Every Polis World School classroom is a Montessori “prepared environment,” carefully stocked with materials and opportunities targeted to reflect the natural interests of children of your child's age.
The Polis World School Manhattan team is a talented group of educators, advisors, and administrators working together in a welcoming and inspiring community. Our team is passionate about education, and passionate about serving New York children and families.
English Lead Guide, Children's House
Esther Chae moved to New York City from Toronto, Canada. She studied Life Science and minored in Psychology at McMaster University, and proceeded to teach English as a second language for five years in Seoul while traveling Asia in her spare time.
While teaching in Seoul, Esther saw the limitations of traditional education and questioned what approach to education would most benefit the children. She ultimately discovered the Montessori method, which confirmed what she had observed about how children naturally develop and learn. Inspired by Dr. Montessori's scientific approach to education, Esther pursued further studies at the Foundation for Montessori Education in Toronto, an Association Montessori International accredited foundation founded by Renilde Montessori.
Esther is a strong believer in the role of community as a vital support system for the child. She is confident that with the proper awareness of childhood development in our society, we can all play a role in bringing forth a bright generation of children who are prepared to succeed at anything to which they put their minds.
In Esther's spare time, she loves to cook because she knows that food brings people together and that the best conversations begin over a good meal. Predictably, Esther's role model is Chef Julia Child, who brought French cuisine into the American kitchen and was a beautiful example of how Montessori leads to social, emotional, and professional success.
Mandarin Lead Guide, Elementary
A native Mandarin speaker, Andrea Cui is deeply passionate about teaching and working with children of varying age levels. She was inspired by the Montessori pedagogy after joining the first Association Montessori International certified elementary school in China. Andrea obtained her AMI elementary certificate in 2016 from the Montessori Institute of San Diego, and began working as a Mandarin speaking elementary guide in a bilingual school in California. Andrea spent the school year planning her own Chinese Montessori curriculum and implementing Montessori methods in teaching Mandarin to her non-Chinese students.
Andrea Cui attended Purdue University from 2008-2012, where she completed her Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Arts, majoring in Sociology and Communication. She also attended high school in Germany, where she learned to speak German. She has extensive experience in advertising and marketing from her past careers as well.
In her spare time, Andrea enjoys singing and reading Chinese and Japanese literature. She is looking forward to joining Polis World School and hopes that her diverse background will influence her students not merely academically, but also by showing them how to live with integrity and independence while immersing oneself in a new culture.
Mandarin Lead Guide, Children's House
Jessica Lee is an experienced Montessori Children's House teacher who holds a Master's degree from the National Taipei University of Education in Early Childhood and Family Education. Jessica completed the AMI Primary Training Course in Toronto, Canada in 2005, and is a nationally accredited pre-school teacher. She has many years of experience teaching in ESL programs and has developed a solid understanding of how children acquire a second language in the Montessori prepared environment. Jessica places a high value on parent education. She enjoys supporting parents to become confident role models for their children, and helping them understand more about how young children learn and develop. Jessica enjoys music, dancing, and art, often incorporating her skills in these areas into the classroom.
Jessica is open-minded, loving, and fun, and is looking forward to inspiring each of her students to reach his or her full potential at Polis World School.
Mandarin Lead Guide, Children's House
Xinting Lu began teaching Mandarin in 2010 and has since received her Master’s of Education in Teaching English as a Second Language and Special Education from Adelphi University. Xinting has worked with children from 1½ through 13 years old, and has taught in language schools, Montessori schools, and general education schools. After seeing many different types of schools, Xinting finally found her passion in Montessori education. She received her AMI Primary certificate at the Southwest Institute of Montessori Studies in Phoenix, Arizona, and is currently completing her AMI Assistants to Infancy training for children from 0–3 in Beijing.
Xinting is extremely excited about working at Polis World School, and she is particularly looking forward to developing materials and curriculum in Mandarin in response to her student’s interests and passions.
Mandarin Lead Guide, Children's House
Ping obtained her AMI primary certificate this year from the Montessori Institute of San Diego, CA, and she will begin her infant and toddler training over summer. She was intrigued by the Montessori approach the moment she learned of it, and quickly decided to come to the United States to pursue her AMI certificate. A native speaker of Mandarin, Ping had worked in Alibaba Group as a Human Resource Generalist for years before moving to the US. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Economics, with a major in Finance, and holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology. Ping’s diverse experience in HR led to her strong passion for the social-emotional aspect of the Montessori approach. Ping enjoys travelling and tasting local foods and wines on her trips. She is looking forward to joining Polis World School and sharing her curiosity and appreciation of this wonderful world with our children.
