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.
Inna Burakovschki- Goslings (1-2 year old) Co- Teacher
I was born and raised in Moldova. My husband and I moved to the United States in 2017. I graduated from the University of Physical Education and Sports. Sports are my life! I practice power lifting, CrossFit, and weightlifting. I enter into a lot of competitions, sometimes I lose, and sometimes I win awards!
Before working at Birch Tree Academy, I worked as a fitness coach for children and adults. Children are our future. I strive to help develop their skills, health, ability, and knowledge of the world around them. Birch Tree Academy has welcomed me with open arms; it is a big and friendly family. I am honored to be apart of this group.
Shelby Pike- Goslings (1-2 year old) Co- Teacher
Alejandra Vasquez- Owlets (1-2 year old) Co- Teacher
I was born in Medellin, Colombia. My mother is a teacher, and I grew up assisting her with activities, field trips, and class preparation. I always loved spending time with children. They were my favorite part of each day. I came to the United States as an Au Pair and took care of a family of 4 children. For 3 years I worked as a nanny. I love working with kids! I believe that taking care of them teaches you a lot in life. I am lucky to work with kids and see how they grow up. Children are in a completely different world that is always open to exploration.
In my free time I like to go hiking with my husband and explore new food. I’m happy and excited to be part of Birch Tree Academy!
Luella Anderson- Owlets (1-2 year old) Co-Teacher
I was born and raised in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and that’s where my journey with childcare began. I grew up in a Christian household. We attended chuck weekly, and I spent a lot of time volunteering in the nursery. I also aided in CODA, Children of Deaf Adults, classes. This was particularly close to my heart as my mother is deaf and my father is deaf and blind. Although a unique combination it was advantageous to have American Sign Language as my first language.
While living in Colorado I was a nanny for over two years. I moved to Washington in 2012. I continued to nanny and worked in back-up-in-home care program. This provided nanny service to a different family every day. Bright Horizons offered to train me and bring me to the classroom as a 2’s teacher. I worked for Explore & Grow Learning Center in their Toddler and Early Preschool Class.
My favorite part of teaching early childhood is the WOW factor! The first wow is the children and how amazed they are to learn. They love it! The second is how astonished the parents are at what their child can do. The final wow is when children surprise me as their teacher. Children are both sponges and scientists. They take in everything they see and figure things out for themselves. I use sign language to engage children and expand their thinking to new concepts. In my free time I like to watch Netflix and go swing dancing. I have a 9-year-old Chihuahua and have been raising him since he was 8 weeks. I love my little guy! We go out hiking and spoil ourselves on treats and cookies, which is our favorite thing to do.
Viktoriia Starynets- Ducklings (1-2 year old) Co- Teacher
I was born in Ukraine, in Gorlovka city. I moved to America a year ago with my parents. I love everything that is connected with creativity - doing origami, singing, dancing, drawing and my favorite sports: hockey and basketball. I love working with children and have always helped my sister and friends take care of their children; now it has become my profession. I worked as a nanny and a tutor in a kindergarten with infants to age 5.
I am excited to work with the toddler at Birch Tree Academy and love the natural atmosphere and our wonderful team!
Supriya Jogdan- Ducklings (1-2 year old) Co- Teacher
I grew up in India. My mom was a preschool teacher, and it was from watching her that I gained my inspiration to follow suit. I have a Bachelor’s degree and Certification in Early Childhood Education. For 5 years I worked as a preschool teacher in India before I moved to St. Louis, Missouri. I moved to Washington State with my husband and two daughters.
I worked as a lead preschool teacher in Missouri for 3 years before I moved. In my spare time I love to watch movies, sing, read books, draw and crochet.
I’m excited to work in the one year old class! The one’s class is the best age; I get cute faces, hugs, and absolute unconditional love every single day.
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
I was born in Long Beach, CA, and moved up to Washington when I was 14 years old. I had taught preschool for 2 years before I became a stay-at-home mom for 12 years. I gave up teaching to give my own children the love and attention that I gave my students and much more. For 7 years I volunteered at my son's elementary school as a classroom helper for grades K-5. I also worked outside the classroom planning and organizing major school events. These events included fundraisers, carnivals, and talent shows.
I worked in the sales industry for a year and continued my volunteer work at the school. It was during this time that I discovered I loved working with children. I enjoy seeing the difference that I made in their lives each day. I knew that it was time to go back to teaching and am so happy to be here at Birch Tree Academy!
My hobbies include reading, writing, singing, dancing, baking, sewing, photography and crafting. I love to spend my time off writing and working on music or creating something!
Larisa Khmara- 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. After graduating high school I earned my Veterinarian Technicians license. I soon found that veterinary medicine was not a fulfilling passion for me, and I began searching for alternatives. I worked as a mechanic for Boeing, and taught soccer to kids ranging 4-15. During my time as a coach, I learned that I was teaching kids about more than soccer. I was teaching them how to regulate emotions, socialize, and build self-confidence. Watching the kids grow on and off the field gave me such joy! It was these experiences that lead me to pursue a career as a preschool teacher.
I earned my Early Childhood certificate through Washington State University. Afterwards, I worked in preschools and as a nanny. I've worked with children for 8 years and counting. I am also going to Highline Community College. I am taking courses for Child Development, Child Psychology, and Social Work.
In my spare time I enjoy reading, traveling, hiking, fishing, and playing soccer. I joined the Birch Tree Academy team in April of 2017. I am so excited to join the Lake Hills location in the Hedgehogs room! I am honored to be apart of the Birch Tree Family, and I look forward to spending time with all my students.
