Meet the Bel Red Staff for the 2017- 2018 School Year!
Natalie Levy- Owner
I grew up in Minsk, Belarus, and moved to the U.S. 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 wasn’t 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.
Candice Uy- Director
I grew up in Manila, Philippines, and moved to the United States. Coming from a Chinese heritage gave me the opportunity to learn many languages. I am fluent in English, Mandarin Chinese, Tagalog, and the Fookienese dialect.
My mom opened her own preschool 33 years ago (and counting!) and she was my role model for how a great teacher should be. My teaching career began by preparing preschoolers for entrance exams into private schools. I then taught math to kids from Kindergarten to 5th grade level. I know the importance of ensuring children prepare for each step of their education.
My husband and I moved to Seattle right after we got married. The transition allowed me the opportunity to reflect on my real passion. I explored my artistic side and decided to follow my educational calling. After becoming a mom I discovered that my background in teaching helped my children. Their knowledge of basic foundations excelled their peers. This inspired me to go back to my teaching roots. I taught in a Montessori bilingual preschool, a traditional bilingual preschool, and now I’m here at Birch Tree. I am thrilled to be working here and love that I can use my knowledge, passion, and experience. I love joining this amazing school and work with the Sparrows children!
Darina Almunkhanova- Office Manager
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 every day, 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 who is also enrolled at Birch Tree Academy.
Trish Merhab- Hummingbirds Class Teacher
I was born and raised in Spokane, Washington. My mother, aunt, and uncle all worked in education as teachers and counselors. As I grew up watching my family take on leadership roles, I knew that I wanted to follow suit.
I graduated from Washington State University with a degree in Psychology. While in college I was a Junior Counselor for 2 consecutive summers at Leadership camp. I also volunteered at several childcare centers near our cabin in Priest Lake. I spent two years in Italy working in childcare and tutoring English. After my return to the United States, I knew I wanted to continue to work in childcare. I extended my education by becoming certified as a Behavioral Therapist. I centered my focus on children with Autism.
I love getting to know new people, cultures and playing with children. I'm very accommodating and patience with others and love to embrace new situations. I am thrilled to be apart of Birch Tree’s wonderful staff and look forward to working with children and learning about new cultures!
Jennifer Oquist- Hummingbirds Class Co-Teacher
I am 30 years old and have been in the Early Childhood Education field since 2005. I graduated Highland Community College in 2009 and have been so excited to have a chance to work with children as my chosen profession! I love preschool education because I really enjoy making a difference in the lives of children and building relationships with their families. Although I am a teacher, I learn to enjoy the simple things in life from children. Every day is a new adventure and there is never a boring day! I look forward to getting to know all of you and partnering with you in the development of your children here at Birch Tree Academy!
I have 2 kids- Grace (5) and Matthew (3) and love spending my time playing with them outside.
Tanya Polyakova- Canaries Class Lead Teacher
I was born and raised in Belarus, Minsk. I graduated from the Academy of Physical Culture and Sports in 1996. There I earned my Certification for a Physical Education teacher and Methodology of Medical Physical Culture. That same year, I passed the exam and received a diploma from the British Association Teachers of Dance. I have been teaching children for over 15 years. I worked as a PE and ballroom teacher for students 3 years and older.
My husband and I were four time champions of Ballroom dancing in Belarus. Twice we have represented Belarus at the World Cup! We were also winners of the International Competition. We moved here from Minsk in 2014. I love to travel, and I have visited more than 20 countries. My favorite city is St. Petersburg. I have a daughter. We love to play volleyball together, she dreams of becoming a professional player one day.
I enjoy working with children and I look forward to being the Lead Teacher for the two's class. I also love the opportunity to teach the older children how to dance!
Alayna McNamara- Canaries Class Co-Teacher
I was born and raised in Minnesota. I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, to pursue being a preschool teacher. This experience ignited my love of working with children. After living in Las Vegas for four years, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, to study at Grand Canyon University.
This summer my boyfriend and I decided to move out of the desert and start a new adventure with our dog in Washington! I love exploring Seattle and all the beautiful hiking trails and dog parks.
I am so excited to be working with kids again, where each day is a new learning experience. I love the children and families at Birch Tree Academy. I am so excited to spend my days watching our tiny tots explore and grow.
Tanya Vashkevich- Sparrows Class Lead Teacher
I was born and raised in Minsk, Belarus. I have a Bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education and Psychology. I also have over 10 years experience in teaching.
My family and I moved to the United States five years ago. I have since worked as a Russian writing and reading tutor, and a part-time preschool teacher. In my class I specialize in math and language development.
When I’m not teaching, I enjoy reading, kayaking, cooking and knitting. I live in Sammamish with my husband and son.
Tetiana Panchuk- Sparrows Class Co-Teacher
I was born and raised in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. I graduated from Vinnytsia Educational University, a philological faculty. I then worked as a High School teacher for five years. Afterwards, I spent some time as a High School lecturer. My family moved to Kiev in 2010, and I got a job as a teacher at a private school called "Apogee." My family and I moved to New York in 2016. I have loved my experience and am thrilled to live here!
In my spare time I like to travel, read books, play sports, and walk in the park. I hope that my experience in Childhood Psychology will continue to help me as I work at Birch Tree Academy.
Stephanie Fisher- Blue Jays Class Teacher
I have been in Early Childhood since 1999. I started in a childcare center in Everett and worked there for 12 years. I then worked at Bright Horizons for 3 years as a lead Pre-K teacher. I came to Birch Tree Academy in August 2015 and currently have my CDA in Early Childhood Education. I enjoy working with children, and watching them explore and grow through their world.
I spend my free time with my daughter and husband. We love to do outdoor activities such as hiking, soccer, camping, and ATV riding. I love finding new books to read while relaxing at home. We have two dogs, a Yorkie and our new addition to the family, Chloe, is a mini Australian Sheperd!
Lena Khmara- Blue Jays Class Co - Teacher
I was born in Siberia, Russia and moved to Seattle 4 years ago. I have been working with children for 8 years and have loved every day. When I am around kids I always learning something new and interesting. There is an unending feeling of happiness, warmth and love. When I teach them something new, I am amazed at how they listen with such genuine interest and attention.
I enjoy spending time with my husband and kids. We love the outdoors and spend out weekends hiking and camping.
Marija Milosevic- Kindergarten Teacher
I am Serbia born but moved with my family to Canada when I was 3 years old. I spent my childhood living between Toronto, during the school year and Europe in the summers. As I immersed myself in the culture, I became fluent in the Serbian language.
I have a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Toronto. I moved to Los Angeles to continue my education and earned my Masters of Education at Cal State. It was there that I also completed the Teacher Credential Program. I have 15 years of teaching experience. This includes Kindergarten, 2nd Grade, 6th Grade Language Arts, and Middle School Math.
My first love is teaching Kindergarten. Where I am surrounded by awe-inspiring enthusiasm and tremendous growth. It is amazing to see the development of the young mind, and it's capabilities. I love to encourage creativity and independence in my students. My reward in these moments is hearing them shout, "I did it all by myself!"