Meet the Preschool Teachers

Anna Zielinski

Preschool Director

Anna Zielinski has lived in New Canaan for ten years all the while working at the Nature Center.  She started here as a teacher and a naturalist and Camp Field Director then become the Assistant Preschool Director, and eventually the Summer Camp Director. While she’s stepped back from Summer programing, she’s continued to dedicate herself to the Preschool.  Early Education has always been Anna’s passion. She has a degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Dayton and has completed the coursework for the Connecticut Director Credential.

Throughout her time here, Anna has developed a deep love and understanding of the Preschool and of the Nature Center itself. Engaging with children in an outdoor environment and watching them bloom in the forest is the most rewarding and validating experience she’s ever had as an educator. She believes that through letting children play in the woods, we are promoting each child’s individual growth as well as creating a foundation of love and conservation for our environment.  Anna enjoys long hikes, yoga, gluten free baking, arts and crafts, and beekeeping.

Meredith Ahlberg

Assistant Director 

Hailing from the Buckeye State, Meredith moved to Connecticut in 2009 and joined the New Canaan Nature Center that same year as an environmental educator. Shortly afterwards she transitioned into the preschool program as part of the teaching team and stayed on for summer camp year after year. She has seen herself through various roles, including, Adventure Camp leader, Camp Counselor, and, eventually, Field director.

Meredith has spent the past three years home in Redding raising her two children all while growing personally and professionally. Her love for nature and nature-based education is at the heart of her soul — she believes all children need the valuable connection to the natural world. She is honored to be coming back this year and working with such an amazing team! In her spare time Meredith enjoys walking in the woods, reading, and playing with her children and dog, Lucy.

Whitney McCarthy

Teacher/Education & Outreach Coordinator

Whitney McCarthy 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.

Christine Dinella


Christine Dinella 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.

Mary Hayes


Mary Hayes 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.

Emily Kerchoff


Emily Kerchoff, 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 loves being 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 she has earned her 30-hour certificate in ECE at Norwalk Community College and is working towards her bachelors degree. She loves to explore the trails, often hikes with her Australian Shepherd rescue, and still remembers the Salamander Song.

Claire Jones


Claire Jones lives in New Canaan with her husband. Five 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 cum laude with a degree in Communications from the University of Southern California, where she enjoyed working with early elementary children through the university’s community outreach teaching program. She has earned 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. She integrates music and movement with imagination into every day!

Johana Romero


Johana Romero was born in Panama City, Panama. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Marketing. In 2007 she decided to come to the U.S. to continue her studies where she pursued a new career path in education and achieved an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education from The Norwalk Community College. Eventually, she would like to pursue a master’s in Education. She has realized that the most important part of teaching is engaging with the children and listening to what they want to share in the classroom. Johana likes to work with recycled materials and “props,” and strives to combine different approaches to learning where children can benefit. In her spare time, she likes to practice yoga, go to the gym, learn to cook new dishes, explore new places, and spend time outside with her son Julian who is 7 years old. They love going to the beach and enjoy the smell of the sea. She lives in Norwalk with her husband and son and is very excited to be part of the team at The New Canaan Nature Center.

Lisa Socci


Lisa Socci 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!

Tara Sheridan


Tara Sheridan holds a NYS Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 6 Teacher Certification. After graduating from Villanova University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education, Tara moved to Arizona where she began her career teaching preschool in Tucson.  She completed her Master’s in Elementary Education from Northern Arizona University, as well as a Certificate in Nature and Place-Based Education from Prescott College.  Tara continued to gain valuable experience teaching grades 4-8 in public and private elementary schools in New York City. Recently, Tara spent several seasons sharing her love for nature-based education through her role as a Tinkergarten leader, offering outdoor play-based classes to children and their caregivers in Fairfield County.  She currently lives in Bethel with her husband and 4 children. Together, they enjoy hiking in New York and Connecticut throughout the year and exploring the shores of Cape Cod during the summer. Tara is a firm believer in bare feet, muddy hands and splashing in rain puddles!

