Donna Denette comes to Children First with an eclectic background which includes mission work in both Colombia and rural Kentucky (and more recently South Carolina), an undergrad degree in English and Sec. Ed (with minors in Religion and Philosophy), a Master’s in English Lit, a teaching certification, a passion for languages and world travel, a tenure as a residential camp director, a volunteer position as a “Visitor” for the American Camping Association, a position as School-Age Program Director, more than 17 years of day care administration, and a life-long dedication to teaching and to helping children. She finds that she uses a little bit of all of that everyday! Donna was one of the co-founders of Children First 16 years ago. The Board of Directors named Donna as Executive Director of the company in the spring of 2001. She works with the Leadership Team to run the day-to-day business of the company. She is also responsible for the long-term plans, which resulted in the successful expansion of the center in 2010. While other centers were closing or reducing their offerings, Children First continued to grow. Miss Donna brings her organizational talents, problem-solving skills, and writing abilities to her post. While most of her time is spent in mundane issues like budgets, long-term planning, licensing, scheduling, and slot management, she loves to create newsletters, first-day collages, and Parent Night DVD’s (as well as update our Facebook page!!) that showcase how fabulous our staff and programs are and continue to be.
How long have you been with Children First: Co-Created the company in 1999
What is your role at CF: Executive Director
Favorite Quote: “If there is no wind, Row!”
Favorite Book: Oh, so many… from my personal life – Outlander & Mists of Avalon… from work: The Dance of Interaction & Last Child in the Woods.
What is your 5 year Children First Goal: Complete Expansion II, get solar on our roof, open a nature/play-based Kindergarten
Heather Cruz grew up in Granby and was educated in the Granby public schools. She worked for several years at Six Flags New England, and rapidly rose to the level of supervisor there. Heather has been with us since March, 2005, has her Associates in Early Childhood Education, and is Director II certified. Being qualified to work in any position in any of our programs, Miss Heather subs and covers breaks whenever and wherever necessary. Heather primarily works in our office, assisting Miss Donna in the demands of running the business. She handles all accounts payable/receivable and is in charge of billing—so all Q’s about accounts can be directed to her. Her contributions to the office have been tremendous. We wonder how we ever did it without her!! Heather and her husband, Juan, have just celebrated their 1 year anniversary and have a son together named Kingston. He is the love of their lives. We have enjoyed watching him grow as he is now in the Maple Room. Heather enjoys camping, line dancing and vacationing at different places.
SCHOOL AGE PROGRAM COORDINATOR
Erica Pease has been with us since December, 2004 and became an EEC-certified preschool lead teacher by completing coursework at a community college and then at the Elms College. She received her supervised training experience here at Children First. She has her Bachelor’s degree from UMASS—Amherst and is Director II certified! Like Miss Heather, Erica is qualified to work in any position in any of our programs. Miss Erica wears many hats here at CF: working to support CF’s administrative functions, teaching in the Birch Room, and overseeing our School Age Programs (Before School at West St., After School at West and here in our Willow Room, and all of the other care days: curriculum, snow, vacation and our amazing summer program!).“Miss Erica” is much loved by all of the children, who compete for her attentions. She is a quick learner, gentle and compassionate, and wonderful with the kids. More often than not, you’ll see her right down on the ground with the kids or playing Hide-and-Seek or making forts! She is a wonderful asset to the CF family and is adding her special touch to our Leadership Team!Three years ago, Erica married Dan Pease (of DPR fame!!), after 9 years together (Congratulations!!). She loves to be outside, especially in the summer. She likes spending time with Dan and their dog Kaya and her many friends and family.
How long have you been with Children First: 12 years
What is your DEEC Certificate: Director II
What is your role at CF: School Age Coordinator and Preschool Lead Teacher
Favorite Quote: “All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” -Tinkerbell-
Favorite Book: The Hobbit
What is your 5 year Children First Goal: Move Forward on expansion 2. Design an amazing space for school ages children that allows them to use their imagination and provokes learning in a way that is different from school.
Kimberly Marsh is the Preschool Coordinator as well as the “Lead” Lead Teacher in Maple—with our oldest preschoolers. She grew up in Granby and was educated in the Granby Schools. She has been with Children First since the spring of 2001, working at CF while attending college. Kimberly received her Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from Westfield State University and is Director II certified. Kimberly represents our preschool team (and our Maple team) as a member of our Leadership Team. When she is not working, Kimberly spends time with her family and friends. She lives up in Sunderland, where she shares her apartment with her two cats, Oliver and Clea. She enjoys going to Maine for vacations, reading suspense novels, collecting different trinkets, and writing stories. Those of us who have worked side by side with Kimberly for the past fourteen years know that we are fortunate to have such a dedicated teacher and Program Coordinator at Children First.
How long have you been with Children First: 15 Years
What is your role at CF: Pre- Coordinator
Favorite Quote: “Hope’ is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – and sings the tune without the words – and never stops – AT ALL. -Emily Dickinson
Favorite Book: Acheron By: Sherrilyn Kenyon
What is your 5 year Children First Goal: To get greater as we get bigger!
SUPPORT SERVICES COORDINATOR
Beckie Leone worked with CF for more than four years as a substitute educator (both short and long-term) as well as being a regular opener/closer with both our preschool and school-age programs. During this same time, she worked as a special education therapy assistant with the South Hadley school system. When the full-time “Lead” lead teacher position opened in Birch last year, Beckie took the opportunity to become a full-time part of our teaching team. From her years of experience supporting children with special needs, Beckie brought a great deal of talent, knowledge, and a fresh approach to our team. She is trained and certified in both preschool and school-age programs, making her a valuable asset. Her bright and positive outlook is contagious, and staff and children alike are drawn to her. She quickly embraced her role as “Team Leader”. Miss Beckie has also been working with the Team Leaders at CF to develop a more coordinated response when children need support services. Given her training and experience with children with special needs, we have developed a new position at CF. Please welcome Miss Beckie to her new role as “Support Services Coordinator”! We are working with Beckie now to further develop the job description and expectations, but we know that she is the right person to help us better respond when a child needs further supports to be successful. Beckie lives in South Hadley with her son (who also works for CF!) and her fiancé. She loves to read, and really loves her family time. Her new passion is planning her upcoming wedding.
How long have you been with Children First: 5 1/2 years
What is your DEEC Certificate: Lead Teacher (Waiting on my Director I certificate to come in)
What is your role at CF: Lead Teacher in the Birch Room / Support Services Coordinator
Favorite Quote: “Some of the most wonderful people are the ones who don’t fit into boxes”
“If a child cannot learn in the way we teach, we must teach in a way the child can learn”
Favorite Book: Green Eggs and Ham – Dr. Seuss
What is your 5 year Children First Goal: Solid Support Services Resources and Program