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We are passionate and dedicated Catholic teachers looking to offer the best education for children and support to families. Our goal is to guide children to their full God-given potential. Together we form a highly effective team using collaborating, respect, and forming strong partnerships with our community. 
We thrive to offer an authentic Montessori education deeply rooted in the Byzantine Catholic faith. We are continually engaged in our own growth through professional development and spiritual formation. 



Pauline Meert

Director, Lead Teacher

Pauline was born in France and moved to the US with her family in 1999. She always had a great love for working with children. When she was sixteen a priest friend mentioned the word Montessori and the rest is history! She received her international Montessori diploma from Montessori Centre International in 2008. She later came across the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and was deeply moved by the beauty of it all. She completed her Master’s degree in Montessori education from St. Catherine University in 2014. Her biggest dream came true in 2018 with the founding of SMA. Pauline has a deep passion for Montessori education and loves to share it with others. When she is not in the classroom she enjoys swing dancing, sewing, reading, and spending her time with friends and family. She is a parishioner of Holy Protection of the Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Church. 


Emma Hecker

Administrative Assistant

Emma was born and raised in Colorado. After graduating high school, she had the opportunity to study abroad in Madrid, Spain for a year, where she developed a deep appreciation for the richness of culture and faith. After her year in Spain, she attended Franciscan University of Steubenville for two years and had the opportunity to travel further when she spent a semester at Franciscan's campus in Austria. Upon her return to Colorado, she found Sophia Montessori Academy and developed a deep appreciation for Montessori education founded upon the Catholic faith. She is now a great advocate and loves sharing about our school with others. When she is not working with children or traveling, she enjoys reading, baking, and spending time with family and friends. She is a parishioner of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Littleton.


Julianna Sweeting

Assistant Teacher

Julianna was born in Littleton, Colorado but also spent several years of her childhood in Orlando, Florida. She is a recent graduate of Colorado Christian University and is so excited to be a part of SMA. She has spent time teaching English in Tunisia, where she discovered her love for teaching and for being involved in the lives of children. During her college years, she pursued her deep love for the Catholic faith, discipleship, and studying the Scriptures. Some of her favorite things are exploring the outdoors, reading lots of books, writing, and learning languages. She and her husband are parishioners at Holy Protection of the Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Church.


Alexandra Ralles

Assistant Teacher

Alexandra was born in Tucson, AZ, and moved to Texas to study at the University of Dallas. After graduating in 2021, she spent a year teaching at a classical elementary school. Alexandra is excited to move to Denver and join the community at Sophia Montessori Academy this fall. She loves her Catholic faith, working with children, reading, learning, making new friends, and spending time outdoors. 


Karen Thatcher

Teacher Aide

Karen moved to Denver when her husband, an Orthodox priest, was transferred here in 2017. She has taught a wide variety of ages in homeschool courses to Community College classes, having received an M.S. in Literacy and Reading. Karen was searching for better church school curriculum when she came across the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS). She was referred  to Sophia Montessori Academy to observe their work. Karen was astounded by the beauty and efficacy of this Montessori based, faith curriculum. She is thrilled to be at Sophia Montessori Academy part-time while helping out at her local church.


Father Joel Barstad


Meghan DeLauro


Father Joel was raised in the Scandinavian Lutheran tradition where he developed a love for sung liturgy and the richness of a liturgical calendar. As a result of his encounter with the writings of the Greek Fathers during college, he and his wife Leslie were led into the Catholic Church in 1985. The fascination with the Christian East drew them further in until they decided in 1994 to make the Byzantine Catholic Church their canonical home. As a boy in the Lutheran church, Father Joel heard the call to serve the Lord Jesus and his Church in pastoral ministry; but after his entrance into the Catholic Church, no path opened for him until after the changes Pope Frances made in 2014. He was ordained to the priesthood in October 2018. After serving on the staff of the Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA, from 2019 to 2022, Father Joel has returned to Denver to continue his priestly ministry at Holy Protection parish, and its Fort Collins outreach, as well as at Saints Cyril and Methodius Russian Byzantine Catholic community meeting on the Regis University campus. Father Joel and Pani Leslie have raised seven children and take delight in their grandchildren, whose number is steadily growing.

Development and Marketing

Meghan grew up in Colorado, attending Denver-area small independent Catholic schools. She completed an English degree and education licensure, and then she went on to teach middle school language arts. Focused primarily on raising her family, she became involved in charitable and education nonprofit organization development the last six years. A recent graduate of the Denver Biblical School, she continues to enjoy her study of scripture and lives in Littleton with her husband, Brian, and their six children.   

“It is possible to see a clear analogy between the mission of the Shepherd of the Church and that of the prudent and generous Montessori directress - who with tenderness and love knows how to discover and bring to light the most hidden virtues and capacities of the child.”

Pope Saint John the XXII

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