Staff & Board Members

Board Members

Board Meetings are open to all RIAEYC/NAEYC Members and Guests and are held quarterly around the state.  Please contact Lisa Hildebrand at for more information.

  • Martha Donovan, President
  • Khadija Lewis Khan, Vice President
  • Elizabeth Azevedo, Treasurer
  • Kayla Arruda, Secretary
  • Aimee Salazar
  • Carol Patnaude
  • Erica Saccoccio
  • Estefany Ortiz
  • Joe Pinsonneault
  • Kim O’Connell
  • Kristen Allen
  • Leslie Sevey
  • Rongina McClelland
  • Tyler Bickford
  • Zelma Malave 

Administration Staff

Lisa A. Hildebrand, M.A.

Executive Director — ext. 301

Lisa Hildebrand is the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children, the state affiliate for the National Organization for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Lisa earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology with minors in Education and Philosophy from the University of Rhode Island and a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Webster University.  She came to Rhode Island AEYC after more than 15 years at Sherman College of Chiropractic, a doctorate program in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the last eight of which she served as Director of Admission and then Vice President for Enrollment Services. She was also previously a faculty member at Spartanburg Community College and taught graduate level courses at Sherman College, including Psychology, Human Growth and Development and Child Development.

Prior to this appointment, Lisa was the Assistant Director for Rhode Island AEYC, and was hired to assist in the development and management of the Rhode Island Child Care Resource and Referral Center, a Rhode Island Department of Human Services (DHS) contract previously held by Rhode Island AEYC. She also was responsible for coordinating quality improvement initiatives for the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), BrightStars.

Sizer Avila

Operations Manager — ext. 304

Sizer Avila, started at the agency as an Administrative Assistant over 9 years ago, moved on to Program Assessment Specialist where she conducted assessments in different child care and education settings, and has now become the new operations manager.  Sizer has worked in the education field for more than fifteen years.  Before joining RIAEYC/BrightStars, Sizer worked for the Department of Human Services in New Jersey as a Bilingual Human Service Specialist.  She had also worked as crew leader assistant, for the Unites States Department of Commerce and as a school bus driver for Providence Schools District.  Sizer is reliable on the ECERS-3, ITERS-3, and FCCERS-3 Environment Rating Scales.  Sizer is also a certified Pre-K CLASS Observer.

Sizer holds a degree in Business Administration from Berkeley College of Business in New Jersey and a B.A in Theology from DaySpring University. In her free time, she likes to volunteer to serve in events that serve and give back to the community.

Saimary Osorio

Administrative Assistant/Child Care Referral Specialist— ext. 302

Saimary Osorio is a bilingual certified medical assistant that has worked for the RI Free clinic for 2 years helping the people with no insurance access quality health care. Saimary loves working with children, she has been the director of the children’s ministry at her local church for the past 3 years and has worked as an assistant director for over 5 years.  Saimary has worked with the Providence YMCA before and after school programs, and in summer camp teaching art classes and has started studying Early Childhood Education. In her free time she loves to sing, write songs, do nails, drawing and spending time with her family. 

Quality Improvement Staff

Hannah DeConti, M.Ed.

Manager of Quality Improvement — ext. 305

Hannah DeConti, M.Ed. is the Manager of Quality Improvement at the Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children. She has a Master of Early Childhood Education from Wheelock College and a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies with a minor in Psychology from the University of Rhode Island.

Hannah has extensive experience managing the daily operations of high-quality early learning centers. Her experience teaching in early childhood classrooms has fueled her passion for supporting anti-bias, child-driven environments to better the lives of young children and their families. Her competency in relevant and effective business administration skills are regularly being developed through continuous learning.

Alyson Panzarella, M.J.

Coordinator of Program Quality - ext. 313

Alyson Panzarella, M.J. is the Coordinator of Program Quality at RIAEYC. She joined the team as a Program Assessment Intern for BrightStars in January 2014. Following her internship, she began consulting for the agency in the assessment department. After gaining classroom experience as a preschool teacher in Warren, RI, Alyson joined the RIAEYC team in December 2015.

Alyson holds a Master of Jurisprudence in Children’s Law and Policy at Loyola University Chicago and a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies with a focus in child settings from the University of Rhode Island. Her years in the field have been dedicated to advancing equity and developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood education policy. 

