• Our Team

    Founders and Directors

    "We believe that enabling our children to lead their best lives means that schooling has to be transformed for the 21st century. When we discovered the freedom of an Acton Academy educational model, with its roots in Montessori, defined by self-paced learning, offering the opportunity for students to discover their most precious gifts, and to develop the character of a real hero, we became determined to make Acton Academy El Salvador a reality not only for our children, but for yours too."


    - Shannon Falkenstein & Carmen Castro-Dárdano

    Shannon Falkenstein

    Shannon Casey Falkenstein is the co-founder and director of K-12 programs at Acton Academy El Salvador, the first alternative school to be founded in El Salvador.


    Shannon is also the host of "The New Schools" podcast, which explores innovative models of education around the world.


    Prior to founding AA El Salvador, Shannon had a test prep and college coaching business and was a middle school science teacher in New York City.


    Shannon is also a professional coach who works with multicultural companies and individuals to help them understand themselves, craft empowering narratives, set worthy goals and develop habits that result in success.


    Shannon earned her B.S. in Human Biology and Anthropology from Emory University, her M.A. in Secondary Science Education from NYU and her Montessori Guide certification from North American Montessori Center.

    Carmen Castro-Dárdano

    ​Carmen Castro-Dárdano is the co-founder and director of Montessori at Acton Academy El Salvador, the first alternative school to be founded in El Salvador.


    Carmen has more than 20 years of Montessori classroom experience and served as the academic coordinator of Mi Casita Montessori for 10 years.


    She studied Early Childhood Education and Psychology at the University of Central America (UCA) in El Salvador and has her Montessori Guide certification from North American Montessori Center in Canada.


    Carmen is also the founder of "Montessori en Línea," which provides online Montessori training and support in Spanish.


    Carmen also consults with private and public institutions to help them integrate Montessori principles into their education programs. She was also a contributor and facilitator of Maite Vallet's "Leolandia" reading and writing program, which is used in many schools in Spanish-speaking countries.

    David Falkenstein

    “I learned more from working with my grandfather on projects, than from conventional school. As an entrepreneur, I believe project-based learning is much more effective than content learning and memorization.”


    David Falkenstein is the managing and founding partner of Cadejo Brewing Company, the first craft-brewery of El Salvador and the first brewery of any kind to establish itself in the country in over 100 years.


    Mr. Falkenstein previously co-founded a financial research sales firm in New York, New York in 2002; a venture whose operations he moved to his home country of El Salvador in 2008.


    He earned a degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University in 1995 and spent the next 7 years working for IBM Consulting Group in the United States.


    In 2015 he became a member of the 10th Class of "CALI," the Central American Leadership Initiative, part of the Aspen Global Leadership Institute. David chose to co-found Acton Academy El Salvador as his CALI leadership project.

  • Acton Guides

    Gaby Rosales, Master Guide, Agora and Launchpad Studios

    Gaby is our A-MA-ZING Master Guide in Agora and Discovery. She has been with us since our second year and has been a major part of our growth as a learner-driven community. 🌟

    🎓 Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Universidad Dr. José Matías Delgado, El Salvador

    🎓 Master’s Degree in Child and Youth Psychopathology from Instituto Superior de Estudios Psicologicos, Barcelona

    ✨ Gaby is also a lifelong learner who is constantly taking new courses, earning advanced degrees, and learning more in her field.

    Gaby is also a the Head of Psychology at CEFOI, a Clinical Psychologist who works with Children and Teens and is the Host of "Mujer Express"

    Victoria Conde, Discovery Studio Apprentice Guide

    "When I first started learning about the Montessori philosophy, I was instantly fascinated by it as it promotes independence and a passion for self-learning👏. I love the environment of love, respect and security that is cultivated."


    Victoria started with us as an assistant Guide in Infant Community, and quickly demonstrated her innate respect for and connection with children, and her remarkable work ethic. She then moved up to be our Lead Guide in Infant Community (1-3 year olds). For 2022-2023, Vic has taken on the challenge of becoming our Discovery Studio Guide (3rd-5th grade).


    Victoria is studying for a Bachelor and Teaching Degree in Initial and Early Childhood Education at the Evangelical University of El Salvador.


