Director, School Literacy and Culture
Karen brings 25 years of experience with School Literacy and Culture to her current position as director of the project. She has been instrumental in establishing SLC’s Early Literacy Leadership Academy (ELLA) and the Rice Oral and Written Language Laboratory and continues to enjoy her role as seminar leader for the ELLA, ELLA Administrator, and Advanced Leadership programs. Karen also teaches Creative Writing in the Classroom, an undergraduate/graduate course offered through Rice University’s Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. Karen holds an M.S. in early childhood education and B.S. in psychology with a minor in human development and family studies from the University of Houston system. Prior to joining SLC, Karen taught toddlers to fifth graders and served as an elementary science laboratory specialist and preschool curriculum director. She has been named Teacher Educator of the Year by the Houston Area Association for the Education of Young Children (HAAEYC) and Teacher of the Year by her peers at The Shlenker School. Karen and her colleagues have also been recognized by the National Association for Early Childhood Teacher Education (NAECTE) for an award-winning research article. Karen enjoys traveling with her husband, Steve, and their sons - Rice Owls, Jonathan (class of 2016) and Christian (class of 2018).
Assistant Director, Early Literacy Specialist
Brooke earned her B.S. in interdisciplinary studies from University of Houston – Victoria. Brooke taught first grade for eight years at Katy ISD’s Jeanette Hayes Elementary where she was named New Teacher of the Year (2005), Hayes Teacher of the Year (2010), and Katy ISD Elementary Teacher of the Year (2010). While at Hayes, she also served as the parent-teacher association (PTA) faculty representative, Science Campus lead teacher, and student teacher cooperating teacher. At the district level, Brooke acted as orientation facilitator for new first grade teachers in Katy ISD. Brooke completed her residency with School Literacy and Culture during the 2008-2009 school year. She has since been involved with School Literacy and Culture as a mentor teacher and seminar presenter, and currently serves the SLC staff as early literacy specialist. Brooke enjoys traveling, entertaining, volunteering, and spending time with her husband, Matt and their four children.
Jordan Gainey Khadam-Hir
Associate Director, Early Literacy Leadership Academy
Jordan graduated from Washington State University and became a Teach for America Houston corps member in 2007. Jordan taught at KIPP Dream Prep in Houston’s fifth ward in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms. She served as the Response to Intervention coordinator for three years while also serving as the Dean of Lower School and later as the Assistant Principal. In 2009, she was honored for her leadership with the Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award. Jordan was trained in School Literacy and Culture’s renowned Classroom Storytelling program in 2008, later becoming a mentor teacher for residents enrolled in the project. She joined the SLC team in November 2013 as the Assistant Director of Outreach & Education and now serves as Associate Director for the Early Literacy Leadership Academy (ELLA). In addition to her involvement with SLC, Jordan graduated from the Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business with her MBA in 2013 and was a member of the fourth REEP (Rice Entrepreneurial Education Program) cohort. In her free time, Jordan loves to run, travel and spend time with her husband and two young sons.
Publications, Website, Finance
Laurie has worked at Center for Education since 1998, first as editorial coordinator for the American Educational Research Journal, and later as data manager for the research team, the center's financial manager, and director of publications, including webmaster of the center’s website and editor of Centerpiece. She has edited several books and numerous articles for center authors. In addition to her responsibilities with School Literacy and Culture, she has recently enjoyed work with the Creative Writing Camp. Laurie was a National Merit Scholar and received a B.A. from Trinity University. She has worked as an accountant, and later taught preschool and volunteered as an art teacher, a math tutor in the public schools and a Girl Scout leader. She enjoys singing in her church choir with her husband, painting, gardening, woodworking and spending time with her two grown daughters.
Emily’s involvement with SLC dates back to 1998, when she attended Creative Writing Camp as a seventh-grader. In 2010, she earned a B.F.A in Creative Writing from St. Andrews University, where she also served as the host of the Fortner Writers’ Forum and student editor of Gravity Hill. She joined SLC as a staff member in 2015 and has enjoyed everything from planning events to co-teaching at Creative Writing Camp. In her spare time, she enjoys embroidery, photography, and spending time with her husband, their son, and their pets.
