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¡conócenos!

Staff at La Escuelita Arcoiris have lived and worked all around the globe and bring to our team a wide range of education, experience, and expertise. We are united by our love of language, respect for nature and our dedication to remaining curious!

Keep reading to learn some fun facts about our dedicated team.

Leila was born in Barinas, Venezuela. She received her BA in Education from UNELLEZ, spent years studying child psychology and philosophy at the Universidad Santa María, and has been working with children for over 17 years. Leila enjoys helping students use their surroundings and communication skills to investigate and navigate the world around them. She particularly values how La Escuelita prioritizes their students taking time to work through their present emotions. When asked why she chose a career in child development, she said, “My years of study as an educator have served as a foundation for my continued interest in behavioral psychology. I value the opportunity we have as teachers to observe and interpret our students' varied communication styles -through movement, speech, and feeling. I believe every moment in our lives provides the opportunity to experience something new and different, leaving us with endless opportunities to learn with children.” In her free time Leila loves to exercise outdoors and lift weights. She loves spending time with her son, sharing memories together.  

Leila Ballout - Educator

Myriah is from Pittsburgh, PA. She has a degree in World Cultures in Translation with a focus in Spanish from Antioch College. In her last semester, Myriah lived and worked for four months in Arequipa and Lima, Peru, fully immersed in the language . There she conducted socio-cultural anthropological research to better understand the culture and subcultures present for both native and non-native Chinese Peruvians. Myriah has extensive experience as a bilingual language, math and history teacher for children ages 18 months through first grade. Prior to the start of the pandemic, Myriah had moved to China to teach English as a second language to students from 6-years-old to adult students preparing to study abroad. She is currently working to complete her Master's degree in Early Childhood Education. When asked why she chose to work with children, she said, “Children, unlike adults, are very sincere about their views on the world. I love listening to my students’ perspectives. They remind me to stop, be present, and appreciate the life we have been given.” When Myriah has free time, she loves to bake, craft, travel, dance, spend time with her family, and try out new activities in the community.

Myriah Neal-McKenzie - Educator

Harlen was born in Usulután, El Salvador. She has been working all her life with children and was excited to learn about La Escuelita Arcoiris' focus on continuing education and personal growth in the field. She is finishing her Child Development Associates (CDA) this spring. Harlen's favorite part of the day is reading a story in Circulo. She loves bringing the Spanish words to life, introducing students to new vocabulary, and encouraging their love for reading. She values creating connection and fostering a sense of security in the classroom, saying "Everyday we get to learn what our students are interested in together. We are introducing the world to them. It means so much to help them navigate this age of discovery." Harlen spends her free time with her own teenage daughter who loves shopping and Chipotle. They watch movies, work on art projects together, and go for runs.

Harlen Rodriguez - Educator

María was born in Mexico City, Mexico. She has been caring for children her entire life and spent the last 7 years in Querétaro, Mexico working at a childcare center there. María is currently in the final stages of her Child Development Associates (CDA) through the PA Council for Professional Development. Her favorite part of Escuelita is connecting as a group and dancing around during Circulo. María says she is proud to provide a sense of security for our preschoolers, as they begin to learn about the world outside the home. She shares, “La Escuelita offers a unique experience for students. Every day they are outside, appreciating the animals and plants and developing a respect for them, the very same as you would for people and their things.” María enjoys taking walks, listening to music and traveling in her free time.

María Vazquez - Educator

Denysse was born in Caracas, Venezuela. She has a license to teach Preschool Education from the Universidad Jose Maria Vargas and has spent the last decade working in preschools in Venezuela. Denysse moved to Pittsburgh in 2019. When asked what brought her into the field of early education Denysse said, “Working with children is incredibly rewarding. It is exhilarating watching them adapt and grow. We are so fortunate to also have the opportunity to learn through them.” In her free time, Denysse enjoys camping. She has been camping with her family since she was in preschool herself! Her favorite spot is on the beach in Venezuela. She also loves to travel and hopes to someday travel to Europe. Most days though, Denysse looks forward to being out in nature, enjoying the fresh air.

