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Theresa McCaffrey, M.F.A, M. Ed

Founder, Co-director, & Head Teacher, Sassafras Class

Theresa McCaffrey was moved to create Little Leaf in 2015.  She wanted to bring nature and wild play back to early childhood.  She is the current director of Little Leaf and loves her work with teachers, families and children. Theresa earned a Masters of Teaching in Special Education from Pace University and a Masters of Fine Arts from Harvard University.  She is a dedicated teacher both at the pre-school and elementary school level with over 10 years of experience in inclusive classrooms.  She is a Teach for America alum and has been a teacher at The River School in New York City, P.S. 86 in the Bronx and at KIPP Infinity Charter School in Harlem.  She has studied many early childhood pedagogies including the Reggio Emilia approach, and Waldorf and Montessori models. She has also trained in the Coyote Mentoring way with the Wilderness Awareness School.  Theresa was selected to be a part of the Early Childhood Hall of Heroes through the Childcare Council and is a participant in the Leadership Westchester Fellowship Program.  Theresa is passionate about the nature preschool movement, building community, and play! She can often be found with her three children on forest walks or reading great books. 

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Laura Lindner-Bass, M. Ed/Special Education

Co-Director

Laura’s 30-year career has been filled with successes across her early education practice that focus on inclusion, advocacy, staff management and neurodiversity. Since 2017, Laura has watched Little Leaf grow. She consulted with the school for several years leading social groups with children, meeting with parents, and advising teachers. Most recently, Laura has worked in early intervention and preschool special education as a SEIT (special education itinerant teacher) and Applied Behavioral Analysis therapist. Prior to that, Laura was a tenured teacher in White Plains, a Universal Pre-K teacher in the Bronx, Director of special services for the JCC in Miami, a reading and handwriting specialist, and as Inclusion/Staff Development Director for Chickenshed USA. Laura is passionate about child driven, investigative, collaborative play, where each child is an active participant and learning is facilitated through all modalities in the natural environment. Through this experience, she believes children develop self-driven curiosity, creativity, a strong sense of self and autonomy which are foundations for future successes. Laura has raised three passionate and curious adults who have pursued careers in the arts, publishing and law. She enjoys taking walks with her husband, cooking, reading, and gardening.

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Allison Griffin

Head Teacher, Sugar Maple Class

Ali has always naturally connected to early childhood, and social/emotional development has always been her passion. She has over 20 years of experience working with children and their families in various capacities, like teaching, SEIT, play therapy, and parenting support. She has developed and run classes and programs and facilitated professional development workshops for preschool teachers.
Ali credits New York City, where she grew up, for giving her a foundational exposure and love of human difference as well as understanding the peaceful calm and connection the natural world provides. She believes it is our job as humans to love and protect the natural world. She knows that building a strong foundation in self-awareness, self-regulation, emotional understanding, compassion, and empathy is crucial for humans. She strives to instill a deep knowledge and acceptance of self, as well as a deep understanding and connection to others and the natural world. Ali studied Psychology, Child Development, Play Therapy, and Early Childhood Education. She is a certified yoga instructor and a martial artist. She has 2 children and 2 step-children. She feels deeply connected to Little Leaf on all levels and loves being among the trees with her Sugar Maples.

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Nina Horozova

Assistant Teacher, Sugar Maple Class,
& Office Manager

Nina Horozova is civil engineer by education, she is inspired by sustainable design and living, and brings her passion to the design of the garden at Little Leaf, Andrus on Hudson. Her happy childhood in Europe was defined by unstructured outdoor play with friends and close relationships with her grandparents. Living in Germany for a few years, she helped at her son’s preschool “Die Kleinen Zwerge,” where daily outdoor play was part of the routine – in snow or rain, sun or fog! Dressed in full gear, the children had a lot of fun. It's an absolute pleasure for her to be at Little Leaf, where she began 4 years ago, as parent and volunteer. Her daughter is a graduate of Little Leaf. Nina loves greeting the children and making them feel welcomed, and helping them learn about and feel comfortable in nature. She enjoys yoga, tree climbing, working in her little vegetable garden, and reading.

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Cristina Silva

Assistant Teacher, Sugar Maple Class

Cristina has been working at Little Leaf for three years, and is currently studying Early Childhood Development. Prior to joining Little Leaf, she worked at the Boys and Girls Club of America, and also spent some time working as a medical assistant. Cristina's family is from Mexico. She loves to speak, sing, and share Spanish language with the children! She appreciates teaching and learning in natural environments with the children through imaginative play, and watching them develop appreciation for all living things. On her days off she enjoys spending time with family and her dog Alaska!

