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6289 Verna Road
Myakka City, FL 34251

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Sister Gilchrist Cottrill, CE
Ph: 941.322.1601

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Partnership for Shared Services with Goodwill Industries.

Counseling Services through Community Care Family Clinic.


Ave Maria Preparatory School Staff


Christine Smit

Christine Smit

» B.S. in Elementary and Special Education from Xavier University
» Associate Degree in Art from Moraine Valley College
» K-12 Certification in Exceptional Student Education
» Speech Endorsement in Elementary Education
With fifteen  years of experience in exceptional student education Christine Smit brings expertise from her positions of Director of ESE at Bradenton Prep Academy, her teaching position as Horizons Academy for troubled youth and six years of experience in Chicago public schools.  Christine combines an artful approach to individualizing for each child along with her added experience in student evaluation and writing of IEP’s.

Paul Lipinski

Paul Lipinski

» M.A. in Exceptional Student Education from Ave Maria University
» M.A. of Divinity from SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, Orchard lakes, MI
» B.A .in Philosophy from WloclwekUniveristy , Poland
» K-12 Certification in Special Education
With ten years of experience in exceptionall education Pawel Lipinski possesses definite personality traits and career skills which give him the ability to encourage and motivate all children with disabilities.  Among these traits are patience, flexibility and a firm, yet caring approach with each student.


Teresa Carson

» Xavier University B.A. in Art Education
» Wright State University: 33 Graduate credits in Art, Child Development and Education
» University of Cincinnati: Learning Disabilities Certificate
» Florida Teaching Certificate in Visual Arts K-12
» Kentucky Teaching Certificate in Visual Arts K-12
  » 1977-2013 experience in Grades 3-12 in teaching Art and Literature

Teresa Carson earned her B.A. from Xavier University. She received her certificates in Learning Disabilities and Behavior Disorders from the University of Cincinnati. Ms. Carson continued her education with graduate credits at Wright State University and earned a Rank 2 Graduate Certificate.

She holds Florida and Kentucky teaching certificates in addition to her Ohio certificates. Teresa has taught in at risk programs for children much of her teaching career, giving special attention from her expertise to students of impoverished backgrounds and students with special learning needs. Ms. Carson blends her natural ability in art with her great love for literature in her teaching of children. This captivates their interest and helps them discover their own creative abilities.


Diane Hatry


Diane Hatry has joined the Ave Maria Staff as a volunteer with over 30 years of experience teaching and counseling students. Ms. Hatry has earned a B.A. degree in Psychology from Queens College in Flushing, NY. She earned her M.S. in Secondary Education from Dowing College, Oakdale, NY. Ms. Hatry has a Permanent Teaching Certificate from New York State Public Schools. She also has a Permanent certificate in Administration from New York State.

Ms. Hatry has varied experiences in helping youth through several years of teaching Social Studies to Middle School students in Queens, NY. She was an assistant principal in the New York System Public School system, and she spent many years in counseling and acting in the capacity of a case manager in Professional Service Centers for the Handicapped, as well as being a Mental Health Counselor at Holliswood Hospital in the adolescent unit.



Catherine Ekwe

» Registered and Certified Mental Health Counselor
» PhD in Counseling with Specialization in MFT
» MA in Counseling Franciscan University of Steubenville
» MA in Theology, Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences, Rome
» BA of Education, Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences, Rome

Sister Mary Hope Riemenschneider, CE

Sister Mary Hope Riemenschneider, CE

» B.A. Institutional Management from Purdue Univeristy
» In process of seeking Florida State Teaching Certification in 6-8 Language Arts
» One Hundred Hour Teaching Certification from Pastor Pratt program for adult transition Incarcerated adults
Sister Mary Hope has eight years of experience in a teacher aide position at Ave Maria Preparatory School.  She aids and expands the basic language arts curriculum by teaching specific composition  skills to students with severe problems with spelling and composition.  Her very defined approach to this subject matter has upgraded the status of our students and given them the confidence they need to compete academically in all content subjects.  Sister Mary Hope is also known for her extensive experience with the prison system.  She coordinated volunteers and services for over 32 prisons in Southwest Florida while serving on the Florida Catholic Conference State Board for Correctional Facilities.  During this time Sister Mary Hope also provided direct services for a correctional facility for boys in Arcadia.  Curently Sister Mary Hope teaches an after school program at “Learn to Fish,” a transition center for women who have been in prison.

