2022-23 Preschool Staff

Kaitlin Erpestad

Preschool Director

I grew up exploring the parks, lake shore, and green spaces of Duluth and learning to ski on the ski trails of Hartley Park. I earned a BA in Social Studies Education and a MN teaching license for K-6 elementary and 5-8 social studies from St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. I then had the pleasure of living in the country of Finland for three years where I taught preschool for 3-7 year old Finnish and international children and explored the Finnish woods with my husband, Matti. I returned to MN and completed a naturalist training program at Wolf Ridge ELC and earned a Master’s degree in Environmental Education from UMD. I love to be active outside in all seasons with my twin 5 year olds and two year old and to get out on the trails of Duluth to bike, ski, and run, to paddle on the Lake and enjoy time on the beaches, to drink a hot cup of coffee, and to eat chocolate!

Maria Hopkins

Assistant Preschool Director & Co-lead Teacher, T/TH AM

Growing up in South Dakota, I always enjoyed being outdoors and exploring my surrounding environment, which is why I chose to study biology as an undergraduate in Minnesota. After college, I began to pursue outdoor education, which sparked my interest and passion for teaching children and engaging them with nature. In 2011, I earned my M.Ed. and K-6 teaching license, with a focus in environmental education, from Antioch University New England.  After receiving my degree, I worked for a Nature Explore Classroom in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. After living in New England for several years, I began to really miss the Midwest, so my husband and I decided to move to Duluth in 2014! I have loved being here and working as a teacher at Hartley Nature Preschool. When I’m not taking children out into the woods of Hartley, I enjoy adventuring with my family and our dog Poppy, hiking, camping, cooking, and eating ice cream!

Becca Bell

Co-lead Teacher, M/W Full Day, T/TH AM, and Forest Fridays

Curiosity, wonderment, and authentic selves – seeing each day through the lens of a Hartley preschooler is always an adventure! The forest and play-spaces these children explore every day are so reminiscent of my own childhood which fostered my love for our natural world. Growing up in west-central Minnesota, I enjoyed anything on water liquid/frozen. From sailing, to skiing, to simply hiking the trails, the natural environment of Minnesota has always felt like home. After earning a degree in Biology from St. Olaf College, I explored a variety of environmental education jobs before eventually earning my Master’s in Environmental Education from UMD. Currently, getting outside with my beloved dog, Juni, spending time with my two nephews, and anything on/around water is how I most enjoy my time outdoors. I earnestly look forward to getting to know your children’s unique selves as we embark on yet another memorable year!

Jen Petry

Co-lead Teacher, M/W Full Day, T/TH PM, and Forest Fridays

Growing up in Southwest Minnesota I enjoyed canoeing on the Minnesota River and exploring nearby trails. Moving to Duluth broadened my outdoor experiences and allowed me to really explore my love of the natural world.  I earned a degree in Outdoor Education from UMD, then a Masters in Teaching from St. Scholastica. In my free time I enjoy mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, cross-country skiing, and most of all exploring Duluth and the North Shore with my husband and pup. I am excited for another year at Hartley Nature Preschool. Guiding children as they learn in and about the outdoors is a true privilege. 


Caitlin Neff

Co-lead Teacher, T/TH Full Day

I have always loved exploring the natural world and learning as much as I can about it! It wasn’t until I attended the University of Minnesota Duluth that I realized how much I enjoy teaching about our natural world and introducing children to its many wonders, which is why I obtained a degree in Outdoor Education. Before joining the Hartley Preschool family, I worked at Wolf Ridge ELC, Deep Portage Learning Center, and Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. In December of 2018 I earned my Masters of Science in Education and K-6 teaching license from The College of St. Scholastica. When I am not at Hartley you can find me exploring the woods with my husband, our almost 3 year old son, and our dog, cross country skiing, bird watching, or creating things in the kitchen. We are excited to be welcoming another little adventurer into our family this coming January!

Emma Richtman

Co-lead Teacher, T/TH Full Day

As a native Minnesotan, I’ve spent much of my life enjoying and exploring ‘The Land of 10,000 Lakes’. I hold a BS in Fisheries and Wildlife Management from the U of MN Twin Cities, and a MN teaching license for K-6 elementary from The College of St. Scholastica. As a family, we love adventuring outdoors with our young daughter and yellow lab. When time allows, I love bird watching, agate picking, hiking, camping, cooking, gardening, hangin’ with my chickens, jammin’ on my uke, and singing children’s folk tunes. I look forward to creating many great memories with your children!

