Meet the Preschool Teachers

Marianne Kay

Preschool Director

Marianne Cholnoky Kay is the Preschool Director at the New Canaan Nature Center. She began as a teacher 18 years ago and is coming up on her seventh year in her current position. Marianne’s love of the outdoors combined with her high spirited enthusiasm for teaching young children and working with parents makes her position as the director a perfect fit.

Before joining the Nature Center, Marianne was a retail manager for Spectacles, an optical business in Greenwich. Prior to that, she worked in the ski industry in a managerial position at Pedigree Ski Shop in White Plains, New York and Outdoor Traders in Greenwich. She graduated from Greenwich Academy in 1975 and went on to Mount Vernon College where she earned her BA in Business Administration/Marketing.

Marianne has been an active member of the Fairfield County Association for the Education of Young Children Board as the Treasurer and is on their Professional Development Committee for the past 7 years. She is a founding member and Treasurer of the Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools. She served on the GA Alumni Board from 1998 – 2003 and 2013 – 2016. She currently serves on the GA Board of Trustees. She was also a governor on the New Canaan Country Club Board from 2004 – 2007.

Marianne lives in New Canaan where she enjoys walking, skiing playing tennis, golf and paddle tennis. Her daughter, Elisabeth recently graduated from the University of Vermont.

Anna Zielinski

Assistant Preschool Director /
Camp Director 

Anna was raised in Ohio and spent her younger days frolicking outside with her rambunctious brothers. Anna achieved her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from The University of Dayton. After graduation, she moved to California and began working in Environmental Education. She never thought she could find a way to combine her passion for nature with her love of early education…until the New Canaan Nature Center Preschool. She happily spends her days playing and learning outside with children. When not working, Anna enjoys crocheting big blankets, traveling to fun destinations and spending time with her husband and their little boy.

Jane Piselli

Director of Summer Camp/Teacher

Jane Piselli graduated from Antioch University New England with my Master’s in Education as well as my Early Childhood, Special Education, and Elementary teaching certification. I also have my certificate in Nature Based Preschool. My passion is getting out of the classroom and exploring the outdoors. I believe that by providing kids with real experiences and time to explore the world around them and their own development as humans they will fall in love with the world and learning in a way that will stay with them for their whole lives. I love getting my hands and feet dirty and personally do my best learning while exploring myself and investigating, always asking questions. I love to hike, bike, swim and snowshoe. I went to the NCNC preschool and my family has a long history of working and participating in programing.

Christine Dinella

Teacher

Christine grew up in Stamford, CT, and joined the New Canaan Nature Center Preschool in 1999. She had previously been a lead teacher at the Baby Cottage in Stamford, an educational assistant at Rogers Magnet School and the Summer Camp Director at the Wilton Riding Club. She is working toward her degree in Early Childhood Education at Norwalk Community College. She loves to be outside and enjoys cooking and baking with the children.

Emily Kerchoff

Teacher

Emily, a New Canaan native, grew up at the New Canaan Nature Center. She attended camps as a child, was on the trails often, and volunteered in animal care while at Saxe Middle School. She is excited to be a part of the Nature Center where she has so many special memories. Previously, Emily taught as a Preschool Teacher at Family Centers in Greenwich and is currently working toward her degree in Early Childhood Education at Norwalk Community College. She loves to explore the trails, often hikes with her Australian Shepherd rescue, and still remembers the Salamander Song.

Claire Jones

Teacher

Claire lives in New Canaan with her husband and the youngest of her five children. Four years ago, with the encouragement of her 5 children (all former NCNC summer campers and preschool graduates), she started substitute teaching at the New Canaan Nature Center and was thrilled when she joined the teaching staff full time. She graduated with a degree in Communications from USC. She is in the process of earning her certificate in Early Childhood Education from Norwalk Community College. Claire views the outdoors as the perfect environment for children to explore, learn and grow as individuals and as classmates.

Julian Shettler

Visitor’s Center Naturalist/Mommy, Me & Nature Teacher

Mary Hayes

Teacher

Mary was born and raised in Dobbs Ferry, New York. She graduated from Iona College with a B.A. in Psychology. Upon graduation she began teaching at Community Nursery School, working with two, three, and four year olds. Eventually, Mary, her husband and four boys settled in Darien. After the youngest started school, Mary wanted to go back to her most rewarding job, teaching. She joined St. Johns Preschool in Darien. After that, she began substitute teaching in the Darien Elementary Schools, while also working at Maureen Bloom’s Playdates program. Mary loves spending time with family and two dogs. Some of her favorite things are gardening, kayaking, cooking, and spending time at the beach.

Whitney McGarthy

Teacher

Whitney lives in New Canaan with her husband, Ted, and three children who all attended the NCNC preschool. She has taught first and fifth graders in Westport public schools and two and three year olds in preschool. Working with children is a gift- their joy and enthusiasm is contagious- and allows Whitney to share her love of animals, gardening, the arts, literature and play every day. Whitney loves sailing and competes in races during the summer.

Lisa Socci

Teacher

Lisa is from Stamford where she lives with her husband and four children. She has been an early childhood educator since 1998. She studied Early Childhood Education at Norwalk Community College and is working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Child Studies. She enjoys working with children of all ages, spending time exploring the ever-changing gifts of nature. Her passions include her family, gardening and cooking. Every day brings a surprise when you keep your mind and your heart open!

Patrizia DalleMule

Teacher

Patrizia decided to become a preschool teacher after realizing that she loved to volunteer in her children’s preschool classrooms and felt that it would be an honor to contribute to the education of young children. She taught 2’s at the First Congregational Church of Darien. She earned her 30 hour Certificate in Early Childhood Education from Norwalk Community College. She holds a bachelor’s degree in law from University of Sao Paulo in Brazil and a summa cum laude master’s in science from Northwestern University. She speaks fluent Portuguese, Italian and French. She lives in
Darien with her husband and their two children.

Lindsay Tucker

Teacher

Lindsay lives in New Canaan with her husband and their two very active sons. She attended the College of William and Mary earning a degree in International Relations and Women’s Studies. She went onto pursue graduate studies in International Development and Global Health. While living in New York City, Lindsay volunteered at an elementary school and began to teach early childhood parenting classes at the Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) at Metropolitan Hospital. In 2015, she moved to New Canaan and enrolled her youngest son at our Preschool. She watched her son and all of the other children at the Nature Center flourish in their outdoor classroom and knew that she wanted to be a part of other children’s experiences at the Nature Center. She is enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program at Norwalk Community College.