Denysse Rivas - Educator

Katherine goes by Kat here at La Escuelita Arcoiris. She grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania and began studying Spanish when she was in middle school. While at university, Kat participated in a full immersion semester abroad at the Universidad de Valladolid in Spain. Afterwards, she accepted a position for an additional semester in Madrid teaching English to first through fourth grade students. Her degree is in Spanish Language and International Business and she is currently working towards her Masters of Secondary Spanish Education. She finds working with children very rewarding and says her favorite part is getting to know each of their unique personalities. In her free time, Kat takes loving care of her over fifty house plants. She also enjoys cooking (her falafel recipe is her favorite) and taking walks around her neighborhood.

Katherine (Kat) Eiswert - Educator

Itza was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico.. Itza graduated from the La Universidad de Autónoma de Nuevo Leon with a degree in Modern Dance and Dance History. She owned her own gym in Mexico and was the Artistic Director and Contemporary Dance Instructor of her own dance company in Houston, Texas. Itza's love for dance stems from her love for Classic and Folkloric Ballet. She is also licensed to teach zumba, yoga, and aerobics, to name a few. Recently, Itza has begun the process of completing her Child Development Associates Credential (CDA) through the PA Council for Professional Development. Whether as a dance teacher or preschool teacher, working with children has been a guiding force in her career. Park days are Itza's favorite because it has always inspired her to teach children how to dance, stretch, relax, have fun, and better understand their feelings through the power of grounding their bodies. In her free time, Itza enjoys painting with oils and watercolors. She also enjoys all kinds of dancing, traveling, and spending time with her family.

Itza Garza - Educator

Bárbara was born in Barakaldo, located in the North of Spain. Though Castellano is her mother tongue, she is fluent in three languages: Spanish, Basque, and English. Bárbara is working towards completing her Child Development Associates Credential (CDA) through the PA Council for Professional Development. She finds working with children to be especially gratifying, “Every day is a new experience. They teach us as much as we teach them!” Her favorite time of the day at La Escuelita is Almuerzo. She enjoys the one-on-one time educators have sitting with students and creating meaningful connection together over a meal. When it comes to food, Bárbara is a big fan of food from all over the world. She is a lover of animals and loves sharing stories about her two black and white pets: Beltza the dog and Kenny the cat. In her free time, Bárbara enjoys spending time with her husband, cooking and trying out new recipes, dancing, taking walks around her neighborhood and hiking.

Bárbara Perez - Educator

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Fernanda Vazquez - Educator

Fernanda was born and raised in Veracruz, Mexico. She grew up bilingual in both Spanish and English. Her Grandparents encouraged language education and she attended bilingual middle and secondary schools. She has been dedicated to working with children for the last decade now. Fernanda loves how children are honest, straight-forward and funny. When asked what brought her into the field of early childhood education, she said all her life she’s been driven to advocate for children and is passionate about helping them find their voice. She’s always had a strong connection with kids and as much as she’s drawn to working with them, they’ve always been drawn to her in return. She is eager to provide opportunities for children that she imagined for herself growing up. Fernanda is a big animal lover, passionate about animal rights, and spends her free time walking her dogs. She loves watching true crime documentaries and would love to someday travel to Japan.

Alexandra is from Caracas, Venezuela. While living in Venezuela and Columbia she studied nursing and computer science at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello and Universidad CES. Her whole life, Alexandra has had a great aptitude for music. She has been playing the piano, drums and guitar starting when she was only 5 years old! She loves all types of music but enjoys playing pop songs the most. Alexandra enjoys working with children because they are creative, honest and authentic. Her favorite time of day at La Escuelita is Circulo because the children get the opportunity to connect with each other and express their emotions and ideas. In her free time, you’ll find Alexandra spending time with her family and friends with guitar in hand.

