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Our Team

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"Teaching is not about answering questions but about raising questions-

opening doors for them in places that they could not imagine"

-Yawar Baig

We would like to think of ourselves as facilitators, motivators, or guides. 

Learners are encouraged to take more control of their learning process. 

Our role is to embrace each child's unique qualities, equip and support them

with resources to be problem solvers and creative thinkers even through failures, 

empowering and motivating them to find what they want to accomplish in the world.

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Alyssa has taken an unconventional approach to education. Her sophomore year was a challenging time where she began to question the meaning of everything around her. The curriculum provided to her did not give her the answers that she sought. She decided to leave school and join the earth. She walked alone in the woods while contemplating some of life’s deepest questions. She built a relationship with the earth and the universe that provides an endless amount of creative energy as long as she is willing to receive it. As she began her journey through adulthood and joining the work force, she began to watch her light dim. The stress and over stimulation occupied her mind and she drifted farther away from her creative energy. Coming to River Oak Academy happened by chance. When she was a teenager, she imagined the perfect school, a school centered in nature with freedom for children to learn about the questions that they have for their experience in life. Alyssa is a student of life seeking sanctuary under the old oak trees of River Oak Academy. She is currently pursuing her Montessori certification in Early Childhood. She is reactivating the seeker within her by observing the travelers of River Oak Academy freely express themselves. The serenity calms her soul and allows her creativity to shine through. She hopes to inspire creative freedom within the travelers of River Oak Academy by expressing her own wonderment of the world around her. 

Alyssa Bush

Guide

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Alyssa has taken an unconventional approach to education. Her sophomore year was a challenging time where she began to question the meaning of everything around her. The curriculum provided to her did not give her the answers that she sought. She decided to leave school and join the earth. She walked alone in the woods while contemplating some of life’s deepest questions. She built a relationship with the earth and the universe that provides an endless amount of creative energy as long as she is willing to receive it. As she began her journey through adulthood and joining the work force, she began to watch her light dim. The stress and over stimulation occupied her mind and she drifted farther away from her creative energy. Coming to River Oak Academy happened by chance. When she was a teenager, she imagined the perfect school, a school centered in nature with freedom for children to learn about the questions that they have for their experience in life. Alyssa is a student of life seeking sanctuary under the old oak trees of River Oak Academy. She is reactivating the seeker within her by observing the travelers of River Oak Academy freely express themselves. The serenity calms her soul and allows her creativity to shine through. She hopes to inspire creative freedom within the travelers of River Oak Academy by expressing her own wonderment of the world around her. 
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Melanie has over 12 years of experience in the field of education working with hundreds of teens. Her Hero's Journey has led her down a path where she has worked as a  teacher, an Academic Life Coach for teens, and a yoga and mindfulness instructor for kids as well as adults. Along this journey, Melanie learned a lot from the students and parents she worked with, which inspired a passion in holistic education. She believes that a student's social emotional well-being is just as important as their academic progress. Melanie has published several workbooks and created various products to help teens have less stress and achieve more success. When she found River Oak Academy and learned about the Acton philosophy, she knew that it would be a great school for her curious, nature-loving son to grow and learn. The opportunity to serve as an MS Guide is an honor and in line with Melanie's passion to help students succeed in school and life. Her youngest child has recently joined ROA as well.

Melanie Black

Guide

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Melanie has over 12 years of experience in the field of education working with hundreds of teens. Her Hero's Journey has led her down a path where she has worked as a  teacher, an Academic Life Coach for teens, and a yoga and mindfulness instructor for kids as well as adults. Along this journey, Melanie learned a lot from the students and parents she worked with, which inspired a passion in holistic education. She believes that a student's social emotional well-being is just as important as their academic progress. Melanie has published several workbooks and created various products to help teens have less stress and achieve more success. When she found River Oak Academy and learned about the Acton philosophy, she knew that it would be a great school for her curious, nature-loving son to grow and learn. The opportunity to serve as an MS Guide is an honor and in line with Melanie's passion to help students succeed in school and life. Her youngest child has recently joined ROA as well.
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Dinah is co-founder of Connecting Thru Music and Music Teacher for Conneting Thru Music (CTM). She graduated from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in 99’ and studied Vocal Performance at Jacksonville University. She is a private voice, piano, and guitar instructor at Orange Park School of Music and a Licensed Kindermusik Educator. Her band, Cain’t Never Could, is partnered with CTM and provides live music and support for their fundraising initiatives. She is the lead song writer for CTM. 

