Faculty...The Carriers of Our Vision

We are the Carriers of the Garden Vision. We create opportunities for our students to discover who they are, while calling out the personal gifts that so beautifully exist inside of them. We believe the secret to inspired learning is to get our students as excited as possible, as early as possible. We have created a culture of honor and grace, a culture of extravagant joy where our students blossom in their confidence, knowledge and self- expression. At Garden we are ambassadors of ingenuity, masters of flexibility, unchanged by negativity and transformed by possibility. Garden is committed to changing the world one happy and empowered student at a time.

Our Garden roots run deep 

Some of us have seen our own children grow in this Garden Vision and graduate college with honors, while others have a daughter or granddaughter currently enrolled in our school.  Many of us have been associated with Garden for over 20 years, while another is a Garden Alumni, starting her first year of teaching with us. Our Garden roots run deep because of the way we care for one another and value our relationships. The posture of our hearts for our community is love, and who does not want to be connected to love!

We are educational warriors

We are a global teaching community. We come from all regions of the United States; from the East Coast to the West, as well as the countries of Iran, Guatemala, and Argentina; but do not discount our homegrown talent that grew up in Santa Monica and wear their sunshine proudly on their sleeves. We want our Garden Families to trust the quality of our education and we accomplish this by giving you our best. As educators, we continue to generate a fresh Vision that works, that we are proud of, that we fearlessly implement. We are educational warriors, protecting the identity of the whole child.

Administration

Marta Ledezma

Director • Head of School

I have many years of love and dedication invested into this Garden community. I aspire to be the keeper of our Garden Philosophy. We have a very rich, inventive and supportive environment and it very naturally transforms the way our students think, communicate and express themselves. I love our approach to theme based academics and our emphasis on learning preferences and whole education. 

I was one of the founding faculty members here at Garden and helped to pioneer our Multi- Age, K thru 5 classrooms.  I continue to be inspired by the way our Garden Vision has transformed so many children from simply students to powerful, kind and articulate human beings, with a passion for learning and life.  I know this because both of my daughters attended Garden and I have watched them grow into outstanding, intelligent, young women.
 
I hold a BA in Education, a Masters Degree in Human Behavior and PHD course work in Counseling Psychology. I bring value and practice in the areas of relationships, behavior, academic assessment, faculty training and curriculum development.  I receive value as a cherished member of this family.  Every day I get to live this extraordinary philosophy and I have the honor of finding the "gold" in every student.
 
I am so fortunate to work with such a bright and magnificent faculty,  they make me a better Administrator.  Garden is a very close community and we have so much fun.  I love to laugh and there is so much joy here!

"Something you may not know about me is that I love everything with Dulce de Leche."

Kim Buckingham

Administrative Liaison • Admissions • School Aesthetics

Most call me Mamma Bucky, or Kimmi B. I am a Garden "Lifer." I have seen my daughter graduate from Garden and blossom into a young professional woman.  It seems like only yesterday when she and her Garden classmates competed for the National Hip- Hop Dance Championship in Orlando, Florida.  Amazingly, our students were finalists year after year.  Now, in their twenties, when our alumni return for a visit, they fondly refer to themselves as "Garden Kids." I believe it is an important label they will proudly carry in their hearts forever. They are all remarkable human beings with their own unique and powerful identities. It really touches me. I feel like I have been deeply blessed to participate in shaping young lives in a significant way, for all of these years. I have been witness to their greatness and individual transformations.
 
Garden is an indulgence for the eyes, as I take you on a tour of our school, you will hear music dancing out of the classrooms and see a campus lovingly created by faculty and parents and magically touched by a child's paintbrush.  Bold colors, detailed portraits and positive affirmations cover the grounds, inspiring all who enter its embrace.
 
The Arts have always been my thing! From Mount Ida college, pursuing my love of Fine Arts and music, to attending Woodstock in the 60's. I speak this Garden language.
 
When I am not helping our parent volunteers with one of our many committees, or planning one of the schools wonderful events, you may find me locally spreading the Garden spirit.  My blood may bleed East Coast but my heart beats West Coast for the Garden children of tomorrow.

