Mellisa Johnson

Toddler 1s Assistant Teacher

IMG_8061Mellisa Johnson is original from Canton, Michigan, and moved to the Phoenix area in 2011. During her internship at Walt Disney World in 2009, she met her husband, Andy, and they have started a life together in the Valley. She recently graduated from Chandler-Gilbert Community College with an Associate’s in Arts degree and is currently working on her Elementary Education degree at Northern Arizona University. Mellisa has over 330 hours of field experience with volunteering at schools in multiple districts here in the Valley. She received the Promising Teacher of the Year Award in 2014 and is excited to live up to that expectation here at the Seed. While not in school, she enjoys reading, mountain biking, and spending time with friends and family. Mellisa is ecstatic to learn and develop right along with the Toddler 1s and to be a part of the Seed community.

Yolanda Ruiz-Gibson

Toddler 1s Assistant Teacher, After School Staff

Yolanda was born and raised in Valencia, Spain.  She graduated in industrial design in Valencia and has a B.S. in hotel management from University of Nevada Las Vegas. Yolanda has lived in Phoenix since 2001. She speaks five languages, as many Europeans do, and loves the adventure of traveling. Yolanda has been to many places around the world, including Peru, Paris, Indonesia and China. This is her second year as staff member and her seventh as a Seed parent.  She heard of the Seed through friends and the first things she noticed were the big open areas, the gardening and caring teachers, recycling, compost, and the respect and love. Yolanda hopes to contribute to the school environment through her rich multicultural experiences.  In her free time she enjoys cooking, skiing, organizing trips, restaurants, and spending time with family, friends and pets. She is currently working on her Child Development Associate credential.

Priscilla Bendorovicz

Toddler 2s Assistant Teacher, After School Staff

Priscilla Bendorovicz is a native Arizonan. She has an Associate’s degree in Fine Arts from Mesa Community College and a Bachelor’s degree in Art Education. She is an artist, specializing in portrait painting as well as still-life.  In her free time she likes to bake, garden, go to movies and travel.  Priscilla loves creating art with the kids.  It brings her joy to watch them play and share her art expertise with them through projects.  Her future plans are to teach secondary art and/or teach privately.

Vicky Jeffrey

Preschool 2.5/3s Assistant Teacher

This is Vicky’s third year at the Seed.  She was born in Montreal, Canada and spent her childhood in Toronto, Texas and Colorado. She completed her BA in Linguistics in 2007, and some time afterwards headed down to Bolivia to teach English, where she met her husband. They settled down in Arizona and now have Enzo, who will be in the Preschool 4s room this year.  She is a native French speaker and fluent in Spanish. At the moment, Vicky is working on some programming courses and keeping up with her business. In her free time, she likes to listen to music and learn about different cultures, places and, of course, food!

Saki Nabeshima

Preschool 3s Assistant Teacher

Saki received her Masters in Theology from Valparaiso University (2005), and her Bachelors in Music from Hastings College (2002). She has received extensive training in early childhood music from Musikgarten, and 95-hour Children’s Yoga Teacher Training from Desert Song. In August 2014, Saki completed her 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training. Saki unexpectedly fell in love with the world of early childhood education during her 12-month internship at a transitional housing program, offering preschool music and movement classes. Her passion for sensibly nurturing young minds and souls has developed through teaching Terrific Twos and Thriving Threes as a preschool teacher since 2006. This is Saki’s third year in Preschool 3s. She finds balance in life through meditation, yoga, essential oils, and spending quality time with her husband David.

Kaylee Becher

Preschool 4s Assistant Teacher

KayleeKaylee first came to Awakening Seed in 2008.  She enjoyed four years as the assistant teacher in the 3rd/4th/5th grade class before going on to teach the Preschool 3s.  After a year long hiatus, Kaylee is happy to be back at the Seed to assist Deb in the Pre4s. She and her daughter, who attends the elementary program, feel as though they’ve found their village within the school’s diverse community and have grown to love the Seed as their home away from home.

