About Us

For more than 25 years, School Literacy and Culture (SLC) has promoted effective teaching through rigorous professional education initiatives that emphasize early literacy, child development, writing and culture.

Our Mission

School Literacy and Culture promotes effective teaching through rigorous professional educational initiatives that emphasize reading and writing, culture, child development and research.

Through education and mentoring, we not only support teachers, administrators and parents, but also ensure that Houston-area students receive the key to academic success: a high-quality early literacy education.

Guiding Principles

Our work is based on the following guiding principles:

  1. Change requires teachers to become part of a professional learning community that places inquiry at its center.
  2. Teachers learn best when they can use their own classroom experience to examine their beliefs and practices.
  3. Issues of equity must permeate the fabric of professional development.

To accomplish these goals we have multiple programs tiered to meet teachers’, schools’ and districts’ varied needs.

Our Offerings

  • Yearlong Mentoring
  • Weeklong Institutes
  • Daylong Summits
  • Teaching Lab
  • Student Programs


Karen Capo
Director, School Literacy and Culture

Karen is a passionate early childhood educator who has been involved in preschool, kindergarten and first grade classrooms for 30 years. In addition to teaching toddlers to fifth graders, she has served as a preschool curriculum director, elementary science laboratory specialist, and graduate instructor through the University of Houston system and at Rice University. Karen brings more than 20 years of experience with School Literacy and Culture to her current position as director of the project. During her tenure, Karen has been named Teacher of the Year by her peers at Shlenker School and Teacher Educator of the Year by the Houston Area Association for the Education of Young Children (HAAEYC). Karen and her colleagues have also been recognized by the National Association for Early Childhood Teacher Education (NAECTE) for an award-winning research article. Karen enjoys traveling with her husband, Steve, and their sons - Rice Owls Jonathan (class of '16) and Christian (class of '18).

Margaret Immel
Associate Director, Early Literacy Leadership Academy

Margaret earned her B.S. in elementary and early childhood education from Florida State University and her M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction (with a major emphasis in reading and minor emphasis in special education) from University of New Orleans. She was a classroom teacher for more than 20 years, working with a wide range of children mostly in Houston ISD SIGHTS and Vanguard classrooms.

Margaret began her involvement with School Literacy and Culture in 1990 as a resident teacher. She became a mentor in 1991 and left the classroom in 1996 when she was given the job of assistant director for the Classroom Storytelling work at SLC. She and Patsy Cooper designed the first Summer Institute in 1996 and Margaret went on to design and lead subsequent yearly institutes until retiring from SLC in 2001. After retiring, Margaret consulted across the country presenting workshops and institutes and worked in the Houston area in several schools as an early childhood specialist consultant. Margaret was an evaluator/consultant/presenter for Learning Resources(R) helping to develop new materials for early childhood education. She came out of retirement four years ago to go back to work with School Literacy and Culture. She is now the Literacy and the Arts coordinator as well as a mentor teacher and seminar co-leader.

Debra Paz
Associate Director, Early Literacy and Bilingual Programs

Debbie earned her B.A. in spanish and M.Ed. in elementary education from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She taught in New York schools for seven years and Houston’s Spring Branch ISD for more than 20 years, mostly at the pre-K and kindergarten levels. Until becoming associate director, Debbie taught a bilingual pre-K class at Spring Branch ISD’s Bear Boulevard School for Early Learning. In 2009, Debbie was named Houston Area Association for the Education of Young Children Teacher of the Year.

Debbie has mentored for School Literacy and Culture for more than five years and co-leads seminars for SLC. She is currently serving as the Project's Ridgemont Early Childhood Center site supervisor. Additionally, she supervises multiple campuses of Creative Writing Camp. Because learning how to take children’s stories transformed her teaching and showed her ways to give children more of a voice in the classroom, Debbie loves bringing the energy and excitement of stories into resident teachers’ classrooms.

