A Non-profit, Non-sectarian School
Penn-Mont Academy is a private, non-profit, non-sectarian, Montessori school governed by a Board of Trustees.
Katie Hite Brouse, President
Katie Brouse joined Penn-Mont’s Board of Directors during the fall of 2011 and has thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this energetic and dynamic group! A graduate of Penn State University with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Psychology, Katie has worked in the field of marketing for her family’s electrical distributor business for the past 20 years in both a full-time and part-time capacity.
Katie and her husband, Tom, have two children currently enrolled in Penn-Mont’s elementary program. Katie fell in love with Penn-Mont and the Montessori method of education after witnessing the positive experience her older nephews had at the school. She wanted her children to have this same amazing opportunity as they started their own educational journeys! Katie chairs Penn-Mont’s Development and Strategic Planning Committees and also participates in the planning of many of the school’s fundraising events!
I love that Montessori focuses on the whole child and is not a one-size-fits-all approach to educating children. In addition to the superior educational experience provided to them, children graduate from our school being well-rounded and contributing members of their families and communities. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made!
Mark Pearson, Ph.D, Vice President
I grew up in Birmingham, England. The junior and senior school I attended left a little to be desired such that I left school in 1984 with only one qualification – Woodwork. Not feeling that carpentry was a career for me, I obtained a position at a Structural Engineering company as their “computer kid” under Leonard Rosten whom became my mentor and friend. I maintained this role until 1989 during which time I attended day and night classes to get qualifications necessary to get into University. I went to Imperial College in London to study Physics and graduated in 1992 with a BSc.
I celebrated graduating by getting married to my soul mate “Fi” and starting a PhD in Biophysics again at Imperial College. Following this I moved to America in 1996 to do Postdoctoral research at Penn-State University in the Bio-engineering Department where I stayed for 5 years. Fi and I celebrated the Millennium by having our first child “Heather”. Things came to an end at Penn State and I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home for 18 months with Heather before starting at Juniata College in 2002 where I still teach, develop labs, play with equipment and generally try to help and have fun with the students. I was also busy at home having a second daughter “Lizzie” in 2003 and a son “Robbie” in 2006. Finally, my wife and I became dual British-American Citizens in 2016, although this doesn’t seem to have changed my accent.
After my own shaky start with education it should be no surprise that I take education very seriously, and am passionate about making learning fun and not wasting the precious years of childhood where the learning potential is optimal. In 2006 we needed to make a decision as to where to send Heather to school and heard about Penn-Mont. Mary Zajac showed us around the school, explaining how Montessori education worked and we were completely on board. My two girls are now graduates of Penn-Mont and my son is in 5th grade and they all have amazing foundations in their education and had “the times of their lives” along the way. Of course all of this is possible by the dedication of the teachers at Penn-Mont whom I can never thank enough.
Mark Ritchey, Treasurer
Mark is a Principal Partner in the ownership of Curry Supply Holdings and the President of Curry Rail Services and Curry Switching Services located in Hollidaysburg, PA.
Curry Supply Holdings was awarded the Alexander A. Notopoulus Award by the Altoona Blair County Development Corp. in 2015. The award is given to an outstanding business in Blair County. In 2014, the company received the Governor’s ImPACT award for consistent job growth.
Mark serves on the board for Altoona Blair County Development (ABCD). He also serves on the board for Penn-Mont Academy and is currently the Treasurer. Mark serves on the Advisory Philanthropic Council for Penn State-Altoona and is an active member in the Blair County Chamber of Commerce. He is a member of the Locomotive Maintenance Officers Association (LMOA) and the Manhattan Discussion Group (MDG).
He holds a degree in Business Finance and Business Management from the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. He is a proud graduate of the Pennsylvania State Police Academy and has completed training at the Air Force College of War.
