For over 20 years, Jennifer Carroll has worked in the field of arts and education as a professional actress, teaching artist, classroom teacher, administrator and program leader. She holds a BFA in Drama Production from the University of Texas at Austin and an MA in Educational Theatre from New York University. She believes that giving oneself in service is a foundation for full self-expression. She is in her 10th year at Inner-City Arts where she has served as Programs Manager before becoming Associate Director of Education. She also teaches drama to all ages and is committed to creating a space of acceptance, self-expression, and inclusivity where any individual has their place in the collective whole. Jennifer regularly performs her own original material at various venues in Los Angeles and Orange County.
Grace Cecilio, M.Ed, has always been passionate about working with youth. She began her career as an Elementary Classroom Teacher in Los Angeles, working in both charter schools and LAUSD. As time developed, the need for addressing the whole child became clear, and Grace pursued her quest to meet the holistic needs of her students. In addition to her classroom duties, she led the social-emotional learning (SEL) implementation team, incorporated mindfulness practices with her students and amongst the staff, as well as led the movement towards more expansive technology in her Title I school. As a dire need for SEL continued, Grace moved her work outside of the classroom and moved towards Educator Facilitation, bringing social-emotional intelligence, restorative and inclusive practices, and mindful, technological advances to classrooms throughout the country.
Grace obtained her B.A. from UCLA and received her teaching credential and Master’s in Education at the University of La Verne. She is also a trauma-informed facilitator, registered 500-hour Yoga Teacher, and trained in Restorative Justice practices.
kid-grit Contributions: Curriculum Writing, Early Childhood Specialist, Content Creator, Social Media/Marketing, Technology Whiz
Emily Forman joined the kid-grit ambassador team in 2019 after 4 years, as the Regional Program Director for a national afterschool programming nonprofit and 12 years as a teacher and administrator in New York public and charter schools. She taught in Brooklyn as a tenured DOE math teacher and dance teacher, where her master’s degrees focused on supporting the development of the whole child. Emily was instrumental in turnaround initiatives as Director of School Culture in two K-8 schools – the administrator in charge of professional development of new teachers and support staff, school-day and after-school enrichment, school discipline, community culture initiatives, and the creation and oversight of student support systems for those with social and emotional lagging skills. In her School Building/District Leadership master’s, Emily focused her research on the areas in which she is most passionate: project-based experiential learning, community empowerment through enrichment and social-skill building, and systems-thinking staff development to build a growth-mindset adult culture. Throughout the Northeast, Emily led program and operations quality continuous improvement cycles, trained leadership and frontline staff and worked closely with school-building leaders and staff to build strong partnerships in service of community and youth development. She is now involved in heart-centered transformational work, where she infuses mindfulness, spiritual and somatic practices into life-coaching; and is a professor for CUNY, guiding educators through a self-reflective process to incorporate DEI principles in their teaching methods and materials in support of all learners.
Being part of an After School Program fresh out of high school, then being the first from all of her siblings of twelve to receive a college degree, by accomplishing her B.A. in Studio Art from CSUDH in 2011. Soon after graduating, at age 24, Stephanie Garses took in her 13 year old nephew until he was headed to College, where he managed to receive a full ride scholarship to Stanford. After her nephew left for college she knew she had to go back to her roots and offer her support to kids, staff and anyone in need. She knows that kids are creative and have unique qualities to share with the world! She believes that we should always maintain the kid in us because it’s never too late to make a positive change in this world. Stephanie has always believed in making future generations better and for this reason it has led her towards kid-grit and back to support and help her hometown community. She is now serving as an Academic Coach for an After School Program in Lennox, CA which is how her path was guided to kid-grit, as the Enlightened Executive Assistant for the founders of kid-grit.
kid-grit Contributions: Mindful Art Specialist, Enlightened Executive Assistant and Supporter, Bilingual Facilitator, Content Creator, Spanish Content Translator
Damian Maldonado holds a master’s degree in Public Administration and serves as an after school consultant for various regions in the state. Damian’s experience in education spans from serving as teacher in elementary, middle, high school and college faculty. He previously served as Regional Lead for After School Programs in two separate regions in the state and was responsible for providing technical assistance and support to over 700 after school sites in 10 counties. Damian’s most notable accomplishments include: having successfully co-authored legislation to increase funding to 21st CCLC programs; having evaluated the unique challenges of rural programs, presenting this work to the California Department of Education and the California State Legislative Rural Education Summit which led to increase in funding specifically for rural programs; and being appointed to serve on the California Governor’s After School Master Plan Design Team.
