Staff

Sarah Besse
Co-Founder Executive Director 

Sarah is passionate about developing innovative early education opportunities that engage the whole child and that foster joy and creativity.  To achieve this goal, she draws on experiences that have taught her to value a deep connection to nature as essential for the well-being of individuals, communities, and our planet. Sarah's work at BOPN is also driven by research showing the benefits of extended time in nature for young children: deep appreciation for our environment; better agility, balance, and coordination; more imaginative forms of play; stress reduction; and improvements in confidence, social skills, language, motivation, concentration, resiliency, and critical thinking.  Previously, she taught at a Montessori preschool and reimagined the boat building program at a Boston public school.  

Moving forward, Sarah is excited to start new programs and to partner with public schools to make nature-based early ed accessible to more children.  

 

Sarah has Montessori certification, a Masters of Science in Early Childhood Education from Wheelock College, and a B.A. in history from Carleton College.

Shela Sinelien

Shela Sinelien
Co-Founder  

With over ten years of experience as an early childhood teacher, Shela brings joy and warmth to her teaching.  She builds on each child’s unique strengths and interests while creating a strong sense of community.  Her nurturing guidance began in 2007 at MGH Children's Center, where she taught children ages 3 through 14.  In 2011 she started as an infant, toddler, and preschool teacher at Bright Horizons; in 2015, she managed a staff of 25 teachers as Interim Director.  During that time, Shela also earned her Bachelor of Science in Child Studies from Lesley University with a specialization in Children with Special Needs.  For the past four years, Shela has taught children with and without disabilities at a Cambridge public school and earned her Masters of Science in Early Childhood Education from Wheelock College of Education at Boston University.

Shela’s love of nature is rooted in her childhood in the countryside of Haiti, playing and learning on the farm and in the forest with her four sisters.  On weekends, you can find Shela singing at church services and spending time with her husband Kesnel, two-year-old son Jaeden, and baby Kesllah. 

Sara Murray
Co-Founder  

Sara is a seasoned educator with a variety of experiences in Early Childhood and Elementary programs in upstate New York, where she grew up, and the greater Boston area where she has lived for almost 25 years.  Sara holds a Bachelor's degree in Elementary and Special Education, and a Master's in Reading Education.  After teaching in public schools in NY and MA, Sara got her Montessori certification and spent five years teaching in area Montessori schools.  She worked at a local independent school as the Coordinator of Early Childhood and an Admissions Associate for three years before transitioning back to the classroom where she worked for six years as a First Grade teacher.  In the summer of 2018, Sara worked at the Nature Explorer Summer Camp at Temple Shalom in Newton and for the summer of 2019, she worked at the Allandale Farm Summer Program in Brookline. Sara has attended many conferences and workshops on nature-based learning and the importance of child-directed play. 

 

Sara loves spending time with her husband, teenage son, three cats, and one dog.  She loves animals, nature, and traveling to new places.

 

Click here for Teacher Spotlight interview with Sara Murray.

Advisors 

Advisors

Board of Directors

Chelsea Shepherd
Lead Preschool Teacher & Business Manager
Wellesley Program

Board of Directors

Board of Directors

Vanessa Niro

Lead Preschool Teacher

Arboretum Location

Vanessa has been teaching in the early childhood field since 2013, holds an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education from UMass Boston, and most recently worked at a nature-based parent cooperative school in the Boston area. She has experience working in public, private, and Head Start centers in roles including teaching (infants, toddlers, and preschoolers), mentoring, and coaching. In the evenings, she works as a workshop facilitator and coach for StrongStart, the state professional development network, where she supports educators and early childhood programs to incorporate more outdoor learning. 

Along with nature-based learning, Vanessa is passionate about using mindfulness with young children to support social-emotional development, emergent curriculum, and reflecting on anti-bias practices in her daily work. Vanessa enjoys integrating her hobbies of art and music each day with children. She is very excited to continue to grow as an educator at BOPN!

Alexandra Reilinger
Lead Afterschool Teacher
 Arboretum Location

Alie grew up in Boston just a few blocks from the Arboretum and has spent many happy hours there walking her dog, biking up Bussey hill, and reading among the conifers. Once learning that there was a preschool program based in this magical place, Alie knew she had to be involved! Alie has a passion for education as well as the environment, and so teaching at BOPN is the perfect mix of the two.