Brooke Brown
Assistant Director, Early Literacy Specialist

Brooke earned her B.S in interdisciplinary studies from University of Houston – Victoria. Brooke taught first grade for eight years at Katy ISD’s Jeanette Hayes Elementary where she was named New Teacher of the Year (2005), Hayes Teacher of the Year (2010), and Katy ISD Elementary Teacher of the Year (2010). While at Hayes, she also served as PTA faculty representative, Science Campus lead teacher, and student teacher cooperating teacher. At the district level, Brooke acted as orientation facilitator for new first grade teachers in Katy ISD. Brooke has been involved with School Literacy and Culture as a mentor teacher and seminar presenter and currently serves the SLC staff as early literacy specialist.

In addition to her involvement with School Literacy and Culture, Brooke co-teaches Creative Writing Camp classes. Brooke enjoys traveling, outdoor activity, spending time with family and friends, and volunteering with her husband, Matt.

Jordan Gainey Khadam-Hir
Assistant Director, Outreach & Education

Jordan graduated from Washington State University with majors in criminal justice and political science and a minor in Spanish. She trained as a teacher with Teach for America and has remained active with the program as a corps member advisor and a writer of curriculum units and assessments. Jordan taught at KIPP DREAM Prep in Houston’s fifth ward in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade classrooms. She served as the response to intervention coordinator for three years will also serving as the dean of the lower school and later as the assistant principal. In 2009, she was honored for her leadership with two awards: the KIPP DREAM Most Innovative Teaching Strategies Award and the Teach for America and KIPP Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award. Jordan has been involved with School Literacy and Culture since 2008 as a resident and then as a mentor teacher. She is currently the assistant director, outreach & education for SLC.   

In addition to her involvement with SLC, Jordan graduated from the Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business with her MBA in 2013 and was a member of the fourth REEP (Rice Entrepreneurial Education Program) cohort. Jordan loves to run, travel and spend time with her husband and young son.

Laurie Hammons
Publications, Website, Finance

Laurie has worked at the Center for Education since 1998, first as editorial coordinator for the American Educational Research Journal, and later as data manager for the research team, the center's financial manager, and director of publications, including webmaster of the center’s website and editor of Centerpiece. She has edited several books and numerous articles for center authors. In addition to her responsibilities with the School Literacy and Culture Project, she has recently enjoyed work with the Creative Writing Camp.

Laurie was a National Merit Scholar and received a B.A. from Trinity University. She has worked as an accountant, and later taught preschool and volunteered as an art teacher and math tutor in the public schools and as a Girl Scout leader. She enjoys singing in her church choir with her husband, quilting, gardening, woodworking and spending time with her two grown daughters.

Vanessa Quezada Vierra
Bilingual Early Literacy Specialist

Vanessa graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in communication and minor in English. Vanessa started her teaching career as a head start pre-k teacher and team leader in San Antonio ISD. She later taught third grade bilingual and dual language classes at Fort Bend ISD for four years. Before joining the School Literacy and Culture team, Vanessa worked as a bilingual math specialist and interventionist in Houston ISD where she serviced students in first through fourth grades. While in Houston ISD, she also mentored teachers and designed and delivered professional development.

In addition to her involvement with School Literacy & Culture, Vanessa enjoys cooking, traveling and spending time with her husband, Justin.

Emily Merriweather
Program Coordinator

Emily’s involvement with SLC dates back to 1998, when she attended Creative Writing Camp as a seventh-grader. In 2010, she earned a BFA in Creative Writing from St. Andrews University, where she also served as the host of the Fortner Writers’ Forum and student editor of Gravity Hill.  She joined SLC as a staff member in 2015, where she was reunited with her camp anthology while organizing the library.

In her spare time, she enjoys embroidery, photography, and spending time with her husband and their dog and two cats.

Project Leaders and Mentor Teachers

Kandy Bozeman

Kandy graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a B.S. in family, infancy and early childhood education. For the last 12 years, Kandy has worked as a pre-K teacher for both Fort Bend ISD and in private schools in the Houston area. While working in Fort Bend ISD, she taught ESL pre-K. Kandy served as the preschool director for Sugar Grove Christian School for several years and is excitedly returning to a kindergarten classroom this year.

Kandy completed her residency with School Literacy and Culture during the 2001-2002 school year. She has served as a mentor for SLC over the past years. Kandy continues to avidly practice story dictation, dramatization, writing and literacy in the classroom. She has been instrumental in implementing the SLC Storytelling Project at Sugar Grove Christian Preschool. Kandy enjoys experiencing the love of storytelling with young children. Her interests outside of school include spending with her husband and her 3 young boys: Ethan, Will and Callen.

