Our Laguna Honda Team

Luisa Baj

Director

Matthew Estrada

Assistant Director

Stephanie Gnean

Assistant Director of Infant/Toddler

Johntiana Anderson

Facility Assistant

Sofia Frankel

Lower Preschool Teacher

Georyana Morales

Toddler Teacher

Evelyn Aguilar

Infant Teacher’s Aide

Malliejo Asuncion

Lead Preschool Teacher

Vivian Lee

Facility Assistant

Jamae Frasca

Preschool Teacher

Gabriela Elizabeth Vivar Velasquez

Toddler Lead Teacher

Kalli Walkinhawk

Preschool Aide

Kary Cao

School Floater

Maya Fielding

Toddler Teacher

Achala Jayagoda

Infant Teacher

Alex Leiva

Preschool Teacher

Cassie Portillo

Floater

Katelynn Ruprecht

Toddler Teacher

Destiney Jackson

Upper Preschool Teacher

Katie Ou

Lead Infant Teacher

Julissa Vargas-Mendoza

Lead Infant Teacher

Yvonne Ma

Infant Teacher

Sara Bahadori

Infant Teacher’s Aide

NOTE:

At Meaningful Beginnings, we undergo an extensive interview process and only hire the best educators in the Early Childhood Education field.

Our teacher’s are required to undergo a Caregiver Background Check as mandated by the state of California. All staff must submit their fingerprints and get clearance.

Teachers are required to have at least 12 early childhood education (ECE) units or willing to take classes. If a teacher currently does not have any ECE units, they are considered teacher’s aides and must be under the supervision of a fully qualified teacher. All employees are required to submit immunization records and undergo a health screening including a TB test.

Teachers must also get their CPR and First-Aid certification, complete mandated reporter training and pest management training, and ensure that they stay-up-to-date.

Administrators, such as the director and assistant director, are required to take the Health, Safety, Nutrition, and Lead Poisoning Prevention trainings.

LUISA BAJ

Director

Working with and becoming a part of a community has always been a dream for Luisa. She worked in museums throughout the Bay Area for years, always in their education department. Through this passion, she found that her favorite audience was children. The way she was able to connect, facilitate, and grow with their innate curiosity became her dream. She wants to bring Art and STEM to children of all abilities and create a community within the classroom where mistakes are part of the learning process, and kids get the opportunity to direct their own learning. She wants her students to be excited to come to school and loves to see the excitement and wonder in their eyes. She is excited to bring her previous experience from the Bay Area Discovery Museum into Meaningful Beginnings and create a community built on curiosity, kindness, respect, and accessibility. Luisa received her dual Masters in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education from Grand Canyon University.

Matthew Estrada

Assistant Director

Meet Matt, a devoted Toddler Teacher who is thrilled to join the Meaningful Beginnings team. A true San Francisco native, Matt currently resides in the city with his fiancée, their six-year-old daughter, and their two beloved cats. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Child and Adolescent Development from San Francisco State University.

Although Matt has enjoyed working with elementary and middle schoolers, he discovered that his true passion lies in early childhood education. He is particularly fascinated by the rapid physical and emotional growth that occurs in preschoolers. Witnessing their development as they learn to walk, talk, and explore their environment is incredibly rewarding for him.

Initially, Matt did not envision himself working with preschoolers, doubting he had the necessary temperament or patience. However, after spending over five years as a preschool teacher, he confidently acknowledges that this is his calling. Matt is excited to bring his experience, enthusiasm, and newfound insights into preschool education to Meaningful Beginnings, where he looks forward to making a significant impact on the lives of young children.

Stephanie Gnean

Assistant Director of Infant/Toddler

Hi! My name is Stephanie. I’m a San Francisco native born and raised. I am the new infant teacher at Meaningful Beginnings. I have an AS in social and behavioral science and as well as an AA in child development from CCSF. From a young age, I’ve always enjoyed my time with children which led me to pursue working with children. I was a nanny for 3 years and worked at a Montessori school for a year prior to working here. I find happiness in watching children discover and very rewarding to see the children become their own independent people. Outside of work I enjoy listening to music and spending my time with family and friends.

Johntiana Anderson

Facility Assistant

Coming soon….

Sofia Frankel

Lower Preschool Teacher

Hi Families! Sofia is an SF Native and has been working with Children from infant to school age for the past 20 years. She has an AS from CCSF in Child and Family Studies. She is very excited to be a part of Meaningful Beginnings and connecting with the students and families.

