Our teachers love children! They have many combined years of training and experience in early childhood education. Their focus is on teaching to the individual needs and talents of every child, and they find great joy in sharing their love of learning with the children and their parents.

Elise Aney (4’s Teacher, Art Specialist, Afternoon Program Teacher, Admin Assistance)

From the moment I walked through the doors of NDS, I felt welcome. Having always desired to work with children creatively, I could not imagine a more ideal setting. The sense of comfort and belonging among the staff and community is unparalleled to any working environment I have experienced.

I began my path at New Discovery in the fall of 2000 working with three-year-olds. With a background in and a love for the arts, I began exploring techniques to enhance the creativity in my students. Eventually, I began teaching art to the other classes as well.

In a community that embraces and possesses so many talents, there seem to be no bounds to what we can learn from both the children and each other. The opportunity to take outside classes and be a part of our informative curricula help me grow as an educator and find new ideas to offer. I am honored to be a part of this community. Being able to fulfill our philosophy and help foster kindness, confidence, and creative expression gives me a deep sense of gratification.

Audrey Bacon (5’s Teacher/Afternoon Program Teacher)

Audrey Bacon has 31 years of experience working with children working as a nanny and pre-school teacher. Back in 2006 Susan Gorman asked Audrey if she was interested in applying as a teacher at New Discovery and she took the offer and realized this is what she was meant to do. Audrey enjoys helping kids grow as people as they discover the world around them. She helps them manage their emotions and think through the challenges they encounter.

Audrey’s favorite activities include: running, gardening and animals. She lives with her husband in Seward Park.

Marissa Baratian (Creative Movement, World Dance, Classroom Sub)

Since 2007, Marissa has been bringing the flavor of her rich travel experiences to World Dance. Having twice spent a month studying traditional dance in Guinea West Africa and 20 years in Seattle classes, this is by far her area of specialization. An avid traveler, Marissa has also journeyed to Greece, Turkey, Ireland, Bali Indonesia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Hawaii — often studying dance where she ventures. Marissa is a student of cultural dances and is deeply grateful to her many teachers. She highly encourages all her students to learn more about these dances from experts, especially ones from the dance's heritage. See Honoring Cultures.

As a dance instructor for young children, Marissa passionately believes in giving children exposure to a greater awareness of their global community through sharing dances from around the world. She has studied many dance forms since she was a child including Ballet, Tap, Jazz and Breakdancing and as an adult Modern, West African, Polynesian, Cuban, Brazilian and Bollywood. Marissa has taught children's ballet, tap, jazz, and creative dance. She currently teaches World Dance classes for preschool-2nd grade.

Marissa has studied Creative Dance and Brain Dance with Anne Green Gilbert and Terry Goetz and Creative Movement with Eric Johnson. She has been a member of Dance Educators Association of Washington and National Dance Educators Organization and values attending conferences for continuing education.

Marissa received a BS in Family Community Services from Michigan State University in 1992. She has worked with children in various settings for the past 28 years, and is especially grateful for her experience gained as a preschool teacher from 1997-2014 at New Discovery School in Seattle.

Gwyn Benson (4’s Teacher)

It’s hard for me to remember a time when I wasn’t teaching or working with children.

I grew up in Cincinnati, OH where I played teacher in my backyard treehouse. I earned a BA in Communications at the University of Wisconsin and then went on to earn a Masters of Art in Teaching from the University of Puget Sound. After graduation I taught both first and second grade in the Mukilteo School District. After the birth of my first child I became a full-time mom and became an active parent in the North Seattle Co-op Preschool Program. Once my two boys where in elementary school I became a substitute teacher with the Seattle School District. After three of working with the Seattle School District I joined the NDS community.

I love teaching four year olds and enjoy working with such a supportive community of teachers and parents.

