Our Team

Lead Teachers:

Cristal Garza
Lead Teacher Elementary Classroom

Cristal was raised in McFarland, a small farm town in central California. She has 18 years of experience in working with preschool and high school-aged children. In college, she studied Child Development and Sociology, which both became her major. In 2012, Cristal moved to Bakersfield with an opportunity to teach in a Montessori classroom where she worked for 3 years as a lead teacher before her journey at VMA. Cristal completed her Montessori Early Childhood Diploma Program in 2013 from North American Montessori Center. Soon after, enrolled at Montessori Teacher Academy in Dana Point, CA to receive her Montessori Credential for Montessori Early Childhood Education. For Cristal, it has been a special opportunity to work with Anna and Oxana full time on a beautiful journey from the beginning of Valley Montessori Academy and to opening our new facility. She is proud to be a part of the Montessori community as she served 9 years as a Lead Teacher and plans to teach for many more!

Cristal enjoys photography, outdoor adventures and traveling the world.

Carolina Benitez
Lead Teacher, Casa 1

Carolina was born in Bakersfield, CA. She is married and has a four-year-old daughter whom she loves to see learn and grow within the Montessori environment. She has formed part of our school since we opened our doors here at Valley Montessori Academy. Today, she leads our Primary Casa 1 classroom. She enjoys teaching the children Spanish and all about her Mexican heritage.

Carolina is certified by the American Montessori Society. She is also a Certified Positive Discipline Educator. Carolina began her education in child development at Bakersfield College. She has thirteen years of professional childcare and teaching experience. Before teaching here, she worked as an infant and preschool teacher. She also worked with elementary and middle school children, as an activity leader for The Boys and Girls Club. Carolina has worked with children of all ages, ranging from infants to middle school age. She is very passionate about the work she does and enjoys learning and working alongside the children.

In her free time, she enjoys baking, taking pictures, traveling, and spending time with her family and friends.

Lauren Newton
Lead Teacher, Casa 2

Lauren was raised in Seal Beach, California and moved to Bakersfield in 2008. She attended CSUB where she received her bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies, her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Before coming to VMA, she taught at Bimat Elementary School for six years. She taught First Grade for two years and Kindergarten for four years. After discovering Maria Montessori’s Method, she fell in love with the philosophy and began her training to become a Montessori Teacher.

Marlyn Sanchez
Lead Teacher, Toddler 1

Mrs. Marlyn was born and raised in Los Angeles and moved to Bakersfield with her husband and three dogs in 2021. Her love for teaching began during her senior year of high school while assisting in a toddler classroom. She completed her Early Childhood Education units through Los Angeles Harbor College. Mrs. Marlyn was first introduced to Montessori’s method in 2015. Since then, she never stopped studying, researching and working with the Montessori Method.  She is fascinated by the power of observation and following the child as they unravel an intense thirst for knowledge. With a nurturing spirit, she is greatly committed to her work with children, specifically helping them build high self-esteem, discovering new cultures, and exploring the arts.

Mrs. Marlyn has a passion for children and their learning and loves that young children take nothing for granted and live each day with excitement and wonder about their environment. She is a dedicated teacher who loves and respects the children. Mrs. Marlyn is supportive of each child’s unique individuality and delights in watching their independence and love of learning grow. She takes pride in her role in assisting children in developing their minds and becoming better human beings.

In her free time, Marlyn enjoys walks in nature, traveling to new places, hiking, bike riding, spending time with her three dogs and creating new memories with family and friends.

Gilda Gil
Lead Teacher, Toddler 2

Mrs. Gilda was raised in Los Angeles, California, and moved to Bakersfield in 2020 so she could raise her youngest in a small-town environment. Her youngest is currently learning in the Montessori environment and she is happy to see him blossom from it. She is married and has three children (6, 23, & 24). 


Mrs. Gilda has over 25 years of experience working with children, ages 3 months to 24 years old. Most recently, before working at VMA, she was a Lead teacher for Infancy/Toddlers for four years. During this time she completed her AMI Montessori International Diploma (Assistants to Infancy 0-3) as well. She is excited to use what she learned in San Diego in her classroom so she can see the children grow independently in the Montessori environment. 


In her free time, she likes bike riding, traveling, and cooking. Her favorite thing to do though is performing scientific experiments with her youngest.

