-~- OUR STAFF -~-
PATRICIA HUNTER MCGRATH EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR / ATELIERISTA
Patricia Hunter McGrath is the Executive Director / Atelierista of Branches Atelier in Culver City, California. Over the past 18 years she has developed an innovated early childhood program inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach. From 2005 to 2007 Patricia developed the role of the Atelierista at Bold Park Community School in Perth, Australia. From 1998 to 2005 she was the Atelierista at Evergreen Community School where she developed a unique approach to children’s symbolic languages. Using clay, wire, paint, dance, etc. children enter into relationship with the materials and express, clarify and modify their ideas and theories. She also taught at the Growing Place in Santa Monica for 7 years.
Patricia is an artist and has over 20 years experience in Early Childhood Education. Patricia has taught the Reggio Emilia Class at Santa Monica College and at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. Patricia graduated with a Masters degree in Human development from Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, California. She also speaks at conferences throughout the United States and abroad and has visited Reggio Emilia, Italy six times. She is also a contributing author of the book In the Spirit of the Atelier published by Davis Press and Insights and Inspiration from Reggio Emilia also published by Davis Press.
BECKY ZLOTOFF – ASSISTANT DIRECTOR/ TEACHER
Becky Zlotoff graduated cum laude from St John’s College, Annapolis Maryland, after receiving a unique liberal arts education.
She raised three sons and a daughter in Santa Monica and now enjoys spending time with her three granddaughters. After being a very involved parent in the Santa Monica Public Schools, she got her early childhood units from Santa Monica College.
Becky created and has taught a preschool program at Santa Monica Synagogue for more than twenty-five years. She has been a California Mentor for nine years, working in the classroom with college students, supporting the practical application of good early childhood practices.
For twelve years, she was a teacher at First Presbyterian Nursery School. In addition to attending many workshops about the Reggio Approach in the United States, she has been on two learning tours to Reggio Emilia, Italy. Becky has presented her work at many local workshops and at NAEYC. With Mary Hartzell and Ami Cohen, she co-authored the chapter “Parents As Partners” in Next Steps Toward Teaching The Reggio Way.
CHRISTINA BIANCHI - TEACHER / NATURALIST
Born in Boston, MA Christina Bianchi has been involved with education since her early teens. She took her first position as a camp counselor at Holliston Elementary Camp, an environmentally themed day camp, in Holliston, MA at the age of thirteen. There she instructed and eventually created curricula in arts, ecology, and woodworking. She went on to study fine art and public works at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston, and at Emerson College. Christina began her exploration into the Reggio Emilia philosophy at the Cididad Jardim School, in SP, Brazil in an infant immersion program, working to help recently immigrated children adjust to cultural and environmental changes. Upon returning to the US, she continued serving children while working with at-risk students transferring from schools that had lost their funding due to the NCLB act. Later, as a State-Accredited instructor for early education and elementary school, Christina tutored students with learning disabilities such as ADD, mild autism, ADHD, and visual and auditory processing disorders.
Most recently Christina worked as the Program Director for The Childrens Nature Institute bringing her passions for teaching, children and promoting environmental literacy to the agency. In addition to overseeing both the design and implementation of all new education programs and curricula; Christina also worked with Development staff on grants related to program development, managed a staff of Environmental Educators and coordinated and implemented volunteer training.
Allison Kohler – TEACHER
Allison Kohler was born in Lansing, Michigan and studied Early Childhood Education at The Ohio State University, with a minor in Women's Studies. Working with children is her passion and vocation and she has been teaching in both public and private settings for over 10 years. Her experience with Reggio-inspired education began at a non-profit in Columbus, Ohio. As a novice in her field, she was mentored by a veteran teacher and activist committed to questioning cultural norms, fostering intrinsic motivation and integrity, and nurturing the future stewards of our environment and fellow beings. This formative encounter continues to challenge and inspire her both personally and professionally.
Allison enjoys snuggling her animals, spending hours at the thrift store, and collaborating with artists and scientists of all ages. She grew up in a large family that values community involvement and service to others and volunteerism remains one of her most avid interests. You may see her around Culver City, participating in a variety of activities and events, and finding great joy in the process.
