Faculty and Staff


Caren Szanton

Caren Szanton is excited to be serving as the founding director of the J Center for Early Learning! She is a dual graduate of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD; first with a Bachelors of Arts in Writing Seminars with minors in Judaic Studies and Psychology, and later with a Masters of Arts in Teaching. During her time as an undergraduate, Caren worked as a research assistant in the Johns Hopkins Laboratory for Child Development and studied 12-month infants’ developing working memories. She was later selected as a Baltimore Education Fellow– a prestigious partnership between Baltimore City Public Schools and the Johns Hopkins School of Education.

During her teaching career, Caren has taught students from Pre-Kindergarten through fourth grade both at public and private schools. She currently teaches first grade at the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital in Washington, DC. Caren has already started getting excited for the school year. She looks forward to moving to El Paso in July with her husband, Jules, as he serves in the Army JAG Corps at Fort Bliss.

Assistant Director

Belinda Saylor

Belinda Saylor is thrilled to join the J Center for Early Learning as our Assistant Director. Belinda brings over 35 years of experience in administrative management of elementary and high schools across the nation, the last 5 with our very own JCC Preschool. She is a positive and polished professional who is organized, creative and always calm. Belinda is passionate about challenging and supporting staff and children to be the best they can be. She is competent, loyal and has a strong moral compass. She values positivity and a strong school community, and she enjoys working with parents who she often surprises by anticipating their needs.

Belinda is a native of El Paso. When Ms. Belinda isn’t at school, she enjoys traveling, decorating and puttering around on the golf course with her husband Les. They have two grown children; Chris who lives in Austin and Melissa who lives in Colorado Springs, CO., and the most interesting bulldog in the world…DOZER who the preschool children know, and love.

Kindergarten Teacher

Cecilia Valencia

Cecilia Valencia was born in El Paso, TX and was raised in Ciudad Juarez, Chih. She received her bachelor’s degree in Bilingual Education from the University of Texas at El Paso and her master’s degree in Early Childhood Education at Webster University in St. Louis. While in St. Louis she worked as a teacher at a Reggio inspired early childhood center. She then traveled to Perugia, Italy where she earned her Montessori certification at the Centro International M. Montessori. As a student in Italy she developed a strong sense of devotion to the early stage of childhood development. This experience gave her a deep appreciation for early childhood education, meaningful learning experiences, and child-centered environments. She believes that her most transforming work has taken place through collaboration with colleagues at Webster University and educators from Reggio Emilia, Italy to more deeply understand their pedagogical principles and to be inspired to adapt their practices to our schools. Currently she is in the process of getting certified as a Pedagogical Coordinator in the Reggio Emilia Approach and excited to begin a new journey.

Pre-Kindergarten Teacher

Desiree Ainsa

Desiree Ainsa, fondly known as “Ms. Desiree,” has taught children from 2 years of age through Pre-K at the JCC Pre-school for over 15 years. She is an intuitive educator who instinctively gravitated to a hands-on, child-centered approach. Her creative and nurturing teaching style encourages each child to indulge their natural curiosity. Desiree loves creating environments that spark wonder and joy and is committed to providing a loving and developmentally sound foundation to foster a lifetime love of learning. Her love of the children is apparent and she is beloved by parents and children alike.

Desiree is an active member of the El Paso community. She is a long time member of the Junior League of El Paso, where she chaired two committees and is currently a sustaining member. She was on the Board of the Humane Society for two years and the Board of Texas Tech Women’s Breast Care Center for three.

Desiree and her husband, Judge Richard Ainsa, have two grown children, Meghan and Derek, both of whom attended the JCC Preschool as children. She is thrilled to be a part of the J Center for Early Learning and is looking forward to working with an amazing team of creative educators to provide a wonderful learning experience for your child.