Jennie Monness - Center Director

Staff at Explore+DiscoverJennie is a deeply experienced early educator and administrator. She came to Explore+Discover from Preschool of America where she most recently served as Educational Director of the company’s Lincoln Center location—the group’s largest site. She has worked in all aspects of early childhood care, starting as a toddler caregiver before becoming a Pre-K Head Teacher and then ultimately the director at Lincoln Center.

Her extensive experience in managing an early childhood program and working directly with infants and toddlers supports Explore+Discover’s commitment to our youngest learners. Jennie is also focused on building relationships that create an environment at Explore+Discover where parents, staff and children all feel at home.

She received her Bachelor's Degree from The George Washington University and her Master's Degree in psychology and education from Teacher's College, Columbia University. She also holds a New York State Teaching Certification in Early Childhood Education.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of Explore+Discover’s learning journey where each child can reach their fullest potential in a nurturing social environment.”

Lauren Trueax - Head Teacher

Staff at Explore+Discover Lauren received her MA in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from Teachers College at Columbia University. She earned dual New York State Teaching Certifications: Early Childhood (birth to second grade) and Student with Disabilities (birth to second grade). She received a BA from the University of Richmond, majoring in Cultural Anthropology and minoring in Studio Arts.

Lauren’s path toward teaching began with an interest in the cross-cultural studies of child rearing, education, and youth culture. Craving a hands-on approach to applying these interests while learning new perspectives and ways of being, Lauren worked toward becoming an early childhood educator. Professionally, she values a strengths-based perspective geared toward nurturing the holistic development of children through child-centered, artistic play and exploration to ignite genuine interest, curiosity, and expression.

"Our Center offers more than just the chance to teach. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to grow personally with our young learners, explorers, players, artists and musicians, who will join us in the coming year. We also have the chance to work in partnership with families to create a seamless integration between home and school."

Louis Hamlyn-Harris - Head Teacher

Staff at Explore+Discover A native of Brisbane, Australia, Louis brings a unique international perspective to Explore+Discover. He received a BA and a Graduate Diploma in Education (Early Years) from Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane.

Louis followed this up by beginning his teaching career as a music and movement teacher in the International Kindergarten in Hanoi, Vietnam—a Reggio Emilia-inspired center.

His professional reach also extends to Australia where he has worked in early childhood settings. Heavily influenced by the Reggio Emilia philosophy, he is passionate about introducing music and the arts to young children through open-ended exploration and play. Louis recently moved to New York.

"Music and art are central to helping a child discover their world and grow as they explore. Explore+Discover is the perfect environment to make this happen."

Lika Kortava - Head Teacher

Staff at Explore+Discover Lika was born in Moscow and moved to the United States when she was four. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Applied Psychology and Human Relations from Pace University. Four years later, she received a Master’s in Infant and Family Development/Early Intervention, Early Childhood General and Special Education from Bank Street College. Her thesis focused on resiliency and protective factors in early childhood.

Prior to joining the Explore+Discover team she worked as a Lead Teacher in infant and toddler classrooms at The Valley School in Park Ridge, New Jersey, a Reggio Emilia-inspired early learning center. Prior to her work at The Valley School, she was as Assistant Teacher at the Therapeutic Nursery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City where she worked with children who were experiencing developmental delays and behavioral challenges.

At this center, she had an additional role of supporting caregivers in deepening the parent-child relationship. She has a passion for photography which translates into an ability to document student inquiries, as well as a love for photographing landscapes and animals. She is also fluent in Russian.

Lika is eager to join the Explore + Discover team this upcoming year. Her goal is to create a secure, supportive, and nurturing environment for her students so they feel safe and empowered to investigate the world around them.

"Children are naturally curious and motivated to explore the environment. I love using multi-sensory art materials as a fundamental experience in the classroom and can’t wait to learn alongside my new students."

