Julie Liddle, Program Director Julie brings three decades of experience working with children and developing early childhood programming to her role as Program Director at ERS. She worked as an art therapist in special education for almost a decade, and then specialized in early childhood art. For the next 16 years, Julie focused on creating and facilitating a parent/child art program and curriculum for toddlers and preschoolers, which she delivered in various preschool settings. This is what brought Julie to ERS at its inception in 2014, to serve as the school’s Atelierista (Art Director). She held this position for five years before taking on the broader role of Program Director. Julie believes that even in this role, creativity and connection are the driving forces that guide her. She uses materials from art and nature to facilitate group cohesion among children, parents, and staff. Her always open office “door” is a key ingredient in her belief that being present, sharing experiences, and listening well are the best ways to support, nurture, and grow the community as a whole. Julie received a Master’s degree in Art Therapy from George Washington University and her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Cornell University. She is a mom to two unique young adults who continue to teach her that parenting in hindsight is far easier than parenting in the moment, which gives her lots of empathy for the parents of preschoolers and their daily challenges. She and her husband have recently taken to kayaking and especially enjoy visiting the Shenandoah River whenever they get a chance. Like her grandmother, Julie swears by the healing power of fresh air, and tries to get out and walk as often as she can with her 15 year old beagle/border collie named Chessie.
Krissy Sheets, Bookkeeper/Office Administrator Krissy grew up on Kent Island, MD on the Chesapeake Bay. She holds a Business degree from Salisbury University. After graduating college, she relocated to Northern Virginia to be near her husband, a Vernon Drive native! They now live in Ashburn, with their two teen boys, two cats and a dog. Krissy has worked in various accounting roles, primarily in the healthcare and senior living industry. She is excited to now work among children and their families and learn all things ERS. When not shuttling kids and cheering on her boys at their sporting events, she enjoys traveling, gardening, reading and taking long walks with her four-legged child.
Celeste Jordan, Assistant Teacher Transplanted from California a few years ago, Celeste has worked in Head Start and Early Head Start and is eager to translate her experience with young children into the natural and sensory-rich environment of the great outdoors in Great Falls, VA. Celeste joined our teaching team in October 2023. More to come in Celeste’s bio soon!
Maritza Rodriguez, Lead Teacher Maritza was born in Mexico, where she studied architecture. She worked for 22 years in that field and then worked for two years as a math teacher in a public high school. She later taught art and design at a private Catholic school. She and her husband (of more than 30 years!) have lived in the U.S. since 2005. She started at Discovery Woods in 2008 and joined Eastern Ridge when it was founded in 2014. Maritza truly loves working with our youngest students, and is particularly inspired to collect forest artifacts like leaves, twigs, and rocks with the children to inspire painting and art. She also enjoys teaching them songs and stories in Spanish. She especially loves how her children explore and discover new things, and watching their faces when they finish a project that they’ve worked on for a long time. Maritza and her husband, Jorge, have two children and live in Sterling.
Lu McNeely, Outdoor Resource Specialist/Aftercare Co-Teacher Lu grew up in Texas where they earned a Bachelor of Science in Child Development from Texas Woman’s University. Before moving to Maryland, Lu worked with preschool aged children for 6 years. They began their career as a Montessori Teacher’s Assistant in 2015 and started lead teaching for a Play-Based Cooperative Preschool in 2019. For their senior practicum, Lu spent 2 years developing and teaching a program titled Nature Play for children ages 3 to 5. Through this experience, they learned a great deal about the importance and developmental implications of child-led/unstructured play in nature and began searching for a program where they could dig deeper into the nature-based pedagogy. In 2021, Lu received training as a Forest Guide at a play-based nature immersion program for children ages 3 to 11 where they refined their skills pertaining to inquiry-based teaching, analysis of children’s global development, and documentation of learning. Lu brought these skills to ERS in 2021, and since then they have developed our forested spaces and enhanced the programming around our time in the woods. Lu finds great joy in being a witness to the ways in which children connect with themselves, others, and nature. The foundation of this philosophy rests in their belief that it is in nature where children can become the most resilient, empathetic, reflective, and inquisitive versions of themselves. In their spare time, Lu enjoys playing guitar and has recently added the banjo and the dulcimer to their repertoire. As a reflection of Lu’s commitment to stewardship of our planet, they plant a native tree in every place that they live. We are glad Lu has chosen to be planted at The Eastern Ridge School with us now.
Louisa Stetekluh, Lead Teacher
joined the ERS teaching team in January but is a long-time local. She was raised in Falls Church, graduated from George Mason University with a BA In psychology, and raised her daughters in Arlington, Virginia.
For nearly 30 years, Louisa has worked in cooperative preschool environments. The preschool age is the foundation of a child’s educational journey, so the cooperative model of a teacher working side by side with the parents in the classroom setting was a very special time in her career. Building a rapport with the parents and being part of their family’s early milestones are treasured memories. During these three decades, Louisa has also made the principles of Dr. Becky Baily’s Positive Discipline central to her philosophy and approach to supporting preschoolers through their social emotional development, and can be seen seamlessly guiding children through conflicts and struggles with a calm ease that supports problem solving, skill building, and face saving all at once.
Louisa’s recent journey in her career is embracing the outdoor model. For the past three years this has provided a new energy and inspiration for her to continue her love of teaching young children. Louisa holds a Level 3 Nature Based Teacher certificate from ERAFANS (The Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools). ERS provides the perfect backdrop for Louisa’s wealth of experience with young children coupled with her enthusiasm for bringing her creativity and adventuresome spirit into our nature-based setting.
Louisa had raised three daughters that have gone off and flown the nest. The first grandchild is on the way; luckily that one will be nearby in Richmond. Louisa’s favorite pastimes include cooking, gardening, sewing and walking with friends…and road trips too, especially to Richmond.
Maria Taylor, Assistant Teacher
Maria is passionate about inclusion, mindfulness, and helping kids develop social-emotional skills. She studied early childhood education and art history in college, and loves to facilitate opportunities for creative expression in her classroom. Outside of work she can be found hiking with her dog Dougan, reading about psychology, or debating philosophy with friends.
Halys Vowles, Assistant Teacher Halys is originally from Leeds, England and has lived in the United States since 1991. She graduated from Thomas Danby College in 1988 with an NNEB in early childhood education and spent the earlier part of her career traveling the world as a professional nanny. Halys is delighted to share her knowledge and experience working with young children and many different families over the years with the ERS community and is thrilled to be part of the Acorn family. Halys has also studied jewelry design at the Corcoran School for the Arts in DC and enjoys making jewelry in her spare time. She also likes to garden, restore furniture and travel. She lives in Mclean VA with her husband, Seyla and three teenage children, (one of whom she recently dropped off at college), Callie the cat and Gizmo the fish. As a family they enjoy hiking, fishing, beach days and trips to Space Coast, FL to see family.