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CAFE Staff

Jessica Grotevant Webster

Senior Family Engagement Specialist

Jessica serves as a Senior Family Engagement Specialist working primarily for Collaborative Action for Family Engagement (CAFE). She works with families and educators in building and sustaining effective partnerships focused on student learning and growth.

Jessica is a Pennsylvania native with over twenty years of classroom and leadership experience in both public and private education. In addition to classroom teaching, Jessica has served as a District Inclusion Specialist, supporting family engagement practices and providing technical assistance and training to district staff. During her tenure as an Assistant Middle School Principal, she focused her leadership on equitable disciplinary practices, mental health programming, STEAM, and student engagement practices. Prior to joining the MAEC team, Jessica led a university laboratory school through a strategic plan and realignment focused on literacy, culturally responsive and equitable practices, staff and student diversification, student supports, family engagement, and community partnerships. Throughout her career, Jessica has served on local, regional, and state task forces, as well as committees focused on equity in education. She has taught literacy, principal certification, and special education courses as an adjunct professor.

Jessica completed her Ed.D in Educational Leadership at the University of Pittsburgh. Her dissertation focused on engaging families through the transition to middle school. She earned an M.Ed in Educational Leadership with K-12 Principal Certification from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, and an M.Ed in Literacy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jessica is a proud mom of three who loves Harry Potter, music and theater, yoga, reading, and cooking.

Lily Klam

CAFE Equity Intern

As a CAFE Equity Intern, Lily works on publications, workshops, and webinars that promote an equitable approach to family engagement.

Lily is a Master of Public Policy student at the University of Maryland, College Park, focusing on education policy and nonprofit leadership. She became passionate about education activism after volunteering as a tutor for DC public schools. In this position, Lily learned about the negative impact of the pandemic on underserved student groups and the existing inequities in our educational system. Her experience inspired her to volunteer as an assistant director for the Education Equity Initiative where she worked to minimize the negative impact of the pandemic by making learning pods more accessible to all students. Recently, she worked as an intern for the Maryland State Department of Education under the Director of Community Schools. Lily has also interned for a member of the Maryland General Assembly who is a public school teacher and passionate about education reform.

When she’s not working or studying, Lily likes spending time outdoors, doing artwork, engaging in political activism, and trying different restaurants.

Mariela Puentes

Associate Director of Family and Community Engagement

Mariela serves as the Associate Director of Family and Community Engagement. She provides staff management, budget oversight, and liaisons with the Maine Department of Education, local education agencies, and external consultants on systemic family engagement practices. Mariela works with educators and families to build effective partnerships for supporting student learning and well-being, and supports school leaders to develop skills and strategies for equitable and effective family engagement practices. She has led training and technical assistance on culturally responsive and equitable family, school, and community engagement for community school coordinators across Maryland. In 2020 and 2021, Mariela organized the annual Maryland Family Engagement Summit and presented at various conferences on equitable family engagement. Most recently, she presented on bridging opportunity gaps via family engagement at the 2022 National Community Schools and Family Engagement Conference.

Mariela has spent her career working with educators, families, and communities to promote equitable learning outcomes for all students. Prior to her role at MAEC, she hired and supervised staff, and directed the summer program at a public charter school in Washington, D.C., and managed enrichment programs for educational nonprofits in New York City. Mariela holds an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, where she was also a Donovan Scholar with a focus on urban education, and a B.A. in Educational Psychology from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. 

Mariela enjoys gardening and practicing yoga in her spare time.  

Nikevia Thomas

Nikevia Thomas

Senior Education Equity Specialist

Nikevia manages MAEC’s youth development initiatives, most notably the ALIVE afterschool program, a 21st Century Community Learning Center. In addition to youth development work, she is responsible for liaising MAEC’s webinar planning. Nikevia is the recipient of MOMIE’s TLC’s “Ella Baker Changemaker” Award. 

For 17 years, Nikevia has been dedicated to enriching the lives of children and families. Prior to joining MAEC, she served as the program director or coordinator of enrichment and educational programs in nonprofits throughout Washington, DC and Long Beach, California. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education from Western Governors University and Master of Business Administration from Trinity Washington University.  

Nikevia has seen every episode of “The Golden Girls.”

Carol Gant

Carol Gant

Associate Director of Early Childhood Programs

As Associate Director of Early Childhood Programs, Carol provides leadership and vision in the establishment of policy and procedures to effectively deliver comprehensive services, technical assistance, and training to assist state departments of education and local education agencies in improving education services and educational outcomes. These projects address all children’s needs with a focus on equity for vulnerable or underserved children. Carol represents MAEC in key education policy and advocacy stakeholder networks and serves as a liaison with community-based organizations and coalitions. She also serves as a leadership team member on the MAEC Strategic Planning team.

After starting her career as a special education teacher at Prince George’s County Public Schools, Carol served as the Early Head Start and Head Start Special Education Program Coordinator for Johns Hopkins Hospital/Department of Pediatrics and Educare of Washington DC. She has also worked at Bowie State University as Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Special Education and Bethany College as Assistant Professor of Special Education. Carol joined The National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning (NCQTL) in 2013, where she served as a Regional Field Specialist in the Migrant and Seasonal Program Branch of the Federal Office of Head Start (OHS) and transitioned to the same position at the National Center for Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning (NCECDTL) in 2015. In this position, Carol supported the OHS staff by delivering training and technical assistance, providing consultation on data collection and analysis, and overseeing grantees to assess program performance.

Carol holds a BS in Interpersonal Communication from Ohio University and a Masters of Education from Bowie State University with a concentration in Special Education. Carol completed her doctoral coursework in Early Childhood Special Education at the University of Maryland and is currently completing her Ph.D. in Non-Profit Organizational Leadership at Columbia International University.

Carol was born and raised in rural Ohio in a harness horse racing and farming family and always had a garden. Her garden is her lab; she feels that she learns something from every garden and season that she can pass along to others.

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