Allison is looking forward to getting to know the Branches community and eager to develop her practice in such an exceptionally innovative and socially conscious environment.
LAILA HUSSAIN – TEACHER / TODDLER ATELIERISTA
Laila Hussain received her BA from Loyola University in Chicago.
She then went on to earn her Early Childhood Education Certificate from Santa Monica College. While studying, she discovered a passion for providing children with the opportunity to truly be a child; giving them time to explore, play, wonder, make choices, feel emotions, express ideas and be loved.
Laila is very excited to be a part of The Branches Atelier community! She enjoys sharing her love of art and culture with others. Whether it be paints, clay, textiles, or natural materials, these materials inspire her to dream ideas and share colorful stories! Laila believes that art is a tool that weaves us together and at the same time allows for creative expression. It gives insight into who we are as a community and as individuals.
Being a mother of two teenagers, Laila understands what it means to be a parent. Her girls have given her so much joy and many beautiful memories to carry into the future. And, she is sure that investing in the early years of childhood creates a strong foundation for the future. One day, she hopes to give back and work with young children in the developing world.
FABIANE RIBEIRO WILSON – TEACHER
Fabiane Ribeiro Wilson is from Brazil, a big and beautiful country, shaped like a heart. Brazilians are famous for their happiness and hospitality to visitors from other countries. Family, friends, soccer, music and food play a big part in Brazilian’s lives and Fabiane’s life. She earned her BA in Communications in Brazil. Fourteen years ago, she met her husband Ethan, here in Los Angeles, and discovered her passion for being in meaningful relationship with children.
Fabiane was taking classes in Early Childhood Education at Santa Monica College, when she was offered a teaching position at Evergreen Community School. While teaching she had the pleasure of collaborating with Tricia. Together they engaged in deep, inspiring and truly memorable explorations with the children.
Fabiane is the mother of a giant boy, named Kaio, a 7 year old, who loves magic, dinosaurs and science! Embracing her roles as both parent and educator, she has been a substitute teacher at Christopher Robin Preschool. Fabiane is now ready to branch out into a new community, searching with children, parents and teachers for new ways to explore and create happiness in life!
JILL ADAMSON - Teacher
Jill Adamson grew up in the Midwest and has lived in the Northeast, South and has now happily landed in Los Angeles. After getting her MFA in Communications and Film Studies at DePauw University, Jill pursued wardrobe styling for film and photography. After some time, Jill decided that she wanted to combine her creative talents with her love of children, and decided to go back to school to get her Masters in Elementary Education at Loyola University of Chicago.
Jill became engrossed in the study of progressive education, which became her passion. Her first experience with the Reggio Emilia philosophy was during an internship at the Chicago Children's Museum, working in their art studio. There she discovered the richness of the Reggio Emilia approach, and enjoyed facilitating open-ended art projects with small groups of children and adults. Jill then got a job at a progressive Reggio inspired preschool in Richmond Virginia, where she was mentored by a master teacher. She has also worked at a Reggio inspired school in Providence Rhode Island.
In her free time she enjoys sewing projects, film, tennis and traveling. Jill is overjoyed to be a teacher at Branches! She particularly is excited to do long term investigations with the children and looks forward to being a part of the warm and caring Branches community.
SHIRLEY Seki –Teacher
Shirley Vien grew up in San Gabriel Valley as an only child in a house of adults. She graduated California State University, Northridge with a BS in Family Studies Childcare Administration.
Shirley’s desire to be an early childhood educator took root in college when she became a part of Jumpstart a non-profit literacy program. She started out as a Corp-member and gradually became the Program Associate of Jumpstart Northridge. Her passion for teaching grew along with her experience working with the children and families of low-income backgrounds in the San Fernando Valley. After college, Shirley’s experience deepened as a substitute teacher at Hope Street Friends in Downtown LA where she eventually immersed herself in infant education as an Infant Resource Teacher.
A jack of all trades and a master of some, Shirley finds pleasure in the simplest of things, from organizing a storage room to singing in traffic on her commute to Branches. She loves hiking with her fiancé and long four-legged friend, Lani. She enjoys cozy nooks, engrossing in a book, long bike rides, rain or shine, picnics, volleyball Tuesdays, and traveling to new places.
