as a Lead Teacher in the classroom until 2015 when the program was expanded to include elementary and middle school programs.  She maintains her connection with the students in the classroom through special projects in the preschool and weekly art classes in the elementary school.


Barbara Altbrandt

Co-Founder / Head of School – Administration

Miss Barbara was born in New Jersey but moved to South Florida as a small child. She always wanted to make a positive difference but never felt that she was able to do that while working in the corporate sector.  Discovering the Montessori philosophy, it became immediately apparent that through education she could make a true difference in the world. Working together with the other co-founder they opened Emerging Minds Montessori Academy in the Fall of 2008.  Not having been blessed with children of her own, she considers all of the students her children and truly enjoys going to school every day. Miss Barbara is currently the Head of School in charge of Administration which covers all of the day-to-day rules and regulations.

Roya Arabi

Head of School - Accounting

After completing a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a second bachelor’s degree in international business from Florida State University, she returned to South Florida to join her family’s business in the airline industry.  She started her own accounting business after having her first child which allowed her to work around her child’s schedule and attain experience in a variety of industries ranging from small airlines to real estate and construction.   

Ms. Roya joined the Emerging Minds Montessori Academy’s family as a parent in the school’s first year of operation in 2008. In those early years, she developed a great working relationship with the directors, Jeanne and Barbara, and was excited to become part of the team when the decision to expand the school to include elementary and middle was made in 2015. She finds that being involved with the students and growth of Emerging Minds Montessori Academy brings a satisfaction like no other. She applies her prior experiences to aid in the growth of Emerging Minds Montessori Academy and enjoys sharing in our school’s community.


Leah Adamson

Assistant Director

Leah has lived in South Florida for the majority of her life. Being the oldest of her siblings and many cousins, Leah has been around children since she was born. She has always had a love for children and enjoys all of their beautiful personalities. Leah was one of the founding staff members of Emerging Minds in 2008 and received her 3 to 6 primary MACTE Montessori certification. After taking leave and having her daughter, Leah has returned to the school as the assistant director. 

Education & Certifications

Bachelor of Science in Business and Marketing from University of Tampa

Master’s degree in marketing from Lynn University 

MACTE 3-6 Montessori Certification

Maggie Pierre

Pre-Primary - Lead Teacher 

​Maggie has been a Montessori teacher for more than 20 years and has been with EMMA for over 10 years.  Maggie is from Haiti and has a love for nature and art.  She gardens with her students and invites all the children to learn about the different plants.  Maggie is an artist and enjoys painting. She shares her love of art with her students, helping them to use their creativity to make something beautiful.   Although Maggie does not have children of her own, she sees all her students as her children and forms a special bond with each of them.  She loves to watch them grow and develop.  She is currently the Lead Teacher for the Purple Room.

Education & Certifications

2-7 Montessori Certification

Ankita Tolani

Pre-Primary - Assistant Teacher

Ankita Tolani was born and raised in India. She has a son and daughter and has lived in Florida for 4 years.  She admires the Montessori philosophy and loves to be around kids so the transition to teaching has been a logical one.  She is currently the Assistant Teacher for the Purple Room.

Education & Certifications

Bachelor of Arts in English Literature

Working towards MACTE Infant and Toddler Montessori Teaching Certificate

Yolanda Garcia

Primary/Kindergarten (3-6) Blue Room - Lead Teacher 

Yolanda was born in Madrid, Spain. When she was 15 years old she began her exploration of the body, movement, and education, working with children in a government-funded project called: “Iniciacion a la lectura” (Introduction to Reading).  She studied pedagogy and film in Madrid. Her artistic path continued in South Florida. After the birth of her daughter, her passion for Montessori education began. She received her MACTE Early Childhood Credential from the American Montessori Society in 2012. She has also worked teaching children creative dance, movement, and Spanish. 


Education & Certifications

MACTE – Early Childhood Credential (3-6)

Rebecca Smith

Primary/Kindergarten (3-6) Green Room - Lead Teacher 

Miss Rebecca has been working at Emerging Minds since 2012.  She is originally from Rhode Island prior to moving to Florida. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education specializing in Early Childhood from Lynn University. After graduating, Rebecca took interest in the Montessori philosophy and furthered her education earning her MACTE certification in Pre-Primary Montessori education.  She is currently the Lead Teacher for the Green Room.


Education & Certifications

Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education specializing in Early Childhood

MACTE- 3-6 Montessori Certification

DDE Teaching Certificate K-6

Catalina Zapata

Primary/Kindergarten (3-6) Assistant Teacher

Catalina is originally from Colombia and has lived in South Florida for the past two decades. She is the mother of 2 young children and a dedicated practitioner of the Montessori method.