Associate Director, Early Literacy and Bilingual Programs
Debbie Paz earned her B.A. in Spanish and M.Ed. in elementary education from the State University of New York at Buffalo. After working as a bilingual educator for nearly 30 years in both New York and Texas, she was named Houston Area Association for the Education of Young Children Teacher of the Year in 2009. Debbie joined School Literacy and Culture in 2011 as the associate director of early literacy and bilingual programs. Her responsibilities include co-teaching and curriculum development for the Rice Oral and Written Language Laboratory (OWL Lab )at the Gabriela Mistral Center for Early Childhood in Houston ISD, as well as supporting replication labs around the city. Debbie is also involved in designing and implementing parent engagement programs that build upon the families’ strengths through activities that help parents learn to value the many ways they can impact their children’s success at school in their everyday lives. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, cooking and spending time with her five grown children and four grandchildren.
Vanessa Quezada Vierra
Bilingual Early Literacy Specialist
Vanessa currently serves as a bilingual mentor for Classroom Storytelling seminar participants, works with students in the Rice Oral and Written Language Laboratory (OWL Lab), and is involved with the Lab replication sites. She also oversees logistics for SLC's annual conferences: Early Literacy Summit, Summer Institute and Fall Summit. She graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in communication and minor in English. Vanessa started her teaching career as a head start pre-kindergarten teacher and team leader in San Antonio ISD. She later taught third grade bilingual and dual language classes at Fort Bend ISD for four years. Before joining the School Literacy and Culture team, Vanessa worked as a bilingual math specialist and interventionist in Houston ISD where she serviced students in first through fourth grades. While at Houston ISD, she also mentored teachers, and designed and delivered professional development sessions. In addition to her involvement with School Literacy and Culture, Vanessa co-teaches Creative Writing Camp classes. She enjoys cooking, traveling and spending time with her husband, Justin.
Student Literacy Specialist
D’Anna is a recent graduate of Rice University (2016) earning a B.A. in psychology with an emphasis on child development and a B.A. in cognitive science. She is currently working on her master’s in social work with a specialization in child and families from Simmons College. D’Anna began her involvement with School Literacy and Culture in January 2014 as a non-profit management intern. Since starting at SLC, she has completed several projects including writing grants to provide underprivileged communities access to the Classroom Storytelling Project, creating an e-book of resources for School Literacy and Culture’s various programs, and organizing a lending library of story baskets. Additionally, she has assisted in organizing various conferences for School Literacy and Culture. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, arts and crafts and spending time with her family, friends, and new puppy.
Maggie works for Aldine ISD in an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (IB PYP) school, Kujawa EC PK Center. Through the Reggio approach to learning and highly engaging literacy based practices, she is able to deliver a hands-on, student-centered curriculum. Maggie has been an educator for the past 13 years, 11 of which have been in early childhood. She is married to her husband Edward and has two beautiful children, Nathan and Kaylen. Maggie is the Literacy Lab specialist at her school and through an engaging play-based environment develops children’s oral language development. During the school year, Maggie is a part of School of Literacy and Culture’s (SLC) group of mentor teachers. Maggie has also been fortunate enough to teach at SLC’s Creative Writing Summer Camp for the last five summers. She is honored to be a part of Early Literacy and Leadership Academy (ELLA), Advanced Leadership Academy (ALS), and other programs that are sponsored by SLC. Maggie was named Educator of the Year (2016-2017) by The Children’s Museum of Houston.
Griselda is a proud graduate of the University of Houston-Downtown. In 2007, Griselda graduated with a B.A. in interdisciplinary studies with a certification in EC-4 Bilingual Education. Griselda began her journey in education as a paraprofessional for Spring Branch ISD and Houston ISD where she discovered her passion for early childhood education. In 2008, she began her teaching career as a bilingual classroom teacher at the Lion Lane School for Early Learning in Spring Branch ISD. Since then, she has had the opportunity to work with pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students in both the bilingual and mainstream settings. Griselda is a graduate of the first Early Literacy Leadership Academy cohort. This opportunity has helped Griselda grow professionally. She is now serving SLC as a mentor, seminar co-facilitator and presenter. Griselda hopes to inspire more bilingual teachers to join SLC's community of passionate educators.