Dena Blue (3’s Teacher, Fun Friday, Afternoon Program Teacher)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to nurturing the lives of young children. My path to “preschool teacher” has been winding, beginning early on with babysitting, and progressing to longer term nannying positions as I grew into adulthood. Along the way, have been many days spent volunteering in elementary classrooms, as well as teaching in a private elementary school. Wedged in through the years is also a BA in Psychology earned from the University of Washington, and my later entry into motherhood. I became a NE Seattle Co-Op Preschool Parent & Class Chair, and also a PEP’s Group facilitator. I’ve enjoyed logging lots of time soaking up information from local & national experts, authors, & educators on child development on the way.

In 2012, I crossed paths with a preschool director looking to expand his teaching staff. I was lucky enough to have been offered the position, & I knew by the end of my first day, I had finally found where I was meant to be!

I feel true joy and connection working with early learners. Witnessing their wonder and discovery is powerful and inspiring. I take great pride and responsibility in supporting a child’s social, emotional, & academic growth. Encompassed within this, is also a strong desire to support parents. This is an exciting time in children’s development but can also sometimes feel overwhelming. I’ve made it a focus of my teaching to create space for parents to know that I’m here to support their journey as they travel alongside their child.

I am so excited to be staring my 3rd year teaching within the NDS community and honored to be part of these children’s lives!

Niki Contos (4’s Teacher, Afternoon Program, Fun Friday, State of WA DCYF Trainer)

Niki Contos is a longtime early childhood educator with 20+ years in the field working in various contexts from classroom teacher to behavior/family interventionist, and inclusion specialist. She earned her Child Development Associate with the NAEYC, has a bachelor’s degree in communicative disorders, and a Master’s in special education from UW. Niki is also a State of Washington DCYF certified teacher/parent trainer as well as an avid music fan!

Bret Ellerton (Executive Director, Music Specialist, State of WA DCYF Trainer)

I began my work in the field of early childhood education in 1995 after graduating with a bachelor's degree in world religion from the University of Colorado. After moving to Austin, Texas, I gained my core training in the early childhood field, working in special needs inclusive environments as a classroom teacher, collaborating with teams of teachers and therapists. I have been a lifelong lover of music and the arts and have brought my guitar and music skills directly into the classroom as a teaching tool and community builder.

After moving to Seattle in the year 2000, I had the good fortune to be hired as a classroom teacher and music specialist at New Discovery School. Founding Director Susan Gorman promoted me to the position of Program Manager in 2015 where I was primarily responsible for upholding and researching best practices in social and emotional learning while also attending to administrative duties and coordinating or leading parent/teacher educational opportunities. Upon the retirement of Mrs. Gorman, I worked as Assistant Director, classroom, and music teacher under Director Alissa Nasiatka until her departure from NDS in 2019.

A long-time student of contemplative practice, I am certified as a mindfulness instructor and facilitator with Shambhala International and have helped integrate research based, secular, developmentally appropriate mindfulness aspects into the social and emotional curriculum at NDS. I'm a Washington state certified teacher trainer for the Department of Children Youth and Families, as well as a Talaris Institute ‘Parenting Counts’ trainer.

I am committed to the mission of New Discovery School to foster a warm community, while protecting play, loving relationships, and the arts as central components in early learning.

Alex Grennan (4’s Teacher/Library Specialist/Afternoon Program Teacher/WA State DCYF Trainer)

I am so grateful to apply my education and learn daily from the New Discovery School community. I love using the environment and emerging interests to raise questions and gather information alongside children.

After graduating with my BAS in Early Childhood Education from North Seattle College in 2019 I decided to continue my education and am now pursuing a Master of Library and Information Science at the University of Washington.

Before coming to NDS I spent 8 years teaching in a variety of early learning centers throughout Seattle, as well as teaching American Sign Language and leading summer camps. I enjoy exploring the outdoors almost as much as I love books and all things library.

