2019-20 Preschool Staff

Kaitlin Erpestad

Preschool Director/Co-lead Teacher, T/TH AM and PM

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 boys and, when life as a busy mom allows, 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, M/W/F AM and 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 December 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! 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 snuggling with my daughter, hiking, camping, cooking, and eating ice cream!

Dani French

Co-lead Teacher, M/W/F AM, M/W PM and T/TH PM

As a native to Duluth, I spent my childhood enjoying the lake at my cabin, and exploring the woods surrounding my house.  I have always felt a sense of peace when surrounded by nature and I love to share that with my family now.  My husband and our 2 daughters love to hike the many trails in town and enjoy being outside whenever we can. I have always loved working with young children and found my calling when I decided to study at WITC in their early childhood program. I am one who believes you should never stop learning and pursued a bachelor’s degree in Child Development from Concordia University a few years after graduating WITC.  I also have a Bachelor’s in Unified Early Childhood Studies from UMD.  Between schools I have taught in various settings around the area and worked with students from 6 weeks to 6 years. In my off time I like to read, take pictures and go geocaching with my family.

Alyssa Nelson

Co-lead Teacher, M/W Full Day and Fri. AM Class

As a child I discovered a love for water and all things wild exploring in Southern Minnesota creek beds, wandering local woods, and camping with my family.  I earned a BA in Sociology and played Division II volleyball for University of Minnesota Duluth.  In 2014 I earned my masters in Experiential Education with an emphasis in Sports Psychology from Minnesota State University Mankato.  During my time in Mankato I discovered my passion for teaching in the outdoors as a river guide for Bent River Outfitter.  After three years in Mankato, I moved to St. Paul to work as an outdoor educator for Wilderness Inquiry where I taught multi-cultural urban audiences about the natural and historical resources of Minnesota.  I rekindled my love for the Duluth area working as a dog handler for Wintermoon Summersun and as a sea kayak guide for Lost Creek Adventures.  I love hiking and fishing in all seasons, reading, baking and cooking, listening to NPR, and gardening.

Becca Bell

Co-lead Teacher, M/W Full Day and Fri. AM Class

Returning to Hartley, returning home. After working two years (2016-2018) at Hartley Nature Preschool, I took a year to expand my horizons. I spent the 2018-2019 school year just north of San Francisco, California. As a lead teacher for a preschool through the Parks & Recreation Department, I got to experience a different climate – both environmentally and professionally. Though the amount of sunshine is hard to beat, Minnesota’s natural world will always be home. It is this renewed sense of understanding and love for the Midwest I want to bring to the students of Hartley. When not working, I can be found roaming the trails with my beloved dog, Juni, or visiting my two nephews Chicago. I look forward to spending another year exploring our marvelous Minnesota home with your preschooler!

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. Last year I earned my K-6 Teaching License and Masters of Education from the College of St. Scholastica. When I am not at Hartley you can find me exploring the woods with my husband and our dogs, mountain biking, cross country skiing, and creating things in the kitchen.

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. In 2015, my husband and I moved to Duluth, into our forever family home, which we are slowly remodeling. As a family, we love adventuring outdoors with our young daughter and yellow lab. When time allows, I love bird watching, agate picking, hiking, cycling, camping, cooking, boating, hangin’ with my chickens, jammin’ on my uke, and singing children’s folk tunes. I could not be happier at Hartley and I look forward to creating many great memories with your children!

Frank Fairchild

Assistant Teacher, M/W PM

Hi! My name is Frank!
I like to ride inside a boat floating over blue
Boats with masts and sails or paddles one and two!
On land I throw the frisbee
and play some for fun games
My friends and I we are on watch
For things that need a change
Rhyming out of rhythm is something done for fun
I talk in silly meters in days under the sun
My family means so much to me though we are scattered wide
Someday we’ll build a Nature Center that floats up in the sky!
I play ultimate frisbee for Dingwop, a team based here in Duluth.
I love to play all sorts of games with my friends! Catan, Pandemic, Cards, Terra Mystica, DnD
and Pigs! are all games I’ve played recently.
Currently I spend my time becoming more involved with the local community through attendance
and participation in public meetings!