Staff and Faculty
It takes a village to raise a child. Meet our village at Birchwood Montessori.
Tiffany developed the love of learning at an early age. She caught the travel bug in high school when she spent a year in Brazil as a foreign exchange student. Since then she has traveled coast to coast visiting 42 states and lived in Mexico for a short time. Raised in a small town in southwestern Ohio, she made her way to Des Moines to complete her undergraduate studies at Drake University. Then she spent a few years in Iowa City to acquire her Master's degree at the University of Iowa. She's spent the majority of her career in natural resources, but is excited to start this new adventure learning about and supporting Montessori families. Tiffany lives in Des Moines with her husband and two children. Much of her free time is spent traveling and exploring the great Iowa outdoors with her family in their camper.
Tiffany Wilson Lillard
Primary Montessori Guide
Ever since the age of ten when Erin walked into her aunt’s Montessori classroom she was intrigued. She felt appreciative that the environment was designed for children just her age, size and ability. There appeared to be a deep level of respect and harmony that aided the child’s independence and love of learning. These moments marked the beginning of a Montessori journey. After completing a Bachelors in Geography & Spanish, Erin capitalized on her adventurous spirit and love of children; living in several states and teaching preschool through high schoolers in a variety of capacities. While working as an Upper Elementary Montessori assistant in Oregon, Erin fell in love with Montessori once again and moved to Minnesota where she gained AMI elementary certification from the Montessori Training Center of Minnesota. After teaching eight years as an Upper Elementary guide, Erin and her family decided to move back to Des Moines; a decision aided by returning to their native Des Moines "roots." Erin recently finished the NAMC’s Primary teacher training program in the winter of 2018. In her free time, Erin enjoys spending time with her own two children, camping, traveling, cooking and crafting.
Nicole Berger was recently hired as our Primary Assistant. Bio coming soon!
Primary Montessori Assistant
Katy is an Oregon native turned Iowan. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Education in 2007 from the University of Oregon and moved to Des Moines in 2011 with her husband. Katy has a collective twelve years teaching in public education in many positions: 4th grade, Spanish, sixth grade Language Arts and Social Studies, and most recently, Special Education. Katy has always been intrigued by the whole-child approach of the Montessori model. After working as a Montessori Assistant for a year where her son was in the Primary classroom, she knew it was time for a new adventure in teaching. Katy is currently enrolled in the Elementary program at The Center for Guided Montessori Studies with plans to complete her Montessori training in 2020. When she's not teaching, Katy is a Branch Ambassador for Hike it Baby Des Moines and she enjoys spending time with her family, hiking, camping, exercising, and being outside.
Elementary Montessori Guide
Mandy is a German native who studied early childhood education in Germany and taught Kindergarten there before moving to the United States in 1998 to become a nanny. She was a nanny for 17 years and loved every minute of it! She also has her Bachelor of Science degree from Upper Iowa University. In her spare time she enjoys teaching yoga and barre. Mandy is passionate about getting outdoors in all kinds of weather with her husband and young son. She also enjoys hiking, splashing in puddles, and walking in her neighborhood.
Courage League Sports Des Moines is excited to be based out of the Franklin Jr. High building! CLS is a non-profit adaptive sports and recreational program that offers year-round programming for children and adults who aren’t able to go full speed due to a physical, cognitive or emotional disability. In addition, CLS provides Physical Education programming for homeschool and other similar groups. Birchwood is excited to be partnering with Ms. Brittany from Courage League Sports for our physical education programming this year.
Courage League Sports
Benjamin Rethmeier is the director of Tandem Theatre and Dance. He has been providing dance education in central Iowa for over 20 years. Benjamin feels at home on the dance floor and is looking forward to sharing his passion with the families of Birchwood Montessori.
Shanda (Symonds) Fordyce has been teaching private and small group music lessons and music theory for more than 15 years. She graduated from Clarke Community HS in Osceola. She was a featured soloist in multiple bands & was awarded the Louis Armstrong Award for Musical Excellence. After high school, she studied Music Education at Drake University for a year before moving to IL and earning her BA in Music Business from Monmouth College, where she was also able to expand her musical education into vocal studies. She has played with various community bands, jazz and big bands, and is also involved in the church praise team. In 2018 she founded Central IA Homeschool Band and Instrumental Music Classes. Shanda’s passion is to help people of all ages discover the joy that making music can bring! She’s a busy homeschooling mom and entrepreneur and loves it all! Shanda lives in Johnston with her bass-playing husband, Chris and their 3 children!
Shelley Shah is thrilled to be part of the Birchwood family! She has 8 years of Montessori experience including 5 years as an Administrative Assistant and 3 years in the Primary classroom. She also took part in a Montessori leadership course with Tim Seldin and the American Montessori Society. She is a parent of two girls who attended a Montessori school from ages 3 through 6th grade. Currently, she uses her passion for Montessori while teaching 2-6 year olds for several nonprofit organizations.
Rita first got involved with Montessori about 50 years ago when she helped start a school in Davenport for her children. She taught in her own school for about 20 years before going back to school to get her degree in education and Montessori credentials. Rita taught Montessori for many years both in Minneapolis and Des Moines at Sayre Montessori and at Cowles Montessori for 10 years before retiring. In 2000 Rita started the Iowa Montessori Training Center to help train teachers. She still serves on the Montessori Peace Committee today. Rita is passionate about Montessori and what it can do for young children and we are thrilled to have her and her wealth of knowledge as a resource to us!