Who Are We?

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PAOLA CERVANTES, CO-FOUNDER, DIRECTOR, EDUCATOR: Paola has over fourteen years of experience working with children. In 2001, she served as a mentor for a local community arts education program called Inside Out and proceeded to become a teaching artist to empower at-risk and underserved middle school age youth through visual arts, performing arts, and media workshops. After embracing motherhood, she decided to immerse herself into the study of early childhood and studied abroad in Reggio Emilia in 2007. She has studied early childhood education with an emphasis on special education. She first stepped into her role as a teacher at First Years Preschool in 2004, then moved on to teach at the New School-West Preschool in 2005-2013. Growing up in a family learning to live with special needs and raising a son on the spectrum has motivated Paola to advocate for children of all needs and find what makes each of their hearts sing. She has presented for SCAEYC to teach parents how to effectively support their children with special needs. She was invited to join a panel on KCET’s family resource program “A Place of Our Own” special needs episode in 2009. Passionate about sharing the value of quality education in early childhood to the greater community, she has presented her work on using sound and music as a language to support learning at NAREA, consulted with Brightworks in 2011, and continues to serve as a mentor for ECE interns from SMC. Paola worked as the Head of Early Childhood at The Exploratory and the director/teacher of PeaPods SchoolHouse in 2013-2015. At The Exploratory, she developed curriculum for several programs with a focus on Reggio Inspired work, STEAM, and design thinking like Preschool Tinkering, Mini-Makers Camps, and Toddler and Me programs. Paola presented Narrative in STEAM at Cal Tech’s STEM conferences, and was part of the team that helped to develop HeadStart’s 2014 Global Cardboard Challenge. She studied under Maker Ed to develop a deeper understanding of the Maker movement and helped to facilitate various professional development workshops, such as Pearson Foundation’s Project Mash to help other educators incorporate tinkering and making into their curriculum. Paola is dedicated to giving a voice to her community. She serves as an At Large Director and 2nd Vice Chair on the Board of Directors of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC) and is also Co-Chair of MVCC Education, Art, and Culture Committee (EACC).

551284_4855275159044_1628260248_nKRISTIN SHERMAN: CO-FOUNDER, CONSULTANT: Kristin has worked in Early Childhood Education for over 15 years. As a teenager, she began as a lead afternoon teacher for preschool children in a private academy. Later opening a company and partnering with an alternative education youth facility to offer young adults training and life skills in the work force, she recognized the importance of community support in raising productive citizens. She graduated with a degree in Early Childhood Education and Administration and continued to study art. With a foundation in fine art she went on to share skills through workshops for teachers and youth in paint, drawing, storytelling and costume design through local park systems. After having a family and working within a parent cooperative preschool, she began to advocate for families on the national level through the California Counsel for Parent Participation Nursery Schools (CCPPNS). Continuing her education she achieved her Masters in Human Development with a focus on Social Change and found a kinship with the Reggio Inspired philosophy which states that children have 100 languages of expression. She began working at The New School-West as a Director in 2006 and founded The Pedagogical Institute in 2014. Currently working there still, she also embraces the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Chairwoman position for the North Bay chapter and hosts two conferences annually for educators. She is a Mentor Director through the California Early Childhood Mentor Program (CECMP) and a member of the National American Reggio Emilia Alliance (NAREA). As a member of the Westside Collaborative study group invested in the Reggio Approach, she has studied annually in Italy, Sweden, Argentina and shares her findings through workshops and mentoring here in our American context. She has presented for: Opal School in Oregon, Pierce College, Mission College, Santa Monica College and Disney Corp. in California. Kristin currently teaches at UCLA Extension.
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BECCA KEEGAN: EDUCATOR:

Becca Keegan was born in Colorado and as a teenager began babysitting for families in the area. She continued this connection with children while completing her BA in Political Science at the University of Colorado Boulder where she ran a summer camp for young children. In 2013, she moved to Austin, Texas where she taught the 3-4 year old class at Lupine Lane Preschool. It was in Austin that she truly fell in love with early education and was able to see the capabilities of children when they direct their own learning experience. After moving to Los Angeles, she pursued this love at Santa Monica College while studying early childhood education. Here she became further inspired by the Reggio approach to teaching young children, by using documentation and materials as learning tools. While continuing her education, she provided childcare for a number of families across Los Angeles. She has loved the opportunity to be a part of so many family lives and engage in development firsthand from 0-7 years and is very excited to join the Voyages team. In her spare time Becca loves to take advantage of California’s weather and spend time hiking or swimming in the the ocean.

