Elementary Teaching Staff

Carie Modeer

Lower Elementary North Lead Teacher

Carie joined the Khalsa School in 1999 as a Lower Elementary assistant. After graduating from Penn State University with a degree in Elementary

Education and traveling across the country, she decided to head west to Arizona. Her immediate family, along with a change of environment, brought her to Phoenix. Outside of gaining her degree in education, Carie worked for six years as an assistant teacher in a Christian Daycare in Pennsylvania. She also held part-time positions in childcare throughout her college years. After experiencing Montessori for the first time at Khalsa and gaining a passion for the Montessori method she made the choice to become trained as a Montessori Lead Teacher. Carie has been a Lower Elementary Lead Teacher since 2004.

In her free time, Carie enjoys playing Taiko (Japanese drumming) and has been a member of the Phoenix Taiko dojo since 2001. She also enjoys reading and spending time outdoors hiking and camping.

Angie Martinez

Lower Elementary North Assistant

Angie joined Khalsa Montessori for the 2022-23 school year. She loves working with the students and enjoying her time assisting Ms. Carie in Lower Elementary. Prior to joining Khalsa, Angie worked with children in Pre-K and Kindergarten for over 25 years. She believes children thrive in a Montessori classroom and enjoys seeing it each and every day.

Laurie Alejo

Lower Elementary South Lead Teacher

Laurie joined Khalsa Montessori School in 2019 as an elementary extended care assistant then transitioned as a lower elementary assistant teacher.  After falling in love with the Montessori philosophy and wanting to learn more, she decided to become a trained Montessori educator.  She  completed a year-long training through the Arizona Montessori Teacher Education Program in June 2022.  Aside from her accreditation in Montessori, she also has a Bachelor’s Degree in elementary education from New Mexico State University and tutored students at Sylvan Learning Center for 8 years.  In her spare time, she enjoys baking, listening to music, and reading inspirational books. 

Wendy Ramirez

Lower Elementary South Assistant

Wendy was born in Mexico, but has spent most of her life here in Phoenix. She discovered Montessori when researching what school would be best for her oldest son, who was three at the time. Wendy loves to spend time with her family, dog and bearded dragon. 

Helen Williams

Lower Elementary East Lead Teacher

Teaching is my calling. I joined Khalsa Montessori as Lead Teacher in the summer of 2020. 

While born and raised in Sweden, I have spent most of my adult life in the U.S. My husband and I have made a home with our three children in ten different states over the span of three decades.

I earned a Bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, and later a teaching certificate in Elementary Education at Eastern Michigan University. I entered the education field after many years as a stay-at-home mom.  My teaching experience includes elementary, middle school, and adult education.

Very proud to be a teacher and life-long learner,  I have obtained Arizona teacher certification and a Montessori teacher certification by American Montessori Society. The road here was long, but I feel as though I was meant to be a Montessori teacher.

Besides teaching, I love healthy cooking, hiking, and visiting my three adult children who are spread out across the country. My special interests are language learning (French and Spanish) and children’s literature.

Each new year is brimming with exciting possibilities.  I look forward to guiding our students in creating a beautiful community and exceptional learning experiences every day.  

Dresden T.

Lower Elementary East Assistant

Renee S.

Upper Elementary Lead Teacher

Miss Renee has been at Khalsa Montessori for five years, and this year (2023) marks her second year as a Lead Teacher. Renee is a graduate of Arizona State University with a B.A. in Elementary Education, with a certificate in Environmental Education. She is coming to the conclusion of her Montessori certification program with the Center for Guided Montessori Studies. A few of her favorite aspects of Montessori is the freedom it affords young learners, the life-long skills they learn during their early years, and the many ways that students can be creative with their learning. She especially enjoys reading and telling the impressionistic stories that enhance lessons. In her free time, Renee enjoys reading, going on long walks, planning vacations (real and far-off), and sewing. The greatest compliment she has ever received was when someone told her she reminded them of Elaine Benes. 

Ayeleth Aragon-Molina

Upper Elementary Lead Intern

Hello Upper El Families! My name is Ayeleth and I am excited to start a fresh, new year with our new and returning students. In addition to working as a classroom assistant, I will be trainging and working closely with Ms. Renee as a Lead Teacher Intern. 

I am a first-generation college graduate, with a B.A. in Family and Human Development from Arizona State University. I have always wanted to work with children and love what I do! I am the oldest of seven children and enjoy talking about my siblings. 