Jessica Cree


Jessica Cree grew up in Stamford. She has worked in preschool classrooms for 24 years. Jessica has her associate degree from Norwalk Community college in Early Childhood. She has taught four-year olds at Toddler Time in New Canaan, worked summers here at the Nature Center camp, and spent 8 years teaching 3s and 4s at Carousel Preschool in Norwalk, where she integrated gardening and nutrition into her curriculum. Jessica lives with her husband Jon, 7-year-old daughter Jocelyn and 5 year old son Jameson. She enjoys cooking, reading, and learning and sharing about health and nutrition.

Deanna Novak


Deanna Novak grew up in Connecticut and is a lifelong learner, focused on the health of natural spaces and their interplay with our own well-being. Her work has included outreach and environmental education in collaboration with schools in Greenwich, CT and NYC, and with the Lewisboro Land Trust Access Nature program. Deanna’s work with nature-based early childhood education began with a Storer Foundation Research Fellowship from Antioch University New England with the Greenwich Botanical Center. Now she looks forward to each day at NCNC Preschool, rediscovering nature through our children’s eyes, sharing their deep sense of joy and wonder. Together we strive to articulate our sense of place, our sense of play, our resilience, and our capacity to nurture a compassionate intelligence within our green spaces.

Deanna loves traveling to ecosystems around the world, and around the corner from her home. She is a gardener, and enjoys identifying plants and insects, and tracking constellations and the moon with her three children. She also loves watching animation, and drawing, crafting and cooking with her family. Deanna is the New Canaan Nature Center Summer Camp Handicraft Specialist.

Margaret Hughes


Margaret Hughes lives in Fairfield, CT with her husband and two children.  She holds a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from Manhattanville College and is a certified teacher in the State of Connecticut.  Margaret has enjoyed teaching in both general Ed and special Ed settings over the past 17 years.  She is returning to the NCNC 3’s program after some time teaching in the Fairfield public schools.  She is passionate about teaching early childhood, and especially enjoys working in a nature based, play based program such as NCNC. In her free time, Margaret enjoys traveling and entertaining friends and family.

Michele Bender


Michele Bender graduated from Stony Brook University with a B.A. degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in psychology. She received her nature-based teacher certification from the Eastern Region Association of Nature and Forest Schools. Her love of learning led her to Harvard University Graduate School of Education where she completed coursework on subjects related to early childhood development and the science of learning in the early years. She is passionate about enriching children’s lives through meaningful and developmentally appropriate experiences in nature. She focuses on nurturing the whole child to provide a well-rounded experience that meets the needs of the young child. Michele’s experience working with children includes teaching at Darien Nature Center and New Pond Farm. When not at work she enjoys reading, yoga, hiking, sewing, cooking, and spending time with her husband and two sons.

Debbie DeCicco


Mary Victor


Mary Victor was born and raised in New Delhi, India. There, she completed her Masters Degree and worked as a teacher for 4 years before moving to the U.S. in 2007. Since then, she has been pursuing her passion for teaching. In the past 13 years, she has worked at All Saints Catholic school, Children’s Corner, and ELLI at Stepping Stones Museum For Children. She loves spending time with her family and playing sports like badminton, table tennis, and basketball with her husband, Victor, and sons, Jeffrey and Eric. She also loves to celebrate with her extended family of about 50 people!

Mary is excited to join the New Canaan Nature Center team as a Preschool Teacher and the Lead After School Program Facilitator.

Jennifer Frederick

Preschool Floater / Aide

Jennifer Frederick was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. She lived there up until twenty years ago, when she decided to move to America. She is the mother of two children. She has been living in New Canaan for over 10 years and has over 15 years of experience working with children. She also worked at Oxygen Daycare for over 3 years. The energy and enthusiasm of children is what inspires her to continue wanting to interact with children. She loves to travel; cooking is her passion as well as watching soccer.