Alyssa Countryman

Alyssa’s background includes more than 12 years in the field of early childhood education. After earning her B.A. in anthropology from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs NY, she obtained her MS in infant/toddler development and special education from Wheelock College in Boston. She is passionate about sharing the importance of quality care for infants and toddlers and her master’s degree program included extensive training in communication with parents and consultation with caregivers.

Alyssa has varied experience working with children of preschool and elementary school ages and taught abroad for several months in South Korea. Since moving to Houston, she has worked with Neighborhood Centers, Inc. as an early childhood training specialist and instructional coordinator as well as with Metropolitan Montessori Schools as a curriculum specialist. Alyssa is also a seminar leader with the SLC. Outside of work, she enjoys running, making jewelry, reading and spending time with husband Adam and their dogs, Buster and Maizy.

Laurie Dreyfuss

Laurie is a graduate of the University of Texas with degrees in elementary and special education. She has taught for more than 30 years working primarily with second to 4th grade students in public and private schools. In addition, Laurie has worked in after school programs with Playback Theatre.

Laurie has been with SLC for more than 10 years. She has been a co-teacher and site supervisor with the Creative Writing Camp. Laurie also co-facilitates Writing in the Arts. Through the years Laurie has been recognized both as an educator and for her work in the community. Laurie enjoys mentoring teachers and watching the imagination of children come to life.

Sherry Dubin

Sherry is a graduate of University of Houston with degrees in elementary education and kindergarten. She is also a certified academic language therapist (CALT). Sherry has taught for more than 30 years, working with toddler through 6th grade students in public and private schools. She is currently literacy and learning specialist of The Shlenker School. Sherry has taught toddler, pre-K and kindergarten classes at Shlenker and was awarded Shlenker’s Preschool Teacher of the Year in 1992 and Elementary Teacher of the Year in 2011.

Sherry has been with School Literacy and Culture for more than 20 years, starting as a resident teacher. She has served as a mentor teacher, seminar leader, Creative Writing Camp teacher and currently site coordinator at Creative Writing Camp. Sherry is an SLC board member, as well as a mentor for toddler and pre-k teachers at the Shlenker campus where she also co-facilitates the PLC for OT, Pre K3 and Pre K4. Sherry feels that SLC has changed her thinking in many ways, making her more reflective about teaching, and giving her greater insight into children’s lives and literacy development. She enjoys engaging with other professionals that share similar passions about the development of young children. Sherry also enjoys travel, movies and recreational biking with her husband, two adult sons and her daughter in-law.

Sharon Dworaczyk

Sharon earned a B.S. in interdisciplinary studies (with early childhood and ESL specializations) from Texas A&M and an M.S. in early childhood from University of Houston – Clear Lake. Sharon taught three-year-old and pre-K classes for eight years in Houston-area private schools. She has also taught kindergarten and first grade classes at Creative Writing Camp (CWC) for 15 years. Sharon was a nominee for the 1997 HAAEYC (Houston Area Association for the Education of Young Children) Classroom Teacher of the Year award and was named HAAEYC’s Teacher Educator of the Year in 2005.

Sharon trained as a resident with School Literacy and Culture in 1996 and has been mentoring with SLC in toddler through 2nd grade classrooms since 1999. She also acts as special projects coordinator for the SLC and co-leads the yearlong seminar. Sharon is married and the mother of two very active young sons. She enjoys painting, skiing and swimming.

Lori Espinoza

Lori graduated from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. She has been a classroom teacher since 1996. In 2010, Lori was named ESL teacher of the year at HISD's Gabriela Mistral Center for Early Education where she has taught since 2004. She feels very strongly that all children should feel safe and successful in their classroom environment.

Lori completed her resident year with School Literacy and Culture during the 2004-2005 school year. She is now the lead teacher of the Rice Oral and Written Language Laboratory (Rice OWL Lab). She invites parents into the lab to celebrate their children’s learning. Lori also serves as a site supervisor during Creative Writing Camp.