Vicky Jacoby (3’s Teacher, Fun Friday, Afternoon Program Teacher)

As a lifetime Seattleite, I was born and raised in the Wallingford neighborhood, and my life has always been filled with children. My parents started fostering babies when I was three years old and continued for close to 40 years. From a young age I learned about and lived with children with many special needs, truly this was an amazing gift. While in college I began a nanny job and brought their children to an amazing preschool, which then lead to a teaching position there, and eventually the preschool director. I had taken some time away from teaching and then with the pandemic and the need for teachers, I found myself feeling the pull to come back to teaching. With over 25 years of teaching experience, I enjoy creating an environment where children feel safe, have the freedom to explore, develop friendships, and discover the joys of learning. In my spare time I love being outside, hiking, long-distance walking, and home remodeling. I love to bake sweet treats and hang out with my foster brother. I’m happy to be a part of New Discovery and working with a great group of teachers!

Hailey-Rae Johnson (Afternoon Program/Fun Friday teacher)

I've been working as a teacher since 2018 just after I graduated from Roosevelt University with my BA in psychology. My start was with an afternoon program at a public school where I was provided a strong foundation for my teaching career. After a year there, I moved here to Seattle and worked for two and a half more years at a few schools. Finding NDS was an incredible gift and the welcome every person shares with me shows me that trust and compassion are strong pillars for this community. Outside of work I enjoy traveling, concerts, hiking and group events with my friends and a fun fact about myself is that I am a published writer. I can't wait to see the future I have with NDS, the staff, the children and all the families!

Hope Koon (5’s Teacher/Afternoon Program Teacher)

I am so very thrilled to be teaching at New Discovery School. Preschool was one of my fondest memories growing up, and I have spent my adulthood chasing that same joy. When I was in preschool my mother taught in the classroom next to mine, and I remember writing her letters and delivering them to her classroom. The school was very community and family based. Memorable moments in preschool included playing with shaving cream, spending time outdoors, making friends and being encouraged to explore creatively.

In college I spent a lot of time creating and performing in theater. It was my joy of performance and narrative that led me to getting my degree in storytelling from Cornell College (the school in Iowa....we were first!). When I moved to Seattle, I began working at a Montessori school. The materials and philosophy intrigued me, so I went to get my training to be certified to teach in a Montessori classroom. I had a lot of fun teaching in a Montessori classroom, but I found myself relishing in the "non-Montessori" moments. The moments of loud laughter, imagination, and unconventional creativity. I felt limited teaching within the boundaries of the method. That is what led me to New Discovery. Upon first walking into the school, I was flooded with my own childhood memory of preschool. While New Discovery looks nothing like the school I attended, it embodies the same playful, respectful, and community-based spirit I remember and loved. Plus, there are stretchy hammocks here! In summary I am overjoyed to be teaching here and I feel lucky and humbled by my opportunity.

Yurany Zapata Manunga (Fun Friday Teacher)

Yurany has a degree in Foreign Language Teacher Education from the University of Santiago De Cali in Columbia as well as having a specialization in Technology, Information and Communication from the University UDES. Yurany has been continuing her early education training with DCYF trainings while working as an Au-Pair since coming to Seattle in 2018. She will be joining NDS this year as a Fun Friday classroom teacher.

Nicki Mason (Office Manager/ASL Teacher)

I began teaching American Sign Language at NDS in the fall of 2000, while working as the production manager for a large corporate gift company. After moving to a position as office manager for a plumbing company, I jumped at an offer to join NDS as the full-time administrative assistant to the director, while still teaching ASL one day a week. Over the years I have taught ASL to many age groups, but my favorite is the preschooler, with their eagerness to learn. I enjoy teaching them a new way to powerfully express themselves.

It has been a pleasure to be part of the NDS community; I love greeting everyone as they arrive and enjoy helping to keep the school running smoothly. Whether I'm answering phones, applying Band-Aids, giving hugs, or even fixing the plumbing, it all seems like a labor of love, and not a job. When not at NDS, I enjoy dancing, gardening, travel, and hiking in the desert.