 

Alie is excited to give children the curiosity and wonder-driven early education they deserve. With a strong natural biology background as well as a personal love for the outdoors, Alie uses her own passion to inspire children.

 

Alie has been teaching at BOPN since September 2020.  Before that, she taught a farm-based environmental and food justice program in Poughkeepsie, NY, bringing students outside into the garden to learn about farming and fresh vegetables. She’s also worked as an educator at the New England Aquarium, done public outreach and fieldwork for Cape Cod National Seashore, and taught English and leadership skills to Japanese exchange students.  Alie received a BA in Biology from Vassar College.

Teri Torchia
Lead Preschool Teacher &
Internship Program Manager

Arboretum Location

Teri grew up near Boston and spent her early years exploring the vast forest in her backyard, where she spent hours discovering flora and fauna and engaging in imaginative play with friends. It was magical! This planted the seed for a lifelong interest in and passion for nature.  As a teacher, Teri is committed to sharing her passion with her young students and learning along with them. She hopes to nurture the same love and respect she has for the natural world and our planet.


Teri believes firmly in the importance of play and child-centered learning. As a constructivist teacher, she has always advocated for inquiry-based learning. With a deep respect for each child as a unique individual, she aims to allow them to pursue their interests and to support them in developing important skills along the way.
Teri has many years of experience as an early childhood educator in diverse settings and in a variety of roles including classroom teacher, early childhood coach, curriculum developer, and preschool director.

 

She holds a B.A.in Elementary Education and Psychology from the University of Lowell, and an M.Ed. in Child Study from Tufts University. She is licensed as an Early Childhood Teacher and an Elementary Teacher and has worked for public schools in Medford, Cambridge, Boston and Chelsea. She also taught in Oxford, England for four years, where outdoor learning is highly valued and where she and her daughter participated in Forest Schools.


Teri lives with her husband, daughter, two dogs and a cat. In her free time she likes to travel, ski, and swim in the ocean.

Ellen Houle

Lead Preschool Teacher

Wellesley Program

Ellen has 15 years of experience working in the Early Childhood Education field as
both an educator and as an administrator in Virginia. Ellen grew up in the greater
Boston area then graduated college from Goucher College in Baltimore Maryland
with a Bachelor’s degree in Developmental Psychology and an emphasis in Studio Art. 

 

She moved to Charlottesville, Virginia after college and took a job with Westminster
Child Care Center. Over her 14 years tenure there, she worked to build and head the Reggio Emilia project work inspired curriculum for the infant, 2s, 3s, 4s, and Pre-K classrooms. In 2002, she developed a 12-week summer program that was a Reggio inspired outdoor program for all graduating Kindergarteners. As the program developed, the children were able to take daily outdoor adventures in and around Charlottesville.  Over the years she trained teachers in the Reggio inspired
curriculum, then was promoted to the administration in 2010. Ellen spent the next 6 years as an Administrator of Early Education programs and then as their
Executive Director. Her background in Early Childhood inspired her to develop the first outdoor classroom in Charlottesville. All the materials for the outdoor classroom were donated from local friends, neighbors and businesses to help develop the child-centered environment for all ages. She also served as a board member for the local NAEYC chapter, CVAEYC, for 6 years. 

Ellen has a great love of nature; spending most of her last six years working on small family owned vineyard learning about viticulture and vinifera. She enjoys her free time working in her garden, running marathons, and hiking with her boyfriend Jonathan and their dog Colt.

Sarah Satgunam
Director of Admissions
 

Sarah first came to the organization as parent of a BOPN preschooler. She fell in love with the BOPN model through witnessing her daughter’s "magical" experience in the Wellesley half-day program. BOPN helped her learn how to equip her kids for more outside time, even on the coldest and rainiest of days! Ultimately, Sarah was inspired to use her diverse experience in clinical social work, training, research, and higher education administration to support the growth of the organization and make the BOPN experience accessible to more families.

 

As a mom, Sarah is especially passionate about supporting preschool parents and fostering a sense of community amongst BOPN staff, families, and local organizations. Sarah holds a BA from New York University and an MSW from Boston University, and she maintains an independent clinical social work license in the state of Massachusetts. In her spare time, she enjoys walking the “fairy trail” near her house with her family, learning to garden, and listening to podcasts on topics including child development, design thinking, behavioral economics, and integrative approaches to health and wellness. 

