Meet the Lake Hills Staff for 2017- 2018 School Year!
Natalie Levy- Owner
I grew up in Minsk, Belarus and moved to the US with my family when I was 8. Although I didn't have many Russian-speaking friends, I retained my Russian language by speaking with my family. My husband actually learned Russian in school so he wouldn't feel left out at family functions. I didn't realize how important the Russian language was to me until I had my two children and wanted them to speak it. While my education and background are in finance and fashion, I am so happy to trade it in for spending time with kids and being part of their preschool experience.
I came up with the concept of Birch Tree Academy when I realized how important both academic and social development was for my own children. After I was not able to find that combination in any schools I visited, I decided to create it. I really wanted a community of families that value education and a place where kids can feel welcome and make life-long friends. I was so excited when I realized other parents were looking for the same thing, and our preschool was born!
Although my main job is handling daily operations, I love getting to know all of the kids and playing with them during their outside breaks.
In my free time I like read, swim, take long walks with my kids and experiment with cooking.
Sherri Hubel- Director, Lake Hills
I was born and raised in southern California. I received my bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University in psychology and Spanish. Having always wanted to learn another language, I studied abroad in Mexico twice and later in Costa Rica. I have a Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential from California, with an emphasis in cross-cultural language and academic development. I’ve taught kindergarten, 3rd and 6th grade, including 4 years at an international school in the Netherlands. While teaching abroad, I had many students arrive with no English, while many others spoke 3 languages fluently.
My passion lies in dual language acquisition and preserving a child’s mother tongue and culture! It’s so important to preserve your family’s heritage while also embracing the community around you. My own children speak solely Dutch with my husband, and having learned Spanish and Dutch as an adult, I have an empathetic heart for those learning a new language.
I am so excited to meet your family and spend time with your sweet kids!
Rezeda Alimova- Office Manager, Lake Hills
I was born in Kazan, Russia and have lived in the Seattle for the past 4 years. I have a bachelor's degree in Finance and 5 years' banking experience. My son attends Birch Tree and I am so excited to have the opportunity to work in this fun and dynamic place. I enjoy working with kids and families, and am always happy to help with school related inquiries.
Brittany Byrd- Goslings (1-2) Class Teacher
Olga Krikova- Goslings (1-2) Class Teacher
Darina Almukhanova, Chipmunks (2-3 year old) Class Teacher
I was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan where I studied the concert flute, piano and film at the Kazakh Music Academy. I moved to the United States in 2011 after graduation.
I have always had an affinity towards the welfare of children; having raised my siblings who are all 10-20 years younger than I am. They were my inspiration to better myself everyday so I could be a role model for them to look up to.
I began working for Birch Tree in January and am so excited to be working with some of the kindest people, in such a warm and welcoming environment. I live with my husband and our 1 year old daughter whom I plan on enrolling into the Academy as well!
Susan Vandee- Chipmunks (2-3 year old) Class Teacher
Elyse Manns, Bunnies (2-3 year old) Class Lead Teacher
I was born in Multnomah, Oregon and moved to Seattle 22 years ago. I began playing soccer in first grade and continued playing premier league for 12 years, as well as varsity soccer, basketball and track all four years of high school. After high school, I received my Veterinarian Technicians license in 2010, but after realizing veterinary medicine was not a fulfilling passion for me, I began working as a mechanic for Boeing and taught coached soccer; all ages from 4 to 15. My love for soccer led me to coaching and teaching children the fundamentals of the sport. Through coaching I found that soccer was more than just a sport, it teaches children how to regulate emotions, socialize, and build their self-confidence. Seeing the changes in the children on and off the field, in school and positive feedback from home gave me so much joy! From that experience I decided to pursue my career in Child Psychology and Early Childhood Development. I obtained my Early Childhood certificate through W.A. State and began working in daycares and as a Nanny. I have been working with children for eight years. I am currently working towards my CDA (Child Development Associates) and my degree in Child Psychology and Early Childhood Education with a minor in Social Work at Highline Community College.
When I'm not teaching or in school I enjoy reading, traveling, hiking, fishing and playing soccer, of course. I began working for Birch Tree Academy in April of 2017, assisting in all classrooms, and am so excited to be part of the Lake Hills location! Go Hedgehogs! I look forward to meeting my new students and their families. I am honored to be a part of this amazing team of teachers and families at Birch Tree Academy, and look forward to meeting each and every one of you.