Shirley is truly grateful for the opportunity to be a part of Branches and is looking forward to enriching her journey as a teacher and parent partner here.
IWONA DZIAG – TEACHER
Iwona received her Associate degree in Child Development from Pasadena City College, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Linguistics from University of California Berkeley. Prior to joining Branches she taught at Pasadena City College Child Development Center and at the Children’s Center at Caltech in Pasadena, CA. Originally from Poland, she moved to the U.S. 10 years ago and has lived between Southern California and the Bay Area ever since.
At Caltech’s Children’s Center she practiced a Reggio inspired, science based approach to early childhood education but also helped shape the curriculum into a more eclectic program, expanding it to include a greater emphasis on a love for nature, wonder and storytelling. Recently she has been interested in implementing Froebel’s educational method into existing curricula. Her interests and passions, which include storytelling with young children, visual storytelling and the history of picture books, have led her to develop several professional workshops for early childhood educators. Iwona is thrilled to have become a part of the Branches Family and is looking forward to the new challenges and possibilities that her new journey presents.
SIVAN PERETS – TEACHER
Sivan Perets was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She has two brothers and one sister and is a proud auntie to four nephews and a niece. She has been teaching since she was 19 years old. As a long time employee at the Sunshine Shack preschool, she gained a love of learning through the Reggio approach and spent years developing and researching her practice. Sivan has also taught at Valley Beth Shalom preschool and is the assistant director at Camp Super Duper. She studied early childhood education at Los Angeles Valley College. She is certified to teach preschool aged children and infants and toddlers. She loves to take classes and workshops where she can stay current with pedagogical theory and practices. Sivan has a deep love for philanthropic work. She has spent several summers working with children in need. Most recently she visited Peru, where she supported and cared for children at local orphanages. She also volunteers her time in the States with children in need and the homeless. She loves story telling with children and is passionate about how stories help children connect and build a sense of self.
In her free time, she enjoys road trips, concerts, traveling, hiking and yoga. She is a huge motown and reggae lover! She also has a huge heart for animals and has spent time volunteering at the Wildlife Care Center in Florida. Sivan is so excited to begin her new journey and is looking forward to growing and learning at Branches.
Berenice Vallejo – TEACHER
Berenice Vallejo earned her BA Degree in Early Childhood Education from Cal State Los Angeles University. During her college years, she discovered her passion for working with children. Her teaching experiences started as a volunteer in Head Start program in East Los Angeles Occupational Center. Later she became an assistant teacher at the Vine Street and Commonwealth Elementary Schools in the LA Unified School District and then a teacher in private preschools in Downtown LA. including the Infant and Toddler Program at Hope Street Friends. While taking Reggio-inspired courses at Santa Monica College, she was a substitute teacher at Branches Atelier for a year before joining the community as a full time teacher.
Berenice was born in Mexico and immigrated to Los Angeles in her high school years. She has a 12-year-old daughter, and loves going on hikes with her, her husband, and her Chihuahua dog “Tili”. She enjoys traveling and having family and friends over to her house and cooking for them. Being both a mother and working with children has given Berenice a variety of perspectives when building relationships with other parents and families. Berenice believes that the early years’ experiences are the core foundation to a child’s future and that together parents and educators help children build strong foundations for life.
Berenice is thrilled to be part of the Branches Atelier community! She is looking forward to taking on new challenges while learning and growing here at Branches.
ALEXIS AFAGHI – TEACHER
Prior to beginning her journey in the field of Early Childhood Education, Alexis Afaghi received her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art from Otis College of Art and Design in 2012. Longing to share her love and knowledge of materials with children, she returned to school and earned her certificate in Early Childhood Core Coursework from Santa Monica College. In 2014, Alexis completed her fieldwork at Evergreen Community School under the mentorship of Naomi Hudson-Knapp. She joined the staff as an intern atelierista and was promoted to associate atelierista the following year. Her experience at Evergreen molded her teaching philosophy, one that views children as capable human beings who should be challenged to think critically about their world.
Born and raised in West Los Angeles, Alexis grew up with a love for the surrounding desert landscape and Santa Ana Winds. Her ideal night is one spent alone at Joshua Tree with her dogs, a sketchbook and the stars. She enjoys reading, visiting museums and spending time with her siblings. Alexis has a deep connection to music and enjoys attending live shows whenever possible. Traveling the world while learning about people and their customs gives her great joy and so she is always planning her next adventure!