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ANNEL ZAVALA: EDUCATOR: Annel is a graduate from California Polytechnic University, Pomona, where she earned her B.A in Psychology. With over 12 years of experience in working with children, she further expanded her studies in early childhood education at Santa Monica College and is currently pursuing her Masters degree as a Child Life Specialist at the University of La Verne. She is a 4 year volunteer for Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA where she provides emotional support, opportunities for play and self-expression for children of all ages. Annel is also a current volunteer for the Born to Act Players, a non-profit organization in which she supports children with special needs embrace their creative self through the power of performing arts. She also has been working in different capacities at New School West and Voyages Preschool since 2018, where she enjoys their phil0sophy’s child centered approach to autonomous learning, adventure and creativity. Native to Santa Monica, Annel enjoys dancing and long hikes with her 1 year old rescued pup Figo. She is excited about delving deeper into the Reggio Approach and the Voyages community!
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MICHELE PLAFCHAN: INFANT SPECIALIST/ EDUCATOR:  Michele  has worked in early childhood education for over 13 years. Michele is a graduate of Michigan State University with a major in Elementary Education, Child Development, and Language Arts, with an endorsement in Early Childhood Education. Michele created a neighborhood Co-op play school, where she creates the curriculum and transformed a backyard into a learning space for her daughter and friends to attend. Previously, she taught at The Growing Place and Branches Atelier. She worked as a Preschool and Toddler teacher, as well as Atelierista for the infant and toddler programs.  Michele was chosen to participate in a regional study tour, Dialogues On Education in Reggio Emilia, Italy.  With her knowledge in Literacy and experience in movement, Michele led two professional workshops for educators and parents titled, Knowing and Using the Language of Movement, Gesture and Expression with Young Children and Ourselves and Literacy and Movement Intertwined. She is passionate in using unconventional and recycled materials, thus presenting her work on creating mathematical explorations with children, using unconventional materials and found objects.   Previously, Michele was selected as a mentor teacher to a Santa Monica College students majoring in Early Childhood Education. With her strong background in performing arts, she has also created dance and yoga after school enrichment programs for young children.  In addition to movement, she has a passion and professional knowledge with using recycled and traditional art materials as tools for learning.  Thus, kinesthetic and visual learning are two of the teaching methods she utilizes.  Michele student taught in an urban kindergarten classroom in Michigan, and a diverse pre primary setting in Perth, Australia.   She has also had the incredible opportunity to volunteer at the International School of Geneva in Geneva, Switzerland, working with special need’s children and English language learners.
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JESS RUSSELL: TODDLER SPECIALIST/ EDUCATOR: Jess Russell went to school at Pacific Oaks College and has a Bachelor of Arts in Human Development with a specialization in Early Childhood Education. Prior to earning her BA, she completed her AA in Child Development at Los Angeles Valley College.  She has extensively studied the domains of development in the earliest years of life and spent the past three years facilitating infant and toddler groups, working directly with families to support healthy living at The Oakdale Preschool Toddler Group, The LAVC Family Resource Center, Infant and Toddler PlayGroup, and the LAVC Creative Activities PlayGroup. . Jess is passionate about social justice (in particular, LGBT and Women’s Rights) reading and the arts. She was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, where most of her family still resides. She lives with her girlfriend, Dewi, and two Pomeranians, Bear and Bella. They are hoping to expand their family by four furry-feet in the near future with the addition of a cat. Dewi is also a teacher and together they have quite the collection of children’s books, a passion for both of them. Jess enjoys creative outlets such as appliqué quilting, painting and embroidery. Recently she completed a yoga teacher training and is now a RYT200 Vinyasa Flow teacher.