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 17 years ago and is coming up on her sixth 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 / Teacher

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 baby boy.

Meredith Ahlberg

Camp Field Director/Teacher

Meredith hails from the Buckeye State of Ohio and has been working with children in nature since 2008. She received her bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University with concentrations in Early Childhood Education and English. She began her career here as an Environmental Educator in September 2009. After only a few months, she joined the preschool team full time. She finds positive experiences in natural environments help children develop environmental values and become stewards of the earth. Meredith and her husband Chris have a 2 year old baby girl named Isla Evelyn.

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 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


Claire lives in New Canaan with her husband and the youngest of her five children. Three years ago, with the encouragement of her children (all former NCNC summer campers and preschool graduates), she started substitute teaching at the New Canaan Nature Center and is thrilled to be joining 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.

Paula Yonkers


Paula is a third-generation New Canaan-ite who graduated NCHS and then proceeded to get her Culinary Arts degree at Johnson and Wales U. As a young girl, Paula had many experiences camping with her family and has always enjoyed nature. She worked as a long term substitute para-professional in grades K-5, and has subbed regularly at Temple Shalom Preschool with 2- 4 year-olds. Paula enjoys hiking, cooking, reading, martial arts, camping, and running half-marathons.

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


Lindsey 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.

Judy Gilroy


Judy brings a passion for education and exploration of nature. She comes to us with 5 years of preschool experience mostly working with 2 year olds. She fulfilled her lifelong goal of going back to college and graduated from Norwalk Community College in their Early Childhood program in 2012. She is a second generation New Canaanite, and raised two children in New Canaan. She is active in the community volunteering at Waveny Care Center for over 20 years and at the Visiting Nurse and Hospice Thrift shop in New Canaan. She enjoys walking, gardening, and crocheting.