Kate McClain – Founder
Kate McClain is a certified special education teacher with 15 years of experience working with children who have a variety of social, communication, and learning needs, including those on the autism spectrum. Kate has experience with and is trained in ABA, Floortime, positive behavior management, and conflict resolution. Kate also has an undergraduate degree in theatre and art.
From 2004 – 2007, Kate taught special education classes for kids on the spectrum in Language Arts, Math, History, and Science, as well as a course called “Communication Skills,” which taught social and communication skills in a small-group environment. There, she worked with a fantastic staff of Speech-Language therapists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, and Behavior Specialists.
While she was a teacher, Kate saw the need for children to learn and practice social skills in a small-group, non-academic environment, and started Kate McClain Social Skills in 2007 as a result.
Kate has been involved in other organizations including: Cool Cats of NOVA, The Autism Learning Center, and the Wisconsin Early Autism Clinic. Most importantly, Kate finds great joy and satisfaction in working with all children, including her own four boys.
Gina Ferrara – Program Director
Gina grew up in New Jersey before moving to Pennsylvania to pursue her undergraduate & graduate degrees in education at Arcadia University. After completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, she moved back to New Jersey to find a teaching job close to her family, while continuing her graduate work. This was when she discovered her love for early childhood education. After a combination of substituting, babysitting, and teaching in a private preschool while taking online graduate courses, she completed her Master’s Degree in Special Education with an additional certification in Autism. In her quest to find an early childhood special education teaching position, she had the opportunity to work with elementary and high school students in the classroom, focusing on academic and social needs, as well as in the home and community setting while focusing on social and functional life skills. These experiences helped shape her focus that students are most successful when home, school and community come together to support them. Her current position is within Fairfax County Public Schools as a preschool special education teacher and she is beginning her fifth year in this position. During this time within Fairfax County, she completed a second Master’s Degree program for Curriculum and Instruction for Diverse Early Childhood Learners. Her goal is to help support her students inside the classroom as well as support their needs, and the needs of their families, outside of the classroom as much as possible. When she is not at work, Gina enjoys reading, cooking/baking, camping and spending time with her dog!
Amanda Reisz – Case Manager
Amanda is a Licensed Certified Social Worker – Clinical (LCSW-C) who received her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Maryland, School of Social Work in 2004. Currently, Amanda works in the Child Community Psychiatry Program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center as a Mobile Therapist (community based, mental health therapist), providing individual, family and group therapy to children, aged 3-18, in their home and school setting. Prior to working as a Mobile Therapist, Amanda worked in the Intensive Outpatient program, running therapeutic groups and providing individual and family therapy to children aged 4-12. Amanda has experience working with children with a wide array of diagnosis, including but not limited to ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Bipolar Disorder. Amanda has been trained in play therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and trauma focused therapy (TFCBT) and has a great deal of experience working with children to improve their social skills, coping skills, communication skills, self esteem and overall functioning across settings. When not at work, Amanda spends most of her free time doing activities with and chasing after her 2 boys, aged 2 and 5.
Sharon Zajc Mergler – Parent Coach
Sharon is originally from Ohio where she received her Bachelors of Science in Early Childhood Special Education from The Ohio State University. After graduating in 2007, Sharon moved to northern Virginia and was a preschool autism teacher for Fairfax County Pubic Schools for 6 years. Sharon taught in the elementary autism program for one year. The last 2.5 years she was the lead preschool teacher in a non-categorical special needs preschool program. While working, she earned her Masters in Special Education K-12 through George Mason University. Sharon has enjoyed working with students and their families to create a cohesive team. Currently, Sharon is taking courses through Florida Institute of Technology toward a certification in applied behavioral analysis, with the goal of becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Sharon is married with a young daughter and is expecting their second child this fall.
Jenna Clifton – Social group facilitator & assistant
Jenna graduated with a BS in Family Science from the University of Maryland. She has been working in the special education field for over 8 years and has experience working with children with a variety of social, communication, and learning needs, including those on the autism spectrum. She has experience and training in Applied Behavior Analysis, Verbal Behavior, Positive Behavior Management, Safe Crisis Management, Relationship Development Intervention, and Social Thinking concepts. Jenna is currently a Preschool Autism teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools, as well as a home therapy based curriculum specialist/teacher for an adult with Autism. She previously developed social skill programs for both her school and home-based programs, and was a contributor to a study at her previous private school based on social relationships in the school setting with Social Thinking co-founder, Pamela Crooke as well as Unstuck and on Target author Lynn Cannon. She is currently working towards a Masters in Early Childhood Special Education at George Mason University. In her free time, Jenna enjoys spending time with family (she has 2 awesome nephews and an awesome niece) and friends, baking, cooking, being outside, especially at the beach, and taking adventures to new places.
Michael McDermott – Group Facilitator and Assistant
Michael is a Virginia native who is currently employed by the Food and Nutrition Department of Fairfax County Public Schools. In addition, he has earned his Emergency Medical Technician Certification and is a volunteer with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue. Michael hopes to leave a positive impact on the lives of the children with whom he works by taking time to get to know them on an individual level and planning activities to reflect their interests and needs. In his free time he enjoys cooking, spending time outdoors and spoiling his dog.
Marissa Daly – Substitute Facilitator
Marissa graduated from Loyola University Maryland with her Bachelor’s in psychology in 2013 and Master’s in Clinical Psychology in 2015. Currently, she works as a clinical specialist at Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Neurobehavioral Inpatient Unit, where she designs behavioral treatments for children and adolescents with severe developmental disabilities. Marissa has experience working with individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities in a variety of settings, including inpatient care, special education, supported employment, individual and group psychotherapy, and social skills training groups – she first joined the staff at Kate McClain Social Skills in the summer of 2012 and remained with the team until beginning her graduate program the following year. Marissa is currently working toward her Ph.D. in Applied Developmental Psychology at The University of Maryland, Baltimore County with a focus on developmental disabilities and applied behavior analysis. In her spare time, Marissa enjoys being outside and exploring new places.