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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. The ratio in the Twos class is 4 to 1. 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

Joan White - Director

Joan White has dedicated the past thirty-nine 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 four granddaughters.

Leslie Watts

Leslie Watts - Teacher (Room 26) and Assistant Director

Leslie has been teaching at First United Church Nursery School since September 1992. From 2005 to 2012, she also served as a Professional Development Leader for The Collaboration for Early Childhood Care and Education, where she developed and executed 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

Priscilla Nied - Administrative Assistant

Priscilla has worked at First United Church Nursery School since 1991 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, one wonderful daughter-in-law and a granddaughter.

Heidi Bell

Heidi Bell - Teacher (Room 21)

Heidi is returning for her fourteenth 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.”

Tisa Biswas

Tisa Biswas - Assistant Teacher (Room 23)

Tisa is in her fourteenth 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) and taught for three years at Singing Winds School. Tisa and her husband have one son.

Susan Gittings

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 and two grandchildren, both First United alums. The wonderful family feel of the staff is what Susan most enjoys about teaching at First United.

Marybeth Mullin

Marybeth Mullin - Assistant Teacher (Room 24)

Marybeth has been a teaching assistant at First United Church Nursery School since 1998. 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. Marybeth has attended Eastern Illinois University and has one adult 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.”

Sheila Oravec

Sheila Oravec - Assistant Teacher (Room 25 and Lunch Bunch)

Sheila Oravec has been an Assistant Teacher at First United Church Nursery School since 1999. She received a Bachelor of Science 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 is the mother of three sons. In teaching, Sheila most enjoys how the children “put a smile on my face everyday.”

Barbara Reed

Barbara Reed - Teacher (Room 25 and Lunch Bunch)

Barbara Reed began her teaching career at First United in 2002. 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.”

Iris Mahone

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 worked in the corporate world for some time, but her first love is working with young children. Iris is excited to be a part of the First United staff.

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Anna Marcano - Assistant Teacher (Two-Year-Olds)

Anna Marcano was welcomed to the First United staff September 2013 as the Assistant Teacher in the Two-Year-Old class. Anna has a B.A. in Urban Studies. She loves spending time with her daughter and has also worked with children as part of a homeschooling group. Anna greatly enjoys the emerging skills of twos.

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Portia Ebert - Teacher (Room 20)

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 were delighted to have Portia return to the staff in September 2012.

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Christopher Nied - Teacher (Room 24)

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 in April 2012. 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 in his classes throughout the course of the school year.

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Katharine Thurman - Assistant Teacher (Alpha Club)

Katharine Thurman is a graduate of Point Park College in Pittsburgh, PA with a BA in theater arts. She has been a Girl Scout leader for 12 years, teaches Church School at First United and was Executive Director of Schola Children’s Choir for five years. She brings a wealth of experience in theater, music and dance to her work in the Alpha Club classroom. Her family includes three daughters.

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Stacey Duncan - Assistant Teacher (Room 20)

Stacey Duncan joined the staff of First United School in September 2015, working in the Fours class in Room 20. Stacey has a BA in English Literature and an Elementary Teaching certificate from Madonna University. She has taught second and third grades in Bloomfield Hills and in Detroit, Michigan. Since moving to Oak Park she has provided child care to the children of District 97 teachers and is excited to be back in the classroom. Stacey has two sons.

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Erin Lucas - Assistant Teacher (Room 26)

Erin Lucas joined the First United staff September, 2014. She has a BS in Dietetics from Miami (Ohio) University and a MS in Nutrition from Rush University. Erin’s two daughters are First United alums. Erin served on the Nursery School Board of Directors during her daughter’s years at FUNS. Erin enjoys running, reading and playing tennis.

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Ann Bell - Assistant Teacher (Room 25 and Lunch Bunch)

Ann Bell joined the staff of First United in January 2014. She has a BS in elementary education from Indiana University and taught elementary school in Chicago Public Schools for nine years. She also has been a Sunday School teacher and Bible School teacher for a number of years and co-directed the Christmas Pageant at First Pres in River Forest for ten years. She, her husband and four children and live in Oak Park.

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Laura Lever - Teacher (Room 23)

Laura Lever joined the First United staff as a substitute teacher in 2015 and became a teacher of our three-year-olds beginning September, 2016. Laura has 10 years of preschool teaching experience prior to First United and many years of teaching Sunday School. Laura is a graduate of William and Mary with a BA in Psychology and a M. Ed. in Special Education. The Lever household is busy with 2 daughters, a son and 2 dogs to keep Laura and her husband busy. Laura loves the beach and the mountains, neither of which are found in Illinois, but we are certainly glad that Laura is here and a part of the FUNS staff.

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Lisa Michels Kozicki - Teacher (Two-Year-Olds)

Lisa Kozicki has a rich history with First United. Her two daughters are alumni and she was a substitute teacher for two years. In September 2016, Lisa became a co-teacher in our Twos classes. Lisa previously student taught kindergarten, taught in a family program at the Art Institute of Chicago and has several years experience in conducting research in the field of parenting and family. Her BA is in Liberal studies with minors in Anthropology and Sociology and she has an MS in Human Development and Family Studies. Her spare time activities include swimming, hiking, biking, kayaking, reading and Yoga.

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Hannah O’Connor - Teacher (Room 26)

Hannah O’Connor is the parent of two First United alumni and a welcome addition to our staff beginning September, 2016. Hannah has a BA in Psychology and an MA in Social Work. She has several years teaching experience in Headstart/Evenstart and Migrant Headstart, both in Oregon. In recent years she has supervised and mentored Social Work interns at the University of Chicago. Hannah and her family love to travel. Her motto is ,”Be the change you want to see in the world.”

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Connie Hill - Teacher (Two-Year-Olds)

Connie Hill joined the First United staff September, 2016, with a wealth of experience, including teaching in preschool, first, second and third grades, all in Chicago Public Schools; teaching Head Start three years at the National Teachers Academy and teaching toddler and preschool music at the Steckman Studio of Music. Connie was nominated for a Golden Apple Award in 2002. She has a BA in Early Childhood Education from National-Louis University and an MA in Instructional Leadership from Concordia University. Connie and her husband have a son and two daughters.