Durham Staff

Sprout House

Paula Malek

Paula is originally from Pennsylvania, but has lived in North Carolina for over thirty years.  She earned a BS in Elementary Education from Indiana University of PA and a Masters in Early Childhood from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.  She worked many years in the public school system both as K/4 and Kindergarten teacher. Additionally she has taught in Head Start programs, was involved with several research projects on quality early childhood settings and supervised undergraduate student teachers.  Throughout her many years in the field she has fought to provide young children appropriate, safe and warm environments. She believes children should be free to explore and discover in their own way and in their own time. She values each child, strives to listen, observe and follow their lead.  She was very happy to find her way to Sprout House and fully embraces Reggio inspired learning.

Cindy Adams 

Cindy is a Durham native with over 20 year in the early childhood education field.  She has worked with children from infancy up to five years old in the preschool setting. Cindy joined Our PlayHouse Preschool in 2013.

In her spare time Cindy enjoys reading, decorating, walking, bingo and spending time with her family.


Willow House

Kelsey Wilson

Kelsey relocated to North Carolina from West Virginia where she taught in a Reggio-Inspired Preschool for 3 years after earning her Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education from Pierpont Community & Technical College.

She has always enjoyed working with young children and exploring the world through their eyes.

Her teaching philosophy revolves around the idea that all children are curious, capable learners who excel when they feel safe, loved, and valued. What she loves most about the Reggio-Emilia approach is the emphasis on building relationships and getting to know each child as the unique individual in order to build a learning community best suited for them. She loves learning alongside her students as each year introduces so many new interests and ideas.

When she’s not teaching, Kelsey enjoys cooking and trying new foods, spending time with family, and traveling!

Kat Blandford

Kat is a North Carolina native raised in the small town of Bath. She moved to Chapel Hill 5 years ago to attend UNC at Chapel Hill. She graduated with a degree in Linguistics and Sociology during the pandemic. During quarantine, Kat left the service industry and became a full time nanny. Coming from a family of preschool teachers, it’s no surprise she enjoyed entertaining littles. From fun science experiments to exploring imaginations, she realized she has a passion for sharing knowledge with and learning from the littles in her care. When an opportunity at OPH presented itself, she jumped at the chance to learn more about the Reggio-inspired philosophy and has loved being a part of the OPH community so far.

In her free time, Kat enjoys exploring new trails with her two cats, solving Rubix cubes, and playing board games or cards with her partner and their friends. Her hobbies include cat training, tie dying, and spending quality time with friends and family outdoors.


Cedar House

Gabby Pedro     

Gabby is originally from Brazil, but came to the States in 2006 as an au pair.  She has an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education from Durham Technical Community College.  Gabby has worked as a nanny, nursery worker, infant teacher and assistant teacher in an NC PreK classroom.  The 20-21 school year is Gabby’s first year teaching in a Reggio-inspired classroom and she is excited to be a part of the OPH community.  

In her free time, Gabby loves to explore Durham with her husband and daughter.  She also enjoys learning new languages, going to the beach, eating chocolate and dancing!  

Tara Lawson

Tara has been working with parents and children in early childhood education since 2006.  She received a degree in Environmental Studies at Gettysburg College.  She also spent her four years there working as an Outdoor Adventure Facilitator leading children and adults on wilderness-based trips.


After school she worked with a non-profit whose goal was to teach children about food, agriculture and the environment.  Here she developed a passion for nature-based education that encourages an appreciation for our natural world and learning with the environment around us.   She has loved combining this interest with the Emilia Reggio student-centered approach and the Reggio appreciation for creativity and project-based learning.  She really values connecting with each child and their family to form a relationship that will help them thrive in school, at home and in the community.  

Tara loves spending time with her wife, son and their family pets.  She enjoys hiking, exploring and traveling.  In her spare time she can be found helping her son with his latest project goals or gardening. 


Hickory House

Josh Rodgers

Josh believes in the importance of project-based learning, natural environment exposure, and managed-risk experiences that grow children’s independence and self-development. A former theater major,  he also delights in integrating children’s literature and music into the classroom’s learning atmosphere. He believes each child learns and grows uniquely, and supports independent education that focuses on children as individuals.

During his downtime, Josh enjoys reading, cooking, theater performances, and spending time with his partner, Kevin, and their dog Lily. With a large love for his family, he also travels back to the Northern Virginia/DC area regularly to visit his parents, young niece, and many siblings.