"Most people do not know that I got to take a helicopter ride around New York City when I was in High School, because I won the Coca- Cola Art Exhibitors Contest, at the Worlds Fair."

Angel Warriors

Andrea Hoover

Assistant Director • Angel Warriors

You know the saying, "Time flies when you are having fun," well that applies to my tenure here at Garden of Angels School teaching Pre-K in the Rainbow Room and acting as the Assistant Director. Implementing over sixteen years of Garden Philosophy has provided me the pleasure of seeing unprecedented growth and breakthroughs.

When I was a child my first dream was to become an astronaut. I try to cultivate a dreamer's spirit in each of my students. I pay close attention to what lights them up and offer them plenty of opportunities to develop real skills inside of that dream. It has been my mission to help transform my students into compassionate, intelligent individuals who care about our planet and all living creatures.

Yes, I can get sappy at times, but I put my heart and soul into what I do. I am committed to the highest level of Early Childhood Education, which is what drew me to Garden years ago. I have seen exceptional results, year after year, Some call me the female version of MacGyver, a fond nickname because I have a knack for transforming a grab bag of objects into a usable sum. This is similar to the "Invention Class," we provide to our students throughout the monthly themes. It can be anything that sparks our student's imagination, creating something that started from nothing. There are no boundaries and no limits, just infinite possibility. I research everything with my students. We research together until we come up with an answer that we all feel excited about. The process of searching for an answer and developing a hypothesis is such a great practice for developing cognitive and critical thinking skills.

From teaching gymnastics, planting vegetables in the garden, making fresh baked goods and heading up Kids' Cause, I live to unleash a servants' heart! I believe I leave a lasting imprint on each child's educational experience here at Garden.

"A fun fact you might not know about me is that my favorite birthday party was when I was eight years old at Flippers Roller Disco Rink in Hollywood... and I 'm still rolling today."

CarlyAnn Oquendo

TK-Grade 2 Multi-age Team Teacher • Angel Warriors

I am so thrilled to be a part of this Garden Family! I approach my students with an open mind, a loving heart and a sensitive understanding of the world our students are growing into. I do not just instruct, I create a space where students are able to inquire and ask… What does this experience or information mean?" How does it relate to my life and the people in it? I have my students practice how to question and think about solutions for situations around them. It teaches students to care about the world, the people, the creatures and to learn in communion with our curriculum. 
 
I have had the opportunity to teach students of all ages and the privilege of starting my own school in the Bronx, New York. Though I enjoyed the challenge of generating an entire educational experience, I realize my true passions reside in the classroom. My heart is with our youth and my heart is here at Garden. Student creativity and their thirst for knowledge is a constant inspiration to me. 

I have always dreamt of being a teacher and a performer. I have two Bachelors Degrees from Pepperdine University and a Masters Degree from New York City College.  I have a strong background in Theatre, Dance and Music, which compliments my dynamic, wholistic, teaching style. I observe a shift in my student's willingness to be active participants in their entire school day when I add a little, " get up and boogie" and " whacky theatre games" between reading and math. Children are not designed to be sitting still all day long. It is important for their bodies to stretch and move physically, so their minds can focus cognitively during our quieter activities.
 
As an educator, I consider myself a guide for emerging learners. I give them powerful strategies to cultivate their most extraordinary, personal potential.  I encourage my students to joyfully pursue learning, discovery and the fullness of life! My teaching philosophy has always been simple: students are not the future they are the present.  I draw on their genius NOW so they can begin to contribute NOW. NOW shapes the future of children. 

"Something you might not know about me is that I am a member of a historical reenactment society that does Medieval battles."