Kaitlin McNee - Assistant Teacher

Staff at Explore+Discover Kaitlin received a BA in Psychology from SUNY New Paltz. While at New Paltz, she cultivated an interest in the mind as it relates to physical and social development of children. Outside the classroom, she was one of the founders and Vice President of the Undergraduate Psychology Association. She also volunteered as a student crisis counselor at a local food pantry as well as at the town’s local library. During college, she cultivated a deep appreciation for the natural world, hiking and biking on trails in the Catskill Mountain region. This interest informs all of her work with children.

Kaitlin taught for a year at the Jawonio Playing and Learning Together Preschool in Rockland County as an Assistant Teacher in an inclusive special needs classroom. For the past three years Kaitlin has been a teacher at Beginnings Nursery School in New York City, a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool where curriculum emerged out of student interests.

During her time at Beginnings she developed many explorations with children, including a playground study in which the children built a sprinkler for the school’s outdoor play space. Some of her favorite inquiries have included subjects such as light and shadow, water and sand, and map-making with a projector. Kaitlin has wide ranging interests and passions that she will share with the children at Explore + Discover.

"Explore + Discover is an amazing place that cultivates children’s innate sense of intrigue and learning from a very young age. I’m looking forward to working with the children and increasing my understanding of development of their minds."

Heather DeGrandis - Head Teacher

Staff at Explore+Discover Heather received a Bachelor's Degree in Communications and Psychology from Fordham University and a Master's in Early Childhood General and Special Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her wide-ranging academic interests come together to inform all of her explorations with children.

Heather has years of experience caring for children in and out of the classroom. For several years, she worked in Cleveland and New York City as a nanny for children from 7 months to 11 years old. She traveled with families abroad as a tutor and nanny. In this capacity, Heather grew to know her students and families very well, developing a unique bond with each of them.

As part of her graduate school experience, Heather was a student teacher in the infant/toddler room at the Children’s Learning Center at Morningside Heights. In this role, she developed a passion for working with very young children, a commitment to quality care, and a sense of what children can accomplish in a social learning center.

Heather looks forward to creating a strong sense of community in her classroom where teachers build upon children’s strengths and help to grow their confidence.

"Young children are naturally curious and filled with beautiful wonder. I love to explore avenues for artistic expression and integrate the arts into daily curriculum. I believe that very young children are on a social journey that fosters the creative mind. Every moment is a teachable moment that should be embraced."

Marlowe Rinsler - Music Specialist

Staff at Explore+Discover Marlowe received her bachelors in Psychology and Women’s Studies from Goucher College and began her journey in musical explorations with children soon after graduation. While music was a major interest since high school (playing bass guitar in a number of rock bands), she did not pursue education formally until she began a fellowship with Avodah—The Jewish Service Corp, at the Jewish Community House (JCH) of Bensonhurst where she taught in the preschool, which primarily served Russian immigrants. While at the JCH, she became drawn to teaching and pursued her masters in Early Childhood Education at Hunter College. For several years she taught music and then became a Head Teacher at Beit Rabban preschool. She was a Head Teacher at the JCC of Manhattan for four years where she continued honing in her skills of incorporating music into the classroom.

Extremely passionate about the Reggio Emilia approach to education, she shares the belief that there are "100 languages of children," and that children’s capacity for self-expression is endless. Marlowe sees singing as a primary language for children, a form of self- expression and way of learning. Becoming a mother of two young girls (ages 3 years and six months) has increased her love of teaching babies and toddlers.

"I'm thrilled to help bring more music to Explore+Discover--which is at the center’s educational philosophy and my own."

Magdalena Wnek - Head Teacher

Staff at Explore+Discover Maggie is a graduate of Queens College with a BS in Psychology and a member of the National Honor Society. She attended Teachers College and has a Masters in Early Childhood Education/Special Education-Dual Certification from birth to 2nd grade. Maggie worked as a babysitter to pay for college and over the past ten years has worked with children from birth until elementary school. As a babysitter, she was struck by children’s natural curiosity and how, with adult support, they created magical learning moments together.

Encouraged by one of her families, Maggie ventured out into the world of teaching. For five years, Maggie taught at Beginnings Nursery School, a preschool inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach. She rose from an assistant to an associate teacher. Working with 2, 3 and 4 yearold children, she took on more creative responsibility, shaping curriculum and writing documentation. She learned about the importance of the environment in encouraging children’s explorations. Most recently, Maggie taught at the TriBeCa Community School, co-teaching the 2.5 to 3 year old children.

