The Teachers

Nurturing educators

Casa Montessori teachers combine the methods of Dr. Maria Montessori and the Reggio Emilia Approach. Both philosophies are deeply rooted in a common respect for young children as competent and independent learners. Entrusting the child to guide the direction of curriculum, teachers view themselves as careful observers in a child-centered environment. In blending these philosophies, Casa Montessori teachers strive to educate all young children with respect, an open-mind and a true passion for early education.

Meet the Team

Dana Szarf


Dana Szarf was born and raised in Caracas Venezuela. She currently lives in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters, Briana and Siena. She has a degree in Early Childhood Education from Universidad Metropolitana, Venezuela, and a Masters degree in Early Childhood Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Dana received her Montessori training from the Center for Montessori Training located in New Rochelle, New York. She has worked as a Montessori teacher for over 14 years in various schools throughout the New York City area. After the birth of her oldest daughter, Dana held Montessori Playgroups for toddlers in different locations in Brooklyn. She now directs at Casa Montessori in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Dana hopes that in providing children with inspiring classroom materials and lessons, and a nurturing safe environment that the students at Casa Montessori will develop a true sense of wonder and joyful curiosity.

Meryl Keenan


Meryl Keenan Bash was born and raised in New Rochelle, New York. She currently resides in her hometown and lives with her husband, Kirill, three-year-old son, Paxton, one-year-old Holden and cat, Stitch. She attended the University of Vermont Early Childhood Program as an undergraduate student and has completed a Masters in Literacy Education at Hunter College in New York City. Meryl holds a New York State teaching license in Early Childhood Education (Birth-grade 2). Additionally, Meryl spent several years teaching in various private and public schools throughout New York City and Brooklyn. Meryl now happily co-directs at Casa Montessori. Meryl’s pedagogy is founded in the philosophies of Reggio Emilia, a teaching method developed in Reggio Emilia Italy. Meryl combines her knowledge of the Montessori method and the Reggio Emilia perspective to provide children with invaluable learning opportunities.

Blanca Quintanilla


Blanca Quintanilla was born and raised in Guatemala City. She currently lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with her husband. Her daughter, Sabrina just started her freshman year of college. Blanca has a degree in Marketing and Advertising from IECA, Universidad Mariano Galvez in Guatemala City. Blanca attended Brooklyn College Bilingual Early Childhood Education program as an undergraduate student and is currently enrolled at Empire State College. Blanca received her Montessori training from the Center for Montessori Teacher Education located in New Rochelle, New York and has worked in a Montessori environment for over 13 years! Initially she worked as an assistant teacher and later as a classroom co-teacher at Rivendell School in Brooklyn. Blanca has accumulated valuable experience working in an inclusion environment and recognizes the importance of strong social and emotional curriculum in a school setting. Blanca has always been a strong advocate for enriching the classroom curriculum in order to guide, challenge and nurture each child’s interest with respect to his individuality. She is thrilled to be entering he third full year at Casa Montessori!


Ursula Gutierrez


Ursula Gutierrez was born and raised in Queens, New York. She has her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Queens College. Being inspired by her own daughter, she is now attending Concordia University pursuing a Master’s in Early Childhood Special Education and receiving her Montessori training at West Side Montessori School. Ursula has worked with children for the past nine years and has worked in various schools including a Reggio inspired school as a lead teacher. She hopes to provide children with a solid foundation for learning and support the children in discovering themselves and the world around them. She is not only eager to be part of the Casa Montessori family, but also wants to inspire the children and is dedicated to giving them a wonderful school year.

Jessica Cantor


Jessica Cantor was born and raised in Kensington, Brooklyn. Her family originated from Mexico, and she is proudly the first generation to be able to continue higher education. Jessica graduated from Borough of Manhattan Community College with an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education (birth through grade 3). Beginning in September 2015, she will be attending Brooklyn College pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and Art Education. Her career journey started at Washington Market School, a Montessori school in Tribeca, NYC. At the Washington Market School, Jessica conducted child case studies, analyzing the five domains of development. In doing this internship, she was able to gain experience in working with children on a one on one basis. This allowed her to create strong and trustworthy relationships with the children. Additionally, Jessica has worked at the Bank Street Preschool on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. Here, Jessica had the opportunity to lead the class, which helped to build her initiative and confidence with preschool groups. The wisdom and pedagogy of the teachers at Bank Street Preschool deeply impacted and inspired Jessica to further her work with young children. Jessica is honored to be joining the Casa Montessori community and looks forward to working full-time with the children, families and teachers!

Ashley Caroline Walters


A native of Pine Level, NC, Ashley Caroline Walters received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Dance Performance and Choreography with a concentration in modern dance from East Carolina University. Ashley performed at the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden in the River to River Festival, the Park Avenue Armory, “Friends for Japan” benefit for Japan Disaster Relief, The Action Maverick Awards and three SLAM Show series with the STREB EXTREME ACTION COMPANY 2009-2011. In 2010, Ashley became the Director of Education and Community Engagement for SLAM (STREB Lab for Action Mechanics) where she quickly became a lead instructor for the school and has had the opportunity to travel and teach PopAction master classes at places such as Nazareth College, Akron University, and The Park Avenue Armory, in addition to Pop Up SLAM events. Ashley continues to dedicate her energy and talents to SLAM and the community by cultivating residencies with partner schools and organizations such as PS 147, PS 29, Casa Montessori Pre School – Carroll Gardens, Hanson Place Child Development Center, The Greenpoint YMCA, St. Nicks Alliance and NYC Together all while continuing to develop the PopAction curriculum. Ashley’s favorite part of her career is going out in the world and teaching STREB’s PopAction dance technique while sharing the joy it brings to people of all ages, sizes, ethnicities, and cultures!