Dilcia Perdomo

Senior Bilingual BrightStars Navigator — ext. 308

Dilcia Perdomo, Bilingual BrightStars Navigator, has been in the field for nine years. She volunteers her time in the community to benefit a variety of organizations.  Before coming to RIAEYC/Bright Stars, Dilcia was employed as a Bilingual Family Child Care Case Manager Child & Adult Care Food Program for Children’s Friend and Service where she offered technical assistance and support to family child care providers through regular home visits and phone contacts to ensure compliance with the Child and Adult Care Food program (CACFP) requirements as well as providing and created opportunities to educate individual and group training for the CACFP.   

Dilcia holds a bachelor’s degree in Arts from the University of Rhode Island. 

Alba Escalante

Bilingual BrightStars Navigator — ext. 316

Alba has been working in the early childhood field for more than 4 years. Throughout college she worked as a Teacher Assistant at the Child Development Center at the University of Rhode Island and upon graduation, was hired as the lead Head Start Teacher and Family Support Worker at Children’s Friend where she worked for two years.

Alba holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies with a concentration in Child Settings from the University of Rhode Island.

Vivian Eyssallem

LearnERS Program Assistant — ext. 319

Prior to joining RIAEYC as the LearnERS Program Assistant, Vivian worked as a special education teacher and case manager for children and young adults with moderate to severe autism. During her time as a teacher she learned about the many things that go into creating a warm, nurturing, and supportive educational environment for these learners, and in the process found a passion for working with this most vulnerable population. Over the years, she worked with students between the age of 3 and 21, but found the greatest reward in working with the youngest of these students. She saw the value in building a strong foundation for early and emerging skills and is excited to continue in the field of early education to improve the lives of young children and their families.


Vivian received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Florida. She also received her master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Western New England University. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, as well as creating art and spending time outdoors.   

Jennifer Bakios

BrightStars Navigator — ext. 310

Jennifer joined RIAEYC as a BrightStars Navigator with 16 years of experience as an early childhood educator. Over the years she taught children from 12 weeks to 5 years old and saw first-hand the impact that a quality early learning experience has on a child, their family, and the community. Jennifer learned how to create a warm, engaging, and supportive learning environment in her classrooms to meet the needs of her students. Her passions are in developing emergent curriculum, creating engaging classrooms, and strengthening relationships with families. Jennifer understands the joys and challenges that go along with being an early childhood educator and is excited to bring her extensive background and experience to improve the quality of early childhood education throughout Rhode Island.

Jennifer received her Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  She received her Master’s in Teaching from Rhode Island College. Jennifer has two children and loves spending time outside, reading, and traveling.

Melissa Hyde

LearnERS Navigator — ext. 322

I have just begun at RIAEYC and I am so excited to be working with the Navigator team.  I have my bachelor’s degree from URI in Early Childhood Education and I spent 25+ years teaching in the preschool setting working with young children and families.  I know firsthand the joys and challenges that educators face as they strive to create meaningful and highest quality experiences for the youngest of learners.   As a classroom teacher, I went through the Brightstars process, and I can’t wait to share my knowledge and real-life classroom experiences with other educators.

I also spent time working with Head Start as their home visitor working with at risk children and families.  I am a certified Parent As Teachers coach and enjoyed helping to support families to reach their goals and strive for independence.

In addition, I spend time working for Perspective Corporation as a PASS worker with children and adolescents guiding them in developing daily living and social skills and empowering them as they build and maintain relationships in their lives.

I live in Narragansett with my son, and I enjoy photography and the outdoors and especially area beaches. 

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Chelsea Louzon

LearnERS Navigator — ext. 323

Chelsea comes to RIAEYC with 9 years’ experience in the field of early childhood education.  Chelsea graduated in 2014 from the University of Rhode Island with a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies with a concentration in Child Development.  Chelsea worked her way from being a Teaching Assistant in the toddler room at Joyful Learning Child Academy to becoming the Lead teacher.  In 2019 she made the move from Joyful Learning to work in the Early Head Start classroom of Tri-County Community Action Agency.  There she was able to continue to help young children grow and develop as well as foster strong relationships with the families.  Her love for helping children become the amazing people they are meant to be by starting with the youngest and most influential has brought her to RIAEYC and BrightStars where she hopes she can continue to educate young minds. 


Gretchen Dugan

BrightStars Navigator

Gretchen Dugan, BrightStars Navigator, joined the team in July of 2023 with 17 years of experience in the education field, the last 7 in early childhood education. She graduated in 2005 from the University of Rhode Island with a Bachelor of Science in Communicative Disorders. Gretchen began as a paraprofessional in various classroom settings in the Portsmouth School Department. After 10 years working and gaining invaluable experience in the school system, she decided to open her own family childcare business in 2016.