Penn-Mont Academy has been a very rewarding experience, not only for our two daughters, but also for me as a parent. The level of independence demonstrated by my daughters just weeks into the Toddler program surpassed any and all expectations. As my older daughter enters the early elementary program this year, I am continually impressed with the academic advances she is making as well as the material being introduced in class. Overall, the level of commitment and care demonstrated daily by the staff ensures that all students excel amaze me year after year. Sending our children to Penn-Mont was not only the easiest but one of the best decisions we have made as parents.
Sabrina Schutt – Secretary
Sabrina Schutt is a graduate from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Psychology. She has been a member of Making Strides of Blair County for two years and served as the chairperson for the 2016 cancer walk. She has been a volunteer for a local animal rescue organization and has been involved with Penn-Mont Academy since 2010. She currently has two children in the Elementary Program.
Penn-Mont Academy has truly been an amazing experience for our family. We have been able to see the continuity in the curriculum all the way from the toddler program to the sixth and final year. A Montessori education truly fosters the entire child and helps them reach their fullest potential in every aspect.
Elizabeth A. Benjamin, Esquire
Elizabeth A. Benjamin, Esquire is a partner in Beard Legal Group, P.C. She is a graduate of Bucknell University, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Education, summa cum laude, and went on to graduate magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Ms. Benjamin is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and the United States District Courts for the Middle and Western Districts of Pennsylvania. She focuses her practice in the areas of school, labor/employment, and municipal law. In addition to providing school solicitor services, Ms. Benjamin has represented numerous school districts in both federal and state court litigation, local agency hearings, and administrative proceedings before the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records and the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights, among others.
In addition to handling litigation in defense of employment discrimination cases and grievance arbitrations, she handles a large volume of Sunshine Law and Right to Know Law matters on behalf of Pennsylvania Public School Districts and Employers. Ms. Benjamin frequently presents on these issues as well as topics including unlawful harassment training, record retention and management, employee absence and attendance control issues, and the management of electronic communications and social media within Pennsylvania Public School Districts. She is a contributing editor of publications including PA School Principals.
Laura Burke is an attorney from Hollidaysburg, PA. She is married to Sean Burke. They have three children who are all students at Penn-Mont. Laura graduated from the University of Richmond with a degree in political science and Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.
Laura’s past board experience includes the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA and WISE Women of Blair County. She works at the FSI Justice Project in Hollidaysburg with a focus on representing low income victims of domestic abuse in family law cases.
I believe that Montessori education gives our children the best possible educational foundation. My children have learned to work independently and set goals while acquiring a concrete understanding of math, science, and language. Penn-Mont provides a well-rounded educational experience by incorporating practical life work, music, art, and foreign language into the curriculum for even the youngest students. One of my favorite things about Montessori education is its focus on creating good citizens who value peace and respect themselves, others, and the world around them.
Haleh Haerian, MD
Haleh Haerian is an Endocrinologist in Altoona PA. She is married to Mehrdad Ghaffari. They have two children. Their son is a student at Penn-Mont, and their daughter has graduated from Penn-Mont and now is a student at Grier School. Haleh graduated from Mashhad University of Medical Sciences in Iran with a Medical Doctorate degree (MD). She completed Internal Medicine residency at Wayne State University in Detroit MI, basic science research program at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor MI, and Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism fellowship at University of Memphis Health Science Center in Memphis TN. Haleh moved to Hollidaysburg PA in 2006, and since has been practicing clinical Endocrinology at Blair Medical Associates, in Altoona PA.
The Montessori method of education based on child-led activities, classrooms with children of varying ages encourages our children to be independent, be responsible and learn at their own pace, while learning from and supporting one another. While my daughter was a student in Penn-Mont, I watched her develop into an enthusiastic and self-directed learner with a great ability to manage her time. I believe these qualities have been valuable assets in preparing her for middle school. She has also learned to work independently, help others and be kind. My son, now in first grade, has developed a genuine love for learning about history, geography and how things are made. I think his early education in Penn-Mont with freedom to explore, experiment, and be independent has significantly contributed to his passion for learning.
