MEET OUR DECATS MENTORS
Laura Walpole, Director, 2008
Originally from the Northeast, Ms. Walpole worked in sales and advertising for 10 years before becoming a teacher. After obtaining her M.Ed., she came to the ever-growing city of Houston in order to fill a 3rd-grade teaching opportunity in Alief. Ms. Walpole has been educating students for the past 26 years, and she is thrilled about her 14th summer at DECATS. Working with creative GT students is one of Mrs. Walpole’s passions because she loves how excited the scholars are about all their courses. She loves the idea of combining her teaching experience with the administrative side of running a wonderful program like DECATS.
Jean Hernandez, 2009
Mrs. Hernandez is very excited to be returning to the DECATS team for her thirteenth year! She is currently a Second Grade teacher at Epiphany Catholic School in Katy. Previously, she worked in Katy ISD for 13 years. After working in the business field for over 14 years, she discovered that working with children was her calling while performing with a children’s theater. She has been teaching ever since. Jean has had a passion for music and dance since she was a little girl and is very excited about sharing that passion with DECATS scholars. She looks forward to another fun, enriching and memorable summer in her role at DECATS as part of the Operations Team.
Adriana Gutierrez, 2009
Mrs. Gutierrez is part of our DECATS Operations team! She is our webmaster and manages our communications and social media! She has over 29 years of experience as a bilingual educator and has worked with students of different ages. She has been working at St. Laurence Catholic School for the past 16 years. Her greatest satisfaction is seeing scholars get excited about learning new things. She is eager to meet another outstanding group of gifted scholars who want to join a new learning journey! This is her 13th year with DECATS.
Dianna Thompson, 2012
Mrs. Dianna Thompson has taught in both Public and Catholic Schools for 29 years. She has taught Middle School as well as Elementary School. She is currently in her fourteenth year of teaching Catholic School which started at The Highlands School in Dallas, then with a move to Houston was blessed to be hired at St. Laurence and now has led to her teaching Religion at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart. Mrs. Thompson has been married to her husband Ron, for the past 28 years and they have three boys ages 25, 22, and 20. This is her eleventh summer with DECATS, and she is incredibly excited to share her joy in kicking off an amazing DECATS 2022.
Hugo Bello, 2021
Mr. Bello is thrilled to be a mentor at DECATS for the second summer. He is an experienced business owner and entrepreneur. He is also a passionate math and science teacher and loves sharing his knowledge with the future leaders of tomorrow. Mr. Bello loves to be active in his free time whether it’s running marathons, kickboxing, playing soccer, traveling the world or taking his two dogs out for walks with his wife.
Johanna Bonno, 2010
Ms. Bonno is thrilled to be a part of the DECATS team for the 12th year! After performing for years in musical productions in theaters throughout Houston and coaching young performers in voice, she is so happy to be teaching Music and Theater Arts at St. Laurence. A classically trained singer, she earned her degree from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, and while Ms. Bonno can often be found on the stage during much of her free time, she cannot wait to share her passion of music/theater and Italian Culture with DECATS scholars this summer!
Shannyn Brinker, 2019
Mrs. Brinker is excited to return for her second summer at DECATS! She just wrapped up her 8th year of teaching. She is currently a 4th grade teacher at Epiphany of the Lord Catholic School in Katy. She enjoys sewing, especially baby blankets & quilts. She also enjoys baking for her family and friends. She is excited to teach the students basic sewing techniques this summer! Shannyn is also an avid volunteer and board member with Houston Collie Rescue. She and her husband are parishioners at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Katy.
Jill Cantu (Nurse), 2022
Mrs. Cantu is excited to begin her journey with DECATS! Born and raised in Richmond, Texas, she first earned a B.S. degree in Human Development and Family Sciences from the University of Texas. Wanting to pursue a career in healthcare, she earned her A.D.N from Wharton County Junior College and her B.S.N. from the University of Texas at Arlington. She currently serves as the School Nurse for Saint Theresa Catholic School in Sugar Land, combining her love for early childhood, nursing care, and the Catholic faith. Jill, her husband Juan, and baby girl live in the Houston area and love exploring parks, restaurants, and coffee shops!