Angel Scouts

Alisa Shah

TK-Grade 2 Multi-age Team Teacher • Angel Scouts

am so excited to be part of the Garden of Angels team. I was lucky enough to be a shadow  at G of A for some students from various times from 2008-2013.  I got to  be a fly on the wall and observe the philosophy of Garden of Angels.  The teachers were so warm and loving towards the children.  The philosophy and curriculum was something that  I had never seen and I’ve worked in over twenty different pre-schools including a few in other countries.  The children who graduated from Garden of Angels were well rounded, thoughtful children who had a natural love for learning and tolerance and understanding for others.  They were truly “inspired to be leaders for life”.   I was drawn to these teachers and this philosophy as it aligned with the way I believe teaching should be.
 
 
I have a Masters Degree in psychological studies in education from UCLA and also have taken early childhood coursework from UCLA as well.  I’ve learned that every moment can be a teachable moment in a young child’s life.  Throughout the past ten years of my teaching career I’ve gotten to work at some amazing schools helping children with learning and behavioral differences. Throughout my work with children I have learned many teaching strategies for all types of learners.  My passion is coming up with innovative teaching approaches that are fun for the children.  I believe every moment is a teachable moment  and it doesn’t just have to take place in a classroom setting.  
 "A fun fact that you might not know about me is that my daughter was born on my birthday!"


Amancay Ledezma

TK-Grade 2 Multi-age Team Teacher • Angel Scouts

Ever since I can remember, I would wander to my next-door neighbor's house with my sister and we would entertain them with song and dance.  Little did I realize, they were the founders' of Garden of Angels and I would not only attend their school for many years, but I would later find myself being the first alumni teacher here at Garden.  The circle of life is ever present.
 
My mother taught in one of the multi-age classrooms here at Garden for over six years. I have more than immersed myself in this philosophy; I have lived it daily.  The Garden years for me were amazing and it is my dream to share a similar childhood with all the students I have the opportunity to interact with.

Seeing my father practice his musical craft daily, as well as, my mother's pursuit of higher education, I have witnessed the benefits of hard work, patience, having a dream and the gift of spreading love.   
 
Born and raised in Marina Del Rey, I began my journey of education at Sonoma State University.  I attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles and I continue my education at Santa Monica College, with an emphasis on Early Childhood Education.
 
Gymnastics is my passion.  I have coached at Broadway Gymnastics for 4 years. I love the qualities of discipline, strength and endurance that come from gymnastics.
 
As a student, I always loved performance time at Garden.  It gave me an opportunity to get up in front of an audience and fearlessly share my voice and express myself.  The Performing Arts radically transform a child and highlight talents that may otherwise go undiscovered.  Performance helped me communicate myself more powerfully and become a passionate, well-rounded human being.

"A funny fact you may not know about me is that I have tiny feet and I wear kid's size shoes."


 

Harmony House

LaTonya Minnis

Pre-K Team Teacher • Harmony House • Performance

I Love my Harmony House students! As an educator, I seek to ignite my students curiosity with hands-on, integrated, experimental learning, that promotes critical thinking, problem solving and full self-expression.
 
Garden of Angels School separates itself from all other institutions specializing in Early Childhood Education, by highlighting the Arts and incorporating performance as an essential element in its philosophy.
 
Being self-expressed is our intention here at Garden and by using Music, Dance, Theatre and Mixed Media our students connect with life in a more dynamic way.  Yes, it is a hook that stimulates the child's connection to all aspects of curriculum and gives them an opportunity to develop a powerful relationship with whole learning.
 
Twice a year I collaborate with my colleagues and dream up a performance that challenges the children physically, intellectually and soulfully.  They are capable of more than we give them credit for.  When the curtain falls you just might ask yourself, "who would I be today if I went to Garden?"

"Something you might not know about me is that I am double jointed in my arms and legs."

Kenner Rakoz

Pre-K Team Teacher • Harmony House • Garden Athletics

As a nephew of the founders of Garden of Angels School, I have been blessed with a childhood that connects me to this philosophy and the vision it carries.  Whether I attended Garden camp as a child or participated in lengthy discussions around the family dinner table, the methodology of Garden is in my heart and soul.
 
Starting at Western Washington University, to now attending UCLA, I am a student of life and will continue my pursuit of knowledge and understanding forever.  I find great purpose in sharing hands-on experiences with my students that draw out their warrior spirit and love of learning.  There is a void of male teachers in Early Childhood Education and I am grateful for my opportunity to make a difference in young lives.
 
