Staff

SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION

Berna Artis, Head of School

Berna holds a BA in English Language Teaching and an MA in Early Childhood Education. She has been dedicated to the field of education for more than 20 years, having held various roles and taught middle and high school students prior to her work in early childhood education. Berna is a strong advocate for equity in education and has served as a trainer, presenter, board member, and facilitator for various non-profit organizations, including the District of Columbia Association for the Education of Young Children (DCAEYC), and has taken part in a workgroup for NAEYC initiative “Power to the Profession”. She believes in lifelong learning and in cherishing each other’s experiences.

Brian Palazzolo, Operations Specialist

Brian is originally from the Boston area.  He has spent the past 4 years in DC getting his undergraduate degree at the George Washington University. In the last two years of his time in DC, he has worked in various capacities related to the Early Childhood Education field including his work with the Council for Professional Recognition.  Brian is passionate about social justice and education issues. He enjoys hiking and reading. 

Sabina Zeffler

Sabina is from the coastal town of Bremen, Germany, where she lived most of her life. She was born in Calcutta, India, where she spent her early childhood. She studied in Germany and received a degree in occupational therapy. She has worked with children with special needs, ages three to ten years old in private practice and in preschools. Sabina joined the School for Friends staff in Spring of 2003. She has earned her CDA credential. In her spare time, she loves to spend lots of time with her son Laurence and enjoys literature and yoga as well as art and painting.

RED PANDAS, 18 month olds

Le'Irene Kirkland, Lead Teacher

 Le’Irene is from Queens, NY but also grew up in North Carolina. She has been living in Washington, DC for the last 21 years. She began working with children 18 years ago and acquired her Bachelor’s degree in Education/Early Childhood Education from the University of Phoenix in 2020.  

 Le’Irene is very family oriented and really enjoys the time she spends with her loved ones.  In her free time, she likes reading, touring the city attractions, and crocheting.

LaJuan Celey, Co-Teacher

LaJuan was born and raised in Washington, DC and attended DC public schools. After High School, she completed nearly two years of education at the University of the District of Columbia with a concentration in the nursing department. She worked at First Baptist Child Care Center for two years. LaJuan accepted the position at School for Friends in 1986. She would like to pursue further education in the teaching field. She has also participated in multiple workshops over the years and she received her CDA credential. LaJuan is married and is the proud mother of three children, Jamar, Daevon and Jacqueline.

LEATHERBACK TURTLES, Two Year Olds

Jemmael Joseph, Lead Teacher

Jemmael was born and raised on the island of Dominica. She moved to the United States in 2009. Initially residing in New York, Jemmael moved to Washington, DC and earned an AA in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from Montgomery College. She currently holds a BA in Early Childhood Education from Trinity Washington University. She joined the School for Friends community in 2013 where she worked with the young twos for two years. Then, she worked in the Butterflies classroom with the 2 1/2-year-olds as the Assistant Teacher. She is married and has an amazing daughter who is an alumnus of the school. In her spare time, she enjoys spending quality time with her family, collecting collectible toys, and watching TED Talks. She has developed an interest in photography and videography.

EUNICE O’BRIEN, CO-TEACHER

Eunice comes from La Paz-Bolivia, one of the highest cities in the world. She holds a CDA Certificate in addition to a Degree in General Accounting. She has worked for over 13 years in the Emergency Child Care Center at Fannie Mae, which served roughly about 735 children ranging from 6 months to 13 years old. Most of her experience has been with special needs children. Eunice is interested in Agriculture specifically in Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

L’ERIN NELSON, CO-TEACHER

L’erin grew up in Clinton, Maryland. She has always had a passion for teaching young children. She began her journey into Early Childhood Education in high school where she took child growth and development classes. After high school, she attended the College of Southern Maryland where she obtained her Associates in Early Childhood Education. She has been working with infants and toddlers since 2015. During her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends.

MONARCH BUTTERFLIES (TWO-YEAR-OLDS)

Jacqueline Whiting, Lead Teacher

Jackie was an assistant teacher in the Blue Room from 1984 to 1991. Between 1991 and 1993 she worked at Just Us Kids as a floater and as a teacher coordinator. She also was a certified childcare provider in her home for 11 months. She completed her Child Development Associate credential in 1991. She worked at First Baptist Church Child Care Center during the 1983-1984 school year. She holds a certification in childcare from the Logan Community School. She earned her AA Degree in early childhood education on May 13, 2006.