As a music teacher and working musician, her goal is to connect to others through the powerful medium of music. She believes that music is the universal language, the common bond that connects us and soothes our souls. Having seen first hand the success that comes from using music as a tool for learning, she strongly believes in the benefits of music enrichment for children. She welcomes opportunities that allow her to share her love and appreciation for music with others! 

Dinah is co-founder of Connecting Thru Music and Music Teacher for Connecting Thru Music (CTM). She graduated from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in 99’ and studied Vocal Performance at Jacksonville University. She is a private voice, piano, and guitar instructor at Orange Park School of Music and a Licensed Kindermusik Educator. Her band, Cain’t Never Could, is partnered with CTM and provides live music and support for their fundraising initiatives. She is the lead song writer for CTM. 

As a music teacher and working musician, her goal is to connect to others through the powerful medium of music. She believes that music is the universal language, the common bond that connects us and soothes our souls. Having seen first hand the success that comes from using music as a tool for learning, she strongly believes in the benefits of music enrichment for children. She welcomes opportunities that allow her to share her love and appreciation for music with others! 

Guide

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Dinah Frilling

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Sherryl was born in the Philippines, raised in South Florida in a multicultural home, her dad from Trinidad and her mom from the Philippines.  Her mixed culture was vital to her love of art, completing various portfolio classes through high school and college, her advanced drawing and painting skills spilled into the digital world. Sherryl was fortunate to attend and graduate from the Digital Animation and Visual Effects School in Orlando and CG Masters Academy in BC, Canada. Was able to do all this with the support of her husband Sean, and her 4 children

Her son had travelled with her during this time which lead them to the world of homeschooling. This opened up Sherryl's eyes to what a child is capable of when given agency over their learning. 

After a decade of large scale projects throughout, she was fortunate to have traveled around the country and world, absorbing different landscapes, her career took a turn into the digital world of Film and Gaming.

Sherryl had also founded, and ran for eight year, Hands On STEAM Studio & Gallery; a unique space that offered STEAM (Science Technology Engineering ART Math) activities for all ages, from preschool-adult. She found that the classes engaged diverse and independent creatives to be successful. Throughout the years, it developed experience-driven communities, bringing teams together, encouraging young makers to explore limitless possibilities- empowering minds, launching businesses, transforming neighborhood into a better place to be.

Her wish, as she takes on the position as guide, is to bring about inspiration, new vibrancy and increasing engagement using arts across disciplines into our studios.

Sherryl was born in the Philippines, raised in South Florida in a multicultural home, her dad from Trinidad and her mom from the Philippines.  Her mixed culture was vital to her love of art, completing various portfolio classes through high school and college, her advanced drawing and painting skills spilled into the digital world. Sherryl was fortunate to attend and graduate from the Digital Animation and Visual Effects School in Orlando and CG Masters Academy in BC, Canada. Was able to do all this with the support of her husband Sean, and her 4 children

Her son had travelled with her during this time which lead them to the world of homeschooling. This opened up Sherryl's eyes to what a child is capable of when given agency over their learning. 

After a decade of large scale projects throughout, she was fortunate to have traveled around the country and world, absorbing different landscapes, her career took a turn into the digital world of Film and Gaming.

Sherryl had also founded, and ran for eight year, Hands On STEAM Studio & Gallery; a unique space that offered STEAM (Science Technology Engineering ART Math) activities for all ages, from preschool-adult. She found that the classes engaged diverse and independent creatives to be successful. Throughout the years, it developed experience-driven communities, bringing teams together, encouraging young makers to explore limitless possibilities- empowering minds, launching businesses, transforming neighborhood into a better place to be.

Her wish, as she takes on the position as guide, is to bring about inspiration, new vibrancy and increasing engagement using arts across disciplines into our studios.