Pansy Gee

Pansy earned a B.S. in education from University of Houston and has done graduate work at Houston Baptist University. Her teaching career includes two years in preschool classrooms and 30 years in Houston ISD teaching grades 1-5. She is currently a language arts lead teacher for grades 3-5 in the Literacy Development Center at Mark Twain Elementary School where she was twice named teacher of the year.

Pansy completed her residency with School Literacy and Culture during the 1988-89 school year and has been a mentor teacher since 1992. As part of her ongoing role as seminar leader, she has led SLC's advanced study seminar. Pansy serves as a site coordinator for Creative Writing Camp where she shares her philosophy of writing:  make the audience see what you see, think what you think and feel what you feel.

Karen Gillaspia

Karen graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in elementary education. She earned her M.Ed. at the University of Houston in reading instruction. Her 25+ years of teaching experience include time in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classrooms. She has also taught at Creative Writing Camp. Karen currently teaches kindergarten in Katy ISD’s Jeanette Hayes Elementary where she was recognized as a Hayes Teacher of the Year. During her teaching career, Karen has been a team leader, student teacher cooperating teacher and a member of various campus and district committees. She has facilitated many presentations and workshops at campus, district and state levels. Karen is a mentor teacher with School Literacy and Culture.

Sue King

Sue attended Colorado State University. She has 14 years of experience as a lead teacher in early childhood education at the pre-K and kindergarten levels.

Since completing her resident year in School Literacy and Culture, Sue has been an avid participant in story dictation, dramatization, writing and literacy in the classroom. Sue is currently a mentor teacher with the SLC and has worked with teachers in both English and Spanish speaking classrooms for more than 15 years. She has participated in Creative Writing Camp for many years as both a teacher and site coordinator. When she is not in the classroom, Sue enjoys singing in two community choirs, being a member of the PEO sorority, gardening with her husband, and spending time with her children and 8 grandchildren.

Jennifer Lenardic

Jennifer earned both a B.S. in child psychology and a master’s degree in early childhood special education from the University of Minnesota. She has taught a wide variety of children with special needs. Her work in special education included supervising student teachers, creating a program for a public school system and teaching in a school affiliated with a children’s hospital.

Jennifer trained with School Literacy and Culture in 2008 and is now a mentor teacher. She currently teaches 3 year olds at St. Martin’s Episcopal Children’s Center where she has been using dictation and dramatization for the past several years.

Coreen Samuel

Coreen has worked with young children over the span of 30 years. She first received her undergraduate degree from the University of Houston. She continued her studies and trained at Harris County Department of Education as a literacy coach. Presently, she works as a literacy coach at University of Houston Charter School. Over the years, she has continued her work with various early childhood programs, including School Literacy and Culture. In addition to this, she has worked with the WITS program as a teacher of writing in the Summer Creative Writing Camps for children. These experiences have allowed her to be the best teacher she can be. This year she is excited to return to the SLC.


Patsy Cooper
Research Affiliate, Advisory Board member, Consultant
Queens College

Patsy is associate professor of early childhood education at Queens College, CUNY who is currently serving as editor of the Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education (JECTE). She is a former classroom teacher, founding director of the Trinity School for Young Children in Houston, and founding director of School Literacy and Culture at Rice University. She received her Ph.D. from Emory University.

Three major themes are represented in Patsy’s published works and works in progress: effective teachers of children of color, early childhood education and early literacy (birth through grade 2, including children’s literature). She has recently completed a book on Vivian Paley’s philosophy of early childhood education, The Classrooms All Young Children Need: Lessons in Teaching from Vivian Paley, which won the 2010 award for exemplary research in Teaching and Teacher Education from the American Educational Research Association.

Connie Floyd

Connie is the new owner and director of The Littlest Ones, a Houston-area preschool specializing in the care of infants and toddlers. A native Houstonian, Connie has spent her entire professional life in the field of early childhood education. A graduate of Texas Southern University with a degree in psychology, Connie has taught children as young as 12 months and as old as eight years in a variety of settings. Connie is a former director of SLC and has continued as a mentor and consultant with the program. During her time with SLC, Connie created the Cultural Conversations project and started our toddler literacy programming. She has spent the last few years focusing on the education of teachers in the field.

