Have questions? Call us today! 816-478-1234 Email: info@thesunrisemontessori.com

Meet the members of our wonderful staff.
Lori Smart

Lori SmartOwner/Director

As a Montessori teacher and mother of young children, it became my mission to bring Montessori education to the community in which I live. For nearly 25 years working in early education, 20 have been dedicated to Montessori education. I believe with a passion that every child should have the educational opportunity that Montessori provides. They deserve respect as an individual with needs that differ from that of the next child and should be accepted as who they are and directed towards who they are destined to become. I am an A.M.S. Certified Montessori teacher who grew up here in Independence and chose to raise my family here as well. I am married with two boys. My husband and I both graduated from William Chrisman High School and have parents and siblings right here in this community. Independence is still a great city, and I believe that the work that we do, the impact we have on these children will make a difference for the future of our community. It is what we instill in the children of today that will become the decisive factor in what tomorrow will bring. Thus, our chosen name, Sunrise Montessori Academy of Independence…bright beginnings every day. Let’s work together to make tomorrow a little brighter for everyone!

Stephen Ward

Stephen WardOwner/Assistant Director

After moving to Independence in 1975 and beginning to raise my children, I went to work with the Independence School District. I spent 31 years at Procter Elementary School here in Independence where I made myself at home. I developed friendships with many families over the years several of which I had the privilege of working with their children, then their children’s children and even their children! Generations of students coming and going through those doors, all of them impacting many years of my life. I became very involved with the school as even two of my own children grew up within Procter during my time there. I was a dedicated employee, PTA member, and showed support by volunteering my time to countless school activities over the years. I truly believe that children are what matter towards tomorrow, and I live my life to help mold the future by helping each child know his/her value by showing my support. As my daughter became involved with Montessori education I realized that the principles she learned were very similar to what I already believed. Over the years, through many conversations and after studying Montessori education, I realized the significance this philosophy could have on the children within my own community and the two of us began to plan the possibility of a Montessori school. I went back to school to study for my Montessori teaching certification through the American Montessori Society and the University of St. Mary. Throughout the course of the last several years, we have envisioned this dream, which has finally come to pass. I believe that our small school, with a family-like atmosphere, will provide an unsurpassed opportunity for early education that you won’t find anywhere else.

Jamie Kincaid

Jamie KincaidMontessori Teacher

20 years ago, I was married with my first child and working as a para-educator with the Raytown School District. As the years passed, I was blessed with a second child. I enjoy spending time with my husband and two sons watching movies, playing games, taking road trips and getting out to see the world! I love spending time helping others, getting together with family, teaching and getting involved with my church activities. Over the years I have worked as a para-educator, teacher assistant, early education teacher, and outdoor classroom teacher. I have had experience working in early education with infants, toddlers as well as three to six-year-old children. I am an AMS certified Montessori teacher. I joined Sunrise they first year it opened and have enjoyed teaching many great students during that time. I want to help my students to become successful and make a difference in this world. As a teacher, I hope to learn and grow and have a fresh pair of eyes for everything I do, keeping in mind what’s right, what I’m good at and gain knowledge from those experienced teachers I have the opportunity to work with each day. I hope that through that approach, I will continue to grow throughout my career.

Dena Ward

Dena WardAssistant Director & Office Manager

After many years of putting my education to work in various areas of business, including management of mental health and medical offices I went back to school, seeking my Montessori teaching certification after my husband and daughter opened Sunrise Montessori together. I believed this to be my calling at this time in my life and have enjoyed it immensely. Each day, students bring cheer to my life with their funny stories and bright perspectives. I grew up in the Independence area and chose to raise my family here as well. I am the mother of four adult children and grandmother to ten grandchildren who have become a highlight in my life. My hobbies include spending time with family, finding sales and good deals, fixing things, helping others and taking my grandkids out for fun! My goal for my students is to help them to realize their own potential and to develop the quality of perseverance within each of them! I believe that Montessori education offers a great opportunity that other methods do not offer and hope that we at Sunrise will reach the children of our community!

Opal Strong

Opal StrongMontessori Teacher

I have been a Montessori teacher for approximately 40 years. I received my certification through the National Center for Montessori Education which is now the American Montessori Society and attended St. Mary’s College. I love to play tennis and bake tasty foods for holiday celebrations. I also love to collect art and pictures created by my favorite artists. My life passion is to continue my education and my Montessori career. My goal is to meet the needs of my students socially, emotionally and academically. I have enjoyed dedicating my life to the education of young children. They make me smile and laugh each day. There is no other occupation that could have created such happiness or been so personally rewarding.

Watching my students learn and grow is rewarding for me as is observing them closely to see their unique personality unfold.

Araceli Jimenez

Araceli JimenezMontessori Teacher –Spanish Teacher

My name is Araceli Jimenez. I am a Spanish speaking Certified Montessori teacher. I have been teaching for 17 years and I love my job.