Alexandra Urbaez - Educator

Orla Pierce - Educator

Orla was born in Pittsburgh and her Spanish journey started here at La Escuelita in where she learned a base knowledge of the language and became a fluent listener. After high school she took her language learning into her own hands with at home studies and was accepted into an immersive Spanish school in Guatemala. While she does not yet have a formal background in education, Orla has shared that she’s learned a lot through observing people in her community and through caring for their children. She likes working with children because she is constantly learning from them and their view of the world. “Children always move with excitement and wonder and it challenges me to find awe in my own surroundings, creating new ways to be in this ever changing world.” In her free time Orla is always working on some type of art project or craft creation. Recently she has been making hand sewn mice as cat toys! She also spends her time reading, practicing her Spanish, and playing soccer (rain, snow, or shine!).

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Mariangela was born and raised in Guanare, Venezuela. Her first language is Spanish. She moved to the US when she was fifteen years old and has been working with children since she was 16. She says, “I’ve always loved the idea of working with children, ever since I was a little kid. I loved to carry my little cousins around and play with them. I used to say, ‘When I grow up I want to be a teacher so I could be around kids all day!’ Children are amazing! You could definitely learn A LOT from them.” When Mariangela isn’t at work she loves spending time with her family, especially hanging out with her mom and sisters. She also loves to be with her new little puppy named Lia. When she is feeling quiet Mariangela likes to read because it makes her feel super happy and relaxed. 

Mariangela Sanchez - Educator

Jannina is Peruvian and Spanish is her native tongue. She studied Business Administration while in Peru and worked with children there for 7 years there prior to moving to the United States. Since then, she has worked with us here at La Escuelita Arcoiris for 13 years! Early in life Jannina realized that working with children was her passion. She sees strength in her ability to have patience and remain calm. She herself has a family with three children and says being a mother has enhanced her love for children. Her children are now adults so working here at La Escuelita is a fulfilling way to continue spending time with children. In her free time Jannina enjoys cooking, going to Zumba class, spending time with her family, visiting friends around the globe, and reading. But more than anything, she loves to traveling. 

Jannina Agip - Educator

Kenya was born in San Fernando, Apure, Venezuela. She comes from a family of primary and secondary school teachers. Kenya studied at the Francisco de Miranda National Experimental University in Falcon, Venezuela and holds a degree in Veterinary Medicine. In Venezuela, Kenya also worked with preschool and elementary students and moved to the United States to work with migrant children in El Paso, Texas. Kenya came to know of La Escuelita with the help of the JFCS (Jewish Family and Community Services) foundation. She says, "I look forward to coming in everyday to spend time with the children. They teach you about how important it is to remain curious and open-minded."  Her love for nature and animals makes Kenya a great fit for our nature-based preschool program. Kenya moved to Pittsburgh to spend time with her younger brother and four nephews. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, meeting new people,  listening to live music, and traveling with friends.

Kenya Solórzano - Educator

Lorenza is originally from Acarigua, Venezuela. She moved to the United States in 2003. Lorenza has a Bachelor’s degree in Preschool Education from Universidad Pedagógica Experimental Libertador in Venezuela and has been a Preschool teacher for over 20 years. When asked what makes preschool education special for her, she said, "Working with children has been the most beautiful journey of my life.  Having the opportunity to be involved in the most crucial years of my student's lives, supporting their physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development, is a gift and also a great responsibility. We as teachers provide our students with the necessary tools and guidance for them to reach their full potential in a healthy environment." Lorenza is the mother of a 33-year-old boy whom she feels super proud to see as an accomplished Telecommunications Engineer. She says that no matter his age, to her he'll always be Mama's little boy. In her free time here in Pittsburgh, Lorenza enjoy dancing, walking in the park and going to the Opera and Ballet.

Lorenza Medina - Educator

Walki's family is from Uruguay and Spanish was her home language growing up. She attended university at Point Park University and received a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education there. She went on to get a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education from California University of PA. She has been a dedicated La Escuelita employee for over a decade, familiarizing herself with each of our four age groups. After gaining expertise as Director for two local childcare facilities, she returned to La Escuelita as Director of Education in 2021. 