Whitney Cueva, 2019
Mrs. Cueva is a graduate of Texas A&M University, Class of 2007, in College Station with a Bachelor of Science in Education. She recently finished her 15th year in education teaching science with eleven years teaching middle school science, and three years at the elementary level. Presently she works in Fort Bend ISD, teaching 6th grade science. Her family recently moved to Sugar Land and are parishioners at St. Laurence Catholic Church. Her hobbies include playing tennis, knitting/crocheting, and being with her family.
James Dietz, 2019
Mr. Dietz graduated from Strake Jesuit in 2014. He is also a graduate of Texas A&M University at College Station with a degree in Chemistry. He is currently the 4th grade homeroom teacher at St. Theresa Catholic School. Last August, his lovely wife, Sara Dietz, gave birth to their first baby, Veronica. In his free time, he prays, reads the mountain of books in his collection, builds woodworking projects, and practices chanting.
Sharon Held, 2012
Mrs. Held loves teaching and has been teaching since 2008. She’s originally from Colorado, but has been in Texas for over a decade and can no longer imagine living anywhere else! She loves hands-on science, thought-provoking questions, and teamwork. She spends most of her free time curled up with her dogs and a book (or 12), and is always happy to swap recommendations. She loves to bake, and cook, (especially anything chocolate!).
Makenna Houston, 2022
Makenna attends Hardin Simmons University and will graduate in May. Her passion is helping people and she is excited to be accepted into Hardin Simmons Physician Assistant School, which she will begin in August. She has loved her time at HSU where she was a cheerleader, VP of her sorority, a ministry team leader at the Baptist Student Ministry, and led a women's student Bible Study called Woven. She did all this and received excellent grades resulting in her graduating Summa Cum Laude. Makenna is looking forward to cheering and dancing her way through the summer with her scholars.
Margo Houston, 2022
Mrs. Houston has lived in the Panhandle of Texas for over 20 years. She is so excited to be a part of the DECATS family this summer. She has been married to her husband for 27 years! They have 2 grown children, Madison and Makenna. Madison is 25. She got married in January and is the Missions Coordinator at Central Bible Church in Arlington, TX. Makenna is 21 and will graduate from Hardin Simmons University in May and in August will begin Physician Assistant School there! She has been teaching for 28 years. She loves fun and creative ways to teach and is looking forward to meeting her scholars and watching them use their creativity and imagination with no limits!! Mrs. Houston LOVES her Texas Tech Red Raiders and her Dallas Cowboys!!!
Pam McCollom, 2021
Mrs. McCollom is thrilled to be part of DECATS for her second year. She has seen how excited her own students are after coming back from the summer DECATS program, she is excited to be part of their experience. Pam has been a teacher for 20 years, teaching all ages and subject areas. A Kansas native, she moved to Houston 16 years ago and teaches at St. Anne Catholic School, Houston. She loves making math fun and challenging, Her passion is teaching social studies and science and incorporating our Catholic Identity and social justice when appropriate.
Melissa Mejia, 2022
Ms. Mejia grew up in New York but moved to the Houston area after graduating college to start her teaching career as a special education teacher! She taught kids of all ages in Spring Branch ISD at Northbrook Middle school and Cornerstone Academy and in Katy ISD at Fielder and Hayes Elementary Schools. After 26 years in public schools, she took a leap of faith and became the Learning Specialist at St. Cecilia Catholic School. She believes that all kids need opportunities to shine and foster their own interests, gifts and talents and she is excited to become a Mentor with DECATS this summer!