Sport is in my blood; I was born into a family of athletes.  I also head up the Physical Education and Sports Program here at Garden.  I love interacting with the children to develop confidence in their gross-motor skills. It is rewarding for me to see that confidence clearly demonstrated in other aspects of their developing life.  Over the past two years I have helped coach our students' T-ball and soccer teams.  I love being a coach!  I carry those concepts and motivational strategies into every part of my teaching approach.  Go team!

"A fun fact you may not know about me is that I share the Guinness Book of World Record for most redheads (gingers) being photographed together, at one time."

Sunshine Classroom

Hollee Bugher

Preschool Team Teacher • Sunshine

 It is a true pleasure to inspire our young leaders for life!  I appreciate working within a philosophy that considers every students learning style and the commitment of a school to train its' faculty to meet the needs of the students. I love to pursue the individual genius in each child. I like to look for what lights each of my students up, because if you observe carefully enough, every student will gravitate towards those things they hold closest to their heart. This is where the magic happens and learning bursts through the ceiling!

 
I am currently working on my Undergraduate Degree in Early Childhood Education. I have a daughter that is in the Angel Scouts TK –1, multi-age classroom. It is so wonderful to be able to work where she is being educated.  I am so grateful!
 
I love to sew, quilt and craft with my students.  Sewing is an awesome activity that strengthens fine motor skills and handedness.  These are "salt of the earth" organic skills that are sadly disappearing.  I love to design costumes and I created a good portion of the costumes for our last performance, "Unpossible."  I am determined to bring back the joy of handmade and homemade, from the heart.

"Most people do not know that I have a photographic memory."

Mika Kuroki

Preschool Team Teacher • Sunshine

Hi all,

My name is Mika Kuroki, I’m a new teacher at Garden of Angels School.  I started working in the Sunshine room since this summer and will be teaching the same class through out the new school year with my wonderful co-teacher Ms. Holly.  I am very excited to join this beautiful and warm community full of positive energy.

I am originally from Japan, and have a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in International Studies.  After graduating from college, I worked for Google Japan in Tokyo shortly until I got married and moved to California in 2009.  I found it so rewarding and wonderful to be able to affect young children’s life in a positive way, so I went back to college to be a preschool teacher.  Before coming to Garden of Angels, I taught in preschools in Venice and Manhattan Beach for a couple of years.

I love being creative and love to do child-directed art projects using natural materials that I collect in parks, the beach, or even on a sidewalk.  My primary focuses are to help children increase/acquire independence and problem solving skills, to stimulate and support curiosity, and to help them be aware of and encourage the expression of all of their feelings –including anger and frustration- in acceptable ways.

In my spare time, I enjoy playing/hiking with my dogs and swimming.

Yolanda Hernandez

Preschool Team Teacher • Sunshine

I am so grateful to join the Garden of Angels Family this year! Teaching has always been a passion of mine, even as a little girl. At the age of five, I vividly remember assigning my fluffy teddy bears seats and teaching them the A, B, C's. It's always a joy working with young children and families.
I have a Bachelors Degree in Child and Adolescent Development from California State University, Northridge. I am a Native Angeleno and have worked with children all over the San Fernando Valley. I started working in the Los Angeles Unified School District in elementary schools with Kindergarten to Fifth grade children. I found my heart to be with early childhood children while teaching in a Montessori preschool classroom in Calabasas. I have noticed the impact of nurturing children at an early start in order to foster love for self and care with communities and the wider society.

I spend my free time playing! Play is the key to happiness and self-discovery. My quiet days are spent drawing, painting, crafting, going to art walks and museums. I love going on backpacking trips in the mountains, camping, exploring new cities, and planning my next international adventure. This summer I visited London, United Kingdom and Seville, Spain. I'm really excited to spend winter in Tokyo, Japan. I love bringing culture and new ideas to the children in my classes. 

