Administrative Team

New Project (83)

Julie Ayala

Julie Ayala is the Owner and Head of School at Topsail Montessori. She attended Purdue University for her undergraduate studies, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in financial planning and swam for the Boilermakers’ Women’s Swimming Team. Julie earned her master’s degree in special education at the College of Charleston in South Carolina (1998) and then attended the Montessori Educational Institute of the Pacific Northwest, where she earned Montessori certification for lower elementary (2004).

Julie has had a wide range of teaching experiences working with students of all ages in public, private and charter schools from Alaska to North Carolina, where she and her family now live. Julie’s love for children and her belief in the Montessori method inspired her to open Topsail Montessori in 2015.

Topsail Montessori

Trish Corbett

Trish earned her Early Childhood Montessori Certification at the Columbus Montessori Teacher Education Program and has worked in Montessori schools for over 15 years. Additionally, she holds a BS in Business. Trish’s introduction to Montessori came through her son. When seeking an alternative to daycare, a neighbor highly recommended her child’s Montessori school.

After visiting the school, witnessing the children’s calm, joyful learning, Trish and her husband Rich were hooked on Montessori. Both their son Jason and daughter Elizabeth thrived in Montessori schools, Jason attending through high school. Recently Trish and her family moved to Wilmington, fulfilling their dream to live near the ocean, and she’s very excited to join the Topsail Montessori community.

Stepping Stones Team

Topsail Montessori

Sue Ann Thompson

Sue-Ann Thompson hails from the beautiful Island of Jamaica. She migrated to the United States after her first year of college in the late 80’s. With a passion for children, Sue-Ann knew she wanted to be a teacher. After arriving here, she pursued her dream, pausing along the way, before finally attaining a Bachelor of Science Degree in Early Childhood Education at The University of Mount Olive at Wilmington, NC. Sue-Ann seeks to continue her studies and will pursue a Master of Education Degree in Montessori Teacher Education in the near future.

Sue-Ann and her husband share two adult children, and four grandchildren. She enjoys art, design, photography, music, travel, spending time with family and friends, and a good laugh

Topsail Montessori

Christian Kelley

Raised in Wilmington, Christian knew from a young age that he wanted to work with children. After graduating from UNCW with a Bachelors in elementary education, he spent time working with children of all ages. After coming to Topsail Montessori, he fell in love with the freedom and ownership the students had over their learning. Christian has plans to go back to school for a degree in early childhood education.

Primary Team

Topsail Montessori

Primary 1

Alice Nafehk

I am a recent graduate from UNC Chapel Hill where I studied Psychology and Global Studies and am passionate about mental health and how a child’s environment shapes how they think later in life. I love working with children in both a recreational and educational setting and helping them investigate topics they’re curious about and find their passion. I hope to attend graduate school for social work in the next few years and begin a career as a mental health therapist.

Topsail Montessori

Primary Assistant

Kari Yokochi

Kari Yokochi found deep value and meaning in the Montessori philosophy at first discovery when navigating her own parenting role with her son. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Humanities from Marshall University in West Virginia. After working in a daycare setting she found herself searching for work that would align with her values of nurturing and educating children. Topsail Montessori has fulfilled all her expectations and continues to inspire and enlighten her.

She strives to continue her early childhood education and aspires to be a Montessori certified teacher one day. When not at school, Kari is a full-time single mom with hopes of practicing yoga and working on her spiritual and inner development. “Our task as educators is to ensure that an intense consciousness of universal solidarity will flourish in our children. This is the great task of education: to make the child conscious of the reality and depth of human unity.” – Maria Montessori

Topsail Montessori

Primary 2 Lead

Becky O'Connell

Montessori education and philosophy bring out the best in everyone, allowing the child to work within limits and the adults to support every child’s growth through love, kindness, and respect. When my daughter started Montessori school at 18 months, I started my training to be a Montessori primary teacher. I started teaching in 2010. I took a break from the classroom to run my mother’s business in 2013, and then came back to the classroom in 2018. I live my life with a constant love and desire to learn, just as the primary aged children do. I was fortunate to watch my daughter grow up in a Montessori environment and get the complete benefits of this community. Her love of the world, respect of her community, and joy of learning were still strong as she entered 6th grade in a traditional school. My family and I love living in the Hampstead community and plan on being here for a long time.

Topsail Montessori

Primary 3 Lead

Cynthia Buell-Christian

Cynthia has been teaching children of all ages since 2004. She has been working with early childhood education and with school age children in Wilmington for 12 years. Cynthia received her NC early childhood credential from Cape Fear Community College where she also received her Associates in Arts. Cynthia, her husband, and little dog Coco moved back to the Port City from the Bay Area where she received her Montessori training and credential from the Center for Guided Montessori studies in 2019 and worked as a Head teacher in San Francisco and Director of a small school in Santa Cruz. Cynthia is a skilled and passionate artist in the community and has been guiding school aged children for many years as an art teacher. The Montessori method speaks to her heart the way art does. Guiding children through the complexities and simplicities of the world in a Montessori creative way fills her heart. When not teaching she creates her own art and enjoys being outside in nature, hiking and riding bikes with her husband Shawn and little dog Coco.

Elementary Team