About Our Educators
Dr. Nola Enge, Head of School: Before founding THE HILLS SCHOOL AND ATELIER, Dr. Enge taught in progressive, multi-age classrooms of K-1-2 students where Reggio-inspired beliefs and methods were celebrated. She also taught and wrote for university students studying to be teachers. Nola is an outspoken advocate for children’s rights and their access to creative expression through the arts, in part because she knows ﬁrsthand the joyfulness of a life connected to the arts. As a touring musician/singer, she’s traveled to over 50 countries, often as a guest of the USO. Nola worked in television news, as a piano teacher, in agriculture, as an entertainment agent and writer. She partnered in a Writer’s Workshop for children and is the Executive Director of Scottsdale Glee children’s choir. Dr. Enge’s published academic articles include those on developmentally appropriate practices in early childhood, the adopted language-minority child and environmentally-safe schools. She enjoys writing about families and early childhood education and wrote her dissertation on modern mothering from a feminist/social justice perspective. Spending time in nature with her children (Shepherd of the Hills Cooperative Preschool alums) on their family’s Wisconsin dairy farm is a favorite pastime. Nola earned her Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education/Curriculum and Instruction in 2009, receiving her diploma and a hearty handshake from President Barack Obama.
Jennifer Cea, Assistant Director, has been an early childhood educator since 2004 and has an Associate’s degree in Child Development. Jennifer has a wealth of knowledge gleaned from early childhood education coursework (including Reggio Emilia-inspired studies), extensive experience with children in her own classrooms and also as a trusted director on record/administrator.
Jennifer says, “Early childhood education is so important in my life. I can truly say I love my career. I’m an Arizona native growing up in Scottsdale and currently living in Glendale with my husband and our dog Warner. I have one younger sister, a niece, and a nephew. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and going shopping.”
Cari Trickel is a talented textile artist and early childhood specialist. It is accurate to say that THE HILLS SCHOOL AND ATELIER came to Cari as much as the other way around as her grandparents were pioneers that built the church and school upon the date farm land where it stands today. Having lived in many parts of the country, THE HILLS community is thankful she’s home again with Arizona children, modeling her love for the creative arts and her keen understanding of social and emotional development. Ms. Trickel studied early childhood education at Northern Arizona University. She and Nola have enjoyed traveling to Reggio-inspired workshops led by Reggio Emilia liaison Lela Gandini as well as touring Reggio-inspired schools in the Southwest. Cari’s extensive experience with young children includes schools in Arizona and Texas and with varied ages of youth at Shepherd of the Hills United Church of Christ. Her own children are Shepherd of the Hills Cooperative Preschool alums.
Jenny Kelly is hopelessly devoted to great musicals, especially “Sweeney Todd”. After earning degrees in Music Education, Jenny’s early career included Kindergarten through eighth grade, special education and drama before eventually landing at The Hills School. This is her fourth year with us, the first not teaching one of her own children!
Ms. Kelly has an affinity for early childhood music. With requisite silliness and ukulele in hand, she’s a pied piper of sorts to our preschoolers and our popular Baby Music Class. Jenny coerces everyone’s inner musician; making up songs, teaching traditional roots music or sharing her originals. Ms. Kelly enjoys music from all over the world and across historical periods.
Miss Jenny loves to sew, run and spend time with her four kids and husband. One particular crazy song she sings – an “ear worm” one can’t forget (yes, we’ve tried) – is “Bock, Bock, Chicken!”, sure to have young and old shaking their tail feathers.
Marcie Warren is a student at Arizona State University working towards her degree in social work. She has always had a soft spot for children and enjoys taking extra classes in education. As a teenager, Marcie spent much of her spare time taking care of her two younger sisters, Jenna and Amy, who are both graduates of the Hills. When she’s not in class or at the Hills, she enjoys reading and taking photos.
Anne-Emmanuelle Persil-Quezada has rich experience from highly-regarded early childhood programs: The Family School in Phoenix, the International School in Scottsdale and Head Start. She loves animals (including chickens!), the color pink, Italian opera and ballet is a true passion after 24 years of study. Anne is from France, having moved to America 10 years ago. She will incorporate French into her lessons.
Valerie Bailey is delighted to be on the staff of The Hills Preschool where the Reggio-inspired philosophy so closely matches her own. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Family and Child Development from Virginia Tech University, a Child Development Associate from Central Arizona College, and has spent over 20 years teaching (and learning) in early education classrooms. She is interested in the latest in brain research. Val enjoys creatively incorporating the Arizona Early Learning Standards into an emergent curriculum to interest and engage each child. Essential to Val’s teaching approach is respecting children and their unique developmental journeys. Through her teaching experiences, she has developed an emphasis on science and the natural world fueled by the enthusiasm of young children. She is also passionate about introducing quality literature to young children and will be seen in the classroom singing and dancing on a daily basis! Val’s love of early education is reflected in these words by Jane Goodall: “We all need, as adults, some experience to make us look at the world again through the eyes of a child.”
