Jessica Spenchian, M.A.
Founder, Director & Teacher Mentor
Jessica is a certified preschool teacher and former college-level writing instructor. She is also the mother of two wonderful early elementary school age children.
With a pre-teaching background in early literacy program evaluation (K-5), grant writing, resource development, interactive media production and project management, Jessica brings a dynamic interdisciplinary perspective to her work with students of all ages. Back in 2015, frequent feedback regarding her caring personality and intuitive ability to connect with young children–combined with a focus on raising her own two children–motivated Jessica to turn her creative energy toward founding her own preschool program.
Inspired by her previous experience working as a Head Preschool Teacher at Stretch the Imagination in San Francisco, Jessica’s mission is to combine the developmental advantages of a small, high quality preschool environment with the provision of full time childcare. Her commitment to the use of responsive language and to designing age appropriate, play-based avenues for extended inquiry make her particularly fond of the project-oriented Reggio approach to early childhood education: an approach which views young children as active and capable shapers of the world around them.
Jessica’s interest in child-centered teaching and emergent curriculum design–instructional methods which position the children’s own evolving questions as starting points for all forms of sensory exploration–is complemented by her deep understanding of the Italian cultural context out of which the Reggio model arose. Having lived and worked in Bologna, Italy for over three years prior to becoming a teacher, Jessica is a fluent (but imperfect) speaker of Italian and she remains optimistic about the possibility of adding an Italian language and cultural component to The Children’s Workshop Oakland program at some point in the future.
Jessica holds a BA in World Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz, a Child Development Permit from City College of San Francisco and a Masters degree in English Composition with a Post-Secondary Reading Certificate from San Francisco State University.
5s/TK Lead Teacher
Sam comes from a long line of teachers. After growing up in his mother and father’s classrooms, he was convinced that he would do anything but teach! But, as life seems to go, that is how he is happiest, and he has devoted his life to working with young children. Sam has taught across the country, starting in Pasadena, CA before relocating first to Chicago and later to New York City. Sam has taught both as a classroom teacher and as a studio art teacher. In 2017 he completed a dual Masters degree in Philosophy and Education from Teachers College at Columbia University, specializing in contemporary social theory and progressive, critical and multicultural education.
Sam is a firm believer in the importance of play. His classrooms always contain a variety of open-ended materials for experimentation, construction and storytelling. Reggio Emilia’s project-based approach appeals to Sam because of the vast room it leaves for children to learn cooperatively together. In Reggio-inspired classrooms, students’ innate desire to learn about their world and from each other is recognized and highly valued and responsibility for both constructing the curriculum and continuously shaping the many lenses through which that curriculum comes to be explored is thus placed in the children’s hands, with their teachers acting as co-learning partners and framing facilitators in the service of their vision.
Before moving to the East Bay, Sam spent the 2019-2020 school year working at schools in various small villages in India, from the Ladakhi Himalayas to tropical valleys in Tamil Nadu. The year abroad exposed Sam to culturally sustaining educational organizations that create play-based curricula in a very different context. These schools prioritize skill-based education, particularly farming and crafts, as a way to ensure that schooling feels familiar and applicable to children’s rural home lives. Environmental and cultural sustainability were central to these schools’ missions and the experience will forever shape the way Sam considers his role as teacher and his work as an educator.
Outside the classroom Sam likes to work with his hands, particularly with clay. While living in New York, he showed his work at various galleries in Manhattan. Sam hand-builds geometric vases out of slabs of stoneware. He also collects children’s books. (Tony’s Hard Work Day by Alan Arkin – 1972 edition with illustrations by James Stevenson is one of his prized possessions!) Additional passions include urban cycling and cycle and pedestrian-safe urban design, cooking, playing tennis and basketball and political organizing.
4s Lead Teacher
Teacher Jeannette has been working in the field of early childhood education since 2004 as both a teacher and as an administrator. She is a vibrant and enthusiastic educator who brings a genuine love of working with and learning alongside young children to CWO! Throughout her teaching career, she has steadily continued her professional growth and approaches her role through the unique triad of parent, teacher and administrator, which provides her with great insight into the many perspectives and needs of our school community.
Jeannette’s goal is to support each child’s social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual development through the creation of authentic relationships and the planning of meaningful learning experiences designed to nurture and sustain curiosity and resourcefulness. Jeannette is committed to designing and implementing a well-rounded, emergent and hands-on curriculum that includes plenty of science, art, music, movement, math and literature. She is also passionate about fostering empathy, compassion and mindfulness.