Sheela Kerstetter, MD
Sheela Kerstetter works as a dermatologist in Altoona, PA. Sheela grew up in New Jersey and moved to Boston to go to undergraduate and medical school at Boston University. She completed her dermatology training at the Harvard Combined Dermatology residency program. She and her husband moved from the bustle of city life to central Pennsylvania where they have found the ideal balance between family time and careers. They live with their two children and dog in Hollidaysburg, PA. Both children have gone to Penn-Mont Academy since they were 18 months old. When the family is together they love to be out in the fresh air and collect pieces of nature.
I am impressed by the exceptional Montessori education that my children are receiving. From a very young age my children have learned the importance of personal responsibility, compassion for others and caring for the environment. With the Montessori method every level of their learning has been tailored to their stage of development. I have loved watching them progress from making bubbles and push pin pictures in “practical life” to performing long division and writing poetry in the lower elementary program. Penn-Mont Academy has created the ultimate house of learning for my children. We are all fortunate to have this outstanding educational resource nestled in our community.
Rebecca Maguda, M.A.
Rebecca Maguda was the Director of Career Services at Penn State Altoona from 1997– 2015. In January 2016 her role changed to a Career Counselor position and she is responsible for assisting students and alumni with resume critiques, interviewing techniques, job search strategies, and graduate school applications. She teaches CNED 100 Effective Career Decision Making for undecided students and LA 401 Professional Development for the Liberal Arts student. She is certified in DiSC and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as well as utilizes MyPlan with clients during career counseling appointments.
Rebecca has coordinated a Penn State Altoona Shadowing program for students in collaboration with the Blair County Chamber of Commerce. She facilitates workshops and classroom presentations on a variety of career planning topics. She participates on Penn State Altoona’s Disability Advisory Board. She is a member of the Western Pennsylvania Career Services Association, Eastern Association of Colleges and Employers as well as a member of the National Association of Colleges and Employers. She has a M.A. in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a B.S. in Communications from the State University of New York College at Fredonia
As a parent of Nicholas and Carolyn Maguda, I have been involved with the Penn Mont Academy community for 10 years. The teachers at Penn Mont Academy have cultivated a lifelong love of learning with my children. Nick has been at Penn Mont Academy from the age of 3 and graduated 6th grade in June 2016. He played trumpet with the orchestra and participated in community service trips to Garvey Manor. Nick was a member of the fencing team and chess club. He is attending Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School as a 7th grade student in the Pre-AP program, enjoys playing trumpet in the Pep Band, and will be playing baseball in the Spring.
Carolyn has been at Penn Mont Academy from the age of 4 and is currently in 4th grade. She plays flute with the orchestra, sings with the choir, and enjoys the fencing program. Nicholas and Carolyn both attended Penn Mont’s Summer Camp and enjoyed the Outdoor Education classroom.
Emily Sheetz Mandel
Emily is the Director of Talent Development at Sheetz Inc. She is a third-generation family member and one of eleven active in the business. She also serves on the Sheetz Family Council. Emily is participating in a leadership rotation program within the company and has held positions in Real Estate, Human Resources and Operations prior to commencing her current role. She also manages the Sheetz Cafe project. Prior to rejoining Sheetz, Emily helped to found Knightsbridge Schools International, a private, for-profit K-12 school in London, an affiliate of Knightsbridge School. She spent five years heading up Business Development and finance and helped to open schools in Turkey, Montenegro, Columbia and Panama. Emily previously worked for three years at Deutsche Bank in New York in Debt Capital Markets and for a year at Huron Consulting Group. She also has spent time at Sheetz since the age of fifteen, working various functions in marketing, finance and as a salesperson over the years.
Emily holds an MBA from Columbia Business School and her BS in Economics from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Hollidaysburg, PA with her husband Justin and their two children, Felix and Lila.
Penn-Mont provides an unparalleled education experience in the Central-Pennsylvania area through a deeply rooted history and connection to traditional Montessori philosophy. Penn-Mont Academy connects with each child individually and holistically in a warm and supportive community, to develop independent thinkers who are curious and engaged members of society with a high respect for diversity.