Sister Edith Aliano, CE

Sister Edith Aliano, CE

» Certificate of Radiologic Technology  Northern Alberta Institute of Technology
» President: Arizona State Society of Radiologic Technologists 1994-2003
» Associate Degree: Apparel Design and Construction from Bassit College
» Food Preparation Certification from State of Florida for School Lunch Programs
» Prospective degree in Agricultural Education from University of South Florida

Sister Edith Aliano, CE has worked as an administrative assistant to  Sister Gilchrist Cottrill, CE for three years.  She has worked with Sister Gilchrist to develop an agricultural education program which provides hands on experience for our students in growing and working with animals.  She is currently the liaison to Echo Farms, a sustainable farming organization, with the hope of forming an educational partnership which will benefit Ave Maria Preparatory School as well as Shepherd’s Field, our prospective two year college for students with diverse abilities.  Sister Edith is also instrumental in the partnership with Good Will Industries in our Workforce Education Pilot Program with the State of Florida.

Sister Edith Aliano, CE

Sister Clare Paine, CE

» A teacher aide to our youngest students.
» She is a graduate from Pepin Academy in Tampa.
» Sister Clare is a Sister of the Epiphany
» Youth Counselor for YMCA                                
» Assistant Choir Director at St. Mark Parish in Tampa
» Also an assistant in pet therapy program


Sister Gilchrist Cottrill

Sister Gilchrist Cottrill, CE, MA, MA, BA - School Director

» Advanced degrees in special education from Notre Dame College, Cardinal Stritch University and St. Thomas University in Rome
» Certifications in Exceptional Student Education, Behavior Disorders, Secondary English,  Elementary Education and Orton Gillingham Approaches to Reading
» Founded and directed three schools for special learning needs
» Designed and directed MA programs in Special Education for Barry University and Ave Maria University
» Currently Adjunct Professor at Notre Dame College in Ohio
» International Presenter on Learning and Behavior Disorders
» Designed and directed a public/private partnership for 32 schools in Florida
  » View the Resume of Sister Gilchrist Cottrill, CE

Ben Hicks

Ben Hicks

» 30 years as an Automobile Dealer
» Viet Nam Vet, Army Division, Specials Ops

Jimmy Underwood

James Underwood

» Postal Service Employee Retiree
» United States Air Force Retiree, South Pacific
» Former Member of National Guard
» Jungle Warfare Training

More about our Director

Ave Maria Preparatory School was established by Sister Gilchrist to promote educational progress of each student through teaching that respects individual needs. The mission includes supporting the God-given dignity and abilities of the students and staff and to create a school family where each person comes to know a faith in a providing God.

The school is registered as a special education school with the Department of Education in Florida and is accredited through the National Private School Accreditation Alliance. The school is in the process of seeking accreditation through the Florida Council for Independent Schools. It is compliant with regulations for the No Child Left Behind Act and the Florida McKay Scholarship Program. Sister Gilchrist assisted former Florida State Senate President John McKay in developing the McKay Scholarship legislation which provides funding for Florida students with disabilities to attend private schools.

Prior to establishing Ave Maria, Sister Gilchrist founded the Dreams Are Free educational program in 1988 in Clearwater at Central Catholic High School. The program grew into an education model used in 16 states and 900 schools nationwide. Its social skill component is in every school in Japan.

Sister also served as Director of Special Education for the Florida Diocese of Venice where she designed and directed public/private partnerships with the State of Florida with 20 public schools and 12 Catholic schools for inclusion practices in respect to special learning.

For more information about Ave Maria, call 941-322-1601 or send us an email.




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Non-Discriminatory Statement: Ave Maria Preparatory School, Inc., a Florida not for profit corporation admits students of any race, color, creed,  economic status  national and ethnic origin to all the rights and privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school.  It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed economic status, or national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school administered programs.