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Shaiza Zahid

Assistant Teacher, Sassafras Class

Shaiza is a chemical engineer by education, and a conservationist by heart. She believes there is no better way to help conserve nature than by raising and nurturing little nature custodians.


Raised in Pakistan, spending all her free time in unstructured play in her backyard, climbing trees or making potions, Shaiza strives to bring back slow, immersive, magical play to children in this rigidly structured world.  She believes in the Little Leaf way, and two of her children are Little Leaf alums!


Shaiza worked at Little Leaf for two years before taking a year-long hiatus to birth her third child and spend time with him. She has been a Leader with Tinkergarten for three years, bringing joy to families by facilitating child-led play in the great outdoors. She has also worked at Summer Trails day camp in the summers, as the Nature lead counselor and STEM lead counselor working with children in pre-k through 8th grade. Shaiza loves to bring her passion for nature play and engineering together, to see the special place where magic happens. In her spare time she hikes the Hudson Valley and beyond with her husband and three boys, and enjoys reading high fantasy literature.

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Hannah Van Dolsen

Assistant Teacher, Sassafras Class

Hannah Van Dolsen has always had a deep love and appreciation for nature and the youngest learners. She is joining the Little Leaf community after working as a first grade teacher in a public, dual-language (Spanish) program in Washington Heights. Prior to teaching in the NYC DOE, Hannah received a M.A. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages at Teachers College and is currently finishing her M.A. in Early Childhood Education at Bank Street College of Education. She has worked in day care and preschool settings with influences of Reggio Emilia and Montessori. Hannah is so excited for her next chapter working in a nature preschool setting. She is inspired by and committed to the role of the natural world as children’s primary teacher, and cannot wait to see how children’s worlds expand with experiences in the dirt, sun, and forest. When she is not teaching, she loves to hike throughout New York State with her rescue pup, Junie. Hannah also enjoys reading, exploring art and theater, and spending lots of time with her family and friends.

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Jake Sacket

Summer Camp Director, Site Director and Co-Head Teacher, Juneberry Class at Lenoir

Jake received his Bachelor's Degree in Sustainability and Geology from Hofstra University. He is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Nature-Based Early Childhood Education from Antioch University. Before working at Little Leaf, Jake spent his summers working at the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont where he led educational programs and hikes around the park. He is passionate about connecting children with nature, enjoys hiking, and hooking his hammock up and reading a good book. In his free time he enjoys hiking in the Catskills and the Adirondack Mountains. Jake loves to engage his class in adventure, and to explore the natural world around us!

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Julie Cramer

Co-Head Teacher, Juneberry Class at Lenoir

Julie brings ten years of experience in both formal teaching and environmental education to Little Leaf. Julie began her career in education working with school groups in Alley Pond Park, located minutes from where she grew up in Queens, NY. Once she experienced the joy that nature sparks in young children, she was hooked. After receiving her NYS teacher certification, Julie earned her graduate degree from NYU in Environmental Conservation Education. Wanting to bridge the worlds of formal classroom teaching and nature-based education, Julie worked at the NYC Department of Sanitation assisting schools with their recycling and sustainability efforts. She went on to become a second grade teacher, working with a diverse population of students in inclusive classrooms. Julie loved the connection she felt to all of her students, especially watching them grow over the course of a school year. It was this love of nurturing tiny humans, paired with her passion for outdoor education that brought her to Little Leaf. Julie is now a dedicated nature preschool teacher, eager to provide her students with opportunities to connect with the earth and with one another. She is amazed each day at her students’ natural ability to be kind and compassionate, and is truly inspired by their endless curiosities. She believes deeply in nature immersion for young children, and in preserving the magic of childhood. Julie is so grateful for her students who help her see the magic in all the little things too!

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Ali Garber

Assistant Teacher, Juneberry Class at Lenoir

Ali earned her Bachelor's Degree in Photography, with a minor in Art History from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Through art, Ali works to inspire her students, and equip them with new ways to process their world and express themselves. Before joining Little Leaf, Ali worked as a fulltime photographer, specializing in events, food, interiors, products, and portraits. While she still maintains her photography business, she loves to use her photography expertise to document her students as they grow, learn, and explore!

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Monica Daly

Head Teacher, Acorn Class

Monica Daly is the Head Teacher of the Acorn class. Monica Daly grew up in the Washington DC area but has called New York City home for over 20 years.  She lives in the Bronx with her family, which includes her husband and their two children. She earned her Masters Degree from Teachers College, Columbia University with a focus on child development through the Arts and Art Education. She earned her B.A. from Fordham University. Before teaching she worked as a Graphic Designer and continues to create when she finds the time, bringing this passion to her documentation and classroom design. Monica began teaching in 2012 for the NYC Department of Education and started to work as an Outdoor Educator in 2017.  She loves engaging children of all ages through critical thinking and enjoying all the play that their surroundings can offer. Her main goal for the Acorns is for them to love, find joy, and ownership in their school community by developing their social-emotional skills in a child led - play based environment.

