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Stretch Educators

"Stretch is a place of magic, compassion, and growth. The school is 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 and Director 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 a B.A. in Young Child Development and an M.A. and Credential in Early Childhood Special Education, both from San Francisco State University. She is a professor at SF State in the Special Education Graduate department.

Melissa has been working with young children for more than 20 years in various school and home settings. She spent her first years at Stretch as a classroom teacher before becoming the Assistant Director in 2017. Melissa serves as a mentor, educator, and parent resource at Stretch. She helps families and children transition and thrive in their preschool journey and runs the summer programming at Stretch. She is passionate about creating an inclusive community where everyone feels a sense of belonging and where their voice and story is welcomed and accepted.

In her free time, Melissa 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.

"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 of Stretch the Imagination


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 holds a degree in psychology, has experience working with young elementary-aged children, and found her calling in working with young children when she pivoted to an Early Childhood profession. Caitlyn brings a warmth and enthusiasm to the classroom that the children gravitate toward. When not working at Stretch, Caitlyn enjoys being with friends, spending time 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."
— 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 taught at preschools in both Miami and San Francisco for several 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!
Dan Head shot


Dan was born and raised in San Francisco. He has a bachelor’s in American Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a masters in Child Development from San Francisco State University. He’s been a preschool teacher since 1996. He believes in observing, following children’s leads, and then providing support that furthers their discovery and learning. He has 10- and 7-year old children of his own and their sport and school activities comprise the majority of his free time, but he enjoys walking, reading, local sports, and spending time with the rest of his family as well. 


Destynie was born and raised in the Central Valley. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education with a minor in Special Education at San Francisco State University. She is completing her Master's degree in Early Childhood Special Education. She loves exploring and being curious with the children, especially out in nature. In her free time, she loves exploring her community and trying new hobbies.


Elaine has lived in the Bay Area for the last two decades. She studied theater at San Francisco State University with a minor in Child Psychology. She worked as a nanny for several years before becoming 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 children. 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. 
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Born and raised in the Bay Area, Gigi graduated from Boston University in 2021 and soon after found her niche in early childhood education specializing in ages 18 months to 3 years old. She has experience teaching in Montessori toddler classrooms, working to promote independence in self-care routines as well as social awareness and creative expression among her students. She finds it rewarding to work with young children and watch them grow into themselves and progress as individuals. Her passions outside of the classroom include yoga, writing and collaging.
"Through my education at university, I studied many constructivist and progressive teaching approaches, including the Reggio Emilia approach, all of which have shaped my teaching philosophy."
— Teacher at Stretch the Imagination


Harry was born and raised in San Francisco and attended Stretch as a summer camper many years ago. In 2021, he graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Following graduation, Harry worked at a startup where he learned valuable lessons about work ethic, communication, and collaboration. Recently, Harry pivoted to his true passion — early childhood education. Harry has experience volunteering with children as well as teaching English in Indonesia over several summers. He brings a sense of curiosity, teamwork, and fun to the classroom. In his free time, Harry loves to hike with his dog, go to concerts, and play tennis with his friends.


A Bay Area native and the oldest of 5, Jodi (she, they) first began teaching at age 15 and has been working with young children (and the grown-ups who love them) for many years. With a Master’s degree in Education from San Francisco State University (concentrations: Early Childhood Special Education and Equity and Social Justice), Jodi is passionate about helping learners of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to connect with themselves, with others, and across differences. For fun, Jodi enjoys exploring SF with friends, reading, and treasure-hunting in book and thrift shops.

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Kylie was born and raised in Santa Cruz, California. She has always had a passion for working with children and families and knew from a young age that she wanted to take her future career in that direction. In May of 2020 she graduated from Cabrillo Community College with an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education. From here she transferred to San Francisco State University, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Child and Adolescent Development in May of 2022. After graduation, she worked at a Montessori preschool for a year and a half before finding her way to Stretch. In her free time she loves to read, cook, and enjoy quality time with her friends and family!


Leanna was born and raised in San Francisco. She is completing 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 and 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 has 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 for 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."
— Teacher at Stretch the Imagination


Salene was born and raised in San Francisco. She graduated from the University of California, 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 museums 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 the 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 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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