Justin Merry, Ph.D
Justin Merry was raised in Cincinnati, where he attended Mercy Montessori through sixth grade. He received his B.S. and M.S. in Biological Sciences from Ohio University, and received his Ph.D. in Biology from Arizona State University. He is currently an Associate Professor and Chair of the Biology Department at Saint Francis University in Loretto, PA. There, he teaches courses in animal behavior, neuroscience, and human anatomy and physiology. His research interests focus on how the constraints imposed by sensory systems shape the evolution of animal behavior, with an emphasis on insect models. He and his wife, Jen, have two children at Penn-Mont Academy. They began in the toddler and pre-school programs, and are now in the elementary program.
My wife and I are so thankful that we have had the opportunity to send our children to a Montessori school. Our girls have flourished at Penn-Mont. They have excelled academically, while also developing self-confidence, organizational skills, and social skills that we attribute to the Montessori environment. Their success is a credit to the Montessori curriculum, and particularly to the caring and attentive work of their teachers throughout their years at the school.
As a former special education teacher, along with a year working as a teacher’s assistant in a Montessori school in the Cleveland area, I am a passionate supporter of Montessori education. When my husband’s job relocated us to the Hollidaysburg area, I was overjoyed to find Penn-Mont to continue my children’s Montessori education. Penn-Mont is much more than “just a school”. It is an inclusive environment that encourages students to strive and reach beyond what they thought they were capable of.
Penn-Mont allows students explore their individuality, all the while learning challenging lessons in an approachable, hands-on manner. My four children are excited to come to school every day and constantly impress me when the knowledge that they learned.
Jordan Settle was elected to the Board of Directors of Penn-Mont Academy in January 2016. He is a member of the school’s Finance and Scholarship Committee, responsible for the policies and activities relating to financial operations and scholarships of the school. These activities include working with the School Administrator on an annual budget, grants, employee compensation, tuition, and scholarship recommendations to the Board of Directors.
A native of central Pennsylvania, Jordan graduated from Altoona Area High School and continued his education at California University of Pennsylvania. Upon college graduation, he was commissioned an officer in the United States Army and assigned to active duty. During his time in the military, Jordan deployed three times; once to the Republic of Korea and twice in support of combat operations in Afghanistan during Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) VII and IX. He transitioned from active duty in 2010 at the rank of Captain. His military awards include the Bronze Star as well as a commendation from the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Jordan is the Vice President of Operations of Defenshield, Inc., a company specializing in the design and manufacturing of bullet, blast, and fragmentation protection systems. He also sits on the Board of Directors for the Jaffa Shrine in Altoona, PA and Sweat For Vets, a fundraising effort aimed at supporting local Veterans in central Pennsylvania.
Jordan and his family currently reside in Altoona. His daughters, Hayden and Logan, have been students of Penn-Mont Academy since they were three years old.
Annie Stapelfeld, MPAS, PA-C
Annie Stapelfeld is a 2008 graduate of Saint Francis University. She has a Master’s Degree in Physician Assistant Sciences. Annie focused her healthcare career in Pediatrics as a Physician Assistant at R.K. Chopra Pediatrics in Altoona, PA. Following the birth of her third child, Annie shifted her focus to raising her children full time, though maintaining her medical license.
Annie has been a Penn-Mont Academy board member since 2015 and served as a past chair of the Spring Gala committee, assisting in the organization of their inaugural fundraiser. Annie’s sons Winston and Frederick are currently students at Penn-Mont Academy. Annie lives in Hollidaysburg, PA with her husband, Clark and their three sons Winston, Frederick and Linus.
At Penn-Mont Academy, I’ve had the opportunity to watch my sons’ early-stage development. It has been a pleasure and an education to watch my sons’ learn and grow through the Montessori philosophy. The focus on independence is already evident in my children’s behavior. Penn-Mont Academy consistently challenges them and, more importantly, teaches them to challenge themselves.