When asked why she chose to work with preschoolers, Walki responded, “It's amazing to be able to witness the transformation in a person within the first 6 years of their lives.  Scaffolding students' learning by providing the right tools, support, and guidance is my favorite part of my role as an educator.  I feel honored to be able to witness "Ah-ha moments", when something just clicks, and they become motivated to want to learn more about it!

In her free time, Walki most enjoys sitting outside on a breezy day, reading a book. Outside of work you'll find Walki's family exploring nature and hiking. She also enjoys spending time with friends and finding new places for food and cocktails in the ever-growing culinary scene here in Pittsburgh. 

Walkiria Preston - Director of Education

Ellen, our Director of Operations, learned Spanish while living in Mexico City, when she moved there right after college with her husband. Living and working as a resident for four years as the Special Projects Coordinator for a bilingual k-12 school gave her the opportunity to truly immerse herself in the language and culture. When they returned to Pittsburgh to raise their family, their children continued to benefit from that experience, growing up in a bilingual household.

 

Ellen received her degree from  Edinboro University with a BA in Philosophy and Anthropology. Over the years her career choices have remained focused on working with children and youth. She made the permanent switch from classroom to administration 15 years ago and we are grateful for the order she provides to the controlled chaos that is early childhood education.  Ellen is the second longest serving employee here at La Escuelita, having been part of our story for over 20 years!

 

In her free time, Ellen enjoys keeping up with her own three kids, weekend getaways, camping, and traveling to anywhere beachy. She loves outdoor concerts, music and dancing.

Ellen Tafel - Director of Operations

Megan is from Portland, Oregon. After graduating with a BFA in Theater from University of Montana, where she was inspired by her Spanish professors, she began traveling in Mexico and throughout Central and South America to become fluent in the language. Upon returning to Pittsburgh, in 1999 Megan founded La Escuelita Arcoiris. After 10 years, and in addition to leading La Escuelita, Megan chose to return to university and finish her degree in Early Childhood Education.

 

In her free time, Megan loves being on the water, from our local 3 rivers to camping on lakes and even the ocean. She plays an old-time fiddle and enjoys watching dancing feet move to her beat. She is passionate about the power of storytelling to make human connections and inspire empathy and perspective to help us confront problems.

 

​When asked why she chose to found a preschool, Megan responded, "I love this fantastical phase of life from 0-5 years old. Before the logic seeps in, humans are innocent, spontaneous, curious investigators. They are natural dancers and musicians. I love to think that this spirit remains strong if celebrated and fomented throughout the early years.”

Megan Rooney - Founder & Creative Guide

Alana grew up in Pittsburgh where she earned a BA in Special Education, TESOL, and Spanish & Latin American History and Literature. She also studied abroad for one year at the Universidad de Salamanca and at the Universidad de Valencia. She then stayed on in Valencia, Spain to teach English as a Foreign Language for three years. Alana has 15 years experience as an ESL teacher and 20 years experience as a private nanny. 

 

When asked  why she chose to work in education, Alana said, “Children have not yet become destination-focused, giving them a chance to see beauty and truth in the world that can escape us as adults. Their perspective is refreshing and necessary. Making time to be present with our youngest members of society grounds us and provides clarity, focus, and joy.”

 

In her free time Alana loves growing food, flowers, and plants. She is passionate about flavor and spends as much time as she can researching with fork-in-hand. When she isn’t in the garden or eating, she enjoys downtime with her partner and two fur babies. Traveling is how she unwinds.

Alana DeGregory - Administrative Support

Teresa Lurati - Volunteer

Teresa goes by Tere here at La Escuelita. She was born in Montevideo, Uruguay and learned Spanish as her first language. She loves children and has worked all her life as a nanny. She has also joyfully raised 2 of her own children and now happily enjoys chasing after both of her grandchildren. She requested to volunteer at La Escuelita because she loves being able to spend her day surrounded by kiddos. When she isn’t volunteering at La Escuelita, Tere enjoys cooking (especially homemade raviolis!), knitting, and decorating for every occasion!