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Stretch Educators

"Stretch is a place of magic, compassion, and growth. The school is truly comprised of a team of educators and parents who work in partnership to support these amazing children. I’m so proud of what our community has built together."
— Michelle Lawton, Founder of Stretch the Imagination

Michelle Lawton

Michelle Lawton founded Stretch the Imagination in 2002 with the intention of creating a program where children are free to explore and are given the time to delve deeply into their experiences. Stretch originally started as a program for art, yoga and music. Over the past 14 years, it has developed into a respected preschool program grounded in nurturing children’s development through creativity, inquiry and connecting to the natural world. Michelle is also invested in supporting professional development and encouraging the growth of educators who come to work at Stretch. She believes strongly in the importance of continuing education and recently finished studying with Dan Siegel at the Mindsight Institute in Los Angeles. She continued her own education in 2014/2015 by studying with Jon Young and the educators of the 8 Shields Institute. She is inspired by their work in mentoring, education, and the facilitation of a deep nature connection. Michelle has a passion for connecting children to the natural world and in starting the Natural Classroom in 2010 was a pioneer in bringing children out of the classroom and into nature during their weekly school days. She takes inspiration from working with nature leaders both here and abroad and presents annually at the Children Learning with Nature Conference here in the Bay Area. As a mom and educator Michelle is dedicated to honoring a child’s right to creative exploration, play, and the magic of early childhood..

Melissa O’Mahony

Melissa is from San Francisco and spent her high school years in Mill Valley. She has her B.A. in Young Child Development and M.A. and Credential in Early Childhood Special Education, both from San Francisco State University. She is now a professor at SF State teaching undergraduates in the Special Education department. Her interest in children has been a part of her life since adolescence and she has been working with young children for 20 years in various school and home settings. She spent her first four years at Stretch as a classroom teacher and became our Assistant Director in 2017. In her free time, she enjoys exploring nature with her husband and two children, riding her bike through the streets of San Francisco, having dance parties with her family, and laughing and cooking with friends. She is also passionate about creating an inclusive community where everyone feels a sense of belonging where their voice and story is welcomed and accepted.
"Each year, we welcome students into our gates to nurture their creativity and support their growth and learning. We are committed to instilling a passion for lifelong learning as our children discover the wonder and magic that our world has to offer."
— Michelle Lawton, Founder and Director

Anna D.

Anna Da Costa was born in SF, raised in Sacramento, and has been living in the Bay Area since 2006. She has her B.A. in Psychology from Dominican University and an M.A. in Early Childhood Education from San Francisco State University. She is passionate about listening to children’s stories and facilitating their self-expression, literacy, and socioemotional development. Anna has enjoyed incorporating her personal interests of art, improv, and ukulele with preschool children. In her free time, Anna likes to hike, play board games, eat, dance, and seize all the fun in the city. 


Brianna comes to Stretch with a degree in Communication Studies from University of San Francisco and is currently working towards completing her Masters in the same field at San Francisco State University. Having ventured into the world of studying Early Childhood, Brianna is currently enjoying the joy of teaching in our young classrooms. In her past years of teaching college students at SFSU, her love for pedagogy influences her teaching philosophy and guides how to form a joyful and curious classroom. When not working at Stretch, she enjoys playing with her dogs at home, sewing and altering clothes, and spending time with friends and family.


Caitlyn comes to Stretch with a degree in psychology and experience working with young elementary aged children. As she pivoted to the Early Childhood profession she has found her calling in working with young children. Caitlyn brings a warmth and enthusiasm to the classroom that the children gravitate toward. When not working at Stretch Caitlyn enjoys being with friends, enjoying the outdoors, and exploring all the Bay Area has to offer.
"It is my mission as an educator to help students meet their fullest potential by providing a safe environment that supports risk-taking, invites a sharing of ideas, and creates a passion for lifelong learning."
— Laurel Teacher at Stretch the Imagination


Camila was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She graduated Miami-Dade College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She has taught at various preschools in both Miami and San Francisco for the past 6 years before joining the Stretch family. She loves bringing a sense of warmth, laughter, fun, and curiosity into the classroom. In her free time, she enjoys exploring all of the beautiful nooks and crannies in California through camping, hiking and hanging out at her most favorite place, the beach. She loves spending time with friends, enjoying live music, dancing, and adventuring with her beloved dog and partner!


Elaine has lived in the Bay Area for the last 18 years- she studied theater at SFSU with a minor in Child Psychology. She has worked as a nanny for several years and has spent almost 4-years as a preschool teacher. She is thrilled to be a part of the Stretch family where she can share her passions for nature, puppetry, music and theater with the kiddos. Elaine loves silliness, playfulness and imaginary play- she also works for a non-profit sketch comedy group in the city and volunteers teaching writing to kids at 826 Valencia. 
"Through my education at the University of Oklahoma, I studied many constructivist and progressive teaching approaches, including the Reggio Emilia approach, all of which have shaped my teaching philosophy."
— Magnolia & Willow Teacher at Stretch the Imagination

Jennifer G.

Jennifer was born and raised in the Bay Area, where she has taught in preschools from various cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, always gaining new perspective and insight with every experience. She values the importance of all children being heard and having a space where they can express their ideas and learn through hands-on experiences. In her spare time she enjoys going to the beach, exploring the outdoors, cooking, and going to baseball games.


Leanna was born and raised in San Francisco. She is finishing up her Bachelor's Degree at San Francisco State University in Child and Adolescent Development (Early Childhood), and minoring in special education. She loves to work with children as she is able to witness and be a part of their tremendous growth during their early years. She admires children's ability to experiment through their curiosity and how creative their imaginative play can be. In Leanna's free time, she enjoys going on food adventures. listening to music, being with friends and family, and hiking to scenic places around California.

Mary Kate

Mary Kate comes to Stretch with a Bachelor of Science degree in Child Studies from Santa Clara University with experience teaching in preschools across the Bay Area where she was born and raised. Educating young children has been her passion for as long as she can remember. She has been volunteering, interning and teaching in preschools throughout the last 10 years. She enjoys making learning fun through music, play, and allowing space for children to express themselves. In her free time, Mary Kate enjoys spending time with friends and family, playing tennis, and exploring San Francisco.  
"Through my experiences, I have come to see the classroom as a place not only for children to take ownership of their learning but as a place to foster a desire to be lifelong learners and active community members.."
— Maple Teacher at Stretch the Imagination


Salene was born and raised in San Francisco. She graduated from UC Davis with a degree in history and anthropology. Her passion lies in holistically developing children who can walk through the world with resilience and confidence. Before coming to Stretch, she had previously worked in a language immersion preschool. With her love of children, she has guided youth for many years through community services, summer camps, and internships. In her spare time, she can be found hanging out with her grandma, taking long walks by the water, having picnics with friends, taste-testing cuisine from around the world, and enjoying the beautiful open spaces of the great outdoors.


Sarah is a native to the Bay Area and grew up in Santa Cruz, California. She joined the Stretch team in 2013 and has continued to learn and grow alongside the children as an educator here. Outside of teaching Sarah enjoys visiting the museum in the city, her practice of meditation, loves a good audiobook, and also can be found making things -- anything from food to art to home projects!  


Originally from Southern California, Scarlett moved to San Francisco and joined our Stretch team in 2015. She is a nurturing and dedicated teacher who has spent her years working with all preschool ages. Scarlett has traveled with her classes watching them grow from our youngest students into our graduates on their way to kindergartens throughout the Bay Area.
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"The teachers are creative, compassionate,
smart, and silly —exactly the kind of people you
want shaping your young ones." -Stretch Parent

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