I’m a mother of two, a boy (Andres) that is 24 years old and a daughter (Samantha) that is 10 years old. I am also a proud grandmother of 2 little girls.

My favorite thing to do when I’m not at school is to watch movies with my daughter Samantha and my granddaughters. I love to do arts and crafts and just putting my creativity to work. I also love to cook Mexican food for my family and spend time together. My family is very important to me. They are the motor that keeps me going every day.

I chose to be a Montessori teacher after working with Ms. Lori at another Montessori school. Her passion for the Montessori method inspired me and after I worked with her for a couple of years, I decided to learn more about this great method. Going to school to become a Montessori teacher was life changing and I just absolutely loved it. I believe in this method and philosophy and I truly believe through our work, we make a difference in the lives of the children that we work with. My goal here at Sunrise is to help kids to learn Spanish as a second language; learn to be themselves and to do their personal best every day.

Dalton Neas

Dalton NeasTeacher

I received my Bachelor of Science in Education from Central Christian College of the Bible. I have taught special education and early education since attaining my degree. I have also spent a lot of time volunteering in an educational setting prior. I am married to a middle school music teacher at a nearby school. My hobbies include technology, drinking coffee, reading books and supporting local businesses is one of my passions too. I am interested in continuing to learn new things.

I joined Sunrise to put my degree in education to use. I have been intrigued by Montessori since I first learned about it. I, myself, did not get the opportunity to learn in a school using the Montessori method, but I have always been a very hands-on learner and I wish that I’d had the chance to attend a Montessori school.

I believe that all children deserve equal respect, deserve to be loved and deserve to be educated.

Maria Byle

Maria ByleMontessori Teacher & Spanish Teacher

I am bilingual, married and have four children. I love to go camping, cook and spend time with my family and creating happy memories together. I have experience in various fields in the restaurant and production industries, however, I have a life passion of helping others and teaching young children allows me to do just that. I love to help the students learn self-control and learn to make good choices for themselves by developing strong relationships with them and building trust between each one of them and myself. Helping the children to find the work that brings peace to their inner self is very rewarding and brings me joy.

Amanda Bass

Amanda BassMontessori Teacher

My name is Amanda Bass. While I grew up, my father was in the military, so I frequently moved to new locations. Since my father retired, we settled near his hometown in east Independence. I graduated from high school at Blue Springs High and have attended MCC and Avila University where I pursued a degree in education. I am currently working to attain my Montessori Teaching certification through North American Montessori Center. Initially, I joined Sunrise as a part time job while I attended school. As the years passed, I found that Montessori education has become my passion and I am currently teaching in a primary classroom here at Sunrise. My hobbies include designing and sewing, technology, art, crafts and traveling. My goal is to form personal relationships with my students to better understand each one as an individual so that I can guide them towards success.

Baylee Whetsel

Baylee WhetselMontessori Teacher

Hello! My name is Baylee Whetsel. My many hobbies include art, painting, being creative and eating tasty foods. I am so excited to work here at Sunrise Montessori. My passion is working with children. For the three years prior to joining Sunrise, I worked at summer camps learning from children ages 6-12. I love working with children so much because of their curiosity, imagination and wonder never cease to inspire me each and every day. I am from Bixby, Oklahoma but moved to Independence, Missouri in late August of 2017. I moved here to attend the University of Missouri at Kansas City where I thought of becoming an RN. I left nursing school because I found that I have a passion for Montessori education. I have since turned my studies to Montessori early education to attain my Montessori teaching certification. I am so grateful to work with the children here at Sunrise as they remind me every day to laugh, be curious, but most of all, to always be yourself!

Miranda Sanabria

Miranda SanabriaMontessori Teacher

Hi, my name is Miranda Sanabria. I grew up in California and relocated to Kansas. After completing my studies at KCSM, I learned of a position here at Sunrise Montessori Academy. I had experience in early education and thought it would be a great opportunity for me to pursue this further. I’ve been at Sunrise prior to the opening of the pre-primary program and since then I’ve found it to be a great fit for me. I was new to Montessori when I joined Sunrise but found this to be my calling, so I pursued my Montessori teaching certification. I absolutely love the students I work with and I am committed to helping each one achieve his or her personal best! In my spare time, I love to spend time with family, my church, crafting, scrapbooking, and making cards.

Mariah Carpenter

Mariah CarpenterMontessori Teacher

I grew up here in Independence and graduated from Truman High School. I continued my studies at MCC working towards my associates in Early Childhood Education. Working with children has always been a passion of mine. I love teaching young children and having the opportunity to impact their lives at such an early age. I truly believe that laying a foundation for education at this young age is so important. Montessori is so personalized and allows each child to learn at his or her own pace. It’s the personalization and hands-on learning approach that I believe makes the difference. I love to be creative and I have a passion for art, music, and photography. I love having a career that allows me to use my creativity and have such a positive impact. My goal is to help each child grow to love learning and to use my creative skills in that process.

