Our Staff

Laura Moehrman, Executive Director and founding Director of Hilltop Preschool

Hilltop Preschool has a special place in my heart because it empowers at-risk children to beat the odds of poverty through quality educational experiences for Kindergarten success. Here teachers, parents, and caregivers work cooperatively to provide an enriched learning and safe environment to foster hope of a brighter future. Since obtaining my B.S. in Education, I have worked in Early Childhood Education for nearly three decades. I live on the Westside of Columbus with my family.

Christine Smishko, Assistant Director

After a dozen years teaching in early elementary classrooms, I thought it was time to leave education. But I was drawn back to the kids! Here I use my organizational skills and teaching experience to support the staff, the children and the families we serve. Hilltop Preschool helps provide the educational, emotional, and social foundation for our students’ success; it’s the right place for the kids and for me.

Cherise Berry, Teacher

I have been with Hilltop Preschool since August 2013. I enjoy getting to know all the children and their families. Being born and raised on the Hilltop, I truly appreciate the growth and progress Hilltop Preschool provides to young learners. I am pleased to be a part of the preschool team!

I have over 12 years’ experience working with children from 6 weeks to 5th grade. I was certified by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services as an in-home childcare provider. After my sons entered school I transferred to an after-school program as a lead instructor prior to joining the Hilltop Preschool staff, and recently completed my CDA (Child Development Associate) degree.

Natalie Brown, Teacher

I have a passion for working with children and families. I have an Early Childhood degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, am married, and have three boys.

Peter Busch, Literary Specialist

Mr. Peter is a veteran Hilltop Preschool volunteer who reads stories to each class every Wednesday morning. His work as a 24-year Children’s Department Lead Bookseller for Barnes & Noble as well as his extensive theatrical experience and life-long love of reading make him well qualified to introduce Hilltop’s students to the joys of reading and storytelling.

Carin Chmielniak, Volunteer Classroom Assistant

I assist in the classroom as needed, sometimes joining in the children’s free play. As we play, we name and reinforce the vocabulary being used in classroom units and activities.

Early childhood education makes a difference, particularly in the areas of language and social development. Schools are language-based. Literacy begins with listening and speaking. Both are emphasized in early childhood education. Studies have shown that the number of words a child understands and uses at an early age is directly correlated to a child’s success in school.

Sharon Cvetanovich, Home Activities Specialist

Every week for every child! Ms. Sharon assembles packets of home activities that focus on each individual Hilltop Preschooler and provide resources for parents as well.

Sue Wiam ElHaj, Food Services Manager

I love my job because I love cooking for kids, and am happiest when I see them enjoying a meal together. A friend told me about Hilltop Preschool and I was glad to enroll my daughter. Here I found everything I needed for my daughter and for me.

David Foster, Science Specialist

On my retirement in 2011, I told Executive Director Laura that I would like to volunteer at the preschool. She responded, “Aren’t you a Scientist? (I’m a mechanical engineer, and led automation engineers at ABB for 30 years.) Teach science!” Laura helped me find sample curricula, and taught me how to be effective with 3, 4 and 5 year-olds. I developed a Physics curriculum, put on a lab coat, and became Science Dave. I have continued this weekly role for years because of the enthusiastic participation of our students, their curiosity, and their real learning about force in its different forms - a push, a pull, gravity, wind, magnet, electric, and other forces we can see and feel.

Jennifer Gleichauf, Mindfulness Specialist

I teach mindfulness, yoga and mindful movement on Friday mornings. We practice paying attention and play “games” that calm our minds and bodies so we can learn better. My heart melts as we start each class with “look and listen”, and I get to look in the eyes of each child before the chime stops ringing. What a precious gift! We end each session with slow, deliberate breathing with our beanie baby “buddies” on our tummies (to calm our nervous system), and by blessing ourselves, friends/family, and those we’ll never know — honoring the best in us all (Namaste). It’s a joy for me to connect with these beautiful children each week. I hope to make a difference in their lives!

“I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside.” —Stevie Wonder

Vickie Henderson, Teacher

I am a Columbus State Early Childhood Education grad and a west-side resident, so I am really glad to be part of Hilltop Preschool. I love to work with the children, learning their interests, and coming up with projects and activities for them. And I especially love that I am able to float across all four Hilltop Preschool classrooms, helping all the teachers and working with every child.

Michele Johnson, Speech and Language Specialist

Until I retired, I provided speech and language therapy in preschool classrooms for children with disabilities. Now I volunteer in preschool classrooms like Hilltop, providing storytime experiences with stories, poems, songs, and movement. I also listen and talk with the students to help prescreen their speech and language skills. I so enjoy working with young children, and the Hilltop preschoolers and staff are wonderful. I am captivated by the children, by the caring and nurturing atmosphere, and by the enjoyment that everyone shows here. Since I worked for over 30 years providing speech and language therapy with students of all ages, I see the importance of early childhood education. Social and emotional growth along with the pre-academic learning provided by nurturing schools such as Hilltop are key to children's growth and development.

Pam Kibbee, Volunteer Classroom Assistant

When I retired I knew I wanted to do some sort of volunteer work. I’ve always loved being around children, and this seemed like the perfect fit for me. As a classroom assistant, I help the teachers in any way I can to make their job a little bit easier.