Sherryl Morgan

Guide

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Our Team

Mary was born and raised in the Philippines, of Filipino and Spanish ancestry. Coming from a family with a passion for art, science, and a heart for service, with both sisters going into healthcare; she was naturally lead into pursuing healthcare as a career and completed her Post Doctoral Studies in Boston University. She loved serving her patients and developing a connection with their families but eventually felt that the transactional component in healthcare did not align with her beliefs nor feed her soul. After having 2 children of her own, she made the momentous decision to retire and focus on her family. This allowed her to witness her children's experiences in school which lead her to the greatest crossroads of her life. Seeking what she didn't know existed yet knowing that being content with the status quo and not taking action was something she was not willing to do; a great believer in creating the change you wish to see in the world, she felt a deep calling to create a school which lead her to Acton Academy. She pursued further training at Lesley University on a Reggio approach to education. This transition into more progressive ideas in education had helped her let go of the achievement-based, perfectionistic mindset nurtured by her past experience, with a dream of creating a learning community where the joy of learning is palpable. With many years of trial and error, soul-searching, and great love- River Oak Academy was born. She is inspired each day by all the children at ROA. She remains a lifelong learner, most often learning more from the children than from anyone else. Mary's vision is to see River Oak Academy as a place where children are seen as the best versions of themselves. A place where they feel safe, heard, and loved. 
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Mary Shaeffer

Founder/Head of School

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Gina Rich is a graduate of The Art Institute Of Atlanta and is working towards obtaining a Master’s degree in mixed media and education. She has spent the last twenty years as a graphic designer for companies such as Whole Foods Market, The Home Depot and Georgia Power. Now that her children are older, Gina has relocated away from the Atlanta traffic to sunny Florida where she enjoys traveling in her Airstream trailer on her breaks. She remains focused on guiding those who may not otherwise get the support and opportunity to nurture their creative talents. She looks forward to helping River Oak Acadamy be a place where everyone feels welcome, accepted and free to be their creative best.

Gina Rich is a graduate of The Art Institute Of Atlanta and is working towards obtaining a Master’s degree in mixed media and education. She has spent the last twenty years as a graphic designer for companies such as Whole Foods Market, The Home Depot and Georgia Power. Now that her children are older, Gina has relocated away from the Atlanta traffic to sunny Florida where she enjoys traveling in her Airstream trailer on her breaks. She remains focused on guiding those who may not otherwise get the support and opportunity to nurture their creative talents. She looks forward to helping River Oak Acadamy be a place where everyone feels welcome, accepted and free to be their creative best.

Gina Rich

Guide

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Our Team

Mary has lived in Northeast Florida for 17 years. She graduated from Boston University School of Dental Medicine and completed a Post Doctoral Program in Oral Surgery as well as General Dentistry. She enjoyed the artistry but most especially connecting with her patients.  When her son was born, she decided to focus on being a mother. A great believer in creating the change you want in the world, she felt a deep calling after experiencing shortcomings in her son’s education. She came to a crossroads to either find a school of their dreams or to create it. She decided to participate in the Reggio Emilia approach to Education Program at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA where she applied her passion for a tailored, individualized, collaborative approach from healthcare into education. With great love, River Oak Academy was born.
Mary sees River Oak Academy as a home away from home, a place where children will be accepted as they are, a place where they feel safe, heard, and loved. 
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Laura lived on both US coasts and in between as a child, then settled into Vanderbilt University for her undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Science. After being awarded the highly competitive Walter Wattles Fellowship at Lloyd’s of London, Laura worked in the aviation insurance industry in New York City. Deciding to follow her calling into the world of education, Laura returned to Nashville and earned her Master of Education at Peabody College. This led her to her work at the Oklahoma Arts Institute, creating fine arts education programs for teachers and talented high school students. Laura married Jeff Sandefer and is the happy mother of Sam and Charlie and step-mother to Taite. It is the inspiration of these children that led Laura and Jeff to co-found Acton Academy. Her greatest hero is her mother who was a Master Teacher. Her wisest mentor is her father who sent her off to college with two words of advice: "Be curious."

Laura Sandefer, M. Ed.