Catalina has several years’ experience as an assistant Montessori teacher. She has completed Montessori specific training and has attended several Montessori seminars during the past eight years.  She has given private classes to children between the ages of 16 and 36 months. Her approach involves the integration of traditional Montessori materials along with arts & crafts, and common objects found within a child’s familiar surroundings to facilitate the teaching of subjects such as language, math, practical life, and sensory perception. She is currently a Teacher’s Assistant in the Blue Room.

Education & Certifications

Montessori Teacher Assistant Certification

Zumbini - Zumba Official Instructor

Shawna Crupi

Primary/Kindergarten (3-6) Assistant Teacher

Miss Shawna is a New Jersey native who began her enriching career with Emerging Minds Montessori Academy in 2017. Her passion for childcare and education is one that is both personal and professional.  During her first few years with the school, she has supported the educational environments of the pre-primary, primary, and aftercare classes. As an aspiring educator herself, Miss Shawna utilizes her formal studies, training, and experiences to fulfill all the academic and community expectations from the students and families at Emerging Minds each school year. She is currently a Teacher’s Assistant in the Green Room.

Education & Certifications

Elementary Education, B.A.

Associate of Arts

Jermaine Ramgeet

Lower Elementary (6-9) Lead Teacher

Jermaine has lived in South Florida for most of his life. He is the middle child of three and has always loved children. He helped his grandmother with childcare and has assisted children and students of every age level from the age of nine until the present. Jermaine attended Florida Atlantic University to pursue a degree in Elementary education. He graduated with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in history.  

Education & Certification

Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies

MACTE 6-9 Montessori Certification

Callie Shaffer

Lower Elementary (6-9) Assistant

Callie has lived in Boca Raton for 20 years. She started at Emerging Minds Montessori Academy as a substitute in the 2-3 primary classroom 7 years ago. From there she has subbed in both of the 3-6 primary classrooms. Currently, she is the assistant in the Lower Elementary Classroom. Callie, along with her husband, have two beautiful children who attend Emerging Minds.


Education & Certifications

Bachelor of Science in Recreational Management, Minor in Business and Photography from Barry University

Currently working towards MACTE 6-12 Montessori Certification from the Center for Guided Montessori Studies

James Estarella

Upper Elementary (9-12) Lead Teacher

James has been a holistic educator for 18 years in Waldorf and Montessori schools. He has worked with children from ages 6 to 18 and is a MACTE certified Montessori 6 to 9 teacher and a certified Montessori 9 to 12 teacher with North American Montessori Center (NAMC). He has worked for 8 years as a Montessori secondary teacher with ages 12 to 18 and 7 years as a Montessori upper elementary teacher. He has been a teacher trainer at the lower elementary level, for Peace Education and the Spiritual Development of the Teacher and Child. His educational writings have been published in Public School Montessorian. He has also worked at the Milagro Center in Delray Beach, FL, an arts-centered summer and after school program for at-risk children.

Education & Certifications

Bachelor’s Degree of Arts

MACTE Certification (6-9)

NAMC Certification (9-12)

Saradha Ramachandran

Upper Elementary (9-12) Lead Teacher 

Saradha has been teaching at Emerging Minds since 2010. Apart from teaching her interests are cooking, gardening, and crafts.  She loves to involve the children in cooking activities in the classroom.  Her goal is to have children learn science through extensive experimentation.  She fell in love with Montessori education in 2003 when she learned the hands-on aspects of the philosophy.  She started her Montessori career as a 3 to 6 teacher after being trained by the Montessori Institute of the Pacific Northwest in 2004. After teaching for a few years, she went on to earn her Lower and Upper Elementary Certification from the Center for Guided Montessori Studies.  She then decided to pursue her Master’s in Montessori Leadership.  

Education & Certifications

Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical & Electronics)

MACTE Certifications (3-6), (6-9), (9-12)

Master of Education in Montessori Leadership

Brittany D’Andrea

Secondary (12-15) Lead Teacher

Brittany finds enjoyment in a myriad of different activities including knitting, sewing, gardening, horticulture, jewelry making, cooking, and baking. As a matter of fact, one of her true passions is horseback riding. While receiving her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at Florida Atlantic University, she was a competitive member of the FAU equestrian team. These days, with her spare time she instructs horseback riding lessons for students of all ages. It was at the barn and in the fresh air that she discovered her true passion for teaching students in a non-conventional setting. 

Since joining the team at Emerging Minds, her goal has been to extend these interests amongst her students so that they may demonstrate a diverse array of different skills and have a better understanding of self. Every day, she hopes to further unravel the minds of her students and truly discover what it is that makes them tick. She strives to cultivate their passions and hobbies in order to further develop each student as an individual and use their interests as a means to gain access to previously elusive subject matters.


Education & Certifications

Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education

Currently pursuing MACTE Secondary Certification

Currently pursuing a master’s degree in Montessori Education