2023-24 Preschool Staff

Please meet our amazing preschool staff members!

Kaitlin Erpestad (she/her)

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. It is an incredible honor to help children and families connect with this special place every day through my work at Hartley Nature Preschool. A bit about me~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 partner, 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 before I had the honor of working with a dedicated crew of HNC staff and community volunteers to start Hartley Nature Preschool, which opened in the fall of 2014. I love to be active outside in all seasons with my family biking, paddling, skiing, beaching, and camping… I also love to read, to drink my coffee while it’s hot, and to eat chocolate!

Maria Hopkins (she/her)

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, beaching, hiking, camping, cooking, drinking coffee, and eating ice cream!

Sarah Hugus (she/her)

Co-lead Teacher, T/TH AM

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. When I’m not teaching at Hartley, I’m home with my three littles exploring all Duluth has to offer. Nature preschool is such an awesome culmination of so many good things and I’m so excited to spend another year exploring with all the kiddos!

Jen Petry

Co-lead Teacher, M/W Full Day 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. My husband and I are beyond excited for the arrival of our first child this summer!


Steph Lorek (she/her)

Co-lead Teacher, M/W Full Day

Hello! I am happy to join the Hartley Preschool team and I’m grateful to be a part of Duluth’s vibrant community of nature school educators. I hold a Master’s degree in Nature-based Early Childhood Education from Antioch University New England and a K-6 teaching license. I’ve taught in traditional classrooms, education-based nonprofits, and a variety of outdoor settings. I look forward to bringing my teaching experience and naturalist training to young explorers of Hartley. My family and I have lived in many places on our journey to Duluth, and we are happy to have found our home here. I enjoy spending time outdoors in all seasons, gardening and foraging, making and mending, reading and spending time at the downtown library.

Brianna Schaus (she/her)

Substitute Teacher
Hello! I am excited to continue to be part of Hartley this fall as a long term sub for Ms. Jen in the M/W Full Day and Forest Friday classes. It has been so nice to get to know so many children and families through last school year and I look forward to getting to know the children more this fall! My husband and I moved here from Wisconsin last year and are loving the Duluth community and all it has to offer. I taught 5th grade in Wisconsin for six years after receiving my BS in Elementary Education from UW-Eau Claire. I am currently attending Graduate School at UW-Superior for a Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I hope to work with children and families in the Duluth area once I am licensed. Being outside in nature is a major part of who I am and the lessons of nature are important for all to know. I am grateful for the privilege to connect your child to nature each day.

Caitlin Neff (she/her)

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 and our two kiddos, cross country skiing, bird watching, identifying wildflowers, or creating things in the kitchen.

Sarah Grenberg (she/her)

Co-lead Teacher, T/TH Full Day

Hartley has always been one of my favorite places in Duluth! I enjoy spending time on the trails skiing and mountain biking. Since I love the snow, I stayed here in Duluth for college and attended St. Scholastica so I could continue ski racing. I majored in Biology because I was interested in many aspects of the natural world. Best of all, it’s where I met my husband! Spending time throughout high school and college coaching skiing, I realized how much I love to teach so I continued at St. Scholastica and earned my Master’s in Teaching. I had opportunities to teach in the Duluth Public Schools before having kids of my own and took a few years off to be home full time with them. I joined Hartley in 2022 as a substitute preschool teacher and educator for field trips. I’m excited to spend the school year exploring Hartley with the wonderful preschoolers!

Christina Wild (she/her)

Lead Teacher, Mon--Thurs Full Day

I have been a teacher for 16 years in Minnesota, 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 focusing on Curriculum & Instruction. I recently finished a PhD studying nature-based educators. In my free time I enjoy hiking, gardening and baking.

Peter Ray (he/him)

Assistant Teacher, Mon--Thurs Full Day

Growing up in the cities I have always been in love with Duluth. Before landing here, I earned a (B.S.) in Environmental Education & Interpretation with a focus in Forestry Recreation from UW-Stevens Point. After earning my degree I explored many different nature based education jobs on both the east coast and west coast, however, I am incredibly happy to call Duluth home. In my free time I love to mountain bike, XC ski, backpack, hike, spend time with family, and most of all stare at birds. I have worn a few hats in the Hartley world including teaching summer camps and school field trips. I am looking forward to meeting each and every student to see how they grow and explore the world through the lens of nature!

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 (he/him)

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 play spots of Hartley Park. Their outdoor adventures remind me of my own childhood in rural Duluth and of my two children attending HNP.  After my college education in biology and environmental studies and energy policy work in Washington and Minneapolis, my spouse and I returned to Duluth to raise our children closer to the forest and the big lake. I enjoy running on trails, cross-country skiing, reading science fiction, and learning about weather and ecology. At HNP, I am enthusiastic about supporting young children’s needs, interests, and imaginations through the Northland’s seasonal variety.

Sarah Blossom (she/her)

Lead Teacher, Mon--Thurs PM, 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 a teaching home at Hartley. I look forward to meeting you and exploring Hartley with your children.

Please note that this is Sarah Dahle and she has a new last name.

Kelly Popham (she/her)

Assistant Teacher, Mon--Thurs PM (M/W PM & T/TH PM) and Forest Fridays

I am incredibly fortunate to have grown up here in Duluth, building relationships with Gichigami and the beautiful land that surrounds her from a young age. This place is a part of me and I am a part of this place; that is the feeling of connectedness I hope to foster in the preschoolers I have the honor of working with. Much of my education has taken place in the woods and on the rocky beaches, learning from the natural world and learning to understand myself as a community member in that world. Additionally, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and completed the naturalist training program at Wolf Ridge-ELC. Subbing in the preschool program at Hartley in the last school year was a blast, and I learned so much from all the talented teachers and students I got to work with. When I’m not hanging out with cool kiddos, I can be found birdwatching, rock-picking, immersed in learning about plants, reading sci-fi novels, cozied up with my cat, dancing, skiing, biking, backpacking, and so much more–what a fun world we live in!