Tanisha Whitaker, Co-Teacher

Tanisha is a Washington DC native who attended and graduated from Bell Multicultural High School. She is currently in school for billing and coding and a nurse administrative assistant. Her hobbies include walking trails with her dog, reading and even though she’s not very good at it, drawing pictures. Tanisha is currently enrolled in CDA courses in order to obtain her Child Development Associate credential.de fishing and reading a good book.

EAGLES (THREE TO FIVE-YEAR-OLDS)

VICKI DEVINS, LEAD TEACHER

Vicki has a Master of Arts in Education from George Washington University. Over the past ten years working in early childhood, Vicki has been granted the opportunity to use her creativity, energy, and enthusiasm to create “rich” learning environments for young children. As an educator, Vicki enjoys working with children of different strengths and capabilities. As a strong advocate for Early Childhood Education, she firmly believes young children flourish in environments that value play, encourage self-advocacy, and are accepting of differences. Her motto is “There is more than one way to do things.” Vicki loves traveling, taking walks, spending time with family, watching documentaries, and learning about the breeds of dogs. 

Elsy Blanco, Multi-Age Co-Teacher

Elsy was born in El Salvador. She came to the US at age fifteen and finished high school here. After that, she took English and Computer courses to polish her skills. In 2002, she took the 90-hour course in early childhood education. Two years later, she received her child development associate (CDA) bilingual credential. She started working with RCIS (Rock Creek International School) in 2001 as a bus driver, assistant teacher, and summer school Spanish teacher until 2007. Elsy has worked with young children at all ages. She is married and has two beautiful daughters, Emily and Valeria. She loves to spend time with her family. Her hobbies include fishing and reading a good book.

SEALIONS (THREE TO FIVE-YEAR-OLDS)

Makai Kellogg, Lead Teacher and Equity and Diversity Coordinator

Makai attended D.C. Public Schools until she began high school at Sidwell Friends School. Makai graduated from Trinity Washington University with a Masters of Art in Early Childhood Education in December 2010 after completing Trinity University’s undergraduate program with a B.A. in History. She completed her student teaching requirements in the Quaker House classroom. She is the Head of Nursery at Friends Meeting of Washington where she has been providing childcare for over a decade. Makai has a strong interest in international affairs, social justice, and anti-racism work. She also created and leads the Parents of Multiracial Children group at School for Friends and the school Equity and Diversity Coordinator.

Katie Gosselin Co-Teacher

Katie is from Downingtown, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Catholic University of America in May 2020 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She loves children and spending time with them.  Katie worked with young children for the the last five summers as a camp counselor and Assistant Camp Director in Pennsylvania. As an educator, she believes in contributing to the development of a high-quality early learning program that provides unique educational opportunities for children. In her spare time, Katie loves to read and spend time with her family and friends. 

TIGERS (THREE TO FIVE-YEAR-OLDS)

NATALIE SOWINSKA, LEAD TEACHER

Natalie is a native of Poland where she studied Early Childhood Development and 1st through 3rd-grade teaching at the Pedagogical University of Krakow, and transitioned to her professional assignment at Kangaroo Preschool, a local private charter school. She’s been helping families and working with children and special needs students for over a decade. She became a Certificated Instructor of Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) in 2018 and has been providing classes, coaching, and private consultation for parents, teachers, and individuals in the US and abroad. Natalie enjoys sightseeing around Washington DC, hiking, photography, and learning about different cultures.

BRITTANY MCDOWNEY, CO-TEACHER

Brittany was born and raised in Silver Spring, MD. She graduated from Frostburg State University in 2013 with a BS in Early Childhood/Elementary Education. She is certified in the state of Maryland to teach Pre-K through 6th grade. Since graduating, she has worked with young children teaching Preschool, Early Preschool, and mixed-age Pre-K. In her spare time, she enjoys music and reading.

Multi Age Co-Teacher

TARYANA WALLACE

Taryana grew up in Clinton, Maryland. She is currently pursuing an Associate degree in Business Management. She is grateful for the opportunity to help play a role in guiding the next generation of leaders and thinkers here at School For Friends. Taryana is enrolled in the CDA certificate program to continue to guide children and help them reach many milestones. Taryana enjoys music, spending time with her family, and reading.

WIWIT GRANDISON

Wiwit, has a Child Development Associate certificate in addition to a college degree in Personal Relations. She is a native of Indonesia. She has been working with infants and toddlers for more than 13 years. Wiwit shares our core values and approach to teaching young children. She loves the outdoors and is fond of hiking and running.