"Most people don't know I am an adventure junkie. I've jumped in a freezing glacier lake in Montana, went hot spring hunting during snow season in Mammoth Lakes, and visited the Sun and Moon pyramids in Mexico."

Caterpillar Classroom

Nicole Jacoby

Preschool Team Teacher •  Caterpillar

Hi! My name is Nicole Jacoby, but most just call me Jacoby. I received my Bachelor's Degree in environmental science from UC Santa Barbara while working for an adventure company. It was there that I first began working with kids of all ages on the ropes course, rock climbing, hiking, and kayaking. In 2014, I moved to LA with my partner, Steve, and our cat, Captain Noodles (just Noodles for short). I continued my work with children through a variety of organizations including schools, camps, nonprofits, and adventure companies, and chose to continue my education at Santa Monica College in early childhood education. I strive to combine my love for environmental science, the outdoors, and working with kids by implementing hands on, creative, and interdisciplinary learning opportunities that allow the children to get a bit of nature, even inside the classroom. I hope to foster an appreciation for nature and look forward to incorporating these ideals into the themes explored in class! For fun I love to go rock climbing, hiking, camping, and generally just getting outdoors. 

" I have a nerdy side too! I love cats, Pokemon, and The Legend of Zelda (video games)."    

Peter Yoon

Preschool Team Teacher •  Caterpillar 

Hello, my name is Bhit Yoon, but I usually go by Peter.  I’ve been working with children for well over 10 years as an educator, mentor, counselor, and friend.  My first experience working with children was as a volunteer ju-jitsu instructor at the Sawtelle branch YMCA. There, I taught essential breakfalling, rolling, and self-defense katas.  I’ve continued to work with children as a martial arts instructor, camp counselor, enrichment educator, and nanny.  Through my eclectic experience, I have learned to love cooking, singing, dancing, crafting, and performing for and with children of all ages.  As a lifelong learner, I endeavor to instill in children an intrinsic desire to explore, discover, and learn by giving them the freedom to guide their own understanding.  I believe that educators are there to guide and nurture a child’s talents rather than force them to conform.  My interests are varied and expansive, but I’ll attempt to list a few.  I love to cook, bake, lift weights, train in the martial arts, write stories, sing, dance, hike, camp, play role-playing games, play video games, make video games, program, make costumes, craft miniature terrain, and the list goes on and on. 

"If you ever need a Dungeon Master I'm your D&D guy!"   

Butterfly Lounge

Tara Rosales

Preschool Team Teacher • Butterfly Lounge

Hello, my name is Tara and this is my first year at Garden! I am so excited to have the opportunity to learn and grow here. It is such an amazing school. When I am not connecting with your children, you can find me baking, making blankets for little ones, and enjoying time with my family. I also love traveling; recently I went to Mexico for a family reunion, and Thailand with my fiancé. I also have two small dogs, Kobe and Dita who love going to the beach with me. I am continuing with my Early Childhood Education classes and I am looking forward to putting all that theory into practice here at Garden of Angels, as well as getting to know all of you and your children in the years to come.

Lisa Perez

Preschool Team Teacher • Butterfly Lounge

After traveling on a quest to find, "the perfect school," I feel so fortunate to be here at Garden, surrounded by like minds, an amazing Philosophy and a sense of community that I have called home for over 10 years.  Oh, and it doesn't hurt that my Butterfly Lounge students and the rest of the Garden children are absolutely AMAZING!!!
 
I love developing new programs to expand the Garden Vision. Ideas are a renewable resource and those ideas promote sustainable learning in my Butterfly students. I believe if we as educators are innovative, our students will learn what it looks like to be innovative, no matter what their age. I have enjoyed partnering with Nena to develop an awesome "Little Angels" Mommy 'n' me program for our perspective Garden Families. It is truly an honor to watch children blossom and feel like, at the very least, I contributed the freedom for them to blossom.
 
