Our Team

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Bluebonnet Montessori is a community of teachers and parents who share the following values:

  • We celebrate the diversity in the world!
  • We are committed to the universal values of peace, respect, responsibility, integrity, compassion, caring, honesty, love and loyalty!
  • We inspire the love of learning in each child!
  • We nurture each child's imagination and desire to discover!
  • We nurture independence, self-respect, self-confidence and self-reliance!
  • We nurture self-awareness, world awareness, and the appreciation of cultural diversity.
  • We respond to the child's inner needs: "Help me to do it by myself!"
  • We set each child up for success!
  • We strive for excellence in everything we do!

We invite new families to join the Bluebonnet community and continue to strengthen the tradition of close knit friendships, caring and mutual respect.


The Bluebonnet Team:

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Silvia Smith
- Founder and Director

I was born and raised in Bulgaria, in the heart of the Balkan Mountains. As a child I loved playing math mind games, painting, drawing, sculpting, dancing, but most of all I loved going up in the mountains and visiting the ancient Roman archaeological site every weekend sunshine, rain or snow. I started studying English at the age of 9 and dreamed of going to London and speaking my truth about life in Hide Park. I graduated from the Technical University of Gabrovo with a Masters degree in Computer Science and Engineering.

In 1991, I met my future husband George while he was teaching Business Law and Ethics through the Chambers of Commerce in Eastern Europe. We traveled extensively through Europe, being exposed to a variety of cultures, languages, and experiences, but soon made the decision to go to Texas and live close to George's family. I jumped in to this international move with faith, guided by my husband's favorite advice: "Trust yourself! You can do anything!" The same advice I often find myself giving to the children at Bluebonnet today.

I discovered the Montessori philosophy in the winter of 1996 when we were searching for a pre-school for our children – our son David was three years old and our daughter Rachael was one at the time. As my studies were in the field of math and science, I absolutely fell in love with the Montessori math materials – I was in math heaven! I could not keep my eyes and hands off of the tactile and colorful materials. I knew immediately my son and daughter were going to love the Montessori environment, where kids were moving about happily and freely, discovering new ideas and acquiring new skills through their own experiences.

I was inspired by the freedom of the Montessori environment and wanted to give my own children this type of learning experience, something that was not available to me as a child growing up in a communist society. I immersed myself in learning about the Montessori philosophy and later became a certified Montessori instructor. The 17 years of guiding children to trust themselves and discover their full potential for greatness have been the best years in my life!

Growing up in Bulgaria, where education was the symbol of enlightenment in a society far more restricted, I learned from a very young age the power of dreams. I used to dream about one world where people of all colors and of all ages would live together in harmony, unity and peace. Little did I know then that my dream as a child would take root right here, in the heart of Texas, and blossom into what is today Bluebonnet Montessori. Bluebonnet was created and built with lots of love and care. Our vision was to create a nature sanctuary for the children, where seeds of knowledge would be sown, but also seeds of love would be nurtured: love of nature, love of trees, love of flowers, love of all forms of life, and love of humanity. Thirteen years ago, in the spring of 2000, my husband George and I spent many days crawling under the trees in thick forest of Live Oaks and Cedar trees with a tape measure and a notepad trying to find the perfect spot for the round buildings so that no Live Oaks will be cut down. My husband and I poured our hearts and minds in designing the school and built it with our own hands. We invested everything we had in this dream. It was a true family adventure and my father, Nikolay, designed and built the child size custom furniture, while our young children nailed boards on the building's framing and the roof, moved many rocks from the foundation site to create the gardens and planted the first bluebonnet flowers in the spring of 2001. It was a labor of pure love for the greater benefit of all children.

The joy I see in the Bluebonnet children's eyes, and the laughter and learning that take place in this children's sanctuary, created with such care and love is a dream fulfilled for me every single day.

I couldn't have asked for a better way to spend my time in this life on Earth. I am so grateful for the experiences shared with the amazing children, parents and teachers that have become part of our community, and look forward to welcoming each new child that will grace our " Bluebonnet Montessori Children's Home" to feel at home while away from home in the years to come.


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Sharmila Shah
- Lead Elementary Teacher, Mimosa Community

Born and raised in Mumbai, India, I was very fortunate to have attended a Montessori elementary school as a child. I began my higher education in order to meet my aspiration of becoming a teacher through the sciences. In fact, I was given the wonderful opportunity to actually take over a classroom of 1st - 4th graders immediately after my college graduation. After this unique experience, I migrated to America with my husband in 1987, and began to actively pursue my dream of teaching.

After completing other courses for my studies, I discovered the joy of teaching when I started working for Bluebonnet Montessori School of Lakeway in the spring of 2002. My innate passions for teaching grew immensely after spending time with these unique children; not only are these individuals open-minded and curious, but have a desire to gain knowledge.