A native of Poland, Maggie remains connected to her roots and family by visiting her home country as often as she can. She loves to travel and she recently spent several weeks living out of a backpack while hiking through Northern England and Scotland. She loves exploring the natural world and believes that children, no matter how young, should have unlimited opportunities to connect with the outdoors, wonder about it and explore it.

"I am looking forward to being a part of the E+D family, where children’s milestones, development, curiosity, work and learning will be visible in documentation. I really value the deep exploration of children’s interests. E+D is a place where the carefully created and changing classroom environment will naturally inspire children to wonder, discover and learn while they interact with the space and with each other."

Alison Swensen - Head Teacher

Alison has a MS in Early Childhood and Childhood General Education from Bank Street College and is certified to teach birth to 6th grade. She was a Head Teacher in the 3's and 4's classroom at Upper Valley Preschool and an Assistant Teacher in the kindergarten at Nest +m, New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math. Alison is a solid progressive educator who values curiosity in children. She advocates learning through play and working with open-ended materials to stimulate young minds. At Bank Street College, she studied mindfulness and its effects on students' behavior and work in the classroom. Intrigued by the spiritual and scientific workings of the mind, she continues to further her learning by practicing yoga, meditation, and researching neuroscience.

""It is an amazing opportunity to work in a community where powerful teachers are learning and growing together every day while sharing their experiences and talents with one another. I am so excited to be working with children in an environment where they are supported by motivated and caring teachers."

Brooke Jensen - Studio Art Teacher

Brooke Jensen is an art and early childhood educator with over fifteen years of classroom experience. She received her BA from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania and her MA in Art Education from Brooklyn College with certification in Visual Art. She specializes in bringing arts based curriculums to classrooms across the city. She believes in the power of arts based learning to develop young minds, a tactile sensibility and creativity. She encourages children to imagine and engage in self-directed exploration.

Throughout her career, Brooke has created amazing studio spaces. She spent five years teaching at the Reggio inspired St. Luke's School in San Francisco, where she first developed her ideas for using materials in innovative and unexpected ways. While there, she introduced children to a variety of materials and endless visual and narrative possibilities. Her studio spaces encourage inquiry, self expression and happiness.

Brooke also works as both an early childhood educator and art specialist at the JCC in Manhattan and is the Founder of Art & Design Adventures, a private art education program for children in New York City.

"Every child has a sense of wonder. To capture, encourage and inspire that sense of wonder is my goal as an educator. Through material explorations and creative imagination, it sets a foundational idea for children that anything is possible. This is the most important idea I can bring to any child."

Casimir Bemski - Head Teacher

Staff at Explore+Discover Casimir (Caz) is a Colorado native who moved to New York in 2013. He attended Metropolitan State University of Denver, receiving his B.A. in Human Development with a minor in Early Childhood Education. His thesis was written on the social, cognitive, and gross-motor implications of outdoor play on early childhood development. He is currently attending Bank Street College of Education, finishing up his Master’s in Studies in Education (with a focus on Outdoor Education). Before working at Explore+Discover, Caz worked with young children (ages 0-6) in many settings, including time at a Montessori preschool, a therapeutic preschool, a summer camp and private home childcare.

Caz is eager to work with young children outdoors and in the natural environment, where he believes that crucial developmental experiences take place. He is a progressive educator who emphasizes children’s independence and creativity. He enjoys playing saxophone and banjo with his students.

"I am excited to be a part of the Explore+Discover community, to nurture the fascinating minds of infants and toddlers, and provide them with a wonderful and positive environment."

Ellen Wood - Head Teacher

Staff at Explore+Discover Ellen is a native New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She has a BA in History from Oberlin College and an MA in Early Childhood General and Special Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She has taught at many prestigious New York City schools, including Manhattan Country Day School and Rita Gold Early Childhood Center at Teachers College. She regularly participates in educational conferences and workshops, and is a music teacher and a certified children's yoga instructor. Each year, Ellen travels to Nepal to teach English, yoga, meditation and music at the Dadagoan Orphanage in Kathmandu. She also raises funds to provide educational materials and improve living conditions for her students.