Art Education Specialist
Luc Travers is the author of Touching The Art: A Guide to Enjoying Art at an Art Museum. He received his B.A. in Art History from the University of Memphis in 2003. Since then he has taught and created curriculum in art appreciation and literature for students of all levels with an emphasis on elementary and junior high students. He worked for eight years at VanDamme Academy, a classical education-based elementary/junior high school, where he developed an innovative art appreciation curriculum and trained fellow teachers in the approach. For the past four years, Luc has put together curriculum and taught classes for the two online education companies he created, Touching The Art and Literature At Our House. Along with teaching online and in the classroom, Luc has shared his passion for art through tours at dozens of art museums all over the U.S. and abroad. In his spare time, Luc loves to play soccer and to spend time with his niece.
Mandarin Lead Guide, Children's House
Asia Wang believes deeply in Montessori education and has spent many years working with children both in China and abroad. She has successfully completed the Association Montessori International 3-6 training in Shenzhen, China. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language from Beijing Language and Culture University and is a certified preschool teacher in Hong Kong. The Montessori approach has had a profound impact on Asia’s teaching philosophy and it has provided her with a new perspective on how she sees and embraces the world. Her experience working in Thailand and Hong Kong helped her to acquire an effective approach to teaching Mandarin in a Montessori prepared environment. Asia firmly believes that language plays an important role in the pathway to achieving love and peace. She is extremely excited to join the Polis World School community, to work with Polis' families, and to fully meet each child's developmental needs so that each child maximizes his or her potential.
Dr. Matt Bateman
Director of Content
Dr. Bateman earned his bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College in 2004. While there, he worked in their Child Development Center researching the nature of early personality development in children. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in Philosophy in 2012 from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied the history of thought in philosophy and psychology, as well as conducting research in cognitive science. He taught and continued his research at Franklin and Marshall College in the Department of Psychology, on topics ranging from neuroscience to evolutionary theory to philosophy. Dr. Bateman left his academic position in 2014 to join LePort Schools as its Director of Curriculum and Pedagogy. There, he oversaw research and development of the school’s approach to education. This included working closely with teachers and other members of the Academic Department to write curriculum, developing pedagogical training for teachers and school leaders, overseeing the design of new programs such as language immersion, and redefining the organization’s guiding pedagogical principles. He also acted as a key representative of the school’s educational philosophy, writing position papers and engaging with the larger educational community. In 2016, Dr. Bateman became a founding member of Higher Ground as the Director of Content, where he is responsible for intellectual and pedagogical oversight across the organization. Dr. Bateman is serving as interim Head of School until Ms. Jenifer Demko starts in the summer, after which he will continue to be closely involved, providing ongoing program supervision and support.
As Program Director, Alia draws upon her extensive experience as an international educator and mentor for students of various ages. Alia is AMI-trained at the elementary level, a graduate of the first Australian Montessori teacher training with Association Montessori Internationale. In addition to working with children and families, Alia has carefully guided and mentored over one hundred language teachers at the university level as a guest lecturer in Australia and South Korea. She has inspired educators to discover their own unique skillsets so that they could thrive in bilingual and monolingual contexts using the communicative approach.
Originally from Sydney, Australia, Alia has worked in Montessori settings in Honolulu, Sydney, Hong Kong, and New York and considers herself a citizen of the world. She first moved to New York City while interning as a policy analyst at UN Women Headquarters. Trained in the fine arts, Alia immediately appreciated the wealth of cultural and artistic offerings present in NYC; as an educator, she quickly recognized these as unique opportunities to learn beyond the classroom.
Alia's qualifications include a Bachelor of Education from Charles Sturt University, Australia and Montessori certification for Elementary (six to twelve years) education from the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI).
Alia has a passion for learning and can be found in libraries, galleries, museums and getting her hands dirty with urban farming and cooking. She's thrilled to welcome new families to Polis World School and is truly looking forward to working alongside parents to support the growth of their children.
Monna Istranyi has extensive experience in Mandarin immersion, early childhood education, school administration, project management, and communications. She is excited to bring her wide-ranging experience to her role as Admissions Director for Polis World School. As the former Assistant Director at HudsonWay Immersion School in New York City, Monna was responsible for the overall operation of the school, working closely with administrators, teachers and parents to ensure that the school met and exceeded growth goals. Monna's experience as a Mandarin Head Teacher, teaching students from nursery through kindergarten, informs her enthusiasm for the Montessori approach to immersion language learning. Monna has also worked as a Project Specialist at Tory Burch and Royal Caribbean. In these roles, she helped the Chief Information Officer and the IT Executive Leadership Team define each organization’s mission, vision, and strategies, and was involved in all IT communications and organizational design activities at each company.