ANDREA POULTEN – COMMUNICATION AND INFORMATIOM LIAISON
Andrea Poulten was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. She graduated from the University of Victoria, British Columbia with a BA in 1997 and moved to the United Kingdom in 1999 where she met her husband and started a family. In 2007 the family transferred to Singapore and in 2011, now with 3 children, they transferred again to Los Angeles. Andrea has held a number of administrative and customer service roles in a variety of industries both in the United Kingdom and Canada.
Andrea is a busy mother of three former Branches students and has spent the better part of 5 years as both a parent and a volunteer in the Branches community. She is currently an active volunteer at her children's elementary schools. She hopes the opportunity to join the Branches community as a member of the staff will enable her to share her insights and experiences with current and future Branches families.
JOSHUA CASTILLO – INFANT PROGRAM Parent educator
Joshua attended Pacific Oaks College and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development with a minor in Social Change. A student of the Early Childhood Field for over 20 years, Joshua has sought to provide information and support to families, which will enhance their journey through life.
Joshua taught at Evergreen Community School and trained new staff for eleven years. She also was the director and teacher of Hill & Dale Infant/Toddler Family Learning Center. She has a passion for learning with children with special rights, as well as a wide range of age groups. Joshua firmly believes that formal education merely enhances the foundation created by family.
A long time collaborator with Patricia, it is with great enthusiasm that she has found an opportunity to work alongside her.
KAREN JACOBSON PALFI – TODDLER PROGRAM PARENT EDUCATOR
Karen attended Brigham Young University where she received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sociology, with minors in Psychology and Child Development Family Relations. She then went on to receive her Masters in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University (2003-2005). For the past ten years she has been working as a Psychotherapist intern at Miracle Mile Community Practice and in Private Practice counseling children, families, teens, couples, and adults. For the past eight years she has been leading Parent/Toddler groups at Branches Atelier and the Early Years School.
Prior to attending Antioch, Karen worked as a preschool teacher at Evergreen Community School (1997-2003), Stephen S. Wise Temple (1990-1997), and Backyard Preschool (1987-1990). From 1990-1995 Karen was also a Parent Educator at Stephen S. Wise Temple. She has attended Reggio Emilia twice.
Xiomara De Oliver - Office Manager
Born an army brat in British Columbia, Canada, Xiomara De Oliver is a working artist whose visual lexicon embraces the juxtaposition of race, class, gender and politics within the confines of American and European histories. Xiomara holds a Bachelors degree in Criminal Justice and a MFA in Environmental Art from New York University.
In addition to exhibiting work in the US and Europe, she has worked as a Grants Program Officer at The Elizabeth Foundation For The Arts in NYC. Xiomara was instrumental in the workshop relocation of legendary African American Master Printmaker & MacArthur Fellow, Robert Blackburn before his death.
Xiomara hopes her work experience and artist’s eye will help support the Branches community.
JIM MCGRATH – FINANCIAL ADMINISTRATOR / PERCUSSIONIST
Jim has been drumming since he was seven years old. He has been a professional musician for thirty five years. Prior to starting the preschool with Patricia, he recorded and performed with a wide variety of bands as well as recording for TV and film soundtracks. He also started a record label Talking Drum Records and he currently has 6 releases available.
Jim utilizes drums and percussion instruments from all over the world as well as the many drums and instruments that he creates and makes himself. His compositions draw from the diverse cultures of Africa, Cuba, Asia, Pakistan, India, Australia,Brazil, Ireland, Tibet, South America and North America, creating unique tribal-ambient grooves that truly defines World Beat.
His understanding of the breadth and power of drumming as more than a tool for entertainment has also led him to become an integral part of meditation and healing workshops as well as dance and movement workshops.
He is very passionate about sharing his love and knowledge of percussion by teaching children and adults, and especially he loves working with toddlers and preschoolers at Branches because their excitement is contagious and they enjoy themselves from head to toe. Currently Jim teaches percussion at New Roads Middle school and also is the Musical Director for the Branches parent band The MutherFathers.