Meghan O’Rourke

After working with children in different capacities over the years, Meghan is excited to work with children in a school that utilizes the Reggio-Emilia philosophy. She believes children learn best when they are encouraged to follow their interests and that the role of the teacher is to be a co-learner. Most recently, she was working at a Waldorf-inspired school in Portland, Oregon. Meghan moved to Durham this spring with her partner in order to build an intentional community with their friends. Now they all live in the same cul-de-sac!

Besides working at Our PlayHouse, Meghan enjoys exploring her new home, sharing meals with loved ones, going van camping with her partner, and hopes to get involved with more social justice movements in the area. Meghan graduated from Linfield College with a degree in Environmental Studies and hopes to share her enthusiasm for the natural world with her students, learning more about our local environment in the process.


Maple House

Emily McCabe

Emily earned a degree in Art Therapy from Lesley University in Cambridge Massachusetts.  She taught art classes to one to twelve year olds in a community center in Beacon Hill in Boston.  In addition to teaching at the community center, Emily  directed the summer camp programs, weekend workshops, and community events for the greater Boston area.  Emily has worked with children of all ages and diverse backgrounds for over nine years; both one-on-one and in the classroom environment.

Emily’s passion for teaching and working with young children comes from her family of teachers.  Working at camps and teaching for almost a decade Emily loves being able to give children the tools to express themselves and learn new exciting things about the world around them.  She is excited to be working in a Reggio inspired school where the children are able to learn, play, and explore.  Emily has a passion for the arts and is excited to incorporate this into the classroom.

In her free time, Emily loves to explore her new town of Raleigh with her husband, play with her handsome cat Elliot, travel around the world and visit with her friends and family; especially her niece and nephew in MA.  She also can be found making crafts and loves exploring and developing new ideas for art projects.


Emily Bell

Emily has recently moved to North Carolina from Maryland and is loving the weather, beautiful scenery, and kind people.  She has worked with children in various capacities for the past fifteen years and has spent the past seven years working as the regional director of two children’s fitness centers.  As the regional director Emily led a team of teachers and taught classes for kids ages six weeks to thirteen years old.

Emily is excited to be teaching in a Reggio Emilia inspired school with such talented educators.  She fully believes that learning should be student-centered and is passionate about collaborating with children to build lasting relationships.  Emily loves to incorporate music and movement into the school day and is not afraid to get her hands dirty while playing and creating.

In her spare time Emily enjoys going on hikes, watching musicals, playing boardgames and spending time with her four pets.


Floater Teacher

Amy Smith

Amy Smith has a degree in Psychology, which she earned from Guilford College. As a Durham native Amy has a deep love for the community and enjoys the emphasis the Reggio approach puts on those relationships. With over five years of Reggio Emilia experience, and with eight years as an educator, Amy uses her love of reading, singing, playing and connecting to create an environment that is both comforting and empowering to toddlers and preschoolers.

When Amy isn’t in the classroom she can be found walking her dog, reading a book or eating popsicles with her daughters Charlie and Georgia and her husband Mike.


Administration

Sally Stark-Dreifus, Director of Curriculum & Admissions

Sally has over a decade of early childhood educational experience, including ten years in preschool and preK classrooms and two years of school administration experience, including serving as the Head of Admissions at an independent PreK-8th school in Brooklyn.  Sally loves working with children and families and is passionate about creating strong school communities and deepening those connections with the larger community of Durham.

Sally has a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Clark University and a double masters degree in Infant and Parent Development and Early Intervention, and Early Childhood General and Special Education from Bank Street College of Education.  Sally is a proud parent to a current OPH preschooler and an OPH graduate and enjoys spending time outdoors with her family.

Liz Lenn, Operations Coordinator

Liz is a native of Lexington, Kentucky; which is where she attended the University of Kentucky and earned a BA in Psychology. Shortly after graduation, she moved to San Francisco where she worked for over a decade as a compliance and operations management professional in the financial services industry. In 2011, she and her family relocated to Chapel Hill. This cross country move granted Liz the opportunity to change careers and pursue her lifelong dream of working with young children.

Liz began working at Our PlayHouse Preschool Chapel Hill in early 2014 before joining the OPH staff full-time for the 2014-15 school year. Liz is passionate about the Reggio philosophy and loves the opportunity it provides her to wonder and inquire right along with the children. She values classroom relationships and believes in ongoing collaboration between children, teachers, parents and the broader community.

In her free time, Liz enjoys outdoor adventures with her husband and two daughters. She also loves running the local trails, cooking, and traveling to new places.

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Danielle Sunde, Founder

Danielle lives in Chapel Hill with her husband and four boys. She is passionate about children being children. Danielle and her family enjoy food, books, and traveling as a family.