For Teacher Jeannette, young children—like all human beings—are unique and fascinating creatures, each with their own style and approach to learning play and connection with others. She is perpetually inspired by the diverse personalities and special gifts that each of the children bring to help create our distinctive classroom community.
Jeannette’s dedication to our school’s vision and core pedagogical philosophy have provided much appreciated insight and support during a critical time in our school’s growth. Outside of the classroom, Jeannette enjoys spending time with her eight year old daughter, her thirteen year old son and her dog, Giggles.
Emma is very excited to be joining CWO this year! She holds an Associate of Arts degree in Child Development as well as a Child Development Teacher Certificate from Santa Rosa Junior College. She has also independently studied various philosophies of child development and early childhood education and believes that each philosophy has something unique and valuable to contribute to an educator’s teaching practice. Emma has spent many years teaching in preschools of varying philosophies, however, the Reggio approach is particularly resonant for her due to its emphasis on children as capable and active constructors of their own learning and because this philosophy also positions teachers as co-learners alongside their students. Emma believes that the children she works with are some of her greatest teachers!
Emma is passionate about developing meaningful and open-ended curriculum based upon her students’ unique skills and interests. She believes that in the hands of a curious and creative child (or adult!) nearly anything can be used as a tool for learning. She enjoys collecting loose parts and natural materials and sharing them with her students to engage their imaginations, encourage their curiosity and build connections with others and with the world around them.
Emma believes that the physical environment is also an important teacher for children. She loves to create and organize classrooms in an aesthetically pleasing way that encourages open exploration, fosters a sense of community and supports young children’s growing sense of independence. Emma’s favorite activities to participate in with her students include any open-ended art or sensory experience, exploring nature, working with loose materials, storytelling, movement and music.
In her free time, Emma participates in more hobbies than she actually has time for. She loves to take dance classes, ice skate and rollerblade, play her instruments, spend time in nature, write and work on art projects at home. She also spends a lot of time with her bearded dragon, Charlie, whose hobbies include snuggling and taking long naps.
3s Lead Teacher
Teacher Erin is a learner and educator with experience working with children in forest school programs, pediatric emergency rooms, behavioral health settings, school gardens and beyond. Her passion lies in a nuanced understanding of the importance of each child being seen for who he/she/they are fundamentally. She thus encourages all children in their own discoveries, individuality and formations of community.
Devoted to cultivating holistic learning environments and interactions that are supportive, explorative, respectful and silly, she finds interdisciplinary inspiration for her teaching everywhere, but especially in the natural environment.
After earning her B.A. in English at the University of Oregon, Erin spent time in Eugene, Oregon and in Brooklyn, New York prior to her return to the East Bay (where she was born and raised). She can be found outside of the classroom jumping into as many bodies of water as she can manage, continuing her search for the perfect combination of vegetables atop homemade pizza and laughing too loudly with friends in parks.
3s Co-Teacher & Atelierista
Teacher Chelsea is a passionate artist and educator who believes that art making is integral to the learning process. Having spent the past several years teaching art in elementary schools, moving from classroom to classroom to lead students through various projects, Chelsea has enjoyed putting down roots as CWO’s resident atelierista.
Teaching in public elementary schools and in preschool summer camps over the years has shown Teacher Chelsea the limitless creativity and capabilities of young children. She views art as the perfect tool for investigation, having arms in all other subject areas including math, science, design and technology, humanities and history. Art provides a tangible form to the learning process and for the imagination. For children, art is both visual aid and articulation for their investigations. Chelsea loves seeing her students make discoveries and problem solve through the process of art making: what happens when they mix colors or the look on their faces as they lift a scratch-board to reveal the imprint of their artwork. Art expresses individuality and stimulates the brain through its visual and sensorial qualities and Chelsea is excited to support and inspire her students at CWO and her fellow co-teachers.
Teacher Chelsea has a huge heart for children. With three vivacious children of her own, she believes in the inherent capability and autonomy of young learners. The Reggio-Emilia philosophy coincides with her beliefs about and experiences in education. She believes in the power of the joy of learning and understands that every child is a naturally curious learner who should be supported to follow his/her own path of interest. After observing the ways in which the children and teachers consistently collaborate together at CWO, with such mutual degrees of vested interest, respect and reciprocity, Teacher Chelsea is grateful to have found a place amongst this incredible team of educators and within such a unique cooperative learning community.
