Julie Liddle, Program Director Julie brings twenty-five years 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, 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 lives with her husband and two young adult sons, and enjoys year-round campfires and cookouts in their backyard fire-ring, and harvesting and cooking the fruits of her husband’s vegetable gardening obsession. Like her grandmother, Julie swears by the healing power of fresh air, and she finds rejuvenation in daily walks with her 13 year old pup, beagle-mix 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.
Christina Blocksom, Lead Teacher Christina joins The Eastern Ridge School with nearly ten years of experience teaching in a play-based, nature-inspired, cooperative preschool in Vienna. After graduating from Cornell University, she explored human resource management for several years while working toward a Masters in Early Childhood Education at Johns Hopkins University in the evening. Christina most recently received her Forest Kindergarten Teacher Certification through The Cedarsong Nature School in Vashon Island, WA in August of 2018. Having grown up in a small New York dairy farming town near the southern tip of Lake Champlain surrounded by fields, wilderness, animals and machines, she and her brother spent their days exploring. It is from this early exposure to freedom and outdoor play that she discovered her love of teaching young children and sharing with them the wonder of nature. Christina lives in Reston where she is raising two teenage boys, a cat, a dog, and a gerbil. Her favorite authors are J. R. R. Tolkien, Ivan Doig, Leo Buscaglia, and Fred Rogers. Her favorite pastime is to walk in the woods.
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.
Erica Wyman, Lead Teacher Erica brings 35 years of teaching experience to her role at ERS. She has worked in early childhood special education, Kindergarten, second grade, and high school special education. She received a B.S. in elementary and special education from the University of Maryland and an M.Ed. In Early Childhood Special Education from George Mason University. She is a National Board Certified Teacher in the area of Exceptional Needs, Early Childhood. Growing up in rural Montgomery County, MD, Erica’s grandparents nurtured her love and appreciation for the natural world and for teaching. She spent time at their nursery helping with trees and flowers, exploring the world of plants and insects, and helping her grandmother when she tutored her students. This is when she knew she wanted to become a teacher. Erica has spent her life surrounded by animals of all kinds. Her interests include travel to the beach and mountains, beading, hiking, kayaking, yoga, swimming, working out, reading, and spoiling her dog. Erica has three siblings including an identical twin sister and an adult son who she loves to visit in sunny San Diego, CA. During the COVID-19 pandemic and temporary hiatus from ERS, Erica became reunited with her passion for adventure and hiking and enjoys regular forays into Virginia’s local and national parks. She recently completed a 25 hour SOLO Medic Wilderness First Aid and Safety course, plus additional training in winter safety. She plans to experience winter mountain hikes and a three day backpacking trip to complete a few of her 2021 hiking goals. She is also involved in trail stewardship through trail clean up efforts with a local Women’s PATC organization. She is eager to bring these skills and knowledge to ERS’s outdoor spaces and the trails at Wolf Trap with her students. Erica is excited to share her passions for teaching and exploring outdoors at a school that shares her values and beliefs about healthy living and learning for all ages!
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 is excited to bring these skills to ERS and continue developing as a nature-based early childhood educator. 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.
Ciara Davis, Assistant Teacher/Aftercare Co-Teacher
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.