Debbie Lingrey

Debbie earned both her B.A. in psychology and California Teaching Credential from Occidental College in Los Angeles. She taught lower primary grades in Arizona and Texas and has more than 15 years of experience as a pre-K teacher in Houston, most recently at Chapelwood School for Young Children in Houston. In 2005, Debbie was named the HAAEYC (Houston Area Association for the Education of Young Children) Classroom Teacher of the Year and Elsie Samuels Outstanding Early Educator.

Debbie trained with School Literacy and Culture as a resident teacher in 1996 and became a mentor teacher in 2002. She has also co-taught many Creative Writing Camp kindergarten classes. Debbie is married with two adult children and is currently serving as a writer with School Literacy and Culture from her new home in Tucson, Arizona.

Board Members

Sara Foley Edwards, chair
Patsy Cooper
Sherry Dubin
Linda Hollins
Suzanne McCarthy
Barbara McCormick
Josephine Smith


Sarah Brooks: Sarah is recent graduate from the Rice University class of 2015 with a B.A. in cognitive science and a minor in neuroscience. Before joining School Literacy and Culture, Sarah researched in a cognitive neuroscience lab in the medical center for two years. She is currently investigating the cognitive neuroscience research on early childhood development and education to help inform and build upon the programs of the SLC. She is passionate about science and education, and is excited to aid in the translation of scientific literature to educational practices. In her free time, Sarah enjoys cooking, drawing, spending time with her friends and learning how to play guitar.

Magen Eissenstat: Magen is a Rice senior majoring in English and double-minoring in Anthropology and Poverty, Justice and Human Capabilities. She joined the SLC team in January 2016 as a Nonprofit Intern through the Community Bridges program. Magen is passionate about communications, community engagement, development and institutional narratives in the nonprofit sector. She is currently using her interests in writing and communication to support SLC's Early Literacy Leadership Academy. After college she hopes to work in the nonprofit sector as well as eventually pursue a career in academia. She is very grateful for the opportunity to work at SLC!

Cassandra Gibson: Cassandra is a Rice junior pursuing a B.A. in English and a minor in Biochemistry & Cell Biology. Her goals at School Literacy & Culture include creating innovative media resources to communicate the organization’s purpose and impact to a broad audience. With experience in both the humanities and STEM fields, Cassandra is interested in the successful merging of these areas of study to build a well-rounded education for America’s youth. In addition to working with SLC, Cassandra is a marketing & communications intern for Rice University Housing & Dining and an undergraduate researcher in the Bioscience Research Collaborative. Through working with SLC, she hopes to build a better understanding of nonprofit work and the Houston community.llege she hopes to work in the nonprofit sector as well as eventually pursue a career in academia. She is very grateful for the opportunity to work at SLC!

Olivia Lewis: Olivia is a junior at Rice University, working towards a B.A. in Cognitive Sciences and Philosophy with a minor in neuroscience. Olivia started at School Literacy and Culture in January, 2015 as a program intern. She has worked primarily in developing storybasket resources and supporting the Early Literacy Leadership Academy. Olivia is particularly interested in finding ways to use neuropsychological research to effect social change. She finds the perfect opportunity to pursue this passion through SLC's mission to improve early literacy education.

Isabel Patten: Isabel is a Rice sophomore double-majoring in Sociology and Policy Studies. After graduation, she plans to pursue a dual law degree and a master’s in Public Policy. Isabel is passionate about understanding and combating racial and class-based inequalities and intends to follow a career path centered around social justice. Through her work at SLC and the Rice OWL Lab she is able to gain both a hands-on and theoretical understanding of effective childhood education and language acquisition, particularly as it pertains to children learning English as a second language.

D'Anna Young: D'Anna is in the process of earning a B.A. in psychology with an emphasis on child development and a B.A. in cognitive science from Rice University. Her degrees will be completed in May 2016. D'Anna began her involvement with School Literacy and Culture in January 2014 as a non-profit management intern. Since starting at SLC she has completed several projects including writing grants to provide underprivileged communities access to the Classroom Storytelling Project and creating an e-book of resources for School Literacy and Culture's various programs. Additionally, she has assisted in organizing various conferences for School Literacy and Culture.

In addition to her involvement with SLC, D'Anna has volunteered at her local elementary school for three years. She enjoys cooking, reading and spending time with her family and friends.