Staff Bios

Kirsten Anderson - Co-PreKindergarten Teacher
Meta Arnold - Expressive Arts Specialist

     Meta Arnold is a mixed-media artist who has taught art to young children at Art Sparks, the West Windsor Arts Center, and the Jewish Center Preschool. Her assemblage pieces have been exhibited at the Mariboe Gallery, ABstract EXpressions Gallery in Mount Holly, the West Windsor Arts Center, and the Arts Council of Princeton, where she has also studied collage and illustration with gouache, watercolor, and colored pencil. With an M.A. in English literature, she has shifted careers to focus on her lifelong interest in the visual arts and her enjoyment of teaching ages at which art is new and magical.

     Meta sees art as an exciting process of discovery, beginning with the materials themselves. Taking time to fully explore texture, shape, and color is even more important than what we make as the end result. Meta’s own work with found objects and recyclables is a perfect fit with the Reggio Emilia emphasis on loose parts and natural materials. Children are natural treasure hunters who love to collect, curate, and study all the wonderful stuff in their environment. In art class, we learn the special tools and techniques to make connections, express our ideas, and “think with our hands.” Meta’s classes engage with the work of many different artists, and she provides links and handouts so parents can look at and talk about art together with their kids at home. Portfolios, journals, and displays are used to encourage students to appreciate their own journeys as artists!

Michelle Feigenbaum- Social Emotional Facilitator

     Michelle first became a part of the Painted Oak community when her son attended as a Kindergarten student three years ago. After getting to know more about the school's philosophy throughout the year, both as the Room Parent, and as a substitute teacher, Michelle was delighted to join Painted Oak two years ago as an Assistant Teacher and eagerly stepped up last year to Lead Teacher of the youngest Oakers. 

     Michelle earned a Bachelor's in Psychology, and a Master's in Child Development, both from Tufts University. She spent 10 years working as an Early Intervention therapist for children with special needs, as well as several years as a school consultant. Michelle is currently a RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) Practicum Student, working toward becoming a RIE Associate. Michelle believes that through sensitive observation, the highest quality of care, intentional communication, and predictable yet challenging environments, children are able to become their most authentic selves by feeling secure, valued, autonomous, and connected. 

     During her free time, Michelle loves to spend time with her husband and two children going for bike rides, and exploring National Parks around the country. 

Emily Finny- Primary School Teacher & Assistant Director

     Emily developed a love of teaching from accompanying her mother to her work as a nursery teacher and from her grandmother’s stories of her work with deaf and blind students. She was born the seventh child to British parents in Mexico City and has spent most of her life travelling between England and Mexico so is fluent in both English and Spanish. She began working as an assistant teacher straight out of high school and instantly knew that this was her path in life.

     Emily has a B.Ed in teaching English as a foreign language from University of Exeter in England and a Degree from Mexico (Ceneval) for Early Childhood Learning. She has worked in international schools in Mexico, in England, and the U.S for 20 years. She moved to the Princeton area of New Jersey a few years ago with her husband, Oscar and three gorgeous children.

     Emily's greatest joy is watching the seasons come and go and hearing the geese migration from her bedroom window during the autumn mornings. It is such a pleasure to be able to enjoy nature on a daily basis and to see how much joy, discovery and learning the children acquire by simply focusing on their surrounding habitat.

Carolina Firbas- Co-PreKindergarten Teacher

     Carolina holds a B.A. in Early Childhood Education from the Catholic University of Peru. She has been living in the United States for 25 years where she and her husband have raised their two children, now 24 and 20 years old.  In addition to teaching  preschool in the Princeton area for more than 10 years, she also teaches sewing and art classes at the Princeton Arts Council.

     When she came to this country from the city of Lima, she was amazed by the changing seasons and found that the New Jersey outdoors and nature offer a variety of learning experiences for children, providing positive impacts on physical health and social development. She is a native Spanish speaker and she also has been teaching Spanish to preschoolers for 9 years. In 2017, she completed the Master Gardeners program from Mercer County and Rutgers University extension.

     When not teaching, Carolina loves sewing recycling old jeans and fabric samples, knitting cozy warm garments, gardening or enjoying her favorite place: the beach.

Patricia Haddad- Preschool Support Teacher & Forest School Guide (preschool)

     Patricia has a BA in French from St. Michaels's College in VT and an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language from Fairleigh Dickinson University in NJ. She has two decades of experience as an educator initially teaching ESL, French and Spanish to students from preschool to adult.  She spent 9 years as a preschool teacher at Kids Corner Cooperative Nursery School in Plainsboro, NJ working with children from 2 years of age through Pre-K.  It was there that she discovered how much she loves teaching younger children drawing inspiration from their boundless energy and natural curiosity.  

      Since 1996, Patricia has resided in Plainsboro where she and her husband have been raising two boys. Patricia and her family share a passion for sports and a love of the outdoors. She believes in the value of allowing children to learn through exploring and investigating the world around them and following what interests them. Patricia grew up the youngest of a large family and spent much of her childhood playing various sports and exploring the outdoors with brothers and sisters and neighborhood friends.