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Beverly Mezzatesta

Assistant Teacher, Acorn Class

Beverly has a diverse background in education and the arts, including many years of experience working with toddlers. Beverly worked with two year olds as a summer camp counselor for many years prior to college. She was also a certified lifeguard during these summers, teaching her tiny students how to swim! Beverly studied Early Childhood Development at Sarah Lawrence College, with a focus on the behavior and development of two year olds. After college, Beverly studied Printmaking in Florence, Italy at “Il Bisonte." She went on to earn a professional printmaking license and a Master's Degree in Fine Art from the Vermont Graduate School. Beverly became certified by the Board of Education to teach art, and managed an art program for children in the city called "The After School Workshop," where she taught art, ballet, and cooking. Beverly is a painter, and a lover of all things creative! She loves to create in her art studio at Yoho Artists, an artist building in Yonkers. She has two wonderful grown children and three adorable grand nieces who she loves to play dress up with any chance she gets. Beverly loves nature and is so excited to experience the beauty of each season with the Acorn class this year!

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Sophia Peluso

Assistant Teacher, Acorn Class

Sophia earned a Bachelor's degree in Psychology with a concentration in Early Childhood Development, and minored in Sociology and Italian Language at Purchase College, SUNY. She is obtaining her Masters degree in Educational Psychology at Hunter College. Sophia has worked with children aged from toddlerhood to adolescence, but she found herself the happiest in early childhood education. She has been an assistant teacher at The Children’s Center at Purchase College. Sophia spent the last two summers as a Lead Teacher at the Lenoir Nature Preserve summer camp. Her experience working at Lenoir solidified a love for outdoor education and learning about nature's role in early childhood development. Outside of work and school, Sophia enjoys gardening, traveling, and going to museums!

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Jackie O'Brien

Site Director & Head Teacher, Owl Class at Teatown

Knowing that a child’s formative time in nature is the gateway to life-long ecosystem service understandings of forests, meadows, native plants and invertebrates, the Little Leaf forest preschool program at Teatown validates the child’s innate sense of connection to nature. Jackie brings her experience as a preschool lead teacher, WildEarth certified outdoor educator and nature-immersion facilitator, and education for sustainability developer, to Little Leaf’s new Teatown program. Loris Malaguzzi once said “Children yearn to discover the measures and relations of complex situations.” Jackie is ardently curious about system interdependencies and is eager to support children’s social, emotional, empathic and physical growth through child-directed play in nature. She is a licensed NYS teacher with over 10 years of early childhood teaching experience, an MS in Educ.Psych. from Fordham and an MS in Early Childhood and Elem. Ed. from Bank Street College. In her spare time, she enjoys fast knitting, slow jogging, learning native plants and trees, cooking, and hiking with her husband and two adult sons.

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Sara Roy Summers

Assistant Teacher, Owl Class at Teatown

Sara is an ERAFANS certified nature-based educator with a master’s degree in sustainability, who loves to share her passion for the environment and to help foster a sense of belonging to our natural world. Before joining the Little Leaf team, Sara was a Tinkergarten leader for four years, facilitating families in outdoor, child-lead play. She especially enjoys bringing creative play as a gateway to scientific inquiry outside, where there is no such thing as too much mess and where children are free to explore materials and natural phenomena in a boundless way. Sara is currently completing her Early Childhood Certification. 


Originally from Sweden, Sara whole-heartedly subscribes to the saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing, and enjoys outdoor activities year-round, such as skiing, hiking and swimming. She lives in Pleasantville with her husband, two sons, cats and backyard chickens.

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Melissa Lohman-Wild

Assistant Teacher, Owl Class at Teatown

Melissa Lohman-Wild is an artist and educator with an interest in nature connected exploration, creative communication, and intergenerational collaboration. She has led early childhood art classes in preschools, elementary schools, studio schools, summer camps, community centers, libraries, playgrounds, backyards, and in the woods. Melissa has also worked in preschools as an assistant teacher and a substitute teacher, as a teaching artist in documentary production, training teens to produce stories about themselves and their communities, and in film and television production, in the art department. She has a BA from Hampshire College, an MA in Media Studies from The New School, studied Early Childhood Education at Brooklyn College, and completed Strawtown Studio’s facilitator training in nature connected art and science discovery. Melissa loves children, animals, and plants. She likes to draw, make mail, hang out with her husband and two children, and walk in the woods with friends. Melissa is grateful to be part of the Little Leaf community.