Co-Founder of Acton Academy Austin / Advisor

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Mary has lived in Northeast Florida for 17 years. She graduated from Boston University School of Dental Medicine and completed a Post Doctoral Program in Oral Surgery as well as General Dentistry. She enjoyed the artistry but most especially connecting with her patients.  When her son was born, she decided to focus on being a mother. A great believer in creating the change you want in the world, she felt a deep calling after experiencing shortcomings in her son’s education. She came to a crossroads to either find a school of their dreams or to create it. She decided to participate in the Reggio Emilia approach to Education Program at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA where she applied her passion for a tailored, individualized, collaborative approach from healthcare into education. With great love, River Oak Academy was born.
Mary sees River Oak Academy as a home away from home, a place where children will be accepted as they are, a place where they feel safe, heard, and loved. 
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Jeff Sandefer lives a dual life as an entrepreneur and a Socratic Guide. As an entrepreneur, he founded his first company at age 16 and went on to found or co-found seven successful businesses. As a Socratic teacher at the University of Texas, Jeff’s students five times voted him the school’s Outstanding Teacher and Businessweek named him one of the top Entrepreneurship professors in America. Jeff went on to co-found the Acton School of Business, an MBA program perennially ranked by the Princeton Review among the best in the nation. In 2012 The Economist honored him as one of the top fifteen Business School professors in the world. Jeff is a graduate of the Harvard Business School, where he served for over twenty years on the school’s governing committees. He was a longtime director of the Philanthropy Roundtable and National Review magazine and one of the youngest members ever elected to the Texas Business Hall of Fame.

Jeff Sandefer, MBA

Co-Founder of Acton Academy Austin / Advisor

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Kathy grew up in Miami. She is a military child of Japanese and Costa Rican descent. She moved to Jacksonville in 2017 to be closer to family. She's a proud mother of an 11 year old son whom she had raised as a Montessori child. She first learned about the Montessori method in her twenties while working part time at an AMI Montessori School, where she became mesmerized with how much a child can learn given the right tools. Witnessing them develop independence with the freedom of choice.

Kathy holds a Bachelor's Degree in Law and Forensic Science from Florida International University. Her intention was to enter the police academy but longed for something that nurtured her tender heart and spirit. She decided to change the course of her life and instead pursued training in a Montessori program at Loyola University.  She has taught in a Toddler classroom for 7 years, a Primary classroom for 7 years, and in Lower Elementary for 9 years.

She is looking forward to her new adventure as a guide at River Oak Academy where she can instill her love of the Montessori philosophy with our families.

During her spare time, she likes to attend Crossfit classes, bake, go on family mini vacations visiting historical places, and living a healthy lifestyle.

“When a child is given a little leeway, he will at once shout, ‘I want to do it!’ But in our schools, which have an environment adapted to children’s needs, they say, ‘Help me to do it alone.’” -The Secret of Childhood

Kathy Aguilar

Guide

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Kathy grew up in Miami. She is a military child of Japanese and Costa Rican descent. She moved to Jacksonville in 2017 to be closer to family. She's a proud mother of an 11 year old son whom she had raised as a Montessori child.

She first learned about the Montessori method in her twenties while working part time at an AMI Montessori School, where she became mesmerized with how much a child can learn given the right tools. Witnessing them develop independence with the freedom of choice.

Kathy holds a Bachelor's Degree in Law and Forensic Science from Florida International University. Her intention was to enter the police academy but longed for something that nurtured her tender heart and spirit. She decided to change the course of her life and instead pursued training in a Montessori program at Loyola University.  She has taught in a Toddler classroom for 7 years, a Primary classroom for 7 years, and in Lower Elementary for 9 years with a total of 23 years of experience in a Montessori Environment.

She is looking forward to her new adventure as a guide at River Oak Academy where she can instill her love of the Montessori philosophy with our families.

During her spare time, she likes to attend Crossfit classes, bake, go on family mini vacations visiting historical places, and living a healthy lifestyle.

“When a child is given a little leeway, he will at once shout, ‘I want to do it!’ But in our schools, which have an environment adapted to children’s needs, they say, ‘Help me to do it alone.’” -The Secret of Childhood

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