As a teacher, I have been given the opportunity to demonstrate how one can tap into a child's mind, while simultaneously building his/her mind in a step by step process. I realize that I am a designated aid to help the children follow the right direction to spark their imagination, and to simply stand back and enjoy the progress that each child makes. This alone is what keeps me going back each day to do what I love the most, teaching. To induce this magical transformation and bring out the powerful human being that lies underneath is truly a wondrous feat and a gift that I am genuinely grateful for. I could not imagine being in any other profession simply because no other line of work is as fulfilling and conducive to my life.

In my spare time I like to spend time with my family, especially with my two daughters who are both UT students. I enjoy reading, preparing my lesson plans and cooking. Going to the library is truly my favorite thing to do.

With over 20 years of experience as a teacher, I also hold a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology, and am a Montessori Certified Preschool/Kindergarten and Lower Elementary teacher through the North American Montessori Center, sponsored by Bluebonnet Montessori.

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Kanice Coogan-Reynolds
- Elementary Teacher Assistant, Mimosa Community

I was born and raised in Houston with three older sisters. I’ve lived in Austin over sixteen years. I have two incredible daughters, Jessica Noelie and Hannah Noel. Through them I have two precious grandsons, Drake and Noah. I purchased a house in Apache Shores and found an extended home at Bluebonnet Montessori School of Lakeway.
I have a strong passion for plants, animals and children. My hobbies include swimming, tennis, gardening and music.

The cultural diversity of the school makes for a fun and exciting learning environment. I have developed close relationships with the children, families and staff. I have discovered through Bluebonnet Montessori – not only do I go to work to teach, but to learn as well. Each year I look forward to seeing familiar faces, meeting new ones, and helping provide a strong foundation for creative learning. I am very proud to be a part of such a nature-loving, hands-on establishment.

With the special Waystation for the Monarch butterflies, we not only witness the metamorphosis of the butterflies but of the children too. It’s a beautiful thing to be part of and as one of our students once said: “It doesn't get any better than this, does it?!”


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Dennise Blackwell
- Primary Lead Teacher, Mountain Laurel Community

I have been joyfully working in a Montessori environment for over 10 years. I studied at the Montessori Teacher College of San Diego and have an American Montessori Society Society Early Childhood Associate Credential.

I first discovered the Montessori Method when my children attended Montessori school. I was so fascinated by the philosophy and the changes I witnessed in my children's life at home. They became very independent and took ownership of our house environment at a very young age. This was the beginning of my Montessori journey. I soon started teaching at my children's school, Vista Christian Montessori School, while I studied to get my Preschool/Kindergarten Montessori Certification.

I moved to Austin five years ago from California and have enjoyed every moment living here. I have been married for over 20 years and share two wonderful daughters Desiree age 13 and Jessica age 11 with the love of my life. I enjoy family time, gardening, crafts, friendship, and anything that involves the outdoors.

Maria Montessori's philosophy has been a true inspiration in my life: Within the especially prepared Montessori environment the children find work that sparks their interest and become self- directed, more independent and develop concentration and focus and a deep love of learning.

I am so excited to be a part of Bluebonnet Montessori since the fall of 2012! The school environment has given me great joy, peace and a place to truly call home. I feel a deep sense of fulfillment in life as a guide to your children. It's a joy sharing life with the Bluebonnet teachers, families and most of all your children.

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Rachael Smith
- Primary Teacher Assistant, Mountain Laurel Community

I was born and raised in a Montessori home and enjoyed helping my family design and build Bluebonnet Montessori School of Lakeway. My first school experience was in a Montessori classroom, and spent every summer working at Bluebonnet's summer art camps.

I am currently taking time off from college, although I was accepted into both Texas A&M University, and Baylor University's education programs. In this past year I have studied and received my Montessori diploma in early childhood development from the North American Montessori Center. I have also had the blessing of working in an actual classroom setting while completing my Montessori training with the guidance and support of the whole Bluebonnet Team of Teachers!

I cherish the irreplaceable connections to each and every one of the beautiful children and their parents.

Being a native Austinite, I love the outdoors, hiking, kayaking, spending time with my dogs and cats, dancing, painting, horseback riding and travelling to new places around the world. 

Bluebonnet has always been a second home to me, and I am so very grateful to be able to teach and work alongside so many wonderful teachers, and children!


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Rafat Raza
- Lead Primary Teacher, Magnolia Community

I was born and raised in India. I did the major part of my education back home and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Avadh College. I got married to my wonderful husband in 1999 and came to USA. I have two daughters, one in middle school and the other in elementary school. I am a family oriented person and I love kids and enjoy spending time with my family.

I stayed home with my girls, enjoying and cherishing their early years of life, until the younger one started Pre–K at Park Point Montessori. At that point, I applied for and was hired at my daughter's school. I continued working for Park Point Montessori for the next five years and completed my Preschool/Kindergarten Montessori Certification with the North American Montessori Center. My family moved to Austin in June 2012 when my husband decided to pursue a job opportunity with AMD.

Working at Park Point Montessori with children gave me a world of experiences. We used to do all sorts of activities with children - Math, Language, Sensorial, Culture, and my favorite, Practical Life. Practical Life activities help children cater to their day to day needs. Children become more independent and learn to take care of their basic needs.