A Shanghai native, Monna holds an M.S. in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from Touro College (New York, NY) and an M.Ed. in Language Education from Rutgers University in New Jersey, as well as a Professional Certificate in Early Childhood Education and Special Education in New York State. In her spare time, Monna enjoys art, movies and exploring new restaurants in New York City.
Sydney Hoff is passionate about the value of Montessori education and language learning and is thrilled to be working to support parents and children at Polis World School. Sydney studied operations at Emory's Goizueta Business School and double majored in philosophy at Emory's College of Arts and Sciences. She is formally trained in numerous aspects of writing tutoring, has completed a course about creating safe and inclusive spaces, and is an alumna of the FEE Economics of Business Success course.
Sydney has served as a teaching assistant to an undergraduate business operations course, has tutored students in writing, and has worked as a communication coach to aid business students in their interpersonal and presentation skills. A fluent Spanish speaker, Sydney has also worked with ESL students on their mastery of English, and tutored students in the Spanish language and in other subjects in Spanish. Disheartened by the widespread mindset among students that assignments were chores without inherent value, Sydney believes in demonstrating the practical application of academic coursework and inspiring students to sharpen their minds through their studies—concepts that are fundamental to the Montessori approach. Sydney came across Montessori as she sought to improve her teaching abilities, and was pleased to join Polis World School’s administrative team shortly thereafter.
Born and raised in New York, Sydney is forever in love with New York City and spends her weekends enjoying theater productions, museums, thrift stores, and, of course, pizza.
Head of School
Jenifer received her Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Simmons College, her Masters of Arts in Teaching from Tufts University, and her AMI Montessori primary training from the Montessori Institute of San Diego. Jenifer has had a long career as an educator, with fourteen years in the classroom and fourteen more as a school leader.
Jenifer has taught kindergarten through second grade in public and independent schools and delights in every aspect of classroom teaching. She passionately designed curriculum, incorporated art and music into the classroom, and developed close partnerships with parents and students. She also had the privilege of supervising and training teachers, inspiring the next generation of teaching professionals. After the birth of her two daughters, she stepped into school administration, and, since then, has led a parent co-operative nursery school in Newton, an urban Mandarin immersion school in Cambridge, and an AMI Montessori Children’s House. She specializes in program development, school renovations and improvements, and teacher supervision in 4 languages. Jenifer collaborated with a school in Taichung, Taiwan to establish a teacher exchange program, which is now celebrating its 10th anniversary. She also collaborated with the Montessori Training Institute of New England to start the first AMI teacher training course in Massachusetts.
Jenifer was born in Washington DC, and has spent the last 30 years in Boston. She is excited to discover Manhattan, but plans to remain an avid Red Sox fan! When she is not at school, Jenifer loves to read, oil paint, cross-country ski, and entertain family and friends.
Jenifer is thrilled to join the Polis team as the founding Head of School for the very first Polis World School, right here in Manhattan. She looks forward to working with staff and families to create a truly outstanding educational community.
Keep reading for an in-depth conversation with Ms. Demko.
A Q&A with Ms. Demko
What most excites you about Polis World School?
It's rare for a school to take full advantage of the environment outside the school building. The city will be our campus, a remarkable opportunity not accessed by most schools. Immersing our students in the cultural richness of New York City is instrumental to their learning experience. The Art Tours that we hosted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art also concretized for me the vast opportunities that this city in particular affords our students to learn history, design, art, and all other critical elements of a classical education.
Additionally, I am deeply impressed by Polis World School's commitment to providing an authentic Montessori experience. We hire only AMI certified and trained teachers who are dual speakers, with Mandarin as their native language. The quality of instruction our students receive will be top-notch, and I love that our curriculum will impart 21st century skills in our students, which are vital in this city. These skills include creativity, creative thinking, collaboration, and communication, all of which have been important components of Montessori education for over 100 years.
The language component of Polis World School is special to me, as I established a teacher exchange program in Taiwan, with St. James Kindergarten, that is now in its tenth year of operation. I watched as the children in both the U.S. and Taiwan picked up Mandarin and English, respectively, in organic ways that enabled them to communicate with their peers, and I look forward to replicating this natural language learning at Polis World School.