Chelsea holds a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and has pursued Post-Baccalaureate studies at the Siena Art Institute in Siena, Italy. With her children she enjoys undertaking elaborate art projects, trips to the library and adventures outdoors. In her solo-time, Chelsea teaches monthly art classes for adults, co-runs an art gallery, explores art exhibitions and puts time into her personal art practice. In sum, art is life for Chelsea!
2s Lead Teacher & Senior Teacher Mentor
Lisa first embarked on her career with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher. However, while in college, she took an assistant position in early childhood and developed an incredible love and respect for the preschool age. Inspired by the children’s naturally inquisitive ways, loving and gentle attitudes and by the respect they shared for their communal environment and for each other, Lisa returned to school to complete her degree in Childhood Development at Merritt College. After working in several different types of programs over the past seven years, Lisa has found that she truly believes in an emergent style of learning wherein she can give children back their right to explore this world and all it has to offer in their own individual ways.
Lisa has been exploring our lovely city of Oakland since she was a child, coming to visit her many relatives and grandparents who lived in the area. Her parents were both born and raised in Oakland and she has fond memories of trips to Fairy Land, feeding the ducks at the lake and going to the park in Montclair. Many of these wonderful memories are the reason she and her lovely wife chose to move back to Oakland. Lisa loves being outdoors, playing soccer and baseball, walking the lake and hiking in Joaquin Miller and throughout Berkeley. Cooking and baking are also passions of hers, as food in her family was a way to express and share love and come together. Overall, Teacher Lisa loves to be adventurous and silly and to dance, sing and tell stories. It is her hope that by sharing her passions with her students, they will in turn discover where their own unique passions lie and will revel in pursuing them!
Since joining CWO in 2018, Lisa has been instrumental in programmatic stewardship, working closely with Jessica as a senior founding member of CWO’s leadership team and helping to develop core training and professional development practices for mentoring both new and seasoned teachers. Having played many roles within the program, Lisa’s favorite vantage point is shepherding new student and new teacher learning through responsive and reflective practice in the always bustling and dynamic 2s classroom. Lisa considers herself a perpetual student of education and remains committed to evolving and strengthening her own teaching year over year.
Liliana was born in Sonora, Mexico and moved to Oakland as a child. Before becoming a certified preschool teacher she taught art, Spanish and origami to TK-12th grade students throughout the Bay Area and also served as a program director and curator for Peralta Hacienda Historical Park. When first transitioning to working with younger students, Liliana trained and apprenticed in each of our classrooms, gaining experience designing curriculum and supporting the growth and development of 2-5 year old students over a period of several months. Now ready to assume a 2s co-teaching position in partnership with our most senior teacher mentor, Liliana is excited to further develop her practice as a new early childhood educator.
Liliana’s dedication and commitment to her students, their families and to her colleagues is evident in everything she does. Having proven herself to be a valuable team player capable of assuming multiple roles, Liliana is well positioned to nurture CWO’s youngest students.
Liliana holds a BA in Studio Art from Cal State and is an accomplished working artist outside the classroom. Using art to advocate for self-expression, her work has been featured in numerous shows and galleries around the Bay Area and Liliana has also curated many art exhibitions as well. Her illustrative work is representative of her personal life journey and is characterized by her use of whimsical fictional characters, vibrant colors, magical realism and contemporary surrealism to express dream-like experiences.
In addition to being a passionate educator and skilled fine artist, Liliana is also a model and freelance face/body painter who actively volunteers with community arts groups including Oakland’s First Friday founder, Rock Paper Scissors Collective.
Elizabeth “Liz” Hinsley, M.A., Ed
Co-Teaching Alumna & Ongoing Program Advisor
Liz is a Master of Education in Early Childhood Education and has over 12 years of experience working with and teaching young children. When Liz isn’t teaching, mentoring or directing, she works as a child development consultant with educational research groups such as WestEd where she develops content for the California Department of Education to support Early Childhood Educators across the state.
Specializing in mindfulness and the power of mindful awareness to enhance social, emotional and academic learning, Liz combines the use of resonant experiences from the children’s everyday lives with positive affirmations to create a supportive and nurturing classroom culture. Liz’s dedication to the field of Child Development, her extensive training and ongoing advocacy for high quality early childhood education programs for all children and her unwavering commitment to guiding young children towards successful outcomes in school and in life make Liz an outstanding teacher and role model.
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