Jenna Hays, Bunnies (2-3 year old) Co-Teacher
I was born and raised in Central California, I moved to Maple Valley this July and began teaching at Birch Tree Academy. I have always had a passion for working with children, I volunteered with an after school program while I was in high school. This experience inspired me to become a teacher. I studied early childhood education and ornamental horticulture in college. I received my Associates in Child Development at College of the Sequoias in California. I have taught in a preschool in Central California for five years. I also worked in an after school program for two and half years teaching reading, drama, art, Lego robotics and gardening to students that lived in areas with gang activity to give them a safe place after school and valuable skills. Both were enriching experiences.
Outside of work I love spending time with my daughter, my boyfriend and his family. I enjoy reading, painting and baking. I love to bake for family and friends.
Olga Antipov, Chipmunks (2-3 year old) Class Lead Teacher
I was born in Russia and lived there for most of my life. I got my degree in Early Child Education degree and worked with preschoolers for more than 10 years and loved it! In 2006 my family and I moved to Israel, where I worked with kids as a nanny. I did this for around 4 years until we moved to the United States. I continued my job as a child caretaker for family and friends, and I love those kids like they’re my own.
I have decided to make early learning my life’s work because I believe a child’s education is the most valuable thing in the world. Knowledge is power and I recognize that the earlier it begins, the better for the child. To me the most amazing thing is to see or hear one of your students apply the skills that you have taught them and see the excitement on their face. I’m so excited to start working at Birch Tree Academy, have fun with the children and educate them!
Maya Williams- Hedgehogs (2-3 year old class) Co- Teacher
Daria Gorbenko, Racoons (3-4 year old) Co- Teacher
I grew up in teacher’s family in the southern rural region of Russia and graduated from Chelyabinsk State University. I moved to Washington state with my husband in 2010, and soon after I began working as a language instructor, teaching languages to children and families.
Before joining Birch Tree Academy, I organized a co-op preschool for my two kids and their friends. For me this was a great and enjoyable experience, and teaching became my passion. I decided to continue my career as a teacher in the field of early childhood education.
I especially enjoy working with preschool age children. I believe that teaching through play is the best way to prepare kids for their future years in kindergarten and elementary school.
My hobbies include gardening, hiking, and studying foreign languages and diverse cultures. When not teaching, I love to spend time with my family, traveling around and exploring new places in Washington and the surrounding states.
Jocelyn Templeton, Raccoons (3-4 year old) Co- Teacher
I started taking Early Childhood Education classes in high school and completed my CDA coursework while working as a pre-kindergarten teacher. I have been teaching in a licensed center for the past five years. Before that I spent a few years as a nanny and a few years volunteering in my church’s preschool.
I am newly married and just recently moved back to Washington state from Alabama. In my free time I like to go camping or take drives in the mountains with my husband.
I am thrilled to be working in the Raccoons’ class and watching each of my students meet his/her goals and developmental milestones.
Julie Miller, Foxes (3-4 year old) Class Lead Teacher
I am so excited to be the pre-school teacher this year! I have a early Childhood Education degree and have worked with young children for over 25 years. I enjoy providing many experiences for them to learn and explore the world they live in. It is important to me that they feel loved and confident and have a positive feeling about themselves and are ready to start pre-k. I also enjoy reading,camping and many outdoor activities with my 3 granddaughters.
Jessica Sanders, Fawns (4-5 year old) Class Co- Teacher
I’m a Seattle native, born and raised in Ballard who has grown up loving the outdoors, and spent my summers backpacking, camping, and playing in the great North West!
I have worked with children for 11 years doing everything from teaching Kindergarten Enrichment, to running summer camps for elementary students at the YMCA. I spent three summers past teaching English to orphans at Samuel House Academy in Udaipur, India and am actively involved in Children’s Ministries at my church, Westgate Chapel.
In my free time I like to travel, snowboard, video game, hike, and run sound/DJ for events, weddings and concerts
Tanya Rubinova, Fawns (4-5 year old) Class Co- Teacher
I grew up in Minsk, Belarus where I received my degree in Russian language and literature. I realized very early in my career that my passion lies in working with children, and I have been very lucky to do what I love ever since! I have worked as “Young Pioneer” leader, taught Russian language and literature to school age children, and worked as an editor of children’s books.
After moving to American in 2013, I continued to work with children both as a private nanny and in a daycare setting. I am so excited to be at Birch Tree and to work with such amazing teachers and families!
Mary Jane Bennett- Cubs (4-5 year old) Class Teacher
Miss Joanna Sheppard, Assistant Teacher
I grew up in the Seattle area and am currently attending Bellevue College as a full-time student. I have an interest in pursuing pediatric nursing or midwifery. Throughout high school I enjoyed working as a nanny. In my free time when not doing homework, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, developing my skills in social media marketing and photography. I am excited to be a part of the Birch Tree community and expand my experience in Early Childhood Education!