I am honored to be teaching at Bluebonnet Montessori - it is an excellent place to work. It has been an amazing experience working with the kids and the team of teachers since the fall of 2012. I am extremely delighted to be working here! At Bluebonnet, we establish strong self-esteem for the students and encourage independence for life.

Bluebonnet Montessori supports each of its student friends as an individual, nurtures them academically, and helps them master the fundamental skills of learning. Bluebonnet encourages all its community members to reconnect with the environment and nature around them. Each day my goal is to do something constructive and end the day with a big smile. In the process of teaching I learn a lot of valuable lessons from my little friends. They are so adorable and I thoroughly enjoy being around them!

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Yvonne Gonzalez
- Primary Co-Teacher, Magnolia Community

I am a native Texan and love living in Austin. I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Communications with a minor in Spanish from the University of Texas – Pan American. Bluebonnet Montessori sponsored my Montessori training and I received Preschool/Kindergarten Certification from the North American Montessori Center.

After college, I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in the education field. I transitioned from the world of non-profit, where I had been working for Meals on Wheels of San Antonio, to the field of education. I have had the opportunity to work with students of all ages.

To me, teaching brings such joy! Being a part of a child's discovery of learning and watching their interest in the world around them, reaffirms my love of teaching.

I have enjoyed teaching at Bluebonnet Montessori since the fall of 2010. I see the children embrace their education and grow socially. Bluebonnet is an exceptional example of the Montessori Method at work.

I am excited to be teaching Sign Language again this year to many of the Primary students. I have always been interested in Deaf culture and American Sign Language. I have attended Austin Sign Language School at the Texas School for the Deaf, and will continue to take advanced classes. Incorporating sign in our classrooms and homes is another fun way for the children to express themselves while learning a great skill.

I love living in Austin because I can indulge in many of my hobbies which include kayaking, hiking and, of course, enjoying live music. I also enjoy reading, ASL and keeping up to date on children's literature.


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Elba Pacheco
- Spanish Teacher

Hola! My name is Elba Pacheco.
Teaching my son to read and write when he was four inspired me to enter the teaching field.

I received my certificate in the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language in 1987 at the Instituto Anglo Mexicano de Cultura in Mexico City. Since then, I have been working in a bilingual environment.

In Mexico, I worked with elementary, middle and high school students for three years and have been working since 1994 teaching conversational Spanish to elementary and pre-school children in the United States.

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Haihai Thompson
- Chinese (Mandarin) Teacher

I was born in Shanghai and grew up in Beijing. It was at Beijing University where I earned my Bachelor of Science degree as well as my Masters of Law. I enjoyed being a founding partner in a successful law firm in China prior to coming to the United States where I attended the American Graduate School of International Management (Thunderbird). It was here that I met my American husband and relocated permanently to the U.S.

Austin has been my home for the past fifteen years. I earned my Mandarin teaching certificate at the Great Wall Chinese Language school of Austin. Sharing my passion and enthusiasm for teaching Chinese to the Bluebonnet Montessori children brings me such joy! I respect and appreciate the Bluebonnet Montessori approach which attracts motivated and open-minded students, and families. It is very rewarding for me to present this emerging and increasingly popular language into Bluebonnet's school curriculum!

I have two daughters, ages 10 and 15. My eldest, Lindsey, recently passed the rigorous AP Chinese college level exam as a freshman at Vandergrift High School, obtaining the highest score of 5. In addition to spending time with my children, I like to read, travel and practice yoga. I am invigorated and always inspired when I teach Chinese to children!


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Michelle Jamail
- Music Together Teacher

Hello! My name is Michelle Jamail and I lead the music program at Bluebonnet.
I am a mother of two Bluebonnet alumni and I am also a certified Music Together teacher. I have been teaching Music Together at Bluebonnet Montessori since 2006 and received my Certification Level 1 in 2006 and my Certification Level 2 in 2010.

As far back as I can remember music has been part of my life. I grew up in a family where making music was a part of my everyday experience.

One of my earliest memories is of being in Vermont with my father's extended family and gathering in the living area after a great meal for a jam session. The sound of guitars, banjos, washboards, spoons (just about everything was an instrument!) and boisterous singing filled the air. What fun it was!

This joy of making music that was instilled within me as a little girl has stayed with me throughout my life. I have always sung in choirs and still do! I started playing the guitar and writing songs in 2004 and put out my first CD, Places in My Heart, in February 2009.

My excitement and passion for making music is what I bring to your children each week through the researched based, world renown early childhood music curriculum, Music Together.

I am delighted to sing, move, and play with the children, teachers and parents of Bluebonnet!


Our Parents:

Our community would not be complete without our parent organization: The Bluebonnet Montessori Parents Circle.  Our parents come together consistently throughout each school year to grow communication, collaboration, and camaraderie within the Bluebonnet Community, the Lake Travis Community and beyond.