Paige Orthmeyer (4’s teacher & Afternoon Program Teacher)

I have a BA from Willamette University, where I took introductory education classes. I joined New Discovery School in 1996 and have been learning on the job and taking classes and workshops since.

I love the joy and honesty of four-year-old children as they grow over the course of a year. I enjoy sharing new sensory experiences with the children, whether through a messy art exploration, or a cooking project.

I love having the opportunity to learn from the amazing teachers and families I have contact with every day. It is great to be able to work in such a generous and supportive community.

Kathleen Rader (5’s Teacher M-TH, Afternoon Program Teacher)

Kathleen has been working with children since 2015. She has a master's degree in early childhood education and bachelor's degree in horticulture... but most importantly... she plays the ukulele! She brings a passion for Antibias education and will be starting her second year at NDS in the 5’s class.

Kat Steinglass (4’s teacher)

I have been working at New Discovery School since 2013. I earned my teaching certificate in 1999 and completed my master’s in human development in 2004 at Pacific Oaks College NW. Prior to working at NDS, I worked with toddlers and taught kindergarten through second graders.

I love going on nature walks, especially with kids. I also love birding, swimming, gardening, arts & crafts, and playing music.

I enjoy being in the moment with the four-year-olds, watching their imaginations unfold and finding ways to support their ideas. I love working at a school that values their play and recognizes all the learning that comes from it.

I am inspired by the kids, my co-workers, and the community at NDS.

Finally, I love starting my day out at song circle!

Jason Sterland (Afternoon Program Teacher and Fun Friday Teacher)

I have been working with children and families since 2014 and I am thrilled to be at the New Discovery School. I finished my A.A. at North Seattle College in Early Childhood Education and am currently enrolled at UW for an ECE degree. I am very excited to have the opportunity to use some of the skills I have learned in my schooling. Outside of the classroom I enjoy watching movies, making art, reading, and hiking with my partner. I consider myself to be an open-minded person and I look forward to the future, whatever it may hold. I am eager to meet you all and get to know you and your children.

Michelle Wicklund (3’s Teacher, Afternoon Program Teacher)

Seattle, born and raised, on the playground where I spend most of my days…

I have been with New Discovery School since 2013 and have worked with the 5’s, 4’s, and now the 3’s class. In addition, I spend time working in the aftercare and summer programs.

I was first drawn to NDS because of the strong sense of community. The school is not only a nurturing environment for children, but for staff as well. I’m so grateful for my place at NDS!

I was basically born into a preschool. My mother owned a licensed home preschool for over 20 years. I started helping around the age of 4. My mother may have viewed my efforts as a co-teacher as less helpful at that age. Since then, I have refined my practice. Before my time at NDS, I studied American Sign Language in high school and college. To this day, ASL is one of my passions as well as swimming. My first job ever was at the Ballard pool as a junior lifeguard. When I'm not at NDS, I'm in the pool teaching one on one swimming lessons at Little Fish.

I spend my free time with my family, going to yoga with my daughter, relaxing with the fur babies at home, and enjoying all PNW has to offer!

Preschoolers are my people.

Hana Zuwan (3’s Teacher, Fun Friday, Afternoon Program Teacher)

I studied air transportation management back home in Indonesia. When I came to the U.S. in 2005, I began teaching and loved it! I earned my Child Development Associate degree in 2009 and have continued taking additional early childhood education workshops. I joined the NDS staff in the fall of 2011.

I love teaching and spending my day with children, helping them to learn and explore every day to prepare them for the future. I also enjoy creating an environment for them in which they feel secure and loved while away from home.

I like sharing different cultural experiences through cooking, stories, and pictures. Throughout the day, I introduce the children to a little of the Spanish and Indonesian /Malay languages. I love coming to New Discovery School, because it's an amazing place where we are always learning from one another.