Kandy graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a B.S. in family, infancy and early childhood education. For the last 15 years, Kandy has worked as a pre-kindergarten teacher for Fort Bend ISD and private schools in the Houston area. While working in Fort Bend ISD, she taught English as a second language pre-kindergarten. Kandy served as the preschool director for Sugar Grove Christian School for several years and taught kindergarten. Kandy is currently working at Cornerstone Christian Academy as the bridge kindergarten teacher. Kandy completed her residency with School Literacy and Culture (SLC) during the 2001-2002 school year. She has served as a mentor for SLC over the past years. Kandy continues to avidly practice story dictation, dramatization, writing and literacy in the classroom. She was instrumental in implementing the SLC Storytelling Project at Sugar Grove Christian Preschool. Kandy enjoys experiencing the love of storytelling with young children. Her interests outside of school include spending time with her husband and her three young boys, Ethan, Will and Callen.
Heather is a proud graduate of the University of Florida with a B.S. in public relations and a double minor in business administration and French. She arrived in Houston by way of Teach for America in 2009, and has remained a part of the movement as a summer content facilitator from 2013-2017, most recently as a part of the Early Childhood (ECE) Hub. She taught at Cook Road Head Start for two years and then taught at KIPP SHINE Prep for six years, teaching pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. At KIPP SHINE, she served as a values chair, designing culture-building activities on the kindergarten level and school-wide level. In 2015, Heather earned her Master of Arts in Teaching degree with distinction from the RELAY Graduate School of Education. She became involved with School Literacy and Culture in 2016 as a member of the Early Literacy Leadership Academy's cohort 3 and continues her work with SLC as a mentor and participant in the Advanced Leadership Seminars. She is currently the Early Childhood Specialist for Promise Community Schools (BakerRipley) and an adjunct professor for the Early Childhood trach at RELAY. In addition to her passion for early childhood education and buying too many good books through Amazon Prime, Heather loves to eat (cheese), read romance novels, and binge-watch The Great British Bake-Off with her husband, son and dog.
Sherry is a graduate of University of Houston with degrees in elementary education and kindergarten. She is also a Certified Academic Language Therapist (CALT). Sherry has taught for more than 35 years, working with toddler through 6th grade students in public and private schools. She is currently literacy and learning specialist of The Shlenker School. Sherry has taught toddler, pre-kindergarten 4, and kindergarten classes at Shlenker and was awarded Shlenker’s Early Childhood Teacher of the Year in 1992 and Elementary Teacher of the Year in 2011. Sherry has been with School Literacy and Culture for more than 20 years, beginning as a resident teacher. She has served as a mentor teacher, seminar leader, Creative Writing Camp teacher, and currently serves as site coordinator at Creative Writing Camp. Sherry is an SLC board member as well as a mentor teacher in Early Childhood classrooms at The Shlenker School. In addition, she co-facilitates the PLC for OT, Pre K3 and Pre K4 at Shlenker. Sherry feels that SLC changed her thinking in many ways, making her more reflective about teaching and giving her greater insight into the lives and literacy development of young children. She enjoys engaging with other professionals that share similar passions about the development of young children. Sherry also enjoys travel and movies, however, her greatest pleasure is spending time with her family; her husband, her two adult sons, her two daughter in-laws, and her twin grandsons.
Laurie has been a classroom teacher for over forty years. She is a graduate of the University of Texas with degrees in elementary and special education. She has taught in both the private and public sector, second through fifth grades. She currently teaches the language arts for grades 4 and 5 at Beth Yeshurun Day School. She also serves as department chair of language arts and new teacher mentor for the school. Laurie is a mentor and seminar leader for School Literacy and Culture as well as a supervisor for the Summer Creative Writing Camp with SLC and Writers in the Schools. In addition, she co- facilitates “Writing and the Arts,” a monthly gathering of educators who love to write. Laurie has received Teacher of the Year several times throughout her career. Laurie enjoys coaching new teachers and watching the imagination and creativity of children come to life. Laurie enjoys swimming, old movies, playing mah-jongg and baking. Spending time with her daughter, son, daughter-in- law, and granddaughter always brings a smile to her face.
