Founder & Director
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.
Head Teacher, Sugar Maple Class
Allison Griffin has lived at the intersection of peace, nature, and early childhood development her entire life. In a career spanning over 20 years, she has developed each avenue of interest, sometimes separately, but finally culminating in her current position as head teacher at Little Leaf School. She spends her days sowing seeds of peace in her wonderful children, and sometimes literally sowing seeds. Ali has always naturally connected to early childhood and had a deep understanding and love of the developmental period. She worked with children ages 2 through 7 over the years in various capacities. From teaching, to play therapy, from SEIT to parenting support, Ali gained a wealth of varied experience. 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 the foundational exposure and love of human difference, as well as understanding the peaceful calm the natural world provides. She believes that a strong foundation in self-awareness, self-regulation, emotional understanding, compassion, and empathy is the seed of peace. She is is a certified yoga instructor and a brown belt in Kyokushin. Her yoga classes blend these two disciplines in a unique balance. Ali studied Psychology, Child Development, and Early Childhood Education and has almost completed her second Masters degree. She is currently a teacher at Little Leaf School. She has two children and 2 step-children.
Co-Head Teacher, Sassafras Class
Julie is currently the Assistant Teacher in the Sassafras class. She received a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education from Queens College, and a master's degree in Environmental Conservation Education from NYU. She is also a certified elementary educator with four years’ experience in the classroom. Julie spent her college years working as an environmental educator at Alley Pond Environmental Center in Queens. She later worked with the NYC Department of Sanitation, assisting schools on their recycling and sustainability efforts. Julie went on to pursue her passion for education as a second grade teacher, working with a diverse range of students from a Title I charter school in Queens, to a public school here in Westchester. Her love of nature and children have brought her to Little Leaf, where she is excited to help foster a love of learning and curiosity in all her students. Julie is a resident of Dobbs Ferry and loves bird-watching, hiking, and boxing!
Program Director and Head Teacher, Lenoir Dragonfly Class
Lindsay spent her childhood in West Palm Beach, Florida. She attended Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, ultimately earning a Master of Fine Arts in Photography and Art History. After graduating, Lindsay began pursuing a career in early childhood education. She has since worked as a teacher in preschool programs in Massachusetts, California, and New York, predominantly inspired by the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy. Lindsay loves the outdoors and enjoys gardening and crocheting.
Head Teacher, Acorn Class
Monica Daly is the Head Teacher of the Acorn class. She’s originally from Washington, D.C. and called Brooklyn home for over 15 years. Recently, her family moved to the Bronx and are excited to explore new sections of the city and its surrounding areas. Monica earned her M.A. from Teachers College at Columbia University. She has worked as an Educator and Art Educator for over 7 years; 5 years in the NYC Department of Education and for After School programs throughout the city. The last 2 years she enjoyed teaching at Brooklyn Nature School. Monica also works as a Graphic Designer, bringing this passion to her documentation and classroom design. She loves engaging children of all ages through critical thinking and imaginative play. She cannot wait to enjoy all the adventures and outdoor fun that Little Leaf has to offer!
Head Teacher and Site Director, Little Leaf Owls 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.
Assistant teacher, Sassafrass Class
Jake is co-teacher of the Sassafras Class at Little Leaf School. Jake received his undergraduate degree in Sustainability and Geology from Hofstra University. He is currently pursuing a certificate in Early Childhood Education at Westchester Community College. 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 to 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.
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.
Andrus-on-Hudson Intergenerational Coordinator
Joanne is a former classroom teacher with 15+ years teaching in California and New York. She discovered what an incredible joy it is to bring children and seniors together while volunteering at Andrus-on-Hudson with her own children. More than a decade later and with great serendipity, she was invited to create the job of Intergenerational Coordinator at Andrus. Joanne loves bridging the generations, building relationships and teaching compassion and understanding to all who participate in her program Roots & Sprouts.
Assistant Teacher, Lenoir Dragonfly Class
Cecelia has been an assistant teacher at Little Leaf for three years. Currently she is finishing a bachelor's degree in Political Science at Lehman College. Cecelia lives in Hastings-on-Hudson with her 9-year-old son, Alberto. In the summer, they often visit El Salvador and Portugal, which is where her parents are originally from. She enjoys performing small puppet shows based on the social emotional needs of the children.
Assistant Teacher, Lenoir Dragonfly Class
Shaiza is an assistant teacher in the Lenoir Dragonfly Class. She is passionate about outdoor play and activities and is also a Tinkergarten teacher. Shaiza has two children - students at Little Leaf and is originally from Pakistan. Before working at Little Leaf and as a Tinkergarten teacher, Shaiza worked at an early childhood center in White Plains. She enjoys setting up outdoor magic potion play, loose parts play and finding great trees for children to climb!
Loreto Mella Dearden
Assistant Teacher, Acorn Class
& Resident Spanish Teacher
Loreto Mella Dearden is very happy to join the dedicated team of teachers and parents at Little Leaf as an assistant teacher in the Acorn Class and Spanish teacher in Sugar Maple, Dragonfly and Sassafras class. She is a bilingual, native Spanish-speaker from the small village of Santa Cruz located three-hours-drive south of Santiago in the heart of Chile’s wine producing region. She has a Masters’ Degree in Education with over eight years experience as a preschool teacher and a public daycare administrator. Loreto is passionate about being outdoors, animals of all shapes and sizes and, eating healthfully although she admits to a major weakness: potato chips!. She lives in Yonkers with her husband, two teenage girls (one in college) and her cross-eyed cat, Lu.