    She has worked as a preschool Teacher's Assistant and as a private tutor for primary and secondary aged children. Vic is earning her Montessori Guide certification through AMI courses and is studying to be a certified Acton Academy Guide.

    Paola Cuellar de Jule, Master Guide in Spark Studio

    Paola is the Master Guide in our Spark Studio (K-2nd Grade). She came to us in 2022 from Lift Academy (an Acton Academy in Guatemala City), where she trained and worked as a Guide in their Spark Studio. We are so happy to have her!


    🎓 Bachelor's Degree in Preschool Education from Univ. Evangélica, El Salvador

    🎓 Master-level studies in Learning Disorders & Psychoeducation from Univ. Americana, Costa Rica

    🎓 Master's Degree in Education from Univ. de Jaen, Spain

    Paola has a super Growth Mindset and is constantly learning and growing - right now she is working on her Montessori Guide certification with North American Montessori Center!

    Cristina Fuentes, Spark Studio Montessori Guide

    Actualmente está estudiando la licenciatura en Educación Básica, para 1° y 2° grado, en la Universidad Pedagógica de El Salvador.

    Comenzó a trabajar en Acton Academy El Salvador en junio de 2022, como Co-Guía del Estudio de Spark Studio (Taller I).


    Cristina tiene 13 años de experiencia en la enseñanza de la filosofía Montessori, con el nivel Montessori de Casa de Niños (3-6 años) y el nivel de Taller (7-9 años). Para ambos niveles Cristina ha recibido el entrenamiento Montessori, impartido por Lillian Moncada-Davidson, a través de la Fundación Hilda Rothschild.


    A ella le apasiona trabajar y enseñar a los niños, disfrutando al máximo, cada momento con ellos.


    Para Cristina la filosofía Montessori representa, además de una experiencia laboral, una experiencia de vida.

    Lo que más aprecia Cristina de esta filosofía es el ambiente preparado, el cual le transmite mucha paz y armonía.


    Ella piensa que una de las virtudes más importantes de un educador debe ser sembrar valores, sabiduría, amor y curiosidad en cada niño.

  • Montessori Guides

    Xiomara Peña Coto, Children's House Lead Guide

    "Disfruto trabajar con niños y es por eso que desde que doy terapia los niños han sido mi inspiración; siempre he creído que la educación es el arma más poderosa. Entonces, cuando conocí Acton Academy El Salvador, me encantó la total autonomía que se fomenta en los niños, observar como cada niño es capaz de desarrollar sus propias habilidades y destrezas por sí mismo y junto con los demás, respetando su libertad y fomentando la independencia en todo momento. Para mí eso es fantástico."


    Xiomara Peña Coto inició en el 2018 inicie mi camino en Acton como Guía de Infant Community y actualmente trabaja como Guía Líder de Children House. A Xiomy apasionan los niños y su desarrollo. Cuando conoció el método Montessori, se enamoró.


    Xiomy es Fisioterapeuta y Terapeuta ocupacional, posea maestría en Dirección Estratégica de Recursos Humanos de la Universidad Miguel de Cervantes de España y ha recibido el diplomado de la Ley de Protección Integral de la niñez y adolescencia (LEPINA). También tomo cursos sobre primeros auxilios otorgado por Comandos de Salvamentos de El Salvador, y el curso avanzado de Lengua de señas Salvadoreña (LESSA).

    Valeria Avilés, Children's House Co-Guide

    "I believe that kids are capable of amazing things, and sometimes all you need is to give them an opportunity so they can shine by themselves. I love the Montessori method because it is a method for empowering kids and letting them discover what they want and need. I love Acton because kids are the center of their own education and interest."


    Vale is currently studying for a Bachelor and Teaching Degree in Initial and Early Childhood Education at the Evangelical University of El Salvador.


    Vale used to be a preschool teacher at a traditional school, but then had the opportunity to intern at an education center that believes in alternative education methodologies.


    Since then, she has chosen to work at Acton Academy because she loves the way Maria Montessori saw kids.

    Celina Henríquez, Infant Community Lead Guide

    "Soy una profesional comprometida con vocación y sobre todo con un inmenso amor por los niños, es por eso que me encanta la filosofía Montessori ya que esta basada en el respeto, el amor, la libertad y la espiritualidad de los niños."