Christina Wild

Lead Teacher, M/W Full Day & T/TH Full Day

I grew up in Boston, MA. I have been a teacher for 15 years in Vermont and New Hampshire. I love being outside and I love teaching. I am happiest when I can do both!  I have degrees in Resource Management, Sustainable Agriculture and a Masters in Education from  focusing on Curriculum & Instruction. I am currently a PhD student in the Graduate School of Leadership and Change at Antioch University. In my free time I enjoy hiking, gardening and baking.

Peter Ray

Assistant Teacher, M/W Full Day and T/Th Full Day

Hello! My name is Peter and I am incredibly excited to join the preschool team this year! I have been at Hartley for just under two years working in the camp world so I may be familiar to some of you. I enjoy hiking, biking, and birding! I am  incredibly eager to get the year started and to watch everyone grow and learn!

Carley Cohen

Lead Teacher, M/W/F AM

I grew up hiking, running, skiing and playing on the trails of Chester Bowl here in Duluth. The time I spent there as a child and young adult, teaching ski lessons and working as a camp counselor, led me to pursue my degrees in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education at Winona State University, Winona MN. It was during college that I found my love for adventure. I studied abroad in Italy and completed my student teaching on the island of St. Lucia.  I got my start teaching briefly in Minnesota then moved on to teach in California, Rhode Island and Hawaii as my husband continued his service in the US Navy. After seven years and many adventures my husband and I decided to return home to Duluth to raise our family and give our time to the community we love so much. We enjoy being outside in all seasons and look forward to what each new day brings. I am excited and honored to join the wonderful Hartley family and looking forward to seeing you on the trail!

Aaron Crowell

Assistant Teacher, M/W/F AM

It’s a joy to see the curiosity and creativity of young children as they explore the woods, streams, and various play spots of Hartley Park. Their outdoor adventures remind me of my own childhood in rural Duluth and more recently of my two children attending Hartley Nature Preschool. After my college education in biology and environmental studies and then energy policy work in Washington and Minneapolis, my wife and I decided to return to Duluth in 2015 to raise our family closer to the forest and the big lake. Since then I have learned much about the early childhood field, organized educational events with the Duluth Nature Play Collaborative, and started outdoor pop-up play programming for the Duluth YMCA. I enjoy running on trails, cross-country skiing, reading science fiction, and learning about weather and ecology. I’m excited to teach at Hartley and support the children’s needs, interests, and imaginations through all the seasonal variety that the Northland brings us.

Sarah Dahle

Co-lead Teacher, M/W PM & T/TH PM

I grew up throughout the Midwest, canoeing, hiking, and camping with my family. My parents are from the upper Midwest, so I spent summers traveling “up north” to see family. I have always felt drawn to public service, and with Americorps*NCCC I had amazing opportunities to work outside with forestry and trail building, disaster relief, and camp counseling. I received my teaching license in Denver in 2010 from Metropolitan State University, and earned my master’s degree in 2017 through CU Boulder. I enjoyed my years teaching in Denver and being able to spend my free time exploring the mountains. A few moves found me back in the Midwest, teaching kindergarten in a Dual language program in Madison, WI. Though I adored my students and colleagues, my travels were not complete because I fell in love. I moved to Duluth in 2020 and had the good fortune to find Hartley. Since then I have taught Wednesdays in the Woods, field-trip programs and substituted in the preschool. I am so excited to officially join the preschool team! I look forward to meeting you and exploring Hartley with your children.

Sarah Hugus

Co-lead Teacher, M/W PM

I grew up in central Wisconsin and spent countless hours adventuring outside with my family. I went on to receive my Elementary Education degree from Northern Michigan University, where my now husband and I fell in love with Lake Superior. We spent a few years traveling and teaching abroad in Bangladesh and Ecuador and then decided to settle back in the Midwest. Duluth felt like the perfect blend of all the things we were looking for, particularly in terms of all it had to offer for amazing trails, parks, the lake and other outdoor space. I’ve spent the last few years home with my three littles exploring all Duluth has to offer and have developed such a love and passion for being outside with kids and outdoor education in general. Nature preschool is such an awesome culmination of so many good things and I can’t wait to be a part of this team and explore with all the kiddos!