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.
Anastasiia Veryasova- Hummingbirds Co- Teacher
I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and moved to Seattle in March 2017. In Russia I worked at children's center with different age of groups, supervised master classes and birthdays parties.
I am excited to work with the youngest children at Birch Tree Academy, and help every child adapt to child care and. I take great pleasure of being in the classroom with children and enjoy seeing the difference that I make in their lives each day. My favorite part is getting smile and laughter from kids!
Samantha Burns- Hummingbirds Class Lead Teacher
I graduated with my bachelors from SUNY New Paltz. My focus at school was childhood language development. I have been in early childhood education since 2013. Two of those years were spent working with children on the autism spectrum. During this time I learned American Sign Language and still use it to communicate with children who are not ready to start speaking.
I was born in Ohio and have lived in Iowa, Illinois, Virginia, Upstate New York, and Long Island New York. Living in all of these different places has given me a wonderful chance to experience the diversity of different cultures. I look forward to working at Birch Tree, learning about the Russian culture and getting to know our kiddos and families!
Jennifer Oquist- Canaries 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.
Tetiana Panchuk- Canaries 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.
Tanya Polyakova- Chicadees Class Co-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- Chicadees 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.
Lauren Bauer- Sparrows Co- Teacher
I was born and raised in Washington, and I love, love, LOVE the Seahawks! I have a teaching degree in early elementary from Washington State University and have worked with children my whole life. Growing up, my mom was a teacher and I would visit and help in her classes. I have been in childcare for about 10 years and I love to see children’s development grow; it’s so rewarding to support and experience their milestones!
On my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family, including my grandpa in Chelan, hiking, fishing, camping, photography and reading. I’m looking forward to working with the Miss Tanya and the Sparrows this year! Go Seahawks!
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.