Bio Photo taken by Tom Caravaglia.

Music Teachers

Chéo and Neil

 Music Teachers

Born in Caracas, José Luis Pardo (aka Dj Afro) is a Brooklyn based Guitarist, DJ, composer and producer renowned as a founder of the Latin American band Los Amigos Invisibles. Grammy award winner and 6 times nominee, including song of the year in 2013 (La que me gusta), Dj Afro has made his mark in Latin American dance music. Through his studio recordings, remixes, compilation albums, mixtapes, podcasts, and live performances, he has amassed a stellar body of work rich with soul and flavor. Pardo began his DJ career in Caracas in 1995, warming up for his band Los Amigos Invisibles. Club owners quickly took notice of his eclectic musical tastes and natural ability to move any dance floor, booking him in the hottest spots all over town. Soon after Los Amigos finished their second album “The New Sound of the Venezuelan Gozadera”, Pardo discovered his passion for remixing. His first assignment was a highly acclaimed remix for the NY-based alternative rock band Soul Coughing. From that day forward, his reputation as a remixer exploded. He now has over 50 remixes under his belt, for a wide variety of musicians including The Beastie Boys, David Byrne, Devendra Banhart, Julieta Venegas, Natalia Lafourcade, and Basement Jaxx. In 2003 he founded Gozadera Records with his band, which served as a launching pad for numerous Venezuelan artists that were operating well under the radar of the mainstream music press. His compilations series, “Chill Out Venezuela”, and “Dance Venezuela” became a crucial platform for exposing new music, launching the careers of numerous artists in Latin America and beyond. In 2001 Afro and the rest of Los Amigos Invisibles relocated to New York City, bringing their signature sound to the world. Once settled in, Pardo became a regular in the New York club scene, burning up the turntables at downtown hot spots like Giant Step, Turntables on the Hudson, Cielo, and Nublu. Through his work as a DJ, Afro soon caught the eye of legendary DJ and producer Louie Vega, who brought him on board as a session guitar player for Masters At Work (Louie Vega & Kenny Dope), Blue six, Nicodemus, Sir Piers, and Dimitri from Paris, just to name a few. In 2007, Pardo released a compilation of remixes: “Will Work For Fun”. The success of that album led to his first solo EP “1” and his first solo LP “Free” on Nacional Records. That same year he began collaborating with New York singer/songwriter Manchildblack, releasing songs under the name “The Copasetic”. Always searching for new avenues of musical expression, Jose Luis joined forces with 2 fellow Venezuelans in 2010, creating “Los Crema Paraiso”. Their debut LP’s departure from dance music, in favor of more Jazz & Latin sounds, took Afro fans by surprise. Their second album “De Película” was claimed as one of the best 10 latin albums from 2015 by NPR. In addition to DJing and playing with Los Crema Paraiso, Pardo continues to produce and engineer for and an eclectic roster of other artists including Coup Couroux, Rawayana, Flying Fisch, Camila Luna, Sarah Amina, Del exilio, Yordano, Simon Grossman and many others. Pardo’s latest work “Orquesta Discotheque” was well received by the critics, right now he is working on his second solo album.

Born in Caracas Venezuela, and based in New York since 1995, Neil has been in the music scene for over 25 years. He grew up exposed to an intense and big Latin music discography owned by his father. At age 10 his grandmother gave him a set of bongos, being this his first instrument and the beginning of a passion. As a professional musician, Drummer/Percussionist Neil has toured and or recorded with the likes of Ricky Martin, David Byrne, Leon Parker’s Live Ensemble, Latin Grammy Award nominee singer-songwriter Yordano and Andrea Echeverri. Grammy Award winning bands Los Aterciopelados and Los Amigos Invisibles, Cyro Baptista, Guitarist Aquiles Báez among others. For ten years Neil was the percussionist for the New York-based Tri-Hop sextet Si*Se which whom recorded three albums under Byrne’s record label Luaka Bop and toured extensively.
 As a teacher, educator, Neil has developed a solid curriculum working with students of all ages, leading an array of workshops, percussion classes, drum camps and ensembles in public schools throughout the NYC area. In January 2009 Neil joined Chicha Libre, a Brooklyn-based cumbia band, inspired in the 60’s and 70’s Peru’s psychedelic Chicha sounds of the amazons. Ever since they’ve been constantly touring Europe, North and South America, participating in prestigious festivals like Womax, Womed, SXSW among others. Neil and long time friend / band mate, José Luis Pardo partnered to create Cutuprá Studios, a basement space in the East Village, NYC where they are constantly recording and producing not only the music of their own projects, but also for bands like Rawayana, Chicha Libre, singer- songwriter Yordano, including an array of jingles for commercials, and music for TV shows like, “The Get Down” (Netflix), and El Vato (NBC Universo). Neil is also the co-founder of Los Crema Paraiso, a Venezuelan power trio that takes Venezuelan traditional music as its foundation but infuses it with rock, funk, south American grooves and jazz. Los Crema Paraiso’s sophomore album, De Película, is an update on what has been referred to as “High-Speed Bossa Nova” and offers a melange of classic Venezuelan songs, rock anthems and original tracks along with a cinematic turn that offers a one of kind experience in their live performance. Their track “To Zing With Your Girlfriend” was picked as one of NPR Music’s Favorite Songs of 2015.