Liz Morris, 2022
Elizabeth Morris was born and raised in Houston but moved to the Chicago area at the end of high school. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Animal Science from the University of Illinois and has worked in a variety of science fields including as a zookeeper and in a virology lab. She went back to school to earn a Master's degree in Education and taught middle school science for 10 years in the suburbs of Chicago. She moved back to Texas in 2018 to Round Rock and coached and taught Robotics before finally moving back home to Houston in 2020. She currently teaches 7th & 8th grade Science and helps mentor the High School Robotics team at Duchesne Academy. This is her first year working at DECATS and she is super excited about the opportunity to work with the kids in the program!
Christine Powell, 2008
This is Mrs. Powell’s 14th year as a DECATS mentor. I am a 5th and 6th grade math teacher at St. Anne’s Catholic School. Math was always my favorite subject in school. Now, as a mom and teacher, playing with my kids, reading, baking, and scrapbooking are my favorite things to do.
Quyen Rebollido, 2016
Mrs. Rebollido has been teaching in Fort Bend ISD for 27 years. She teaches second grade at Walker Station Elementary School. Sugar Land has been her home since 1992 and raised her four children Ty, Lia, Khue and Kara. Her favorite pastime is cycling with her husband, eating out with the family, and playing with their new lab puppy, Juno. Her family are parishioners at St. Laurence Catholic Church since 1992. This will be her 5th year teaching DECATS and she is excited to be back!
Theresa Rebollido, 2011
Mrs. Rebollido is very excited to be returning to the DECATS team for her 8th year! She lives in Sugar Land with her husband Fred and two sons, Lucas and Anthony. For the past 10 years, Mrs. Rebollido has taught 3rd grade at St Laurence Catholic School. After being in education for the past 24 years, she finds that science is her true passion. Finding ways to explore the different aspects of the world around us is the BEST part about what we teach. DECATS allows us to not only learn about things but also find out "what if.." She can wait to meet this year's group of scholars!
Wendy Santos, 2004
Mrs. Santos is a Language Arts and Social Studies Specialist in the Alief School District. She is passionate about writing integrated curriculum and loves to help students and teachers think about their thinking. She believes that each person has something wonderful to offer the world and her mission is to help students discover who they are meant to be. Her favorite subject to teach is writing. At home, Wendy works to raise her two beautiful girls, Joy and Hope, with her husband Vince; the most adventurous part of her day! In addition, she volunteers at her church, St. Thomas Aquinas in Sugar Land as a member of the choir and the Meals Ministry. When she finds a moment to herself she enjoys meditation, reading, writing, cooking, and crafting. This is Mrs. Santos’ nineteenth year with DECATS.
Stephanie Smith, 2012
Ms. Smith is so excited to be a mentor at DECATS! She taught for 11 years in Catholic schools and two years in DECATS when she stopped teaching to be a stay-at-home mom for six years, spending precious time with her two daughters. She returned to teaching at St. Edward Catholic School in 2007. Having taught PreK-6th grade at St. Michael, Sacred Heart-Conroe, and St. Edward, she is now at St. Anne- Houston for her 23rd year teaching.
Liz Thompson, 2011
Ms. Thompson is happy to be back with DECATS for her 11th year! Prior to teaching at Parsons Open Campus and Houston Community College, Ms. Thompson was an elementary teacher with St. Laurence Catholic School. She has approximately 15 years of teaching experience within online (virtual) and brick-and-mortar environments with students of all ages. Ms. Thompson has both a Masters in Education and a Masters in Fine Arts. She enjoys participating with scholars as they explore their ideas in creative ways.
LeeAnn Trufan, 2022
After being born and raised in Sugar Land, TX, Mrs. Trufan ventured out to Huntsville, TX to attend Sam Houston State University to obtain her degree in finance. She worked as a financial analyst for a couple years, until she finally decided to pursue her passion for teaching. Mrs. Trufan began teaching 7th grade math in Fort Bend ISD this year and loves being in her dream job. She is extremely excited to work her first summer with DECATS and get to know all the amazing scholars that are pursuing lifelong learning!