Michelle Blagg-Catone

PreK Assistant Teacher

IMG_4258After graduating from high school in Tokyo, Japan, Michelle Blagg-Catone moved back to her hometown of Hudson, Ohio.  She began attending Kent State University, eventually earning her BA in psychology. Here, she met her husband George and began her career working with individuals with disabilities, first working in a residential environment.  They moved to Pittsburgh (George’s hometown) where Michelle worked at the Blind Association.  Ultimately, they moved west, where Michelle coached teens and young adults in an employment internship program with the City of Phoenix. When her family began to expand, she sought a loving and nurturing environment for her children and landed at The Seed.  All three of Michelle’s children, Sydney (16), Max (14), and Leo (7) have attended Awakening Seed at some point in their educations. Michelle assisted and then co-lead the Preschool 4s class, assisted in Kindergarten, and is now assisting in PreK.

Sarah Rieckhoff

Kindergarten Assistant Teacher, Toddler After School Lead

Sarah Rieckhoff

Sarah Rieckhoff is originally from Dearborn, Michigan and comes from a family of five children. Having three brothers and one sister, she is right in the middle. Sarah graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Family and Human Development. She will be pursuing a Masters degree in Early Childhood Education while obtaining her teaching certification. She started at Awakening Seed a year and a half ago in the after school program. Sarah is excited to be a part of Awakening Seed School to teach and learn from the students. She enjoys traveling as well as taking care of her English bulldogs, Sandlot and Macaroni. She enjoys being outdoors and staying active.

Brenda Montgomery

1st/2nd Grade Assistant Teacher


Brenda has her BA in Elementary Education from Arizona State University.  Once she graduated, Brenda began her teaching career at the Seed.  After six years, Brenda decided to try corporate life and worked for an educational company for seven years.  She came back to the Seed three years ago as a parent when she enrolled her son in the Toddler 2s class.  Brenda is happy to be a part of the Seed Family for a second year as both staff and parent.  She enjoys cooking, gardening, riding her horses, and spending time with friends and family.

Lisa Gatchalian

3rd/4th Assistant Teacher

IMG_3290Lisa grew up in Tempe and made the trek down to Tucson for college at the University of Arizona, where she studied political science and business administration and met her husband, Savin. She worked in Major League Baseball (Rockies and D-backs) for ten years prior to staying home with her young children, Ashton and Gwenyth. She is a freelance graphic designer on occasion. Starting the school year as a substitute at the Seed, Lisa has taken on the role of assistant teacher in the 3rd/4th grade classroom. Her son, Ashton, is in the Preschool 4s class, and her daughter, Gwenyth, is in the Toddler 1s. Lisa has worked on and off with young children since she was a babysitter in junior high school. Lisa and her family enjoy museums, the zoo, spending time at the gym, and are proud to be part of the Seed community.

Deana Hernandez

After School Toddler Lead Teacher, In-house Sub

Deana Hernandez is a former Seed student (and was even taught by Diane, Becky and Mary). After graduating high school she ventured to Guadalajara, Mexico. While visiting a small English classroom, her passion for teaching was sparked, although her time spent at the Seed as a child has also immensely influenced her decision to pursue education as her career. Upon returning to the states, Deana had her son, Sol, and found her way back to her second home, the Seed. She’s had the pleasure to teach with Emily for two years and Lyndsy for one year in the 2.5/3s classroom, along with lead the toddler after-school program for a summer. Deana assisted in the PreK and has led the after school toddler program for most of this year.  She is currently our in-house sub, and assists in the toddler after school program. She is ecstatic to be part of the Seed for her fourth year and is continuing her online studies this year and is eager to grow and learn along with the children.  She is expecting her second child in July.

Ian Taylor

After School Staff


This is Ian’s second year working after school at The Awakening Seed. He is a former Seed student and is currently attending Arizona State University studying for a degree in Criminal Justice. In his free time he likes to go out to the movies, and play video games. He is very excited to be back for another year, and looks forward to lots of good times with the children after school.