Amanda Klein

Amanda KleinMontessori Teacher

My name is Amanda Klein. I am the mother of two beautiful children, Rhian and Reece. I dedicate the majority of my time to my family. They are my number one interest. I love spending time watching my daughter play softball and traveling with her to tournaments. I love to watch my son in his performances. I love reading and spending time at the lake with my family. I started my career as a Montessori teacher in 1999 at a Montessori school in a neighboring city. It was there that Lori Smart and I taught together and after the opening of Sunrise, I decided to join her in the pursuit to bring authentic Montessori to our community. I love to teach and learn from my students and to make learning fun. My goal is to help each child reach their full potential.

Jasmine Brown

Jasmine BrownFood Preparation Specialist/Kitchen Manager

Hello, my name is Jasmine Brown. I am the Food Preparation Specialist and Kitchen Manager at Sunrise. I work to ensure that each child eats a nutritious, freshly prepared lunch and snack each day. I aim to be organized and meet the individual health needs of our students. I have been working in the restaurant and food industry for many years. I have experience in school kitchens prior to joining Sunrise too. I like the Sunrise commitment to serving freshly prepared, healthy foods each day. My long-term goal is to own my own restaurant/ catering business one day. I love spending time with my family, trying new recipes and traveling. My goal at Sunrise is to serve foods that will help each child to become a healthy individual!

Niki Bass

Niki Bass

I am married and a mother of three children. We have lived in Independence most of our lives except for the years my husband’s military career required us to move. I love reading, arts and crafts, paper crafts and being a pen pal to others around the world. I love to be outdoors, hiking, walking my dogs, playing tennis and bowling. I graduated from Blue Springs High School and continued my education in the legal field. I was a paralegal for several years prior to joining Sunrise. I love my family and my faith. I believe that “Every day counts!”

Shannon Warford

Shannon Warford

I am married with one young daughter and a black lab named Ranger. I have eight years of experience in early education and 5 years of experience in special education. I have a CNA license and I’ve been working towards an associate’s in Early Education. I love being a mom, singing and participating in the music ministry at church. I am also involved in advocating for special needs children and adults. My hobbies include music, outdoors, teaching, animals, spending time at the lake, and traveling with family. My goal is for students to be confident and explore everything with curiosity and freedom. As a teacher, I hope to be someone students see as welcoming, encouraging and fun-loving.

Lani Trujillo

Lani Goolsby

Howdy, Y’all! My name is Ms. Lani, and I moved to Missouri from Texas about two years ago. I absolutely love the weather in Missouri especially the snow! I enjoy cooking, eating, reading, shopping for good deals, and watching movies. I have been married for the past four years and have one step-son. I have been teaching for a total of 12 years, and a Montessori Teacher for the past 2 years. I have my Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood, and I am currently working on getting my Montessori Certification. My favorite part of any day is when I have “proud teacher moments.” This is when a child shows me what they have accomplished during Montessori Time which puts a shiny, bright smile on my face. My goal is to assist children to become more independent.

Esperanza Dunning

Esperanza Dunning

I love to travel the world and take photos and learn about different cultures. I currently operate a small business doing photography – one of my greatest passions. I also love to run. Crafting and card making are just a couple of my hobbies. I am married and currently reside here in the metro. I am currently attending school to seek a degree in teaching after completing four years of study with KCSM for an AG license. I have a few years of experience in early education prior to joining Sunrise. Currently, I am a substitute teacher, filling in for other teachers when they need to be gone. I love to encourage, grow in knowledge and keep the kids inspired!

Mary Pettet

Mary Pettet

I am married with one daughter and I have been an educator for the past twenty-five years. I hold a BA in Sociology and I attended a Montessori school when I was a child. I am a musician and have studied music for a number of years. I love to do crafts, collect rocks, cook, participate in community theater and reading. As a music specialist and teacher of music, my goal is for students to learn to understand and appreciate music and develop a life-long passion.

Jean DeMoss

Jean DeMoss

I am married and have two teenage sons. I attended UMKC to attain my BA in psychology w/a minor in economics. I love writing and researching family history. My hobbies include bird-watching, reading, and enjoying coffee with friends. I have years of experience in both teaching and finance. I joined Sunrise to work a more flexible schedule so that I can spend time with my kids. I love the Montessori philosophy and often consider getting my Montessori teaching certification when the time is right. My goal is to have an influence on children to teach them to be kind and have compassion.

Pam Wallamier

Pam WallamierOutdoor Classroom Teacher & Substitute

Hi, my name is Ms. Pam. I have been a Montessori teacher for several years and recently retired from teaching full time. Since then, I spend time helping to take care of my grandson and more time traveling with family. I still love teaching and frequently assist in teaching the outdoor classroom at Sunrise and sub for teachers when they need to take time off. I hope to bring my years of experience and education in the classroom and make learning fun. I also hope to teach children to be kind to one another and help them to learn to express themselves.