Early Childhood Faculty
Alyssa Weiss Allen
Alyssa Allen holds a Florida Teaching Certificate in Primary Education (ages three to grade three) and English (grades 5-9). She received her Bachelor of Arts from SUNY New Paltz and Master of Science from Boston University. She has experience at Temple Beth Am Day School as a Third Grade teacher, Nursery camp counselor, and Pre-Kindergarten teacher. She also teaches after-school children's musical theatre. Alyssa wrote and produced a children's television cooking TV show and has worked with children's television programming on PBS and Animal Planet. She is a Southeast and Northeast award-winning playwright and has even had one of her plays read on Broadway in Manhattan. She is passionate about teaching with an emphasis on creative learning.
Jessica Benitez is bilingual, fluent both in English and Spanish. She attends Miami-Dade College and has a Child Development Associate credential, Florida Child Care Professional Certificate (FCCPC) and 55 hours in Child Care Training (CCT) from Miami-Dade College. Jessica has many years of experience in early childhood. She is passionate, soft spoken, and nurturing with all children. Her knowledge and love for children is what drew her to this profession.
Born in Israel, Liat Berkey served in the Israeli army at the age of 18. She is fluent in Hebrew and English. Liat is a certified gemologist who worked in the diamond industry before joining the Beth Am Early Childhood team. She is currently working towards her Florida Child Care Professional Certificate and a National Child Development Associate credential. Liat loves working with children and is very dedicated to her work. She has two young children who attend Temple Beth Am Day School.
Barbara Berman is a career educator, helping the children at Temple Beth Am Day School reach their individual potential since the 1980s. Over the years, she has taught children from early childhood to grade 2, infusing creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving into her lessons. Barbara believes self-esteem is the key to success. With warmth and compassion, she endeavors to instill this in her students from the youngest age. Barbara has spent many years raising much-needed funds for the Diabetes Research Institute in support of a dear friend. Today, she sits on the organization's honorary Board of Directors and helps run Team Up for Toys, an annual fundraising initiative started by her daughter to benefit Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. When not at school or planning lessons, you can find Barbara reading or enjoying her two grandsons. Barbara earned her Bachelor of Science degree in early childhood and elementary education from Florida International University.
Eileen Bilchik holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from American University and a Master of Arts in Education/Counseling from The University of Miami. She is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the state of Florida. Eileen worked for many years counseling children with social and emotional issues. After taking some time off to have her own children, she chose to apply her skills and knowledge to the classroom. She acquired a Child Development Associate credential focusing specifically on children ages 3-5 years old. Temple Beth Am was the perfect place to work, as she is an alumnus of the Religious School. Her two children are alumni of the early childhood program and students in the elementary school.
Ellen Blumenthal received her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Georgia and a Master of Science in Special Education from the University of Miami. She has worked in a variety of educational settings from being a behavioral specialist at Sunland Training Center to a teacher of hearing impaired preschoolers for the Dade County Public Schools. She left the school system to be more accessible to her young family. Working as an early childhood teacher in a temple setting gave her the opportunity to teach in the schools that her girls attended. It was such a delight for her to get to observe her own children in their play and see them interact with their peers. She feels very fortunate to have had this experience! Her girls are now young adults with lives of their own. She realizes the importance and delicate job she has as a teacher to influence a young child's love of learning. Her interests include gardening, antique hunting, and baking.
Natalie Breslin has been with Temple Beth Am Day School since 1980. Presently, she holds a Child Development Associate credential and the Florida Child Care Professional Certificate. Additionally, she is a graduate of the Florence Melton Judaic Studies program from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Both of her children are graduates of Temple Beth Am Day School.
Robin Cassel attended the University of Miami and Hofstra University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. She has her Child Development Associate credential, as well as a Florida Child Care Professional Certificate. Robin's experience at Temple Beth Am Day School began in 1989, and spans each of the preschool levels, as well as Summer Camp and the Enrichment program. Robin is passionate about teaching, and says she learns as much from her students, every day, as she hopes they learn from her! Robin feels fortunate to work with such an amazing group of administrators, teachers, parents and children.