Sharon earned a B.S. in interdisciplinary studies with early childhood and ESL specializations from Texas A&M and an M.S. in early childhood from University of Houston – Clear Lake. Sharon taught three-year-old and pre-kindergarten classes for eight years in Houston area private schools. She has also taught kindergarten and first grade classes at Creative Writing Camp (CWC) for 15 summers and acted as site supervisor the past four summers. Sharon was a nominee for the 1997 HAAEYC (Houston Area Association for the Education of Young Children) Classroom Teacher of the Year award and was named HAAEYC’s Teacher Educator of the Year in 2005. Sharon trained as a resident with School Literacy and Culture in 1996 and has been mentoring with SLC in toddler through 2nd grade classrooms since 1999. She also acts as special projects coordinator for SLC.
Lori graduated from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. She has been a classroom teacher since 1996. In 2010, Lori was named ESL teacher of the year at HISD's Gabriela Mistral Center for Early Education where she has taught since 2004. She feels very strongly that all children should feel safe and successful in their classroom environment. Lori completed her resident year with School Literacy and Culture during the 2004-2005 school year. She is now the lead teacher of the Rice Oral and Written Language Laboratory (OWL Lab). She invites parents into the lab to celebrate their children’s learning. Lori also serves as a site supervisor during Creative Writing Camp. Outside of school, Lori enjoys spending time with her husband and daughters.
A native Houstonian, a product of HISD schools, the University of Houston and Houston Baptist University, Pansy Gee looks forward to a new kind of involvement in education. Recently retired from teaching Mark Twain Elementary's Literary Development Center, she taught grades 3 through 5 of this unique program which she founded for these grades in 1989. Beginning in 1976, Mrs. Gee taught students from pre-school to grade 6. She is currently a mentor and seminar leader for Rice University's Glassock's School for Continuing Studies-- School Literacy and Culture. Pansy also supervises The Summer Creative Writing Camps, a collaboration of SLC and Writers in the Schools. She conducts Writing in the Arts for writing teachers and Reading, Writing and Reasoning for teachers of grades 2-6. She enjoys reading, cooking, crossword puzzles and adventures with her family.
Karen graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in elementary education. She earned her M.Ed. at the University of Houston in reading instruction. Her 25+ years of teaching experience include pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classrooms. She has also taught at Creative Writing Camp. Karen currently teaches pre-kindergarten in Katy ISD’s Jeanette Hayes Elementary where she was recognized as a Hayes Teacher of the Year. During her teaching career, Karen has been a team leader, student teacher cooperating teacher and a member of various campus and district committees. She has facilitated many presentations and workshops at campus, district and state levels. Karen is a mentor teacher with School Literacy and Culture.
Ana earned an Industrial Engineering degree in her home country of Venezuela and an MBA at the University of St. Thomas in Houston where she has lived for 19 years. She trained as a teacher with the Region IV ACP Program and has been working as a Bilingual – Dual Language pre-kindergarten teacher at Houston ISD’s Ninfa Laurenzo Early Childhood Center since 2005. Ana currently has a lead teacher roll as a Literacy Lab Specialist of a Rice Owl Lab Replication at Ninfa Laurenzo ECC. After her participation in ELLA, Ana has become a voice and an advocate for early childhood education in the community, has attended SLC’s Advance Leadership seminars, and has served as a mentor teacher and presenter for SLC. Ana enjoys spending time with her husband and her son.
Jennifer earned both a B.S. in child psychology and a master’s degree in early childhood special education from the University of Minnesota. She has taught a wide variety of children with special needs. Her work in special education included supervising student teachers, creating a program for a public school system and teaching in a school affiliated with a children’s hospital. Jennifer trained with School Literacy and Culture in 2008 and is now a mentor teacher. She currently teaches 3 year olds at St. Martin’s Episcopal Children’s Center where she has been using dictation and dramatization for the past several years.