Jodi Miller, like many others, happened across a career in afterschool programs while looking for a teaching job 15 years ago. Prior to this, Jodi was an educational professional in many non-traditional settings, working with delinquent youth in a group home, directing and teaching American Red Cross health and safety programs, assisting in a classroom of special needs students and teaching elementary students in North Carolina. She has combined all these experiences to become a leader in afterschool programming.
For the past 15 years, Jodi has managed a very large multi-site afterschool program for the Sioux Falls School District where she leads a staff of 120 who supervise nearly 1500 students daily. She has seen and experienced many, many issues as the years have gone by, and working through all of them has taught her to be a great leader. She considers her staff’s needs her primary responsibility while she values and teaches them to be better professionals. “While my staff see students learn and grow every day, I get the opportunity to watch my staff grow and learn” is her general response to anyone that asks why she loves what she does every day.
As current board president for the South Dakota School Age Care Alliance, she has also been very active on the state level, serving as a board member for over 10 years. This enables her to be very active in the state’s professional development offerings, influencing afterschool professionals all over the state. On the local level, Jodi has been working with local community development organizations to reach the needs of the thousands of unserved children in her community. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from the University of South Dakota and has participated in numerous professional development programs over the years.
When she is not spending time working, she is a mom to three almost grown boys and her constant companion, Stella, a mixed breed rescue dog. She also enjoys classic rock and attending live concerts whenever she is able to get away.
Hill Moua, AKA ‘Mr. Hill’ has been working with youth since 2010. He has vast experience working with students from grades K-2 through college age youth. Hill began as an instructional aide for an after-school program for 120 students from November 2010-June 2020. Currently, Hill is a Lead Recreational Coach. He serves as a mentor and supports schools in compliance with their Positive Behavior Intervention System (PBIS). Hill has been able to provide this service to multiple school sites within the Sacramento City, Elk Grove, and Natomas Unified School Districts.
Outside of work, Hill’s hobbies include growing his sneaker collection and providing a service to his community. In 2015, he began collecting sneakers not for himself, but for his students as positive incentives to encourage them to improve on their attendance, character skills, and academics. With the support of families, friends, and generous donors, Hill has been able to collect sneakers to motivate hundreds of students from all across the city of Sacramento. Over the years, his idea has grown into what is now known as the Sneaker Giveaway Project.Utilizing this platform, Hill is now beginning to impact youth from all over the world in order to motivate them to do improve their life skills in and out of the classroom.
After a long day of working with hundreds of students, Hill comes home to his loving wife and their three young boys. He believes that the positive work he does for his students and community, will one day serve as good karma for him and his children as they get older. Hill says most days he’s either working with students to improve themselves or raising his own children to one day become kindhearted and contributing members of their communities. Hill believes that his efforts bring positivity to schools, communities, and to his own family and that it will inspire others to step up and do the same.
Jason Porter has been a research scientist, a university instructor a classroom science teacher, an assistant principal at a high school and a director of professional learning for educators. What connects all these different roles together is a passion for wondering about the world around him and connecting others to the wonderments that spark their curiosity. The great joy in education does not come from giving information to others but connecting with them as a person and learning together through shared experience. This can be a common model of education through our combined efforts.
Jason holds a master’s degree in Teaching, Learning and Instruction from Drexel University and a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
Jason loves travelling to new places, hiking, camping, birding and just about any activity that gets him out into nature with his family where he can connect and unwind. Jason is also an experienced volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America, giving him an opportunity to share his love of nature with youth and use his background in education to practice positive youth development with the scouts in this program.
Michelle Pina has a professional background which includes working as a middle school teacher, professional development coordinator, program evaluator and federal grant director. She has 15 years of experience in leading and starting up self-funded out-of-school-time (OST) programs for school districts and 20 years in education management. Most recently, Michelle has worked with school and charter districts, OST organizations, technology companies and various non-profits.
Michelle received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Houston and a master’s degree in Secondary Education from the University of Tulsa. She completed post-graduate work for a Teaching English as a Second Language certificate at the University of Central Oklahoma, participated in a Business Fellowship for School Leaders at Rice University, and is a certified K-12 Principal in Texas.
A native Houstonian, Michelle not only spends time volunteering on behalf of the state’s OST network, she also is a State Leader for the Young Survival Coalition, the only national organization that supports young breast cancer survivors diagnosed under the age of 40. Other volunteering involves fostering puppies through local Houston organizations. Ultimately, Michelle enjoys connecting people and organizations to ensure a great future for all.
