Ms. Melissa

Co-Founder, Administrator

A former Montessori student, Ms. Melissa graduated high school in Bigfork, MT, then instantly jumped on the opportunity to live in and travel much of western Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean where she reveled in the beauty that differing people and cultures bring to life.  Ten years later, home and establishing roots called her back to the United States where she met and married her husband, Kelly.  Blessed with the opportunity to be the parents of four young boys, one of which born with Down syndrome, her passion for children and their right to a happy, healthy life grew exponentially and led to the creation of Grasslands Montessori Academy.  Ms. Melissa looks forward to continuing her education in child development and advocacy with a firm belief that people can make a difference and that children have a voice which deserves to be heard.  Her hobbies include cooking, mountain biking, football season (Go Broncos!), and playing with her children.

Ms. Valerie

Co-Founder, Director of Education, Early Childhood Lead Teacher

Ms. Valerie describes herself as a "passionate lifelong Montessorian." The decision to embark on her Montessori journey was made more than 30 years ago and she values it as one of her greatest life changing decisions. A pioneer in her time, Valerie brought the Early Childhood Program to Taylorsville, Utah in 1990 when she co-founded Montessori Children 's Club. Then, in 1998, along with her husband and sweetheart, she co-founded Montessori at Riverton, which, continuing in her legacy, introduced the Elementary and Middle School Programs to Northern Utah setting the school apart as being one of two Montessori centers to offer the upper levels of education in the state. Always celebrating opportunities to bring Montessori to children, North Dakota and its recent population influx inspired her decision to sell the school in Utah and head north. We welcome her strong voice in opportunity and education for children, and her passion to teach Montessori to this area.

Ms. Valerie holds a Montessori certificate in the Early Childhood and the Elementary 6 - 9 programs through AMS and has been a Lead Teacher in the classroom at each level of Montessori, from Toddlers to Middle School. She has served on several boards, including the Coalition for Private Schools, Vouchers for Choice, and the Utah Montessori Council where she has served as President for the last seven years. In 2007, Ms. Valerie co-founded a MACTE (Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education) accredited training center through The Institute for Guided Studies. A strong believer in giving back to the community, Ms. Valerie often is seen sharing her gifts as a guest speaker and presenter at Montessori conferences.
Ms. Valerie is the mother of six children and has 23 grandchildren. She enjoys reading, traveling, and snow skiing.

Early Childhood

Ms. Valerie

Co-Founder, Director of Education, Early Childhood Lead Teacher

Ms. Marie

Early Childhood Instructor
Ms. Marie is a native of Killdeer, North Dakota where she grew up with many siblings and living on the family farm and ranch. After high school, she continued her education at Dickinson State University and University of Mary in Bismarck and in May 2014 received a Bachelor’s degree in Theology. During her time at University of Mary, Ms. Marie spent a semester in Rome where she took a class on the Montessori Method. Since taking that class, she has been interested in the method and is excited to learn more about Montessori by working at Grasslands Academy.

Ms. Marie’s next endeavor was to participate for two years as a missionary with the Denver non-profit Christ in the City. Her experience as a missionary allowed her to work with the impoverished and mentally disabled, which gave her a passion to work with people and change the world through their flourishing. She hopes to fulfill this passion by helping children flourish at Grasslands Academy.

In her free time Ms. Marie loves to read fiction and philosophy, go horseback riding, play card games with her family, and drink coffee on the front porch.

Ms. Mary

Early Childhood Assistant Teacher
Mary was born and brought up in Mizoram, India. She moved to the US in 2006 after her husband, who at the time was working as a petroleum engineer for Schlumberger, was transferred back to his home country. Once in the U.S., Ms. Mary and her family lived in New Orleans, Louisiana and in Houma, Louisiana for over five years. Then, together they moved to Dickinson, ND. They have lived here about two and a half years now and love everything about it, except the winters. Ms. Mary received her Bachelor’s Degree with Education as her major subject under the North Eastern Hills University. While living in India, Ms. Mary enjoyed working as a Kindergarten teacher for three years. She has also worked at Berg Elementary and Southwest Community High School, here in Dickinson, ND. Ms. Mary learned about Maria Montessori and her methods of teaching while attending high school and again in college. She truly believes what Maria Montessori herself said, “Education is a natural process carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words, but by experiences in the environment”. Ms. Mary has two young boys whom she wanted to have a “freedom to learn”, a meaningful degree of independence, good work habits, self-discipline, and a sense of responsibility. A Montessori Education provides all that for them, and more.


Ms. Tashina

Toddler Assistant Teacher, Extended Care Assistant
My name is Tashina Baranko, but you can call me Shina. Born and raised in North Dakota, I graduated from Richardton-Taylor High School in May, 2016. I live on my family's ranch south of Richardton with my three younger sisters and my parents. I love to read, hangout with my family's cows and my friends. I also love to work with children and am excited for the opportunity to further my experience with them here at Grasslands Montessori.


Ms. Billie

Extended Care Program Director, In-class Paraprofessional
From working with children and young adults with mental and physical limitations to medical assisting, I have always had a passion for working with people. Born in Germany and raised in Texas from the age of five, I completed my degree in Medical Assisting in 2002. My goal is to continue my education by certifying as a Montessori Teacher in Early Childhood and Toddlers. I have four wonderful children and one grandchild whom I love spending as much time with as I can. Aside from my family, my hobbies also involve arts and crafts.