Jenna Hays, Bunnies (2-3 year old) Co-Teacher
I was born in Central, California. A couple of years ago I moved to Maple Valley and started teaching at Birch Tree Academy. My love for working with children began by volunteering for an after school program. This high school experience inspired me to become a teacher. In college I studied Early Childhood Education and Ornamental Horticulture. I earned my Associates in Child Development from College of Sequoias.
I had been a preschool teacher in California for 5 years before I moved to Washington State. I also worked as an after-school teacher for areas with a lot of gang activity. I wanted to teach these students valuable skills, and provide them a safe place to go after school. Teaching these students reading, art, drama and gardening was an enriching experience.
Outside of work I love spending time with my daughter, my husband, and his family. I enjoy reading, painting and baking. I love to bake for family and friends.
Olga Antipov, Hedgehogs (2-3 year old) Class Lead Teacher
I was born in Russia and lived there for most of my life. I have a degree in Early Childhood Education, and over 10 years of experience. I love my experience with preschoolers! In 2006 my family and I moved to Israel, where I worked with kids as a nanny. I was a nanny for 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.
A child's education is the most valuable thing in the world. It is for this reason I made Early Learning my life's work. Knowledge is power and I recognize that the earlier it begins, the better for the child. The most amazing thing to see if one of my students applying the skills I've taught them. I love the excitement on their faces! 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
I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, and I have lived here my whole life. I’ve been working with children since I was 12, but I’ve decided to become a teacher in 2015.Working with children is my life's work because a child's education is the most valuable in the world.
In my spare time, I enjoy doing arts and crafts with my daughter, hiking, and camping. I’m so happy to have the opportunity to work in such a loving environment here at Birch Tree Academy. I love to be a part of your child's growth and development!
Daria Gorbenko, Racoons (3-4 year old) Co- Teacher
I grew up in the southern rural region of Russia. Both of my parents were educators, and I graduated from Chelyabinsk State University. My husband and I moved to Washington State in 2010. Soon after I started working as a language instructor.
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.
My hobbies include gardening, hiking, and studying foreign languages and diverse cultures. I love spending time with my family, traveling, and exploring new places.
Camila Arnaiz-Racoons (3-4 Year Old) Co- Teacher
I was born in Los Angeles to Peruvian Parents; it wasn’t long until they moved back to their motherland. Living in Peru, Spanish was my first language. After attending primary school, my family and I moved to the United States. One of my biggest challenges moving was learning a new language. I wanted to become fluent in English, but also retain my first language and the culture that goes with it. We moved to Washington, where I finished the rest of my schooling.
I started nannying after graduating from high school. This experience lead me to my passion in early childhood education. I have five years of experience as a lead teacher for both toddler and preschool age groups. I also have experience teaching in Spanish. I am currently enrolled at Bellevue College. My dream is to transfer to University of Washington after I graduate.
I love teaching at Birch Tree Academy in a bilingual program. I am able to use my own experience to help my students conquer a new language. My goal is to give children a positive outlook on learning that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. I enjoy spending my time with my family, cooking, traveling, and attending concerts. I also love learning new languages!
Nadia Madalina, Racoons (3-4 Year Old) Assistant Teacher
I was born in Ukraine and moved to America with my family when I was 8 years old. I have 4 years of banking experience and 1 year customer service at Nordstrom. After I got married, I nannied for a year before I gave birth to my son. I come from a big family of 11 siblings and 15 nieces and nephews, so I have been surrounded by kids and babies all my life and I absolutely love it! I believe that early child development is very important.
A year after my son was born, I started working for Birch Tree Academy and I am so happy and excited to be working here! I love watching these kids grow and learn new things that they are able to put into practice and get excited about. It is a privilege to work with these children and I love them as I do my own son, which I am so grateful is also attending here.
In my free time, I like to read, cook, explore new cafes, be outdoors, take long walks and spend as much time with my family and friends as I can.
Julie Miller, Foxes (3-4 year old) Class Lead Teacher
I am so excited to be the pre-school teacher this year! I have an 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 kids feel loved and confident. I want all my students to feel positive about them and ensure they are ready to start pre-k. I also enjoy reading, camping and many outdoor activities with my 3 granddaughters.
Emma Denman- Foxes (3-4 Year Olds) Co- Teacher
I graduated from University of Vermont with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies. I've worked with children for many years and in different settings. I taught in a formal classroom, garden education, and led exhibits at a children's museum.
I always received so much joy working with children and I felt successful in my roles as an educator. I am excited to be back in a classroom setting prepping 3 and 4 year olds for preschool and beyond! Children have a lot to learn in a school setting, and it is a pleasure to help them navigate those waters. Amongst their peers I love to help them build their motor skills and classroom etiquette.
I recently moved to Seattle from Ithaca, NY, and Birch Tree Academy has been a welcoming family in my big move! In my spare time I love to hike, swim, camp, and play Ultimate Frisbee. I also love cooking, farming, and adventuring with friends.
Jessica Sanders, Fawns (4-5 year old) Class Co- Teacher
Born and raised in Ballard, I am a Seattle native. I grew up loving the outdoors. I spent my summers backpacking, camping, and playing in the great North West!
I have 11 years of experience working with children. I’ve done everything from teaching Kindergarten Enrichment to running summer camps at the YMCA. I spent 3 summers teaching English to orphans at Samuel House Academy in Udaipur, India. I am actively involved in Children's Ministries at my Church, Westgate Chapel.
In my spare time I travel, snowboard, play video games, hike, and DJ for events such as 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!
Joanna Sheppard, Assistant Teacher
I grew up in the Seattle area and am currently attending Bellevue College as a full-time student. I am interested in pursuing pediatric nursing or midwifery. Throughout high school I enjoyed working as a nanny.
I enjoy spending my free time with my friends and family. I also love to develop 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!