What was your experience building a language immersion program?
I was director of a preschool that had language immersion programs in Spanish, French, and Mandarin, but it offered language immersion only one afternoon each week. I observed how popular the immersion programs had become with our families, and I approached the Board of Directors about offering the language program five days per week. There were, of course, a few challenges associated with doing that, but in the end, we built the process up and it was immediately enrolled to capacity as I had anticipated.
Soon after, a teacher approached me to let me know that she had attended a school named St. James Kindergarten as a child herself, and the current Head of School there was interested in building a teacher exchange program. I met with him and we soon turned this vision into reality. Every year, we provided Taiwanese teachers with housing and English language classes in the morning, and in the afternoon, the teachers taught in an immersion setting. In time, St. James found it had long lines of teachers anxiously hoping to be offered the job because our exchange program had become so desired an opportunity for them.
What struck me most about leading the program is the resilience and courage that people develop when faced with new challenges. I recall one teacher in particular who was very excited all year long to go to Taiwan for the summer, but one month before the trip, confessed that she was terrified of flying and had never been on an airplane before. We spent that month working together and preparing for the trip, and she persevered through her personal battles, got on that plane, and went. Over the ten years during which I ran this program, I saw so many experiences like that. It is this ability to rise to any occasion that I believe the Polis World School curriculum and approach will help to develop in our students.
What is your favorite Montessori moment?
When I was interviewing for my first Head of School position at a Montessori school, I was required to visit and observe one of their classrooms. I was asked to sit in the observation chair and not engage with the students, but instead to simply watch them. I was doing so quietly when I noticed a five-year-old child doing multiplication with four digits. I was watching him as he used the math materials and wrote these very large numbers. I thought this was quite silly because in my outside work as a teacher up until that time, I had known such multiplication to be third grade curriculum not at all appropriate for a five-year-old. I couldn’t resist rising from my chair to speak with the child about what he was working on. I still remember: he was multiplying 2,456 by 3. I watched him do the operation of multiplying that long number by three, and said to myself that such a young child couldn’t possibly understand the concept of place valu —and yet to my great surprise, he could build the number and completed the problem to get the right product.
That moment showed me that I had been underestimating children for twenty years. I was offered the job and gladly accepted, and then I was immediately sent to receive my AMI training. I never turned back, grateful to have discovered the key to educational success.
What are some things you are excited for Polis World School students to do in New York City?
Just moving into my apartment in the Upper East Side last Wednesday made me aware that the neighborhoods of Manhattan provide unlimited potential for discovery, exploration, and learning. On my walk to the grocery store to pick up my essentials for my first morning in Manhattan (coffee, cream, and bagels) I saw a 100 year-old dollhouse store, an award-winning French bakery, and a vintage art dealer. I envisioned the learning experiences that our Polis students could have.
Dollhouse miniatures are used extensively for vocabulary building in Montessori classrooms for many reasons. Children love all things tiny, and are drawn to the intricate details. They learn vocabulary, spelling, and parts of speech through these beautiful objects. Imagine the children entering this store and choosing what to purchase for the classroom by using Mandarin, when literally every surface of the shop is occupied!
We are going to bring our children out to experience real-life activities such as bread making, and why not learn from the experts! Preparing for a bakery visit by drafting a list of questions for the artisans and deciding what kind of transportation will be most efficient helps the children become invested and engaged even before they enter the bread shop. Slicing and taste testing different kinds of French bread with classmates captures their attention further. While on-site, listening to the master bakers talk about the science, math, as well as the art of the craft of bread-baking surrounded by the smells of the shop, our students will have a deeper appreciation for something they may eat each day. Polis field trips will be unique in that students will get their hands dirty kneading dough or crimping dumplings.
Around Manhattan, our students will visit some of the most famous works of art in the world, as some have already, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. However, we will also visit local businesses like the art dealer on the corner! Just passing by the window, I have questions: What do you collect and buy? How do you price the art? How old are some of your paintings? Are you an artist yourself? At Polis, we want to encourage children to be generative with their questions and active in their learning, and so we will be providing them with authentic access to the city.
Finally, our Polis parents will also share with our students the experiences and expertise that they possess to enrich the fabric of our school community. While I was getting a lift uptown from a Polis parent, she shared stories of her elementary school education in Manhattan. Our parents seek a difference for their children… they crave authentic learning experiences where their children can not only become literate in two languages, but also become active participants in learning through exploration and discovery.