Ellen considers the mind, body, and spirit in her work with children. She believe that music, social experiences, arts, nature, movement, and an emergent curriculum are all fundamental aspects of early educational experiences that support a life of joy and love for learning. She has had many wonderful teachers and believes in the power of education to inspire greatness in children, inviting their wonder, curiosity and brilliance.

"Explore and Discover is a magical place that truly embraces wonder and imagination in childhood, responding to the natural instincts, curiosity, and developing minds and bodies of the youngest learners. I am thrilled to be able to join infants and toddlers in this pivotal moment of life, as part of a community of professionals committed to our ongoing personal growth and development alongside students in their learning journey."

Alexandra Fresne - Assistant Teacher

Alexandra has a BA in Economics from Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She is a passionate outdoor educator who has taught at a number of environmental programs and summer camps. Most recently, she was an instructor at Nature’s Classroom, where she led a five-day residential program for children. She also worked at Camp Thunderbird in South Carolina as an outdoor educator and at Camp Greylock in Massachusetts. She has provided instructions on aquatic, forest and wildlife ecology, astronomy, canoeing and high/low ropes.

"I am so excited to work with young children in such a great, positive environment for learning and growth. I have always loved working with children because it is so amazing to see how curious and fascinated they are with the world around us. "

Theresa O'Rourke - Assistant Teacher

Staff at Explore+Discover Theresa received a BA from SUNY New Paltz, where she majored in Sociology with a minor in Women’s Studies. She has worked in a number of educational institutions. For two years she worked as an educator at the Bronx Zoo Children’s Zoo, with children of different ages to explore wildlife in New York City. She enjoyed watching children interact with animals and focused on making their experiences memorable. She has also worked as a nanny with children from infancy to early adolescence. Most recently, she taught art and exploration classes at the JCC in Manhattan. In this role she worked to cultivate an environment where children were encouraged to explore their natural curiosities and artistic imaginations.

"The perspective I've gained as the result of working with young children has been remarkable and has helped me see them as fascinating, inquisitive, capable and inspirational. I am so happy to be a part of the Explore+Discover team."

Kristin Schall - Assistant Teacher

Kristin has a MA in English and is currently completing her MS in Early Childhood Education at Brooklyn College. She is an experienced early childhood educator dedicated to child-centered, play-based curriculum. She has taught in a variety of early childhood settings, including the Park Slope Childcare Collective and the Montessori School of Manhattan. Most recently, she worked as a co-teacher at Giocare Playschool in Brooklyn with 2- and 3-year-old children. Kristin has a strong interest in the role of environment and materials in shaping young children’s early learning experiences. She lives in Brooklyn with her 2-year-old daughter.

"I believe that nurturing and supportive early childhood experiences, those that draw on children's natural curiosity and imagination, lay the groundwork for life long learning. I am excited to be part of a team that supports and fosters play- based learning and exploration for the youngest children. "

Casey Stievelman - Business Manager

Staff at Explore+Discover Casey received her BA in Hospitality Administration from Boston University. As a student, she learned to be a leader in business management, while honoring the human connection that is the backbone of all hospitality. For the past two years she has worked in the fashion industry where she developed qualitative and quantitative skills, the ability to multi-task, strong bookkeeping capabilities and mastery of front office functions.

Casey has always been interested in education. As business manager in an early childhood setting, her goal is to ensure a secure, friendly and responsive environment. Casey is excited to learn about each child and support the parents, teachers and students in their early education journey.

"Explore and Discover is a special place where children can grow from an early age. I am delighted to join the Explore+Discover team!"

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Talk Matters

"Children whose teachers talk to them a lot (and many don’t!) have higher scores on tests of both verbal and general ability. This is especially the case when the talking consists of the teacher encouraging, questioning, and guiding the children’s exploration and learning."

Shonkoff and Philipps,
Neurons to Neighborhoods