Educated at CSU Stanislaus, as well as, West Los Angeles College, I have a love for art, music, color and most of all happiness.  I tend to see the joy in everything I do and in those I meet. I am very easy going and patient and it is one of my strengths as a teacher of young children. I have a warm, maternal way of caring for my students. I joyfully nurture their uniqueness. Joy is contagious! I find that my students are willing to take bigger risks in their development when they feel the confidence and joy of their peers and teachers. Joy creates a climate where miracles can happen, I mean what can't happen in the presence of joy! Looking to the future, I believe we are changing the world one student and one generation at a time.

"Most people do not know that I have hundreds of books at home.  I am an avid reader."

Specialized Faculty

Behjat Lashkari

Art Teacher Extraordinaire

I met the Founder of Garden 24 years ago, when she was a volunteer Director at the school where I was teaching. She was researching aspects of her Vision for a new type of school Philosophy and we became very close.  We both shared a passion for education and beautiful environments.
 
Right before she and her husband opened Garden, they contacted me and I became the first educator recruited for Garden of Angels School. I have been here since day one.
 
I hold a Masters Degree and have acted as a Master Teacher for many years in the area of Pre- K. I was the lead Pre- K teacher here for several years, until I was convinced that I needed to specialize in Art, so I could work with the entire school.  My work spans across all aspects of education, but art has always been my teaching trademark.   Art is aesthetic and I believe beautiful, student led environments can actually transform the way students learn, perceive themselves and treat others.
 
Art stretches into every academic subject and acts as a visual guide to enhance creativity, develop fine motor skills, encourage reading, promote math skills and elevate cognitive reasoning.
 
Store display windows, discarded items, decorating magazines, imagination and fellow artists are my muse.  I have a certain but flexible art curriculum that the students clamor for.  I do projects over time, so students can see the artistic process unfold.   It also teaches our children to take their time and carefully and intentionally see themselves as artists.  I have a strong presence in the Country Craft Fair, Annual Art Show and the day-to-day projects that develop into each students personal masterpiece.
 
As a Grandmother, my dream has come true and I am proud to say my granddaughter is currently enrolled in Garden of Angels.  If I have my way, there will be more to follow.

"Something you might not know about me is that I speak Turkish."

Pia Picard

Angel Flight Trainer • After-School Art

Hello, my name is Pia Picard.  I have taught ART for children of all ages the last 12 years. Over the last five, I developed cooking, woodworking and Art Curriculum and acted as an after-school Enrichment Teacher at various Los Angeles and Santa Monica Elementary Schools.  My love of working with children brought me to Garden of Angels last summer when I was blessed to teach Art during the Summer Program. You will see me in support of every classroom during the day and then in the afternoon, I put on my Art Teacher Hat and make magic with the kids.     

Jeff Hoover

Sultan of Science• Field Trips • Guest Teacher

If you have visited Garden over the last several years you would have seen me in the Rainbow Classroom Team Teaching with Andrea, or on the Baseball and Soccer fields at Stoner Park, instructing our students in the fine art of sport. Recently, I have pulled my lab coat from the closet and bring my dedication and passion of Science to Garden, as the "Sultan of Science."
 
Born and raised in Santa Monica, I graduated from Cal State Dominguez Hills with a BA. and I am now pursuing my Masters in the very subject I love, Science.  I take my students on intricate fact-finding missions and they get to be a huge part of the Scientific process. It is so rewarding to see the look on their faces, when as young scientists they figure out answers and participate in experiments that work! Science is a thrilling subject for students when we get them engaged in all of its mysteries. It is really easy actually, we watch things grow, mold, explode, turn color, fizzle and sizzle and they are hooked! I bring Science to life by asking them questions and sharing stories of ordinary people who made extraordinary findings, people who refused to give up and stuck with their ideas until..." KABOOM," a discovery was made. Giving students access to Science through hands-on fun and true stories of people they can relate to is the key to students loving Science. How things work, why things do what they do and what happens when, are the questions that propel my existence.  Children love magic and I am doing just that, sharing the magic of the natural world and opening a door into which they may answer the questions of tomorrow.

"A fun fact about my life is that I threw the first pitch at an Angels versus Oakland A's baseball game."