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The Staff

Jane de Winter, Executive Director

Jane de Winter holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Washington and an A.B. in International Relations and Economics from Brown University. She has taught at the University of Washington and The American University and worked as an economic consultant. Jane served on the board of directors of Big Learning/MCCPTA-EPI from 2006-2013 before becoming Interim Executive Director. Jane has been involved in Montgomery County PTAs for 19 years, serving as PTA president at two local schools and as president of MCCPTA, the county wide PTA. She has extensive experience with non-profit governance and financial management and has led workshops in these areas for MCCPTA for almost a decade. She is currently serving her second term as chair of the Montgomery County Commission for Children and Youth and over the past 15 years has served on numerous MCPS workgroups and committees. Jane is a graduate of Leadership Montgomery (2010) and serves on the Board of Montgomery Women and The Non Profit Village . Jane is a regular guest on Montgomery Community Television’s Montgomery Week in Review where she comments on educational and economic matters. All four of her children have participated in HOS, KID, and/or FLES programs at Garrett Park ES.

Clarence Smith, Bookkeeper

Kirsten Nasrin Rhodes, FLES Program Director

Kirsten came to the FLES program as a foreign language teacher in 1996 and quickly joined the administrative team. Fluent in French, with volunteer PTA experience and a strong background in special events management, Kirsten served as the office manager for four years. Kirsten is an advocate for foreign language learning for both children and adults and she believes that learning another language creates unique opportunities for a lifetime of discoveries and connections.

Elizabeth Burris, Science & Engineering Curriculum Specialist

Elizabeth Burris has been the director for Big Learning Science & Engineering since 2011. She has a Master’s of Science degree in Environmental Education and has a strong background in curriculum development and nonprofit education management. She has experience as a formal educator in elementary, middle, and high school, specializing in experiential and hands-on science. She has designed and implemented education programs for both in-school and out-of-school programs including the AmeriCorps Volunteer Program, The River Center of Modoc County, Siskiyou Environmental Education Center, Klamath Bird Observatory and the Delaware Center for Inland Bays. She is extremely passionate about science and in her spare time, travels as a volunteer research scientist – with most recently working for The Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project in Hawaii collecting data on endangered honeycreepers. Her time spent as a scientist and career as an educator has created a powerful formula for developing science and engineering enrichment that integrates real scientific skills and prepares young minds for real world problems. She believes that all children should have access to high quality and affordable education programs that inspire a lifetime of discovery and learning.

Seda Gelenian, Cultural Arts Showcases Program Director

Seda Gelenian has been involved in the Arts for most of her life. She has served on the Superintendent’s Committee for Performances in MCPS since 1980 and has been the chairperson of the committee for the last 15 years. Since 1978, she has directed, produced and coordinated the Cultural Arts Showcases that are now sponsored by Big Learning.

Seda was PTA president at Seven Locks Elementary School, MCCPTA Cultural Arts Chair from 1976 – 1986 and Maryland State PTA Cultural Arts Chair. She holds a life membership in the Maryland PTA.

She has been Vice President for Meetings/Events for the American Association of Cosmetology Schools, Director of Career Services and Chef Instructor for the Culinary School of Washington, past president of the Association of Career Professionals International, Regional Career Services Coordinator for 17 plus years at Strayer University and past president and current board member of the National Capital Lawyers Auxiliary.

Seda attended the University of Miami on a music scholarship playing violin in the University of Miami Symphony Orchestra. At the same time, she danced in the Miami Ballet Company, received second place in the Haven School Contest for the most talented in Dade County, Florida, and danced in the Mask and Wig USO Troupe that performed at military bases throughout the United States. In Washington, she has danced with the Ethel Butler, Erika Thimey, Virginia Freeman and Pola Nirenska modern dance companies, Artistic Director and choreographer for the Dance Invention and the founder of the Armenian Folk Dance Group of Greater Washington. She taught Creative Dance for Children at the Norwood School and Jazz and Improvisation for the Montgomery County Dept of Recreation. Seda served on the Maryland State Arts Council grants panel, Montgomery County Arts and Humanities Council and the DC Commission on the Arts. Seda was Dance Specialist for the Interrelated Arts Project for MCPS along with being president of the Metropolitan Dance Association and the Maryland Council for Dance. In 2000, Seda received the Outstanding Service to Dance in Maryland Award. In 2011, Seda received the Pola Nirenska Life Achievement in Dance Award at the Kennedy Center presented by the Pola Nirenska Committee and the Washington Performing Arts Society.

Reyna Rios, Program Administrator

Reyna Bonilla Rios was born in La Union, El Salvador. She came to the United States when she was 4 and grew up in Houston, Texas. She graduated from Columbia Heights Educational Campus HS in Washington DC and earned an Associate degree in General Arts from Montgomery College. Reyna is a proud Latina who’s an avid reader. She has been a teacher assistant in DCPS and MCPS and has worked as a program assistant with Passion for Learning. She loves non-profits and strongly believes in the power of education. The way to her heart is paved with chocolate.