Elena Schaefer

Lead Teacher, Lower Elementary 

Originally from Ukraine, Mrs. Elena moved to the United States in 2007. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education with a teaching major in Russian Language and English as a Foreign Language, and a Master of Arts degree in Linguistics. Working with children and inspiring them to be the best that they can be is Mrs. Elena’s passion. She has over 10 years of professional teaching experience in a formal classroom setting.  Being a part of Valley Montessori Academy and helping children to grow is a very rewarding and exciting adventure for Mrs. Elena. She enjoys working in a warm, open, and structured environment that fosters the children’s independent growth. One of her favorite Maria Montessori quotes is “Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future… Let us treat them with all the kindness which we would wish to help to develop in them.” In her spare time, she loves reading, meditation, yoga, walking by the ocean, and spending time with her husband, her granddaughter, and their three dogs.

Marissa Menendez,
Lead Teacher, Casa 3

Marissa Menendez was born and raised in Bakersfield. She studied Child Development at Bakersfield College and has worked at a local preschool for the past 10 years. Marissa is experienced working with infants, toddlers, and school-aged children. She has been with her high school sweetheart for 21 years. In addition to having three wonderful kids together: Arianna 20, Isaiah 18, Meadow 7, they also adopted two cats and have lots of fish. In her free time, she loves reading, cooking, looking for stars, and making beautiful memories with her family. Marissa’s goal in working at Valley Montessori Academy is to be a positive guiding light for all children.

Teacher Assistants:

Mari Carpinteyro

Assistant Teacher, Casa 1

Ms. Mari joined Valley Montessori Academy in 2018 after twenty four years as a stay-at-home mom. She raised three wonderful children: twenty-four, twenty one and eighteen years old. She feels fortunate and blessed to be teaching in a school that promotes a nurturing and loving environment where children learn.

Diana Valencia
Teaching Assistant, Casa 1

Diana has lived in Bakersfield all of her life. Her goal is to get a degree in Child Development or Psychology. Diana is passionate about helping children in the best way possible to explore and discover their talents in a safe and stimulating environment. She likes listening to music, writing, and playing a few video games in her spare time. She also enjoys going to the beach and the mountains. Diana can’t wait to continue to learn the ways of VMA and learn from all of our lead teachers.

Sandra Molina
Teaching Assistant, Casa 1



Bianca Morales was raised in Los Angeles and moved to Bakersfield in 2008. As a young adult, Bianca cared for young children by babysitting. With 10 years of child care experience, she pursued her passion for child care by obtaining her AA in child development and psychology from Bakersfield College.

After graduation, she became a preschool teacher at a local center in town. There she discovered that working with children has taught her to be kind, compassionate, and to always act out of love. Bianca loves working with children because of their positive attitude, creativity, and how they always bring a smile to her face.

Bianca feels passionate about creating an environment that fosters a child’s independence and helps build their autonomy. As a teacher, she hopes that each child leaves her classroom with a sense of independence and accomplishment. 

Some of her hobbies include reading mystery novels, hiking, and swimming. A personal goal of hers is to complete a 20-mile hike and compete in a 10K run, where she will be able to challenge herself physically and mentally. Bianca likes to spend weekends with her loved ones, to share stories with them, and be able to hear how they are doing.



Gema Velador

Assistant Teacher, Casa 2

Gema was born in Anaheim, California. She lived in Orange County all her life until recently she moved to Bakersfield in 2021. She is currently enrolled in college where she is on the path to major in both Early Childhood Development and Business Administration. Since she began working at VMA, she fell in love with the Montessori teaching philosophy and sees herself carrying this method throughout her life. She loves the diversity of the school; she is Hispanic and can fluently speak both English and Spanish and she really enjoys learning about different cultures. She looks forward to each school day as it brings her joy to help guide children because they never fail to fascinate her. She can’t wait to see where this journey takes her as she hopes to keep learning more about Montessori. During her free time she likes to be with family/friends, watch sunsets, dance to Spanish music or sometimes she prefers to just relax while listening to music.

Shelise Santore-Tovar

Assistant Teacher, Casa 2

 Mrs. Shelise began her teaching career 24 years ago at Kids Care Club in Temecula, providing an enrichment program, she later became a preschool teacher in a private school in Murrieta Ranch, where she taught until she moved to Bakersfield in 2012 to support her husband’s career. For the past four years, she taught Garden at Cesar Chavez Elementary for children grades 1st-6th, where she planned her own curriculum and ran the garden all by herself.


She has been happily married for 28 years and has 3 adult children – two sons and a daughter, as well as two grandchildren. Shelise is extremely proud to have her daughter be in the air force and fly planes just like her grandfather and uncle did, and to have both of her sons be active Eagle Scouts.


 In her spare time, she enjoys traveling the world, camping around the country with her husband and her two Great Pyrenees dogs, and being an active member of her church women’s group. She also owns and harvests beehives with her husband. We’re happy to have her be a part of VMA as a teacher assistant and our very own garden specialist.