Carin graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota with a B.A. in Elementary Education and Spanish. She also earned a master’s degree in ESL/bilingual education from the University of Houston under Dr. Sylvia Pena. Carin has taught for thirty-four years with Houston I.S.D. working primarily with pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students. She has been nominated three times for Teacher of the Year and also received HISD’s VIPS Teacher of the Year for her work with parents. Five years ago, Carin was accepted into SLC’s ELLA Cohort 1. She finds it rewarding to work with other teachers who are passionate about literacy and early childhood education. She continues to be involved with SLC as a mentor teacher and a presenter. She loves spending family time with her husband Ren and her two sons, Ben and Erik.
Catherine graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in early childhood education. She has taught both kindergarten and first grade for the past twelve years at Askew Elementary in Houston ISD. She has primarily worked with gifted and talented students in Houston ISD's Vanguard program. She has served as the first grade team leader for eight years and she was recognized as Teacher of the Year at her campus in 2016. Catherine has been involved with SLC through teaching Creative Writing Camp, participating in ELLA Cohort 1, serving as a mentor teacher, and co-facilitating ELLA Cohort 3. Catherine is passionate about storytelling and loves to talk about the transformative powers that happen when stories come to life in a classroom. Personally, she loves to read, try new restaurants around Houston with her husband Aaron, and relax on the beach.
Michelle is a pre-kindergarten teacher at St. Francis Episcopal School as well as a mentor teacher for School Literacy & Culture's Advanced Leadership Seminar. She is a graduate of Indiana University and SLC's ELLA cohort 1, and was the recipient of the Martel Early Childhood Educator of the Year award from the Houston Children's Museum in 2015. Michelle opens her classroom as a model class during the school year for SLC and presents at conferences on early childhood education topics such as literacy, the importance of play and the Project Approach. Michelle is a strong advocate for play in early childhood education and believes all children are capable, competent and should have opportunities to share their thoughts and ideas.
Whitney serves as an early education consultant and literacy specialist for School Literacy and Culture. Along with co-leading monthly seminars for Classroom Storytelling, she also mentors multiple teachers around the Houston area and serves as a director of curriculum at an area private school. She graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, TX with a B.A. in history & political science and later, received her M.Ed. in early childhood from the University of St. Thomas, Houston. She has received several teaching awards, including a fellowship to study at the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy through the Sarah W. Woolrich Fund for Faculty and she has completed the 3-year intensive Early Literacy Leadership Academy (ELLA).
Claudia is a proud graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso where she earned her B.A. in interdisciplinary studies with a certification in EC-6 Bilingual Education. Being a first generation high school and college graduate and one of the oldest sibling in a family of 10, it was important for her to share her passion for education with others. After 10 years of staying home to raise her children, Claudia made the decision to fulfill her dream. She accepted a position as a pre-kindergarten teacher and is currently teaching kindergarten in Katy ISD's Jeanette Hayes Elementary where she is the team leader. During the 2014-2015 school year, Claudia completed her residency with School Literacy and Culture. She feels honored to be participating in ELLA cohort 2 and its professional community where she gets the opportunity to learn new and innovative ways to use reading, writing, storytelling, and dramatization in her classroom. She has also worked with creative writing camp with Writer's in Schools. Outside of school, Claudia enjoys reading, exercising, traveling, and spending time with her husband, Carlos, and two children.
Research Affiliate, Advisory Board member, Consultant, Queens College
Patsy is associate professor of early childhood education at Queens College, CUNY who is currently serving as editor of the Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education (JECTE). She is a former classroom teacher, founding director of the Trinity School for Young Children in Houston, and founding director of School Literacy and Culture. She received her Ph.D. from Emory University. Three major themes are represented in Patsy’s published works and works in progress: effective teachers of children of color, early childhood education and early literacy (birth through grade 2, including children’s literature). She has recently completed a book on Vivian Paley’s philosophy of early childhood education, The Classrooms All Young Children Need: Lessons in Teaching from Vivian Paley, which won the 2010 award for exemplary research in Teaching and Teacher Education from the American Educational Research Association.