There was one little boy in my class that I really bonded with. He was the smallest of them all, very shy, and had some speech issues. By the end of the school year, he’d just quietly come up to me and take my hand and give me the biggest grin, along with a little hug, whenever I least expected it. He always made my day! I hope and pray that every child will have a great head start in life and school because of Hilltop Preschool. Every child should have a chance! They are the future.

Jeri Klopfenstein, Garden Specialist

After years as the guidance counselor at Highland Elementary — just down the street from Hilltop Preschool — I have learned a lot about connecting with children. Their innate curiosity and my love of gardening combine every spring, summer and fall as we plant, nurture, grow and harvest vegetables and fruit in the Community Garden behind the school. Most of all, we love to eat them!.

Sara Knight, Teacher

I started my journey at Hilltop Preschool as an intern while working towards my Bachelors degree at The Ohio State University. After joining the staff I earned my K-3 teaching license through an OSU Bachelors Plus. I am from the Hilltop myself — graduating from West High School — so being at Hilltop Preschool has felt like home.

Desiree Maddrey, Teacher

I am 2012 graduate of Central State University where I received a Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood Education and I have been working with children for a dozen years. Teaching and working with children is very rewarding because I get to witness and participate in their development, and celebrate them as they achieve major milestones. Outside of working with children, I enjoy spending time with family and friends, shopping and traveling.

Jodi McKinley, Teacher

I’ve been with Hilltop Preschool since October 2015. This is one of the best and most challenging preschools I have worked for. I love the directions it takes towards our children and families. I have over 15 years’ experience with lots of training, and am the proud mother of three wonderful children, Jasmine, Joshua and J’Ana.

Katie Morarity, Teacher

Working with children is my passion because I love to watch them grow and learn. I have worked with children for more than 20 years and have an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education. I am married and have two children of my own.

Roberta Morton, Substitute Teacher

I taught for 20 years at Overbrook Preschool in Clintonville and began volunteering at Hilltop after retiring several years ago. I love being with the children and also supporting the Hilltop staff in any way I can. Most recently, I have helped organize our new library.

Angela Neptune, Teacher

I have worked at Hilltop Preschool since it opened in 2009. I love helping the children grow. This is a warm and wonderful place for children to learn and make new friends. I am the mother of four children and have been a preschool teacher for over 15 years. During those years I earned an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education from Columbus State.

Molly Rule, Music Specialist

I started teaching music at the Hilltop Preschool in the summer of 2010. I also teach for The Ohio State University School of Music and conduct the Pinta choir of the Columbus Children’s Choir, but the children at the Hilltop Preschool top the list for creative responses to music! Music contributes to cognitive, social/emotional, and psychomotor development in powerful ways; I am delighted that the Hilltop Preschool includes me on their staff to support the children’s learning and growth in such a joyful, playful way. It is also a privilege to work within a community that truly enjoys and values music. Before having my three children, I used to teach at Fairfield Elementary School in Pickerington. I also taught early childhood music classes for WeJoySing. While earning my Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education and Vocal Performance at Capital University, I worked at the Burbank Early Childhood School. My Master’s Degree in Music Education is also from Capital University, but I completed some of my coursework at the Kodaly Institute in Hungary.

Steven St. Martin, Volunteer Classroom Assistant

As a classroom assistant, I try to be helpful without getting in the way. I'll answer the door, tie shoes, help serve lunch, and do whatever the teachers need at the moment. I play with the kids during "center time" and love following their lead, building blocks, pretending to cook, sharing a book or playing at recess. I try to engage them in conversation at mealtimes. I'm not afraid to say something silly, such as singing the alphabet song wrong (ABCDFPQ), and letting them correct me.

I volunteer at Hilltop Preschool because I love kids, and this is about the most rewarding thing I do week after week. I'm not an expert on early childhood education, but I agree with St. Augustine that as infants we're primarily self-centered; it's important as we grow up to learn to take a broader view of the world and to be considerate of others. The school does a very good job of this. In fact, what I like best about Hilltop is the overall atmosphere of love here. Most of this love has its source in the staff and volunteers, but the kids are learning, too.

Angela Stith, Teacher

I have a heart for all kids of all ages, with a particular passion for 4 and 5-year olds. I love to help them learn and succeed, no matter what it takes, and want to be sure no child falls through the cracks. With a BS in Education from OSU, I have worked in childcare for more than ten years, most recently as a preschool teacher at a daycare. I believe preschool is not just daycare; it’s the best foundation for a child’s future. That’s why I am especially glad to be part of the Hilltop Preschool staff.

Rachel Trunk, Teacher

I love Hilltop Preschool because the teachers and staff approach each child as an individual and work to meet the needs of each child. I am the mother of two and have worked with young children for more than 15 years. Before joining the staff I served Hilltop Preschool as President of the Parent Advisory Committee for one year while my child attended.

Frank Watkins, Volunteer classroom Assistant

I believe a quality early childhood education is the best thing a community can do for its children, particularly in depressed and underserved communities. Once a month I volunteer at Hilltop Preschool to spend time with and be supportive of the children, parents, and staff. I volunteer as an expression of my Christian faith so that I can help in any way needed.

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