Alyssa Lujan
Teaching Assistant, Casa 3

Alyssa was raised in Wasco, California. She has 5 years of experience working with preschool-age children. Before VMA, She worked at a Montessori school and as a substitute teacher for elementary. This is her second job in a Montessori environment and she really enjoys continuing her education and learning more about the method. She is currently attending college in the hopes of completing her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education: with an emphasis on child development. Alyssa believes that teaching is taking a hand, opening a mind, touching a heart, and shaping the future. She believes that all children deserve a chance at furthering their education. 


In her spare time, Alyssa enjoys cooking, playing pickleball, Watching sports, going to concerts, and traveling. She enjoys spending time with her friends and family and living in the moment.

Shuhzen Lei
Teaching Assistant, Toddler 1

Lei was born and raised in China. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Human Resources in China and has also received her Associate’s degree in child development from Bakersfield College, she is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in teaching. She is married and has a small son who is receiving a Montessori education at VMA. Lei is a strong believer in the Montessori philosophy and the way it nurtures each child’s natural desire for knowledge, understanding, and respect. In her spare time, Lei loves to spend time with her family, do yoga, and walk by the ocean.

Ramandeep Kaur
Teaching Assistant, Toddler 1

Ramandeep was born and raised in India. She earned her Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from India. She has also completed 48 units in child development and now is pursuing her Bachelors in the teaching field. She is married and a mother to her daughter. When she has free time, Ramandeep likes to spend it with her daughter and family. She has a passion to learn new things in life. She loves going to the beach, listening to music, net surfing, art, and craft. 

Giselle Robles
Teaching Assistant, Toddler 2

Giselle was raised in Bakersfield , and has 4 years of experience working in early childhood education.  She was first introduced to the Montessori world through her sisters when they started implementing it in their homes with their own children.

 She has completed 12 units of child development and is excited and grateful  for the opportunity to continue to learn more through VMA.
In her spare time, she loves spending time with her nieces and nephew, as well as going on family trips. She also loves reading, journaling, practicing self care, sightseeing, and cruising around.

Catherine Velador 
Teaching Assistant, Toddler 2

Catherine was born in Long Beach, California. She lived in Orange County all her life and recently moved to Bakersfield in 2021. She is currently attending Fullerton College studying in the field of Early Childhood Development. Catherine previously worked with elementary and middle school-aged children for 3 years when she worked as an activity leader for The Boys and Girls Club. She changed her career path in 2018 when she finished her education in Business Office Administration. Catherine enjoys having the opportunity to work with young children. Catherine loves every opportunity to learn about the Montessori method. She has completed her Montessori Assistant Courses.  In her free time, she likes cooking, listening to music, going sightseeing, and spending time with her family.

Nila Dasanyake
Teaching Assistant, Casa 2

Nila was born in Sri Lanka, where she earned her Montessori Teaching Certificate. She is happily married and has 3 daughters; a 12-year-old in middle school, a 14-year-old in high school, and a 17-year-old who is attending college at UC Santa Barbara. She has over 6 years of experience working in the education field. Working with children means the absolute world to her. In her spare time, she loves to meditate, cook, go to the beach with her family, and spend time in nature.

Administration and Staff:

Oxana Raimondo
Founder & Administrator

Oxana is originally from Russia, Siberia, where she received her degree in Management and Finances. She moved to California in 2010, learned English and welcomed her first VMA student in 2016. Oxana values an early introduction of mindfulness and yoga to young children. She has been practicing and teaching mindfulness techniques since the opening of VMA. In her free time, she enjoys spending time and traveling with her family and friends, yoga and healthy food.

Anna Dulcich
Founder & Administrator

Anna Dulcich was born and raised in Moscow, Russia. Before moving to Bakersfield, California at the age of 25, she received her Master’s degree in Finance at Moscow State Tax Academy in Moscow, Russia; she studied International Politics at The Paris Institute of Political Studies (SciencePo de Paris) in Paris, France, and traveled all around Europe.

Anna is married and has 3 wonderful children. Moving to Bakersfield and having children defined Anna’s future as an educator and an avid advocate for the Montessori method of early childhood education. Anna is a trained AMS Montessori teacher for children 3 to 6 years old and a certified Positive Discipline Educator. Anna is fluent in 3 languages and is passionate about promoting foreign language education to children.

In her spare time, Anna loves spending time with her family, taking care of her 3 dogs, reading, a healthy lifestyle and traveling all around the world.

Daniela Parra
Office Manager


Daniela was born in Los Angeles, California but has lived in Bakersfield for most of her life. She is currently attending school majoring in Child and Adolescent Development and plans to pursue a graduate degree in Sociology. Her goal is to work with underserved children in future, and give back to the community.

In her spare time, she loves traveling, spending time nature, cooking, and making memories with her family and friends.