Val is living happily ever after with the man of her dreams (also a teacher and singer of silly songs), while raising two boys, three dogs, two cats, a snake, a desert tortoise, and a fish. She enjoys reading good books, being in nature, knitting, listening to music, and is dedicated to learning “why the world wags and what wags it”.
Melissa Belanger has has a Bachelor’s degree in Speech and Language Pathology/Audiology from Maymount Manhattan College, NY. Ms. Belanger is a recipient of the prestigious National Institute of Health (NIH) Ethics Certificate. In addition to her work in New York City preschools, Melissa has a passion for literacy and has worked with grades 2-5 in a public elementary setting as well as in a volunteer setting for a New York City literacy non-profit organization. Though she’s spent many years in New York City, Melissa is returning home to Arizona where she lived as a young child (in fact, she’s made the hearty New York to Arizona road trip twice!). Ms. Belanger plays the clarinet and has a brand new puppy!
Larissa Rossetti’s passion for education began with her teaching in a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool. This began a way of thinking about thinking, and as she honed metacognition skills, she incorporated Reggio-inspired ideals to teaching positions from preschool through 6th grade. Larissa also brings her experience with art instruction and the Young Rembrandt’s program to our little ones. Ms. Rossetti is very interested in academic research and (for pleasure, no less) neuropsychology. She plans to combine what she’s learned in preschools with the psychology degree she’s completing and work in neuropsychology in a Children’s Hospital.
Alejandra Cerda Alejandra Cerda has enjoyed a rich background in education, nonprofits, media and cultural programs. Her work with children began early before college teaching those in very poor conditions to read and write. At University she moved to the south of Mexico to help the Indian people organize their production of corn and coffee in order to sell it to the rest of the country. After, she studied Human Rights, taught at an orphanage and helped professional women advance in enterprise. Ms. Cerda was the cohost of the radio program Entre Voces, discussing education, history and politics. While employed at the Mexican Embassy in Madrid, she began working on her master’s degree while teaching teenagers about human rights, consumption and other issues. Ms. Cerda has served as Director of Educational Programs for Fundacion Educa, the most important nonprofit organization in Mexico. Alejandra has taught at the Hills since being a parent here. Her current educational training includes the Conscious Discipline program.
Molly Fagan Molly Fagan says she is thrilled to be on The Hills teaching team. She has been in the early childhood field for almost 20 years, serving as a preschool director (earning a “Director of the Year” award), educator and curriculum specialist. She believes that it is essential for all children to learn at their own pace and to be their own special being. Molly enjoys collaborating with her families and knows there’s truth in the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Molly has three daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, taking trips to the library, reading, cooking and scuba diving.
About Our Church Community
Our school offers a non-doctrinal program. While we have a close relationship – a partnership, really – with Shepherd of the Hills United Church of Christ, we are not a school that offers religious education. We do learn about religious traditions of the world and invite our families to share their diverse experiences.
Much of the school’s philosophy ﬁts comfortably within the theology of the church; both celebrate diversity, individual creativity and offer a place where people – young and old – are accepted wherever they are on life’s journey. The school beneﬁts greatly from the decades-long stewardship from the greater Shepherd Community and the unique partnership we’ve created to benefit children.
About Our Unique Parents and Families
THE HILLS SCHOOL AND ATELIER is progressive by choice; only a handful of similar classrooms exist in Phoenix. In order to keep the philosophy strong, enrollment in the school implies an acknowledgement that THE HILLS SCHOOL AND ATELIER is unique by purposeful design. Adults choosing to be involved with the school are expected to be well-informed, accepting of the philosophical beneﬁts for young children and able to articulate the difference to others.
Unique schools sometimes fail with pressure to “water down” the very things that make the school progressive. While we actively seek input from parents and value their rich contributions to the learning community, we are at the same time proactive and steady in protecting our Reggio Emilia-inspired philosophy and our long history of our play- and project-based approach and Developmentally-Appropriate Practices as outlined by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. We are not a daycare or a generic, traditional preschool. Rather, our families enroll because they’ve researched the unique distinctions of early childhood education and they entrust us to provide exactly what we’ve promised in terms of child development and philosophy. Put another way, our families are drawn to this unique learning environment based on the latest brain research and ways in which early childhood data tells us that children learn best; not solely because we offer an affordable private school education in Arcadia’s beautiful, convenient locale.
Our educators are guided by the very same early learning standards that all Arizona preschools use, but we get there a different way. We nurture and develop our students’ creativity, experiential learning, open-ended thinking and intrinsic motivation – skills which, studies unfortunately repeatedly tell us, disappear in most children as they progress through traditional academia. Our students are ready for all styles of schools when they leave us, and with the ownership they take early on in their own intellect, we believe they have a positive foundation for the world beyond.
We continue to appreciate the support of our diverse and highly-informed families as well as the outpouring of academic encouragement from Arizona’s Universities and Colleges of Education surrounding this extraordinary philosophy for young children.