Veronica Castillo holds the training certifications required by the Department of Children and Families and is in the process of receiving the Florida Child Care Professional Credential (FCCPC). She also is currently attending Miami Dade College, pursuing a major in physical therapy. Veronica also previously taught Pre-Kindergarten for a year. She has a passion for early childhood education and believes that every child deserves the chance to advance intellectually in a safe and nurturing environment. During her spare time, Veronica enjoys watching films, reading books, baking and spending time with her nieces.
Jayme Fishman originates from Miami and received her Bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Central Florida, also obtaining a Certificate in Jewish Studies. She has a passion for constructivist Early Childhood Education and finding creative ways to capture the curiosity and love of learning through young eyes. She loves spending time with her family, drawing, painting, baking and technology. Jayme is excited to be joining the Temple Beth Am family.
Jane Grappell has a degree in Hospitality from Bristol University, a Child Development Associate credential, a Florida Child Care Professional certificate and many, many, years of experience in early childhood. Her interests are growing orchids, adopting dogs from the various shelters and traveling. Jane strives to make her students first year of school a happy and meaningful experience.
While attending Miami-Dade College, Susan Grossinger received her Child Development Associate credential. She has many years of experience in caring for children and nurturing their development. Her decision to go into early education was based upon doing work that would be fun, meaningful and genuinely fulfilling. Susan also enjoys watercolor painting and cycling.
Toni Haber is certified with a Child Development Associate Credential, and is a certified teacher with the state of Florida. Toni has a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Miami and Master of Education from the University of Florida. She is also a graduate of the Florence Melton Judaic Studies program from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Toni has worked in Early Childhood for many years at Temple Beth Am Day School. Toni loves working with young children and having a lot of hands on experiences with them.
Efrat Horwitz holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Social Work with a Minor in Family Relations & Human Development from The Ohio State University, a Master’s in Social Work from Florida International University, and the Training Certification required by the Department of Children and Families. She also is trained in Integrative Wellness and Life Coaching. Throughout the years, Efrat has worked with people from infancy–94 years of age! Her work with children and their families began when she became an active advocate for Foster Care Children. She is proud to have created many forever families through foster care, domestic and international adoptions. Throughout her teaching career, Efrat has taught Hebrew and Judaics for Kindergarten through 8th Grade at Greenfield Jewish Day School, Ben Gamla Charter School and Bet Shira Religious School. She also has taught a Kindergarten class in Columbus, Ohio, and most recently JPN and PN at Beth Am. She received Teacher of the Year award for the 2010–2011 School Year. Efrat moved to America from Israel when she was 13 year of age. She is married and is the proud mother of three active boys – Ryan, Tyler and Ayden. She continues to be involved in their school as their PTA president for the past three years. Efrat enjoys her family, reading, movies and going out with friends. She always has had a passion for children, attending to the whole child and including their families, keeping communication open. She enjoys seeing the world from the children’s’ eyes and feeding their curiosity and love of learning.
Rebeca Jimenez was born and raised in Miami, where she is currently a student at Miami Dade College. She has an Associates in Arts, and is working toward her Bachelor's in Early Childhood Education. As member of a very large Cuban-American family, Rebeca discovered her patience and love of children through babysitting her many cousins (she has 47 paternal first cousins). She is very passionate about teaching, and hopes to one day publish children's books. Her hobbies include reading, writing, cooking, and shopping.
Denise Kirsner was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. She has many years of experience teaching in early childhood. Before coming to Temple Beth Am, Denise taught for the city of Miami Programs for the Handicapped and the City of Miami Parks and Recreation Department. She has earned a Child Development Associate certificate.