Adama Conteh, Materials Specialist

Adama Conteh was born in Washington, D.C. to West African parents from Sierra Leone. She is the youngest of three children and the only daughter. She currently attends Montgomery College where she is seeking a degree in Early Childhood Special Education. During her free time she serves at her local church assembly New Foundation Apostolic Ministries International as their Womens Fellowship Coordinator. Along with her passion for ministry she desires to impact and inspire the lives of young children through education. As Materials Specialist, Adama enjoys spending other people’s money. She particularly likes working with student volunteers.

Debbie Shelley, S&E Materials Management

Debbie Shelley became responsible for Materials Management in the fall of 2014 after teaching for Big Learning for several years. She uses her skills of organization and time management to supervise the process of packing program kits. Debbie also trains the kindergarten and first grade teachers by demonstrating and walking through the 8-week projects and experiments that the children will perform each session. Debbie attended the University of MD, College Park and studied Elementary Education and Early Childhood Development. Debbie became involved with Big Learning Science & Engineering at Epworth Preschool and Kindergarten, where she was a substitute teacher. BL S&E was initially offered to 4 year-olds and kindergarteners. Debbie introduced it to the 3 year-olds and they loved it. EPK now offers science to them each spring.

Debbie is an assistant teacher in the 2 year-old class at EPK. BL S&E also has a preschool program called “All About Me.” During this 2-week program, students make a model of the body from the inside out, while learning names and functions of different parts of the body. Debbie taught this program, with 2 other teachers, at Four Corner Nursery School and was so excited about it that she introduced it to EPK. It was very successful and is part of EPK’s enrichment program. In addition, Debbie teaches science enrichment to K-1 students in several Montgomery County elementary schools. Debbie has many years of experience teaching children. She teaches Sunday school, Vacation Bible School and Bible Adventures, an after school enrichment program, at Epworth. Her passion for children and teaching shine in the classroom.

Modupe Mercy Dada, Clerical Assistant

Modupe Mercy Dada is originally a native of Nigeria, in the Western Coast of Africa, where she was born to the family of a Pastor. She speaks English, French, and her native language of Yoruba which is widely written and spoken in. Modupe has been involved as a leader and a teacher with both children and adults, including teaching French at a Nigerian primary school. She trained and worked as a secretary in Brussels and also worked as a ladies travelling secretary. More recently, she worked at the Misler Adult Day Center where she answered radio and phone calls and led activities serving the seniors in diverse ways to make them both comfortable and mentally at alert. Modupe particularly liked the Misler Center because there were fun times such as singing performances and visits from children in the local Jewish Community who played music and games with and for the seniors.

She has also volunteered at the Germantown Senior Center and the Wheaton Library. In her free time she loves listening to music, reading, and watching the TV. She enjoys playing games and cooking as well. Modupe especially enjoys listening to children because they are free and they ask all kinds of funny question; their answers can be funny and interesting too.

David Silva, S&E Middle School Program

David Silva is the lead teacher and program manager for Big Learning’s Excel Beyond the Bell “Gadget Factory” program currently at Montgomery Village MS. In 2013-14, he was part of BL’s EBB program at Loiederman MS. David also serves as Big Learning’s lead teacher on S’TEAM Sligo, a project funded by the Jim and Carol Trawick Foundation.

David is involved in mixed-media art, collaborations with other artists and developing workshops. David holds a BFA in Painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art (2011). He has extensive training in youth development, teaching artists in various out-of-school-time programs such as Excel Beyond the Bell (2013 to present), Common Ground (2014) and S’TEAM Sligo for Pyramid Arts and Big Learning. Currently David works both solo and collaboratively in mixed media Art and youth development with a special interest in using art to build community.

Andre Joutz, Middle School Assistant Instructor

Sahib Singh, Middle School Assistant Instructor

Shara Hart, Special Projects

Shara Hart became Program Administrator for Big Learning Science & Engineering in March 2013. She graduated from University of MD, College Park, with a BS in Secondary Education and Mathematics. For five years, she taught math and technology in Montgomery County at both the high school and middle school levels. Shara was initially introduced to Big Learning when she taught the engineering course in the 2011 winter session. After seeing Big Learning S&E in action, she got more involved by working in the S&E office as an assistant to the director. She also supervised production of the 2012-2013 program kits. Shara is devoted to life-long learning and finds at Big Learning a great place to support and inspire the development of not only students but teachers as well.

Debbie Franklin, S&E Trainer and Curriculum Assistant

Nisha Narayan, S&E Trainer