Connie is the owner and director of The Littlest Ones School, a Houston-area preschool specializing in the care and education of infants and toddlers. A native Houstonian, Connie has spent her entire professional life in the field of early childhood education: as a teacher, a professional development specialist and a school administrator. A graduate of Texas Southern University with a degree in psychology, Connie has taught children as young as three months and as old as eight years in a variety of settings. Connie is a former director of School Literacy and Culture, and has continued as a consultant with the program. During her time with SLC, Connie created the Cultural Conversations project and started the toddler literacy programming.
Margaret earned her B.S. in elementary and early childhood education from Florida State University and her M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction with a major in reading and minor in special education from the University of New Orleans. She was a classroom teacher for more than 20 years, working with a wide range of children mostly in Houston ISD SIGHTS and Vanguard classrooms. Margaret began her involvement with School Literacy and Culture (SLC) as a resident teacher when teaching kindergarten in 1990. She became a mentor in 1991 and left the classroom in 1996 to work full-time at SLC as point person for Classroom Storytelling. She and Patsy Cooper designed the first Summer Institute in 1996 and Margaret went on to design and lead subsequent yearly institutes until her first retirement from SLC in 2001. After retiring, Margaret consulted across the country presenting workshops and institutes and worked in the Houston area in several schools as an early childhood specialist consultant. She came out of retirement in 2012 to go back to work with SLC as a mentor and then in 2013 became associate director and the point person for the Early Literacy Leadership Academy (ELLA). She is passionate about the importance of high quality read aloud and keeping play in early childhood classrooms. She has recently retired from SLC for the second time and is loving spending time with her children and grandchildren and her puppy.
Sara Foley Edwards, chair
Sarah Brooks: Sarah is recent graduate from the Rice University class of 2015 with a B.A. in cognitive science and a minor in neuroscience. Before joining School Literacy and Culture, Sarah researched in a cognitive neuroscience lab in the medical center for two years. She is currently investigating the cognitive neuroscience research on early childhood development and education to help inform and build upon the programs of the SLC. She is passionate about science and education, and is excited to aid in the translation of scientific literature to educational practices. In her free time, Sarah enjoys cooking, drawing, spending time with her friends and learning how to play guitar.
Magen Eissenstat: Magen is a Rice senior majoring in English and minoring in anthropology, and poverty, justice and human capabilities. She joined the SLC team in January 2016 as a Nonprofit Intern through the Community Bridges program. Magen is passionate about communications, community engagement, development and institutional narratives in the nonprofit sector. She is currently using her interests in writing and communication to support SLC's Early Literacy Leadership Academy. After college she hopes to work in the nonprofit sector as well as eventually pursue a career in academia. She is very grateful for the opportunity to work at SLC!
Cassandra Gibson: Cassandra is a Rice junior pursuing a B.A. in English and a minor in Biochemistry & Cell Biology. Her goals at School Literacy & Culture include creating innovative media resources to communicate the organization’s purpose and impact to a broad audience. With experience in both the humanities and STEM fields, Cassandra is interested in the successful merging of these areas of study to build a well-rounded education for America’s youth. In addition to working with SLC, Cassandra is a marketing & communications intern for Rice University Housing & Dining and an undergraduate researcher in the Bioscience Research Collaborative. Through working with SLC, she hopes to build a better understanding of nonprofit work and the Houston Community College she hopes to work in the nonprofit sector as well as eventually pursue a career in academia. She is very grateful for the opportunity to work at SLC!
Olivia Lewis: Olivia is a junior at Rice University, working towards a B.A. in Cognitive Sciences and Philosophy with a minor in neuroscience. Olivia started at School Literacy and Culture in January 2015 as a program intern. She has worked primarily in developing story basket resources and supporting the Early Literacy Leadership Academy. Olivia is particularly interested in finding ways to use neuropsychological research to effect social change. She finds the perfect opportunity to pursue this passion through SLC's mission to improve early literacy education.
Isabel Patten: Isabel is a Rice sophomore double-majoring in Sociology and Policy Studies. After graduation, she plans to pursue a dual law degree and a master’s in Public Policy. Isabel is passionate about understanding and combating racial and class-based inequalities and intends to follow a career path centered on social justice. Through her work at SLC and the Rice OWL Lab she is able to gain both a hands-on and theoretical understanding of effective childhood education and language acquisition, particularly as it pertains to children learning English as a second language.