Grace La Fontisee
Grace La Fontisee was born in Ireland and moved to England as a young child. She spent her childhood in Cambridge and studied architecture in London. Grace ran her own architecture practice in London and worked up until the birth of her first son. In Cambridge she assisted her American-born husband at his technology company. In 2007 she and her family moved to Miami. Grace has enjoyed being a stay-at-home parent and has been involved in both the public school and private school systems in Miami. She has volunteered as a reader and art class assistant, as well as teaching architecture in Summer Camp. Her concern that children's experiences at school should be gentle and joyful is what has brought Grace into the field of early childhood education.
Adi Mendlestein received her Bachelors of Arts in Organizational Behavior from Brown University. She is currently working toward her Child Development Associate (CDA) certification. Adi has been a substitute teacher in the Early Childhood school since 2014 and joined the Beth Am faculty full-time in Spring 2016. Teaching is a second career for Adi, and she knows she has found her calling. She believes that many people underestimate the importance of early childhood education and she hopes to change this perception. She strives to guide her students in exploring new ideas every day. She feels that there is nothing more satisfying then watching a child's mind grow to achieve his or her potential. Adi is married and has two children in the Day School. She loves reading, sewing dresses for her daughter, and spending time with her family and dog Bella.
Amy Mittelberg has taught all ages of young children; and has been teaching for many years. Amy has a degree in Early Childhood Education, a Child Development Associate Credential and is a graduate of the Florence Melton Judaic Studies program from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She also has many certificates in various areas of early childhood. Amy loves seeing the children's smiling faces and helping them and their families grow.
Christine Mogollon holds an Associates in Arts in Early Childhood Education from Miami-Dade College, and is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education. She is a former member of the Miami Marlins Dance Team, as well as the Nationally ranked Cheerleading program, Top Gun. Christine has a passion for children in and out of the classroom. She enjoys spending her spare time teaching Dance and Cheerleading at Temple Beth Am’s After School University (ASU).
Mariana Orozco was born and raised in Colombia, and later traveled to the United States for her education. Since then, she has been in the Early Childhood Education field since 2010. Mariana has taken numerous classes with the focus of Early Childhood Education. She has her Florida Child Care Professional Certificate and is working toward her Associates in ECE at Miami-Dade College. Mariana also has experience working in the Jewish community. She has taught at Bet Breira Samuel Or Olom. She loves the creative learning environment provided at Temple Beth Am Day School. She is passionate about each child's learning experience; and providing unlimited opportunities for the child to grow. Mariana is an avid reader and loves to listen to inspirational music. Dancing, cooking and spending quality time with her son are some of her favorites things to do in her free time.
Wendy Perlman has been an Early Childhood educator at Temple Beth Am Day School since 1997. She has taught in the Nursery and Pre-Kindergarten levels for many years. In addition to teaching, Wendy worked in 2012 on the re-accreditation of the Temple Beth Am Early Childhood Program by the National Association of the Education of Young Children. Prior to teaching, Wendy was an executive recruiter in the medical industry for 13 years. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business and Marketing from the University of South Florida, and a certificate in Early Childhood Education from Miami Dade College. Wendy is married to her husband Howard, and has 2 grown children David and Stephanie, who are graduates of Beth Am Day School.
Rachel Rosen graduated cum laude from FIU with a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education. She has worked at Temple Beth Am’s Summer Camp as a counselor, and was a substitute teacher in the Early Childhood Program prior to becoming a full-time teacher. Rachel is a native Miamian; her family was a member of Temple Beth Am when it began at the University of Miami many years ago. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to teach at Beth Am where her mother taught many years ago. Her father teaches Hebrew in the religious school and is a high school teacher as well. Teaching is in her blood! Rachel enjoys working out, boating, paddle boarding, reading and traveling. She adores her two Yorkies; Brody and Tucker. Rachel believes that every child has unique strengths and should have a nurturing, positive school experience with enough challenge and support to ensure success.