Georyana Morales

Toddler Teacher

My name is Georyana and I am originally from Granada, Nicaragua. I moved to San Francisco to seek new opportunities for myself and my family. I earned my degree in Criminal Law and am currently working towards my Associate Degree in Child Development at City College of San Francisco.

I am the mother of two beautiful children. I love working closely with infants. Outside of work, I can be found spending time with my family, cooking up a delicious meal, or out exploring the beautiful San Francisco sites.

Evelyn Aguilar

Infant Teacher’s Aide

Evelyn is a San Francisco native, born and raised. She shares that her family is from Guatemala and El Salvador. When Evelyn was younger she enjoyed taking care of her nieces and nephews and she turned into her family babysitter. She realized her passion was taking care of kids when she became a mother, so she decided to start taking classes to be a teacher. Outside of work, Evelyn enjoys spending time with her family, taking her children to the park, listening to music, and shopping.

Malliejo Asuncion

Lead Preschool Teacher

Meet Mallie, our enthusiastic Lower Preschool Teacher Aide at Meaningful Beginnings. Currently a part-time student at Skyline College, Mallie is actively completing her Early Childhood Education (ECE) units while gaining valuable preschool experience with us.

Mallie’s journey in childcare began at the age of 17 when she started babysitting infants and toddlers up to 6 years old. Her passion for working with children grew as she later joined an after-school program, working with children aged 5 to 12 for nearly three years. As a mother to a delightful three-year-old girl who inspired her interest in preschool education, Mallie brings a personal touch to her professional endeavors.

Her future ambition is to open her own daycare and development center. At Meaningful Beginnings, Mallie is dedicated to providing each child with a positive and meaningful educational experience. She is committed to helping our young learners grow and develop into the future leaders of our world. Mallie’s hands-on approach and personal experience as a mom make her a cherished member of our team and a favorite among the children.

Vivian Lee

Facility Assistant

Hello, my name is Vivian and I’m the new Facility Assistant. I’m new to childcare and have been continuously learning a lot from both the teachers and students alike about making child friendly meals and keeping the school clean and organized.

Jamae Frasca

Preschool Teacher

Meet Ms. Mae, our dedicated Toddler Teacher at Meaningful Beginnings. With over five years of experience in child care, Mae has found her true calling in this field and has no plans of leaving anytime soon. She embraces the role of a guide, fostering an environment where children can make their own age-appropriate decisions, allowing their creativity and curiosity to flourish.

Mae’s primary goal is to ensure that all children feel safe to explore, learn, and have fun in her vibrant classroom. She has a particular passion for integrating music into the learning experience, tailoring it to match the interests of the children, which enhances their engagement and enjoyment.

Outside of the classroom, Mae is an avid artist who enjoys painting, singing, and dancing in her free time. On weekends, she loves to explore the city with a piping hot Chai latte in hand, soaking in new experiences and inspirations that she often brings back to her students.

Gabriela Elizabeth Vivar Velasquez

Toddler Lead Teacher

Meet Gabriela Vivar, our enthusiastic Infant Aid at Meaningful Beginnings. Despite her brief tenure in this role, Gabriela is eager to continue learning and playing a part in the daily growth of the children in her care. She is currently studying Psychology and Sociology at City College of San Francisco.

Gabriela’s interest in child development was significantly shaped by a course where she read “Kindezi: The Kongo Art of Babysitting.” This book profoundly altered her perspective on babysitting and childcare, fueling her dedication to ensure that the children under her care are happy and healthy as they reach their developmental milestones. Gabriela believes passionately that the early years are crucial, as they set the foundation for a child’s future.

When she’s not at work, Gabriela enjoys unwinding with music, diving into books, and spending quality time with her kitten. Her commitment to nurturing young minds makes her a valued member of the Meaningful Beginnings team.

Kalli Walkinhawk

Preschool Aide

Meet Kalli WalkinHawk, a vibrant new addition to the Meaningful Beginnings team. Born and raised in Santa Rosa, California, Kalli has spent her entire life in the Bay Area. She graduated in 2019 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Performing Arts from San Francisco State University.

Kalli’s journey into education began with her passion for teaching ballet to young children. Her love for working with kids and her belief in the power of their imagination and creativity led her to Meaningful Beginnings, where she saw the perfect opportunity to advance her career in child education.

In her free time, Kalli loves to be outdoors and travel, exploring new places and gaining experiences that enrich her both personally and professionally. She is thrilled to start her journey at Meaningful Beginnings and is eager to see what the future holds in this new chapter of her life.

Kary Cao

School Floater

Coming soon….

Maya Fielding

Toddler Teacher

Coming soon….