Dena Roberts has worked in Early Childhood for the past 20+ years. She has worn many hats in the early childhood field from teacher, assistant director, coach and most recently trainer. Dena received her degree in Early Childhood Education from Concordia University in St. Paul, MN. Dena worked in St. Paul as a coach with Project Early Kindergarten implementing the Early Childhood Workshop through trainings and coaching and co-wrote a curriculum that is currently being used in Family Childcare settings in St. Paul. Dena is one of the authors of an observation-based assessment tool- ProLADR that is used Nationwide. Dena has supported early childhood centers in achieving accreditation and has facilitated and created many trainings designed for Early Childhood children and staff with the focus on literacy, math and RTI/MTSS implementation.
Jennifer is a NYC native, currently living in Orlando, Florida. She comes with 15 years of non-profit experience, with a specific focus on youth development and community service. Prior to moving to Orlando, Jennifer was a Senior Program Manager at CAMBA Inc., where she had oversight of Beacon and Cornerstone programs located in underserved communities of Brooklyn. Jennifers commitment to community and youth advocacy drove her to pursue her Masters in Urban Affairs while holding several positions at CAMBA Inc. After moving to Orlando in 2019, Jennifer pursued a career in teaching. Jennifer taught English Language Arts to both high school and middle school students. One of Jennifer’s biggest drivers throughout her nonprofit and teaching career has been coaching and developing teams of youth practitioners. Jennifer believes in building strong leaders in the field who can then duplicate the work they do by teaching others. She credits her growth to strong mentors; therefore, she pays it forward.
Viviana’s career has been focused on empowering individuals and collaborating with leaders in communities through advocacy, inclusion, education, and best practices to continue to advance the youth development and inclusion field. Viviana has been a part of the early child and youth development field with deep practice in the disability inclusion community for 20+ years. She has served in afterschool programs as a frontline staff, supervisor, behavior support specialist, coach, camp counselor, preschool teacher, and summer camp director. Viviana had the privilege of working with Military Child and Youth Programs in Spain and Germany for United States Air Force and Army Garrison installations.
In her former Education Training Specialist and Business Development role Viviana had the opportunity to develop curriculum, lead strategic cohort groups and worked with teams to provide high quality services to families and youth. Viviana has facilitated numerous topics such as disability inclusion, staff and youth development trainings in Spanish and English to youth professionals, teachers, administrators, home care providers, boards, and volunteers in the field with 9+ years of experience training adult learners in non-profit organizations, recreation, government, and school district agencies.
Viviana is also passionate about diversity, equity and mental health wellness and bringing these resources and learning opportunities to the Spanish speaking community, as a former dual language learner she knows how important this is for personal and professional competency building.
Viviana received her B.S. in Human Services with an emphasis in Youth Development and Community Leadership from Springfield College, a core curriculum that strengthens the humanics philosophy of educating students in spirit, mind, and body. This background and her lived experiences aligned perfectly with kid-grit’s leadership philosophy and holistic approach to youth development and social emotional learning.
Viviana loves traveling, exploring new hiking paths, teaching, and learning from her two young daughters, eating spicy food, drinking a good Cafecito in the morning and ending the day with a grateful heart, reading to her girls and a catching the days sunset!
Bryan Stephen’s passion is teaching students. Whether in the classroom or on the court as a coach, he has the ability to make quick connections and prove that he cares. He is a catalyst for student dreams and goals, always supporting them with a plan for growth. He spends intentional time equipping students with the mental, physical, and social skills they need to grow and succeed, caring for each one holistically. His sense of humor and 6’11” stature is a magnet for mentorship. It is a guarantee you will find his students cracking up at his endless jokes and hanging out with him after class.
Bryan has over 25 years of experience in youth development serving as a Special Education teacher and Behavior Support Specialist for the Palm Springs School District. Prior to his classroom experience, he served as a Senior Probation Correction Officer for the Riverside Probation Office where he managed mental health programs, interventions, and drug treatment programs for youth ages 14-19.
He has a Bachelor of Science from the Art Institute of California, Inland Empire, San Bernardino, and is currently enrolled in the Education Specialist Credential Program through Riverside County Office Of Education. In addition to his passion for education, Bryan is also a talented artist and graphic designer. You can find many of his players and students proudly sporting his various designs.
For over 30 years, Pam Townsend has believed that Teaching is an art form and every single child can learn; especially when relationship building and Social Emotional Learning are valued as foundational practice. She is a leader in the SEL field serving on state and district curriculum teams and roundtable groups as a change agent, trainer, and speaker. She is a National Board certified educator who holds a BA in Elementary and Special education from Hiram College, a MEd degree in Early Childhood from Kent State University and a MEd degree in Educational Leadership from Lynn University.
Pam currently resides in Florida where she is a loving wife, honored mother of six grown children, dedicated teacher, intentional administrator, empowered program director, professional development specialist, and inspiring educational consultant. She loves to plant and watch things grow, paint and create art, and says that she will always be an idealist who believes that serving others and her community is the closest she feels to her authentic self.