Mayquitha Ruiz was born in Holland, in a small city near Amsterdam. She graduated as an Assistant Teacher, with a background in assistant teaching and social pedagogy. She always had it in her heart to work with children; whether it would be in a classroom teaching, or helping children in need by working side by side with charity organizations. Mayquitha desires greatly to give children the best educational foundation, and the safe and nurturing environment they deserve. She thinks it is so rewarding to see the children blossom and develop in their individual way. Seeing their little smiles and light in their eyes makes her heart melt and is a reason why she wants to be the best person that she can be for them. Mayquitha has built experience over the years in the Business and Educational field. She married her childhood sweetheart and they became a family of three in 2012, welcoming their little girl. Mayquitha feels so blessed to have become a permanent member of the Temple Beth Am family.
Michelle Schurr has a Bachelor of Arts in Education, as well as a Child Development Associate credential. Teaching at Beth Am has been a very rewarding experience for her. The staff and the families at Temple Beth Am Day School are like family to her. Most of all she enjoys teaching, learning and laughing with her students. Being able to watch them grow year after year is a reward in itself.
Beth Shmalo was born in Brooklyn, New York. She received her AA degree from Miami Dade College, has a Child Development Associate credential (CDA), and a certificate of Jewish Studies from the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School of Hebrew University. While Beth is new to the Beth Am family, she has been teaching more than 15 years. Beth enjoys working with children and believes that providing a safe, warm, nurturing environment is paramount to learning. Beth has lived in the Miami area over 30 years and calls Coral Gables home. She is married and has three grown children. During her spare time, Beth enjoys cooking, traveling, reading and water aerobics.
Cassie Sosa earned her Bachelor of the Arts in Psychology from Florida International University. During her studies she worked as a director for an after-school program at an elementary school. It was then that she realized that her true passion is working with children. She started by teaching sports to children, but wanted to do more. After working at Beth Am Day Camp in the summer, Cassie finally found where she belonged.
Shirley Sotloff has a Child Development Associate Credential from Miami Dade College and The Florida Child Care Professional Certificate. In addition, she has taken numerous classes in Early Childhood Education over the years to keep up her good standing as an educator of young children, birth through five years. Shirley is experienced in teaching pre-nursery, nursery and pre-kindergarten. Her guilty pleasures are milk chocolate and ice cream. Shirley is passionate about preserving the memory of The Holocaust, as both her parents were survivors. She is warm, caring and a loving person who strives to make sure that children are happy, have a sense of well-being and that they are secure in their own skin. When her children began attending pre-school at Temple Beth Am, teaching chose Shirley and she started substituting at their school. Shirley quickly found that being with small children was her calling and she loves helping them develop their early social, emotional and cognitive skills.
Howard Starr has returned to teaching after a career in fundraising for public and private schools. He originally taught in the New York City public school system and a private day care center. He taught both Elementary and Early Childhood students, and holds a B.A. in Elementary Education and History, and a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education. His love of young children has brought him to the Early Childhood Center at Temple Beth Am Day School, where he has been a regular substitute teacher. He is now part of the faculty. Howard is married for over 40 years and is the proud father of adopted twin daughters from Korea.
Liora holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from Universidad del Nuevo Mundo. She brings knowledge, experience and creativity to her profession every day. A Mexico City, Mexico native, Liora earned her Child Development Associate credential while working at Temple Beth Day School. A loving mother of three children, she is driven to learn new and creative ways to educate the children in her class. Liora is trilingual, fluent in English, Spanish and Hebrew.
Marisa Young is a Miami native and has been a proud member of Temple Beth Am since birth. She is also a graduate of the religious school. Marisa earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Disorders from the University of Massachusetts. She has spent her entire professional career as an educator. Before joining Temple Beth Am Day School, Marisa was a teacher with the Vanguard School in Coconut Grove, focusing on children with learning disabilities. Marisa has experience with a variety of age groups, and is a certified Childcare Professional. She is married to Joshua, an attorney and a member of the Temple Beth Am Board of Directors. She has two children, Jack and Brooke, and loves dancing, reading, and spending time with her family.