I look forward to the new opportunities that this school year will bring! 

Shannon Pursell

Upper Elementary Co-Lead Teacher

Shannon Pursell joined the Khalsa Montessori team in August 2015.  Shannon holds a B.A. in English from The University of Tulsa, and has completed some post-graduate work in English literature studies at Arizona State University.  In 2010 she received her Primary (3-6 yr. olds) level AMS Montessori certification through the South Mountain Montessori Certification Program.

Shannon worked in a Montessori classroom for six years before joining the Khalsa staff, serving for 3 years as an assistant teacher and 3 years as the lead teacher!

Shannon loves reading, movies, and animals.

Kate Sigman

Elementary Extended Care Coordinator

Kate recently moved to Phoenix from San Rafael, California. After supporting the Elementary Extended Care as an asssitant, she became the EEC Director in 2023. She has over twenty years of experience assisting in Montessori primary and elementary classrooms.

Kate has traveled all over the country and actually did seasonal work at five of our National Parks including Grand Canyon, Denali and Yosemite before settling in the bay area to raise her family. She enjoys drawing, food and film!

Mark Dugan

Extended Care Assistant

Mark Dugan started at Khalsa Montessori Elementary School in the fall of 2007 as a substitute and as the elementary physical education teacher. Mark has been the van driver on many field trips and school outings. He has worked as a sub at all age levels, P.E. Instructor, Outdoor Environment Instructor, Elementary Gardening Instructor, and as an Elementary Assistant Teacher. He is currently an Elementary Extended Care Assistant. 

Mark worked at the Gentle Strength Co-op for several years; he has also worked for Life’s A Garden Organic Landscaping Company and the Green Goddess Nursery.

Dawn Tapia

Reading Specialist

Dawn has served Khalsa since 2006, in various roles. She’s worked as a Classroom Assistant, Substitute, After Care Assistant, and as a Lead Teacher in Primary South and Transitional Kindergarten classrooms. Dawn has 6 years’ experience as a tutor for Sylvan Learning Center and a B.A. from Austin Peay State University in Tennessee. A sincere love and appreciation for teaching, many years’ worth of knowledge and experience teaching reading, and a desire to serve the Khalsa community, Dawn is happy to be back at Khalsa.

Ashley Burns

Yoga Instructor

For Los Angeles native Ashley Burns, yoga is curiosity, trust, and freedom- her soul has been rich with these elements her whole life! Thankfully, the practice focused these energies toward shaping a balanced and conscious lifestyle.

As co-founder and Creative Director, Ashley has been sharing yoga and creating accessible and inclusive spaces to expand the systemic boundaries of the practice in the valley with her organization DiRTYOGA since 2012.

She received her first 500-hour Yoga Teacher Training at The Southwest Institute of Healing Arts. In 2015 she was gifted the opportunity to continue her education in Costa Rica with Jenn Chiarelli’s Anahata Soul 200-hour Intensive. And most recently, in 2021, Ashley received a 60-hour Yoga Nidra certification from Tracee Stanley + Chanti Tacorante- Perez with the Empowered Wisdom Yoga Nidra Teacher Training.

Ashley is a BELIEVER driven to serve her community and is enthusiastic about upholding yoga with the Khalsa students and teachers.

Belen Martin

Spanish Teacher

Founder of the preschool Spanish immersion program curriculum, “Funny Sunny Spanish”, Belen has had the privilege of teaching and entertaining young children in the San Francisco and Phoenix areas for many years. She is grateful to have discovered this opportunity to combine her experience, love of children, and her abilities to create and interactive Spanish immersion program for students. Belen is orginally from Argentina.

Carissa Klopfenstein

Music Teacher

Ms. Carissa was born and raised in the Midwest and began performing with her sisters in a family band at a young age. A classically trained violinist, violist, and pianist, she is also a bluegrass fiddle champion and Celtic fiddler. She is a self-taught guitarist and ukulele player, learning to play whilst traveling on the road, performing music for people on street corners, bus stations, subways, and cafes.

Ms. Carissa is a certified Suzuki instructor, studying pedagogy with Mr. Edward Kreitman, a student of the sensei, Dr. Suzuki. Ms. Carissa is a freelance performer. She has performed with professional and community orchestras, various ensembles, special events, piano accompanist, singer, and director of both sacred and secular choirs, as well as teaching in K-12 public, private, and charter schools as a string director, choir director, and general music teacher.