She helped children learn and grow through a play-based learning environment; she supported parents through the ups and downs of raising their children by providing a loving environment, resources, and assistance. Her approach to education has always been child-centered and backed by researched. She has firsthand experience in running a successful family home childcare which helps her to relate to the providers that she supports as a BrightStars navigator at RIAEYC where she continues to empower educators and works to support their programs through best practice.

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Sarah Vecoli

BrightStars Navigator

Sarah Vecoli, M.Ed. joins RIAEYC as a BrightStars Navigator with over 15 years of experience in Early Childhood Education. She graduated from Colby-Sawyer College with a Bachelor’s Degree, specializing in Early Childhood Education and went on to earn a Master’s in Education from Lesley University. This included a study tour to Reggio Emilia, Italy where she enhanced her learning of the Reggio Emilia Approach to early childhood education. 

She has been an assistant teacher at Head Start programs, lead teacher and administrator at a Reggio-inspired school, administrator at a Parent Cooperative and presenter in this field. Sarah’s varied experiences have provided a deep understanding of the critical role nurturing environments and empowered educators have in a child’s formative years. She has witnessed firsthand the impact of intentionally structured, inclusive, and inspiring learning environments on a child’s development.


Eladia Costello

QI RIDE Navigator

My name is Eladia Costello and I am a BrightStars Navigator. Prior to working with RIAEYC, I was a pre-kindergarten teacher and educational coordinator. I began working in the early childhood field in college, and have been involved with this work for about seven years. I graduated from Salve Regina University in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, before obtaining a master’s degree from the University of Virginia in curriculum and instruction. Over the years, I have worked as a floating teacher, a substitute, and a lead teacher. I have also taught kindergarten and first grade, which helped me to understand and experience the benefits of a quality early childhood experiences as children progress through school. I am so excited to have joined the navigator team and look forward to supporting pre-kindergarten classrooms around the state.  

Program Assessment Staff

Stephanie Ferreira

Manager of Program Assessment — ext. 311

Stephanie Ferreira, Manager of Program Assessment, has worked in Early Childhood Education for more than 20 years. Stephanie has spent most of her career as a Pre-K classroom teacher. For several years, she was a Program Assessment Specialist for BrightStars, and most recently served as the Anchor of Program Assessment before assuming her current position as Manager. Stephanie is reliable on all Environment Rating Scales and is a certified Infant, Toddler, and Pre-K CLASS observer. Stephanie has also represent the agency presenting at National conferences on ERS topics and RI quality improvements.

Stephanie holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Rhode Island as well as a RI Teaching Certificate in Early Childhood Education, Grades PK-2. Her exceptional organizational skills and assessment-oriented lens enable her to objectively view programs and approach their strengths and needs through building strong partnerships. As a mother of three young children, Stephanie has a passion for helping programs work towards improving their overall quality while supporting the workforce and advocating for all children and families.

Emily Souza

Senior Program Assessment Specialist — ext. 312

Emily is a Senior Program Assessment Specialist and has been working with BrightStars and RIAEYC since 2019. She has a Bachelor’s degree from Salve Regina University in Psychology and Spanish, with a special interest in cognitive development and early childhood education. Emily had several years’ experience as Lead Teacher in an Infant classroom, where she became familiar with the ITERS tool. She also completed Level II of the RI Early Learning and Development Standards (RIELDS) to improve her skills in curriculum development, child assessment, and family communication. Emily is reliable on the ITERS-3, ECERS-3, and FCCERS-3 tools, and is a certified observer of the Infant, Toddler, and Pre-K CLASS tools. She is step-mom to a teenager, as well as “Mama” to two young children. Emily is thrilled to be a member of the RIAEYC/BrightStars team, as well as an advocate for early childhood educators, children, and families of Rhode Island.

Jasmin Urquilla

Bilingual Program Assessment Specialist — ext. 315

Jasmin Urquilla was hired beginning of June 2019 as a Bilingual Program assistance for BrightStars. Jasmin graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Spanish, and Human Development and Families. During her time at URI, she volunteered her time translating at the Providence Community Health Center and interning at different Child Care Centers while being a full-time sales associate.