    Celina Henríquez es una profesora de Educación Inicial y Parvularia y está actualmente cursando el último ciclo de la Licenciatura en Educación.


    Celina tiene 10 años de experiencia en la enseñanza de la filosofía Montessori, con el nivel Montessori de Comunidad Infantil (1-3 años) y Casa de Niños (3-6 años). Para ambos niveles Celina ha recibido el entrenamiento Montessori, impartido por Lillian Moncada-Davidson, a través de la Fundación Hilda Rothschild.


    Desde abril de 2022 inició su camino en Acton Academy El Salvador como co- guía en Infant Community y actualmente se desenvuelve como guía.

    Sofía Rodríguez, Infant Community Co-Guide

    "I chose Acton Academy because it is especially committed to promoting education that meets children’s emotional, physical and intellectual development. Furthermore, we work to improve children’s creativity and independence in a way that is educational, joyful and also engaging. I also love that we are all part of a caring community - a community that makes me happy to be a part of."


    Sofia is studying for a Bachelor and Teaching Degree in Initial and Early Childhood Education at the Evangelical University of El Salvador.


    She took English courses at Nassau Community College at Long Island, during her time working as an Au Pair with a family in New York.

    Ale Burgos, Infant Community Co-Guide

    "I am happy to work at Acton because I want to be part of this change in education and I have no doubt that it is the ideal place. From the first moment I set foot in Acton I fell in love with every detail💜! I am in love with the Montessori philosophy because I have always thought that traditional education encloses rather than liberates. Montessori is a method that believes in the capacities of children and believes that it is possible for them to learn by themselves."


    Ale studied initial and preschool education in Quilmes Argentina, including specialized courses in language learning, native games, learning through play and early childhood stimulation.

  • School Staff

    Diana Martinez, Administration and Bookkeeping

    Diana Martinez is an indispensable person who maintains excellent parent communications, tracks and reports our financial data, makes sure all of our processes run smoothly and never forgets a key detail! We truly could not exist without her!

    "Mama Lis" Harrison, Chef Extraordinaire

    Lis Harrison is a self-taught chef and entrepreneur. She and her husband, Carlos, founded several cafeterias serving college students at local universities such as the UCA and Matias Delgado. She is also the creator of "Delicias do Brasil" brigadieros candies.


    Everyday, Mama Lis cooks and serves delicious, healthy food with so much love that the children eat healthy and well and develop eating habits that serve them for a lifetime.

    Mayra Mejía, Prep Cook and Head of Cleaning

    Mayra Mejía ensures that we have an orderly and prepared Montessori learning environment, and that the children and staff have plenty of water, coffee, supplies and delicious food! She is also a wonderful decorator for our celebrations!

  • Our Advisors

    Laura Sandefer

    Laura lived on both US coasts and in between as a child, then settled into Vanderbilt University for her undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Science. After being awarded the highly competitive Walter Wattles Fellowship at Lloyd’s of London, Laura worked in the aviation insurance industry in New York City. Deciding to follow her calling into the world of education, Laura returned to Nashville and earned her Master of Education at Peabody College. This led her to her work at the Oklahoma Arts Institute, creating fine arts education programs for teachers and talented high school students.

    Laura married Jeff Sandefer and is the happy mother of Sam and Charlie and step-mother to Taite. It is the inspiration of these children that led Laura and Jeff to co-found Acton Academy.

    Her greatest hero is her mother who was a Master Teacher. Her wisest mentor is her father who sent her off to college with two words of advice: "Be curious".

    Jeff Sandefer

    Jeff Sandefer lives a dual life as an entrepreneur and a Socratic Guide. As an entrepreneur, he founded his first company at age 16 and went on to found or co-found seven successful businesses.

    As a Socratic teacher at the University of Texas, Jeff's students five times voted him the school's Outstanding Teacher and Businessweek named him one of the top Entrepeneurship professors in America. Jeff went on to co-found the Acton School of Business, an MBA program perennially ranked by the Princeton Review among the best in the nation. In 2012 The Economist honored him as one of the top fifteen Business School professors in the world.

    Jeff is a graduate of the Harvard Business School, where he served for over twenty years on the school's governing committees. He was a longtime director of the Philanthropy Roundtable and National Review magazine and one of the youngest members ever elected to the Texas Business Hall of Fame.

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