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


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


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 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 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.

Johana Romero


Mary Hayes


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


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


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


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


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.

Jessica Cree


Jessica 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 the last 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.

Maria Alegria


Maria was born in Guatemala and lived there for 7 years before moving to the U.S. She can speak English and Spanish fluently. She loves to explore new trails around Connecticut with her family. She recently worked at the Early Language and Literacy Initiative program with Stepping Stones Museum for Children. She is working on her Master’s in Elementary Education but loves working with children of all ages. She is a camp counselor with the New Canaan Nature Center Camp, working with 6 to 10-year-old campers. She is a passionate teacher who is always finding opportunities to grow. She is very excited to be working with the New Canaan Nature Center Preschool community.

Becky Duplock


Becky was born in England where she lived, between moves to Africa with her father’s job, until moving to New Canaan in 2007. She moved here with her husband, Ian, and their 5 children, 3 sons and 2 daughters. They loved it here so much that they decided to stay and became US citizens 2 years ago! Becky has had a lot of experience with young children. She used to run a Parent and Me play group in England for parents of twins and higher order multiples. Becky’s ‘3rd child’ was a set of triplets so decided to use her experience to help other parents in similar situations. She also volunteered at a local hospital giving talks about parenting premature babies whilst they are in hospital and giving tours of the NICU to make parents feel more comfortable. Becky loves to volunteer in the community and you will often see her about town. She has been involved in the Scouting program for over 10 years now as a leader, is current Chapter President of a national mother/daughter volunteering program and has also been delivering Meals on Wheels in town for several years. Her many years as an elementary school volunteer made her realize that her passion lay in the education of younger children. She especially enjoys preschoolers who are so eager to learn. She believes that there is nothing better for young children than to learn from exploring the world around them and not being afraid to get their ‘hands dirty’ during outdoor play and art projects. She believes that life is a constant experiment and where better to start learning and exploring than with Mother Nature herself. Becky will continue her own education taking Early Childhood Education classes at Norwalk Community College.