First United Church Nursery School considers the experience, dedication, creativity, knowledge and professionalism of our staff to be our greatest asset and the basis of our quality. All First United teachers and assistants exceed the standards set by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and meet the higher standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Our school understands that individual attention is important for young children and therefore maintains a 5 to 1 or 6 to 1 student/teacher ratio in each classroom. Teachers plan learning experiences and implement curriculum which promotes physical, social, emotional and cognitive growth and maintain consistent, warm and caring relationships with the children in their classrooms.
The Nursery School employs a full-time director specializing in early childhood education and program supervision. Both the Director and the teaching staff have a wealth of knowledge and experience.
The staff participates in ongoing in-service training, conferences and workshops sponsored in part by the school and the board. First United staff members have First Aid and CPR training as well as training in the use of EpiPens for emergency allergic reactions.
Joan White - Director
Joan White has dedicated the past thirty-five years of her life to the job of Director of First United Church Nursery School. Joan earned a degree in Child Development from Ohio University and a Masters of Education in Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy from National Louis University. Prior to joining First United, Joan directed a child care center for one year and taught third grade for two years. Outside of the Nursery School, she keeps very busy with volunteer activities: sitting on several boards and committees focused on early childhood advocacy, parenting, and community building. Joan and her husband Mack have two adult children (First United alums) and three granddaughters.
Leslie Watts - Teacher (Room 26) and Assistant Director
Leslie has been teaching at First United Church Nursery School for twenty-one years. Since 2005, she has also served as a Professional Development Leader for The Collaboration for Early Childhood Care and Education, where she develops and executes Professional Development Workshops for area child care centers. Prior to teaching at First United, Leslie was a workshop coordinator at the DuPage Children’s Museum and Director of the Toddler Program at Lakeshore Academy in Chicago. Leslie attended DePauw University and received a BA in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Iowa. She and her husband Geoff have two adult sons. Leslie greatly enjoys “being a part of such a supportive community of families and teaching staff” at First United Church Nursery School.
Priscilla Nied - Administrative Assistant
Priscilla has worked at First United Church Nursery School for twenty-two years in various capacities. She has assisted in the classrooms, been a substitute teacher and currently helps keep the administrative obligations of the school running smoothly. Priscilla has previously worked as a banker in Trust Operations, a food stylist for Veggie Times Magazine and a professional dresser for The Lyric Opera of Chicago. Priscilla is married to Rich and has two adult sons and one wonderful daughter-in-law.
Heidi Bell - Teacher (Room 21)
Heidi is returning for her tenth year of teaching at First United. She previously taught kindergarten for three years, preschool for two years and was a substitute and teacher assistant at First United prior to joining the teaching staff. Heidi received a BA in Early Childhood Education from Concordia University. Heidi has four children, all graduates of First United, and served on the First United Board of Directors for 4 years. In teaching, Heidi most enjoys the incredible amount of support she gets from co-workers and the school families. “It is the most fulfilling and creative place I have worked.”
Cathie Bente - Teacher (Room 24)
Cathie Bente has been teaching for twenty years at First United Church Nursery School. She has a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education from Concordia University and a Bachelors Degree from Anna Maria College. She also attended Washington School of Business and the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to raising a family and entering into teaching, Cathie worked as a writer for a United States senator. She is the parent of four grown children, all of whom attended First United. Although Cathie enjoys teaching all levels of preschool, she particularly loves being involved with the young three-year-old children, often being the first educator for these children outside of the home. “I see so much growth, potential and development from September to May. It is a delightful, rewarding privilege to be part of the early childhood profession at First United Church Nursery School.”
Tisa Biswas - Assistant Teacher (Room 26)
Tisa is in her ninth year working at First United Church Nursery School and has been on staff for several Young Sprout Day Camp summer sessions. Tisa has a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from Calcutta University in India as well as the completion of several online courses in Early Childhood from Kendall College in Chicago. Prior to joining the First United staff, Tisa worked for five years with the International Labor Organization project (UN) and the International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) taught for three years at Singing Winds School. Tisa and her husband have one teenage son.
Amy Cardin - Teacher (Room 26 and Lunch Bunch)
Amy Cardin is returning for her seventh year on the staff at First United Church Nursery School. She and her husband Eric have two daughters in grade school. Both attended preschool at First United. Amy earned her Bachelors Degree from the University of Illinois and is currently enrolled in graduate school at Dominican University in Early Childhood Education. What Amy enjoys most about teaching is “watching the children’s amazing growth from the beginning of the school year to the end.”
Susan Gittings - Teacher (Room 20)
Susan Gittings joined the First United staff in 2008 after eighteen years teaching first grade at Lincoln School in River Forest. She also previously taught for three years at Mann Elementary School in Oak Park and six years at a grade school in Colorado. Susan has earned a BA in Elementary Education, an MA in Curriculum and Instruction, and a CAS in Early Childhood. She has two grown children who both attended preschool at First United. The wonderful family feel of the staff is what Susan most enjoys about teaching at First United.
Erlene Hartman - Teacher (Alpha Club)
Erlene Hartman has been teaching at First United Church Nursery School for twenty-eight years. She is the mother of one adult son who attended First United for one year. Erlene is a graduate of the Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Education and completed her early childhood coursework at Triton College. Prior to joining the First United staff, Erlene worked for one year at the DePaul Day Care Center in Chicago and taught for seven years at another preschool in Oak Park. She has also volunteered for 30 years as a Church Girls Club leader. What Erlene enjoys most about teaching at First United is the professional, yet fun atmosphere, where teachers are free to use their creative talents, while parents are supportive and willing to be part of the classroom experience.