Achala Jayagoda

Infant Teacher

Coming soon….

Alex Leiva

Preschool Teacher

Coming soon….

Cassie Portillo

Floater

Coming soon….

Katelynn Ruprecht

Toddler Teacher

Coming soon….

Ruby Fung

Assistant Director of Preschool

Hello, my name is Ruby and I am a Toddler Teacher at Meaningful Beginnings! I graduated from San Francisco State University with a Bachelors in Child and Adolescent Development. I also double minored in Education and Special Education. I have been teaching young preschool and toddlers for about two years now and I love it!

When it comes to teaching I love to incorporate children’s interests into the curriculum. I love to bake, cook, and science is one of my favorite subjects so I hope to incorporate a lot of that into my curriculum. I believe that children at this age learn the most through play and interactions with their peers. In my classroom I would want everyone to feel safe, comfortable, and loved. I hope to make a difference in each child’s life whether it is big or small!

Destiney Jackson

Upper Preschool Teacher

Hi, my name is Destiney! I am the new lead preschool teacher in the Dancing Dolphin classroom. I recently graduated from San Francisco State University with a major in Child and Adolescent Development and have worked in the field of early childhood education for over 7 years. I moved from Los Ángeles two years ago. On the weekends I love to go hiking with my dog.

Katie Ou

Lead Infant Teacher

Hello families, my name is Katie! I am an infant teacher in the mobile class at Meaningful Beginnings. I received my B.A for Child & Adolescent Development in Early Childhood, and minored in Special Education at
San Francisco State University. I started volunteering at daycares and summer camps since I was a teen. And during my studies, I gained experience working as an aide and soon advanced into a lead teacher role before coming here. I realized I love being around kiddos since I was little, maybe it has to do with that fact that I am the only child. Watching babies grow and develop over time is such a rewarding feeling, and knowing I was able to make an impact on their lives. Nonetheless, I look forward to meeting you and your family here!

Julissa Vargas-Mendoza

Lead Infant Teacher

​​Hello, my name is Julissa Vargas-Mendoza. I am an Infant Teacher at the Meaningful Beginnings Development Center at Laguna Honda. I am currently studying for degrees in Child Adolescent and Development and Nursing. I have volunteered with after-school programs in high school, as well as with San Francisco State University’s Early Childhood Education Center. As a young child I have always been around other children in my family, and absolutely love being around children hence my studies in child development. I look forward to working with infants and their families, and learning how I can help our youngest children succeed and grow, every day!

Yvonne Ma

Infant Teacher

Yvonne is the infant teacher at Meaningful Beginning Center. Yvonne joined the field of early childhood education by chance and fell in love with working with children. Yvonne takes ECE units course from City College of San Francisco and over three years of experience in childcare, she works with children with different ages, from 6 months to 4 years old. However, it was her desire to witness the milestones of babies and support their growth that she chose to become an infant teacher. Yvonne is passionate about working with babies and helping them grow and develop independently in a safe and nurturing environment. She enjoys tapping toys with babies to make sounds and singing songs with them. In her spare time, Yvonne likes window shopping and enjoys taking walks in the pathway with her family.

Sara Bahadori

Infant Aid

Hello! My name is Sara and I am an Infant Teachers Aide at Meaningful Beginnings. I am studying Business Administration at San Francisco State University, and I have a goal of opening my own daycare in the future! Before Meaningful Beginnings, I worked for a child care agency with ages ranging from under one year old all the way to 5th grade. I grew up in San Diego, and there I spent a lot of time volunteering at preschools, as well as at schools for children on the spectrum. I consider myself to have a lot of patience with everything, especially kids.

To me, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing babies I teach grow into independent kids with minds of their own. It is important that kids are able to explore by themselves, so I have taken on a Montessori-like approach in teaching. My main goal while teaching is to emphasize the importance of setting personal boundaries, as well as learning how to respect others. After all, these kiddos are the future of our society, so I believe it is my priority to instill respectful values at a young age. I hope you join us at Meaningful Beginnings!

Emily Pham

Infant Teacher

My name is Emily and I am an infant teacher. My aim with this position is to learn how children develop as unique individuals and learn how to support their holistic growth. I am currently a student at San Francisco
State University majoring in Child and Adolescent Development. With this experience, I am hoping to get a sense on whether I want to continue to work in the classroom or if I want to learn the administrative side of education. The experience of working directly with children is gratifying and I wish to create a safe space for children to explore with all of their senses as they develop their own personalities. I hope to be able to help build a strong foundation so that the children can have the confidence and ability to express themselves.