Since her time at Brightstars, Jasmin has become a Bilingual Program Assessment Specialist and is reliable on the ECERS-3, ITERS-3, FCERS-3 & SACCERS- U Environment Rating Scales. As of summer 2022, Jasmin is also a certified Pre-K CLASS observer.

Jasmin is filled with excitement and thrilled to continue working on helping improve the education being provided to our children.

Ida Moreno

Bilingual Program Assessment Specialist — ext. 303

Ida Moreno holds a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Metropolitana University in Caracas, Venezuela. She enjoys the challenge of teaching students academically but also helping them to thrive socially. She believes that successful students become successful adults. Ida has always worked in the field of education, gathering experience by working in the Instructional Design Department of the Metropolitana University for 8 years developing learning resources. With over 15 years of experience, Ida is a dedicated, resourceful and a goal-driven educator with a solid commitment to professional ethics, standards of practice and the care and education of young children. She is accustomed to working in a multicultural environment and experienced in developing curriculum as well as conducting teacher training and parenting programs.

Raycily Castillo

Bilingual Program Assessment Assistant — ext. 317

Raycily Castillo is the Bilingual Program Assessment Assistant at BrightStars. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Rhode Island College.

Raycily has experience working with many different age groups. From managing children’s summer camps to leading semester-long study and review groups on campus, her communication and team management skills are well rounded. Raycily has also spent a summer abroad in Central Asia working with an English-speaking school as an assistant teacher. Her experiences have made her passionate and committed to serving the communities around her.”

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Sarah Behm

Program Assessment Specialist
— ext. 318

Sarah Behm started working with RIAEYC and BrightStars as a Program Assessment Specialist in November 2022. Prior to this, she started as an intern for RIAEYC/BrightStars in January 2022 and officially joined the team as a LearnERS Navigator in May 2022. During this time, Sarah connected with a variety of sites to help support them with their quality improvement needs. This involved working with sites participating in LearnERS, a continuous quality improvement coaching framework that provides online professional development and coaching on the ERS.

She holds an Associates in Arts from the Community College of Rhode Island and a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Science from the University of Rhode Island. Prior to joining RIAEYC, Sarah held the role of a Teacher Assistant until transferring to the University of Rhode Island where she was hired as an undergraduate student research assistant. Sarah is committed to supporting families and early childhood educators as she believes that they both play fundamental roles in a young child’s growth, development, and education. She is a proud and passionate advocate for the early childhood field and is thrilled to continue her journey as an early childhood professional post-graduation. 

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Michaela Keohane

Program Assessment Specialist
— ext. 324

Michaela started at Brightstars as a Program Assessment Consultant before joining the team full-time as a Program Assessment Specialist. She brings a wealth of experience in the education and human services sectors. She has worked on several education focused research projects and is trained in a variety of assessment tools.

Michaela’s career experiences have allowed her to see firsthand the positive effects that supportive relationships and healthy, stimulating environments can have on development. Having worked with young children in early learning centers, teenagers in a group home, and older adults in senior living communities, she believes this to be true for people of all ages.

Michaela earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Vermont and a Master of Education degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education.


Arianna Mendez

Program Assessment Specialist
— ext. 321

Arianna Mendez, Program Assessment Specialist began her journey with RIAEYC in 2022 as an intern. She continued as an administrative assistant to support the T.E.A.C.H RI scholarship and CTE Pathways Program. Afterwards she joined the Assessment Team where she began her exposure to the environment rating scales.

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Marinel Russo, M. Ed.

Assistant Director for Early Childhood Workforce Initiatives — ext. 307

Marinel Russo is the Manager of Early Childhood Initiatives. Marinel has been a vital part of our team for the last four years, serving as both a Program Assessment Specialist and more recently as a BrightStars Navigator. She is dedicated and loyal to RIAEYC, but more importantly, passionate about improving quality for the providers, families and children of the state. As the Manager of ECI, Marinel is responsible for managing and coordinating all aspects of child care program quality improvement initiatives, including: T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood RI budgeting and competency assessment process, program and scholar outreach and recruitment, program referrals to state supports including technical assistance and professional development, support for programs in increasing star rating and annual report and quality improvement plan development and support.

Marinel holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from Baruch College in New York and a Master’s degree in Elementary Education from Lesley University in Boston. Marinel is author trained and reliable in the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS), Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS) as well as in the Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale (FCCERS). A mother of three young girls, Marinel knows the importance of providing children with learning environments that promote emotional, physical and intellectual development.