Marybeth Mullin - Assistant Teacher (Room 24)
Marybeth has been a teaching assistant at First United Church Nursery School for sixteen years. Previously, Marybeth taught for four years at the Academy of Movement and Music in Oak Park and worked for fourteen years at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. In addition, Marybeth has been the Nursery Director for First United Methodist Church for a number of years and worked at Parenthesis from 2003-2006. She has attended Eastern Illinois University and has one teenage son. Marybeth finds working with young children to be very therapeutic and enjoys watching “the wonderful strides they make from the beginning of the year to the end.”
Christie LaMountain - Team Teacher (Two-Year-Olds)
Christie LaMountain is beginning her third year on the staff of the Nursery School. Christie is a graduate of DePaul University with a BA in Psychology. Previously she has worked as a respite caregiver, in home care for children with special needs. She also has extensive experience baby sitting and as a toddler teacher in her church nursery. Christie has a special passion for photography.
Sheila Oravec - Assistant Teacher (Room 25)
Sheila Oravec returns to First United Church Nursery School for her fourteenth year as an Assistant Teacher. She received a degree in Communications from Illinois State University but soon realized she preferred working with children. Sheila previously worked for the Schiller Park School District as a Special Education Teacher Assistant, Preschool Teacher Assistant, and lunchroom assistant. She and her husband, Rex, have three sons. In teaching, Sheila most enjoys how the children “put a smile on my face everyday.”
Mary Jo Pikul - Teacher (Room 25 and Lunch Bunch)
Mary Jo has taught three-year olds at First United Church Nursery School for twenty-six years. She has a degree in English and Education from Rosary College (now Dominican University) and spent several years teaching elementary school prior to spending some years at home raising her two daughters. Mary Jo has been an elder in her church and has spent time in Peace Corps training in Iran with her husband, Don. Mary Jo is inspired to teach by the genuine and sweet spirits of the preschoolers. “They are so often filled with wonder and so eager to learn about their world!”
Barbara Reed - Teacher (Room 25)
Barbara Reed is in her eleventh year of teaching at First United. She has previously worked as a Christian Education Director, Optical Assistant, and Church Secretary. Barbara received a BA in Christian Education from Central United Methodist University. She has four daughters and four granddaughters. Barbara is inspired to teach preschool by “the joy of working with children and helping them become lifelong learners.”
Judy Steed - Teacher (Room 20)
Judy has taught at First United Church Nursery School for twenty-two years. Prior to her work with the school, she worked for an OB/GYN doctor (who delivered both of her adult daughters). Judy received a B.S. in Elementary Education from Northern Illinois University and has completed numerous early childhood classes. Outside of teaching, Judy stays very busy as a mosaic artist. She also volunteers for the American Cancer Society and sings in her church choir. Judy is inspired to teach by “watching the development of the children during the school year and hopefully inspiring a love of school.”
Iris Mahone - Assistant Teacher (Room 21)
Iris Mahone joined the First United staff in the fall of 2009 with five years of experience working with children in the home day care operated by her mother. With an associate degree in business Administration and accounting, Iris has worked in the corporate world for some time, but her first love is young children. In addition to her position at First United you may also see Iris at Pier I in Oak Park where she works part time. Iris is excited to be joining the First United staff.
Megan Renne - Assistant Teacher (Room 20 & Alpha Club)
Megan Renne joined the First United staff in the fall of 2011. She is a graduate of Augustana College with a BA in English. Her previous experience includes work as a nanny, a tutor, a counselor and lifeguard at an Outdoor Minitries Center and at the West Cook YMCA in the Child Watch Center. Megan is currently enrolled at Dominican University working on a masters degree in Early Childhood Education. Megan attended the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver in 2009 and earned a Publishing Certificate.
Sadie Walton - Teacher (Room 23)
Sadie Walton joined the First United staff in September, 2012. She brings a wealth of previous experience, having taught Head Start, Kindergarten and classes at the River Forest Park District. Sadie has two children, a daughter who attended First United and begins kindergarten this fall and a son who is in the Two-Year-Old class at First United this fall. Sadie is a graduate of Cornell College with a BA in Elementary Education. She has also completed graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago in Instructional Leadership. Sadie is delighted to be working at First United.
Katie Vassiliades - Team Teacher (Two-Year-Olds)
Katie Vassiliades previously taught at First United September, 2007 to the spring of 2010. Her son was born that spring and is now ready to begin school at First United this fall. Prior to teaching at First United, Katie was the Child Life Specialist at Loyola University Medical Center and has worked as a Teacher Assistant at the Academy of Movement and Music. Katie earned a BA in Psychology from Concordia University and has begun graduate studies in Early Childhood Education at Concordia. Katie is very excited to be back in a classroom at First United.
Portia Ebert - Assistant Teacher (Room 23)
Portia Ebert has a long history at First United. She and her three sons are all alumni. Portia earned a BS in Early Childhood Education from the University of Illinois and taught at First United beginning September, 1996 for several years prior to starting her family. While her sons attended First United, she was an active Board Member and has continued to be a supporter of the school. We are delighted to have Portia returning to the staff this fall.
Christopher Nied - Team Teacher (Two-Year-Olds)
Christopher Nied is an alumni of First United Church Nursery School. He worked at First United as an Assistant Teacher September, 2007 through May, 2011, all on a part time basis while attending college. Christopher returned to the staff April, 2012 as a member of the teaching team for the Two-Year-Old class. Christopher has completed a great deal of Early Childhood Education course work at Triton College and at Concordia University. A special gift Christopher brings is an extensive collection of musical instruments from around the world which he generously introduces to children is his classes throughout the course of the school year.