Charlie Mahaffie
Lead Preschool Teacher
Wellesley Program

Charlie grew up in NW Washington D.C. As a child he would spend hours running through the forests of Rock Creek Park, biking along the C&O Canal and Potomac River, and learning about flora
and fauna while hiking all over the country with his parents and older brother.  Since nature was such an important and influential part of his childhood, he is thrilled to participate in opportunities
for more children to immerse themselves in an outdoor educational environment.


Charlie discovered his interest in teaching and environmental education while attending Eckerd College on the Gulf Coast of Florida. While earning a Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies, he had the opportunity to experience and lead outdoor and interest-based educational events at a local nature preserve.  Charlie also worked with several school groups in Puerto Rico while volunteering at a permaculture farm in Las Marias. Since then, outdoor education has become a passion, motivating him to learn more about the field as his love for it grows more with each day.


Charlie started at BOPN in July 2020 and is excited to be part of the new full-day teaching team at the Wellesley location.  Outside of work, Charlie enjoys biking, paddle boarding, hiking, and exploring natural spaces across Massachusetts.

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Chris Novak

Chris brings her experience fueling great teams doing ground-breaking work for leading brands, companies, universities and non-profits. She’s led top-level strategy, branding and communications for clients ranging from AT&T to Harvard University to the start-up of NPR’s StoryCorps.
Chris has an MBA from Harvard and a BA from Yale.

Board of Directors

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Bill Brinkman

Bill has spent his career building, investing in, and advising businesses.  He currently leads a healthcare investment firm.  In his free time Bill enjoys hiking, fishing, and grilling.

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Hannah Sheridan

Hannah's passion is working with young children in creative, educational, and therapeutic ways.  She believes a child’s development, potential, and understanding of the world is driven by natural curiosity, built upon by exploration and experience, and unleashed through unhindered creativity. She explores this earth with an open mind, a caring heart, and sense of adventure. 

Advisors

  • Susan Chlebowski, Montessorian and expert in nature-based early ed

Traci McCubbin
Lead Preschool Teacher
Arboretum Location

Traci was born in Ohio and some of her fondest childhood memories are of being outside. She enjoyed sports, exploring her family’s hobby farm of 30 acres, spending her summers camping in Oklahoma with her maternal grandparents, and visiting her paternal grandparents’ farm in Texas.  The outdoors have always been a place of calm, wonder, and adventure for Traci.  

 

Traci and her husband moved to Massachusetts in 2005.  They have enjoyed raising their family in New England and taking in the many natural wonders from the ocean to the forest. When their children were toddlers, some of their favorite times were spent puddle jumping and observing the many slugs and snails that appeared after a good rain.  Traci realized early on that spending time with her children outside helped her connect with them more intentionally and helped foster their sense of wonder. Now, her 14 and 11 year old children still love connecting with nature and taking on bigger explorations and adventures.  Hiking together has also allowed them to more comfortably navigate delicate conversations.  

 

Traci earned her Masters in Community Development and Planning at Clark University.  She has most recently worked in higher education directing a college transition program.  Previously, she worked to support the youth of the Cambridge Housing Authority through professional development and life skills based programs.  She has over 19 years of experience working with children, youth, and families. Traci is passionate about researching the learning about the brain, and helping others discover emotional regulation techniques to live life more compassionately and fully.  

Emily O'Keefe
Lead Afterschool Teacher
Arboretum Location

Emily grew up exploring the woods of Southeastern Massachusetts: building forts, making mud pies, and climbing trees. She loves sharing her curiosity and wonder about the natural world with children and is committed to supporting learners in an environment that honors play, discovery, and community. 

 

Emily is a graduate student at Antioch University, pursuing a Master’s degree in nature-based early childhood education. She has experience working with young people in a variety of ways, including as a farm-based educator, youth mentor, nanny, substitute teacher, and ESL teacher in Korea. She has a B.A. in Philosophy and Spanish from Suffolk University. 

 

In her free time, Emily is involved in climate-justice organizing and loves to read, explore new places on her bicycle, and experiment in the kitchen.

Julia Sappenfield

Lead Preschool Teacher

Wellesley Location

Growing up outside Hamburg, Germany, many of Julia's happiest memories were of being outside.  She spent her days running around with the neighbor kids inventing games, playing in the mud, or building things with wood.  They would throw sticks into a nearby stream to see which one went the fastest. Being outside made her who she is, teaching her fair play, independence, cooperation and imagination.
 
