Kimberlee Belcher-Badal, Director
With a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction, six years spent teaching in a Montessori environment, and more than three years teaching and supervising student teachers, Kimberlee brings a wealth of professional experience and knowledge to the River Farm community that is hard to beat. Before moving to Alexandria with her family, Kimberlee spent 20 years studying, participating in, and theorizing about progressive schools that are shaping the future of education. She believes that River Farm is at the front edge of a unique educational movement that is desperately needed – guiding today’s students who will become compassionate and critical-thinking adult leaders, ready to take on the many issues facing our society. With her creative ideas concerning our school’s unique blend of emphasis on social-emotional and academic growth and her connections to a national network of people and organizations working on these same issues, Kimberlee is well positioned to help River Farm move to its next phase of development.
Kimberlee also comes to the director position with the insight of having first participated in the River Farm community as both a parent and a board member. With a child in each of the elementary classes at River Farm, she is invested in the school both personally and professionally. In her board role as VP of Educational Policy for the elementary program, Kimberlee went above and beyond – helping to improve and re-tool the Program of Study, working with the previous director to observe and advise teachers, helping teachers with curriculum materials and guidance, and even stepping into the classroom as substitute teacher.
Kimberlee holds a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Indiana with a focus on the role of culture in the transmission of knowledge; a master’s in education with a focus on cultural studies; and a bachelor’s in early childhood education. She is credentialed in Montessori teaching methods from the American Montessori Association and holds a certificate in international art therapy. She currently lives in Alexandria with her husband, Mohammed, their two sons, and a tuxedo cat.
Cathy Lane Rohrer, Middle School teacher
River Farm is excited to welcome Cathy Rohrer, a veteran Montessori teacher certified for the adolescent age group, to our community for the upcoming school year! Cathy began her professional life as an industrial research scientist, but three children later, she left research, found her way to homeschooling, then began a second career in teaching. Having always loved learning, Cathy has found that teaching has allowed her to be a perpetual student across all disciplines. She finds great joy in learning with and from her students.
Cathy holds a BSE in Electrical Engineering/Physics and a Certificate in Theater and Dance from Princeton University and a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from University of Pennsylvania. A perpetual puzzle solver, Cathy has always been drawn to math, science, and engineering, so she was surprised that when she began homeschooling, she found herself to be passionate about teaching literature and history! Then she and her children discovered Dr. Montessori’s Cosmic Education, an educational philosophy espousing interconnectivity not only across disciplines, but between all living and nonliving things. Combined with Dr. Montessori’s ideas about following children’s natural tendencies to learn given a prepared environment and freedom of choice with responsibility for the wellbeing of others, Cathy found a pedagogical home both for herself and her children. All four of them went back to school in a Montessori setting with Cathy attaining AMS Montessori Elementary I-II certification (6-12 year olds) and AMI/NAMTA Adolescent certification (12-18 year olds).
Cathy has enthusiastically been a Montessori guide in lower elementary, upper elementary, and middle school classrooms for the past decade, happily bridging history, science, literature, geography, and math and bringing them to life with children and adolescents. Complementing these classroom experiences, Cathy has also been a science presenter at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA, has led after school STEM programming for adolescent girls, has co-taught multi-arts multi-age summer programming as the dance lead teacher, and has served and continues to serve as a Montessori field consultant, helping to guide Montessori teacher interns in their classrooms.
Having been part of a parent homeschool cooperative with her own children, Cathy was drawn to the possibilities of the River Farm Cooperative School model as an ideal way to build an effective and dynamic learning community of children, parents, and teachers. She resonates with placing academic learning into the context of our place in the natural and cultural world. When not in the classroom, Cathy loves hiking with her now-grown children, playing guitar and singing, jogging and doing yoga, and curling up with a good book.
Ricardo Padilla, Lower Elementary teacher
Certified in the American Montessori Society (AMS) method, Ricardo is a veteran teacher with many years of classroom experience focused mostly on the lower elementary population. Growing up in the classroom with a father who was a preschool teacher at a private school in Manhattan, Ricardo worked as a teacher’s aide at another New York day school before heading to Phillips University, where he met his future wife, April, and earned a B.S. in business. After college, Ricardo and April settled in Texas, where Ricardo earned his AMS Montessori certificate and began interning at a Montessori school, working his way up to becoming lead teacher. Seeing children reach that "aha moment” proved to him that he was in the right place: Ricardo had found his true home in the classroom. Since then he has led many classes, with his first group of children now in college!
When it comes to a teaching philosophy, Ricardo believes that children with a strong educational and emotional foundation will grow up to become the next generation of engaged young adults who can effect meaningful change. A typical classroom with Ricardo as the guide is full of happy, independent children who are at their best while learning and playing in an organized environment. By offering children freedom within limitations, along with clear and positive behavioral expectations, a classroom begins running smoothly on its own – almost as if a teacher is not even there!
Today, Ricardo and April live in Bristow, VA with their two high-school aged children, Diego and Monet (named after their favorite artists), and their cats, Chubb and Fluff. The ability to be outside and explore nature is important to their family and was a driving force in Ricardo’s decision to become a part of the River Farm school. In his free time, you'll find Ricardo pursuing his dual passions of acting and slow pitch softball. Ricardo also enjoys hiking, yoga, guitar, and gardening.
Shamal Ratnayake, Upper Elementary teacher
Shamal was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in a Buddhist monastery where he practiced meditation from the age of three. He arrived in Maryland as a teenager where he continued expanding on his passions for meditation, mindfulness, yoga practice, education, child development, art, and psychology.
Before joining the River Farm community, Shamal helped develop a pilot program for 5th graders in the Baltimore City Public School on Art, Mindfulness, and Peace-Building. In partnership with Beyond Conflict, an international peace-building organization, and the Holistic Life Foundation, this program brought together art history, studio art, conflict resolution, neuroscience, and contemplative practices to create a new framework for student social, emotional, and creative development.
He also guides clients as a meditation and breath-work therapist in recovery and rehabilitation of the mind and body through yogic breathing.
Shamal earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art. He brings more than seven years of experience teaching children in a variety of disciplines including creative writing, art, meditation, yoga, mindfulness and breath-work. Outside of the classroom and meditation, Shamal is also an accomplished illustrator and designer. He enjoys music, painting, photography, reading, and networking.