Elizabeth Polanco

T.E.A.C.H. Coordinator — ext. 314

Elizabeth Polanco is a T.E.A.C.H. Counselor for T.E.A.C.H Rhode Island. Elizabeth is dedicated to supporting T.E.A.C.H scholars with tuition, compensation and most importantly, with guidance through their academic journeys. Prior to joining T.E.A.C.H, Elizabeth was an administrator for eight years at a home care agency until she decided it was time for a change. Elizabeth enrolled in the University of Rhode Island to finish her bachelor’s degree in Psychology, setting a positive example to others, and chasing her dream. Elizabeth is proud to work with T.E.A.C.H Early Childhood Education. She believes in their efforts to motivate and guide those who, like she did, need support to reach their academic dreams. Elizabeth is a parent of three children and understands the importance of providing quality childcare to children, which is what T.E.A.C.H helps to promote.

Briana Assante

WAGE$ Coordinator — ext. 306

Brianna has a B.A. in the faculty of Arts and Sciences, for Dance Performance from Rhode Island College. As the Registered Apprenticeship Counselor Briana works with organizations and institutions such as The Department of Human Services, CCRI, URI, RIC, and more to build an Early Childhood Education Infant/ Toddler based apprenticeship program.  Briana provides support to participating apprentices looking to advance their careers.   Briana helps to develop multiple apprenticeship pathways, maintain contracts between apprentices, mentors, and childcare centers, and build relationships that empower ECE Teachers to advocate for themselves and others.   

Briana also works with the TEACH scholarship program to recruit potential scholars down different educational pathways to grow in the ECE field. 

Amber Mangione

Career and Technical Education Counselor — ext. 320

Amber Mangione, Career and Technical Education Counselor, introduces herself with over a decade of experience working in the Early Childhood field. As a former educator, she is shaped by her international and local experiences in diverse learning communities. Amber has a degree in Psychology and Education from Northeastern University and joins RIAEYC to support high school students and graduating seniors from Career and Technical Education Programs throughout high schools in Rhode Island.

Amber is a dedicated advocate of children and educators. She centers her practice on being open and accessible to all. Her experience in teaching and partnerships with educators and families lends itself to the counseling and support services she offers to future educators. As a graduate of Cranston High School West’s Career and Technical Early Childhood Program, and SkillsUSA medalist, she is excited to share her lived experiences and passions with those entering the field. Her lifelong passion for teaching and mentorship provides opportunities to students and creates career pathways for their growth and professional development. Amber is a team-oriented, lifelong learner, who hopes to impart her love for learning and teaching to the next generation.

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Jackie Whelan

Transcript Evaluator — ext. 325

Jackie Whelan is a Transcript Evaluator for RIAEYC. Jackie will be supporting BrightStar, T.E.A.C.H RI, and our upcoming programs. Before joining RIAEYC, Jackie was a primary Teacher in a preschool class and completed her Early Childhood Education Birth to Eight Associate in Arts at Quinsigamond Community College while working full-time in a classroom setting. Jackie firmly believes in providing quality care for children and creating a positive learning environment in a classroom. Due to this belief, Jackie enters our team to support fellow educators in achieving their academic goals.


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Caroline Paliotte

T.E.A.C.H. Education Counselor — ext. 327

My name is Caroline Paliotte, I have been working with children since 2015. I received my TA certification through CCRI and proceeded to continue my education at Rhode Island College. I graduated with my BA in Healthcare/Business Administration. Over the years I have completed many Professional Development courses. All associated with RIELDS, inclusivity within the classroom, engagement, and classroom management. I have worked with children ages from infant- 5 years, but my most enjoyed age group is working with infants and young toddlers. While working at a childcare center I was included as a site leader and oversaw implantation of the Creative Curriculum within the infant/toddler programs. When teaching, it is important to me to provide a warm and nurturing learning environment that supports the growth and development of all children as they explore the world around them. Here at RIAEYC my newest role is Education Counselor where I will be working closely with the T.E.A.C.H. scholarship program. I will be working closely with individuals who will be applying to the TEACH scholarship that want to further their education and experience in ECE.

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Miriam Scheff

Marketing and Communications Specialist — ext. 326

Mimi is excited to be joining RIAEYC as the Early Childhood Counselor for the Step Up to WAGE$ program. She has been working in non profit administration for over 10 years. She graduated from Rhode Island College with a Bachelor’s of Science in Management. Prior to joining RIAEYC, Mimi was working in foster care and healthcare administration. She is also an avid dance and theater teacher.