As a lead preschool teacher for three years at the German International School of
Boston, Julia saw the same things. When the children were outside, they were completely different – more active, more open to discovery, more relaxed, curious, and excited.  That’s why she joined Boston Outdoor Preschool Network. After years spent in other fields – hospitality, event management, and coordinating au pairs from all over the world – she had her own kids and loved playing with them. Whether it’s arts and crafts, singing, or just being silly, it felt meaningful. Now they’re older – and she still hasn’t grown
up!
 
Julia believes that children always have something to say if you give them a chance and listen. They’re geniuses, and comedians, and amazing problem-solvers. Combining all these things at BOPN is the fulfillment of her life’s work – and also just the beginning.  She looks forward to each day, learning from the children and watching them grow in nature, where they can find out who they are and see firsthand the remarkable world they’re inheriting.

Julia is a certified nature-based teacher and Forest School teacher.

Lu Agosti
Lead Preschool Teacher
Arboretum Location

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania with woods and water as their playground, Lu grew to love the outdoors. They first fell in love with nature-based early childhood education at Buffalo Valley Recreation Authority Nature School, where they learned about Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf pedagogies.  This experience was life-changing as Lu knew they had found their true path.  Most recently, Lu was the Activities and Program Coordinator at Lewisberg Children's Museum. 


Through their experiences as an early childhood educator and a nanny, Lu notices that when children are offered the opportunity to participate in child-led play, their imaginations wander in the best ways, and they see the world in ways that adults often forget. In this environment of child-directed play and learning, children develop a sense of agency and independence. They see this as the essential experience of childhood, for it nurtures a child’s curiosity, joy and desire to learn.  Lu believes that small humans are capable of really big things, and that children are so much more creative, capable and resilient than adults give them credit for.  Their passion for children and the pedagogies that best support their development have given them a desire to support children to explore and experience the natural world within a safe and encouraging environment while learning in their own ways.

Lu joined BOPN in September 2020 and is currently teaching summer program with Charlie.  She will teach school year 2021-22 with Vanessa.

Chelsea Shepherd
Lead Preschool Teacher & Business Manager
Wellesley Location

Chelsea grew up in upstate New York, spending summers in the Adirondacks. While nature was always a huge part of her life, it was on annual trips to Cape Cod that she found her passion for Environmental Education. 

 

Chelsea went to Stonehill College, where she majored in Environmental Science with a focus on Marine Science and minored in business. After graduating in 2014, Chelsea moved to Boston and spent the past six years working at the New England Aquarium. As a Program Education Specialist, she educated the public about marine life.  Some days she traveled to schools throughout New England to provide hands-on experiences with marine life.  Other days she taught Sea Squirts, a parent-child program for children ages 2-4.  She also worked with local schools to design outdoor field experiences full of hands-on exploration.  Teaching these programs gave Chelsea a passion for early education and the importance of student-led exploration in nature.

 

In December of 2019 Chelsea received her Masters of Teaching in Conservation Biology from Miami University. Through this program she studied inquiry-based teaching, community-based conservation, and environmental stewardship.  She traveled to Belize to study manatee, tapir, yellow-headed parrot, and coral conservation, Australia to study the Great Barrier reef, and Paraguay to immerse herself in a community working on Environmental Education and Eco-Leadership. 

Chelsea has been teaching and managing BOPN's back-end operations since September 2020.

Daisha Toomer
Preschool Teacher
Arboretum Location

Growing up in Boston, Daisha spent a lot of time exploring with her cousins. She would often excitedly search for new critters under rocks and play in the mud,
pretending to cook with whatever she could find.  Her fondest childhood memories took place outside, enjoying herself and creating things in her environment.  These cherished times outdoors inspired her to join BOPN in summer 2021.


Daisha graduated high school from Dana Hall in spring 2021 and will start at Northeastern University in the fall.  She plans to major in psychology in order to become a clinical psychologist for children. 

 

Daisha first started working with children in 2018, when she volunteered to mentor a group of third graders at a school in Framingham. She continued to volunteer at the school for three years, and has also previously worked at a summer school with kindergarten children.


In her free time Daisha loves to stay busy and is often on the go.  She appreciates spending quality time with her family and especially her younger cousins.  She also enjoys reading and hanging out with friends.

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