Lauren Harm- Co-Founder and Marketing + Enrollment Coordinator

     Lauren’s roots run deep at Painted Oak having developed the school alongside Nicole in 2011 with the belief that all children learn best when they are allowed the space to be curious, explore freely and pursue their own interests.  While her path led her a different way for a few years she is back and excited to continue supporting the mission of Painted Oak. 

     Lauren has a B.A. in Sociology and a M.Ed. in Early Childhood/Elementary Education from Rutgers University.  Lauren has taught children over the past 10 years from grades pre-k to 4th.

     While not at the Oak she loves spending time with her husband and daughter; taking walks through the Borough, enjoying pizza at Nomad, or cuddling up with her two kitties.

Jenna Karahalios- Helping Teacher
Alex Kirschner- Coyote Club Guide

     Alex received a B.A. in Environmental Science from Northwestern University in 2017, focusing on the interactions between people and their environments and communicating environmental principles to social groups. Since receiving his degree, he has developed a passion for environmental and holistic education for youth. For the 2017-18 school year Alex served in the Vermont AmeriCorps as an assistant instructor in the Walden Project, an alternative public high school program inspired Henry David Thoreau’s literature, and the Wren’s Nest outdoor preschool program.

     After moving to New Jersey, he has worked as an afterschool teacher for the Work Family Connection in Morris County, teaching environmental, science, and mindfulness classes to preK-2nd students. He is excited to return to the less conventional and more enriching education outdoor, place-based education model as a member of the Painted Oak team.

     Alex spends his time outside of the school environment outdoors with his dog, Bo, and advocating for a greater ethic and understanding between humans and the environment, the value of community, and justice for all.

Nicole Langdo- Founder, Owner & Forest School Guide (PreK + Primary)

     In addition to being a mother of two, Nicole has been teaching children for over two decades. She is happiest being outdoors among the laughter of curious young children and birdsong.

     Nicole has a B.S. in Sociology from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA and a M. Ed. in Elementary Education from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She is certified to teach children K-8 in NJ, MA, and NY.

     Gathering inspiration from her own childhood growing up in rural Florida amidst bugs, dirt, and snakes, Nicole developed Painted Oak Nature School in 2011 as a nature-based preschool and was encouraged by how receptive the children were to outdoor education. The spaces of Painted Oak, both indoor and out, reflect Nicole’s belief that children are entitled to learn amidst beautiful, natural objects. 

     When not building shelters in the Forest at Painted Oak, or hiking local trails as part of her work on the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space Board of Trustees, Nicole is celebrating the rhythm of nature with her children, rocking on her porch with her husband, or catching fireflies.

Philippa Michel- Caregiver & Child Class Guide

     Philippa moved to NJ from the north of England 12 years ago, with her husband and young son. She holds a B.A. in Art and Design from the University of Lancaster, as well as a Postgraduate certificate in Psychology from the University of Liverpool. She is currently working on an MS in Mental Health Counseling. She is convinced of the importance, and benefits of time spent outdoors at every age and stage of life. In the UK Philippa worked as a caseworker for refugees and asylum seekers, and first became cognizant of the potential for peace and reconciliation that time spent connecting with nature could bring.

     Since coming to the US she has held several roles pertaining to child protection: Elementary School Assertiveness Trainer, Child Safety Staff Trainer, and currently Girl Scout Troop Leader. She continues to enjoy time in the natural world with her husband and children, now aged 13, 9 and 4 and is passionate about its significance in child development. Philippa is delighted to share her experience and skills at Painted Oak and looks forward to interacting with the school’s youngest explorers and their caregivers.

Tracey Petrillo- Helping Teacher 
Alison Phillips- Director of School

     Alison has been a part of the Painted Oak community for the past five years. She first joined our school family as the parent of a preschooler. She was immediately inspired by the artful documentation on the walls and the natural materials on the shelves.

     As her son continued his education as an Oaker in our PreK class, Alison deepened her connection to the school as a regular visiting Dance instructor. Having founded and operated her own ballet studio for nine years after graduating from Rutgers University with a BA in Psychology, Alison was eager to bring her love of dance and background in education to Painted Oak. When the opportunity presented itself, she grabbed the chance to join the PONS teaching staff!

     Now in her fifth year at Painted Oak, Alison will blend her creativity, passion, and leadership to further the vision of Painted Oak. She promotes learning environments that encourage independence and self-confidence, and that nurture the creative spirits of students and teachers. 

Cory Sempler- Lead PreKindergarten Teacher

     Growing up, Cory has always been drawn to being outside. From constructing forts in the woods to sitting and watching beavers build dams. Nature has always had a special place in Cory’s heart. In 2018, Cory moved to New York City to pursue a Masters degree in Art Education and recently graduated from Brooklyn College. While in graduate school, he discovered a way to combine his passion for nature and education. He became a forest school educator in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

     At Painted Oak Nature School, his goal is to share his knowledge and passion of nature while committed to creating a safe outdoor learning experience. 

a school for children who are serious about dirt and squirmy things

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© 2018 by Painted Oak Nature School

174 Lambertville Hopewell Road 

Hopewell, New Jersey  08525

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