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.
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 & Co-Director at Stretch the Imagination
Melissa O’Mahony 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 as she teaches undergraduates a families course 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 15 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 2 ½ year old and husband, riding her bike through the streets of San Francisco, having dance parties with her family, and laughing and cooking with friends.
Paola Trigari is an educational consultant on the Constructivism, Social-Constructivism, Project-oriented and Reggio Emilia-inspired educational philosophies. Paola holds seminars and consulting appointments throughout the U.S.and in Europe. She consults for preschools to primary schools, and collaborates with universities and pedagogical institutions. She is the co-director of a new post-graduate program in Early Childhood and Primary Education at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. Paola worked as pedagogical director and program director of the Reggio inspired Inquiry based International Italian School in San Francisco (La Scuola of SF). Paola obtained her ECE qualifications in San Francisco. She also holds a BA from Bocconi University in Milan and an MSc in economics from UPF (Barcelona) with a final thesis on the Returns to Education. She has an International background: native of Italy, grew up in Turin (Italy), Paris (France) and Sâo Paulo (Brazil). Italian native speaker, Paola speaks English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Paola has a passion for the Stretch Community, its inquiry based approach, its deep connection with both the design thinking method and the natural component. Paola enjoys traveling, watching movies and hiking with her husband and their dog, Sherpa.
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.— Whitney Ellis, Co-Director at Stretch the Imagination
Ana joins Stretch after moving to SF with her husband who is in his medical residency here in the city. She comes with a degree in Psychology from UCSD and a number of years working in the school system in San Diego. Ana will be joining our team as our support teacher, a role that is essential to the community. In this role, Ana will come to meet all the children at Stretch and support our teaching staff and administration while learning more about our approach to early childhood. When not teaching Ana loves to dance and explore new adventures.
Anna is originally from Los Angeles, and moved to the Berkeley three years ago to pursue work with children. Anna taught at a play based preschool in North Point for one year before joining Stretch. In addition, she has been a dance and movement instructor for preschool aged children for many years. When Anna is not teaching she enjoys dancing, karaoke, crafting and petting dogs.
Anna joined the Stretch team in the Fall of 2014. Upon graduating from the University of San Francisco in 2007 with a dual degree in Fine Art and Psychology, she started nannying and fell in love with the early childhood field. Anna graduated with a Masters in ECE from San Francisco State University in 2016. She enjoys how children are natural and creative scientists allowing them to constantly learn through their experiences large and small. In her free time, Anna is an artist and loves working in a variety of mediums, primarily woodworking and photography. She especially enjoys traveling, visiting museums, and spending time outdoors to continually be inspired.
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.— Pine & Laurel Teacher at Stretch the Imagination
Anna 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 is currently pursuing a Master’s in Early Childhood Education at San Francisco State University. Listening to children’s stories and facilitating their self-expression, literacy, and socioemotional development continues to be a passion of hers. Anna has enjoyed incorporating her personal interests of art, improv, and ukulele with preschool children. In her free time, Anna has fun being silly, creative, and active with her friends. She loves exploring San Francisco, especially all the beautiful parks to run, journal, and picnic in.
Ashley originally moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles where she grew up. She has spent many years working with children of all ages and joins the Stretch team having completed her degree in child and Adolescent studies. When not working at Stretch Ashley loves spending time with her two rescue dogs. She loves exploring the Bay Area and all the outdoor experiences it has to offer.
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.
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
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.
Carina was born and raised in the San Francisco Bernal Mission area. She received her BA from San Francisco State in Ethnic Studies with a minor in education. She is currently pursuing her Masters and Credential in Early Childhood Special Education. She brings her love for young children to our program having taught at a play based preschool for many years before joining Stretch. When Carina is not teaching, she enjoys hiking with her two dogs.
Mary was born and raised in Costa Mesa, California and has lived in San Francisco for many years now. She received her Child Development Degree at San Francisco State University with a concentration in young children and families. During her last year at State, Mary went abroad and took pedagogy courses in Sweden. Mary joined our Stretch team in 2011 and has continued to grow and expand her passions for teaching with young children. She has shown a strong passion and dedication toward weaving in graphical representation and various forms of art into her classes. In her spare time, Mary loves to travel with her husband, take yoga classes, and running at Panhandle Park. She enjoys a day at the park with a picnic basket and friends!
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
Sarah is a native to the bay area and grew up in Santa Cruz California. Sarah joined the Stretch team in 2013 and has continued to learn and grow as an educator here at Stretch for many years. When not playing here at Stretch Sarah enjoys her mindful practice of meditation. She also loves to cook, eat good food, and can often be found creating art or visiting the work of other artists.
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.
Tim moved to the Bay Area from Wisconsin where he graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a Bachelor’s in Education – a dual program focusing on Early Childhood Regular Education and Early Childhood Special Education. With over 15 years of experience in early childhood, and having spent much of his professional career in inquiry and research based environments, he is eager to work with young children and their families, learn from fellow staff members, and become involved in the surrounding community. As an educator, it is his goal to enhance students’ learning and development, help them to become the best individuals they can be, and cultivate a positive, engaged community. And in 2016, he gained his Master’s in Education from San Francisco State University, where his thesis was “Empowering Children: Creating Supportive Early Childhood Environments that Promote Positive Self Identities.”
Tim has a love for adventure and nature, two themes that often work their way into his curriculum. He loves spending time outside, whether it be at home with his husband or at school with his class. Constantly pushing himself to experience new things and explore his feelings about those experiences, he believes that this is the way all people grow – children and adults alike.
The Natural Classroom inspires so much growth, creativity,
risk taking, problem solving and deep social connection.
The benefits are powerful. We believe strongly at Stretch that it
is every child’s right to connect with the natural world.— Michelle Lawton, Founder at Stretch the Imagination
Tracy is a veteran teacher at Stretch and a Bay Area native. She originally came to our program from teaching in the Oakland Unified School district. Tracy received her Master’s in Early Childhood from Mill’s College. Tracy has a deep connection and appreciation for the natural world and is a leader out in our Natural Classroom program. Tracy will be returning to Stretch in January, 2020 after taking some maternity leave time to be with her new son. When not teaching, Tracy loves spending time with her husband, son, and wonderful pets here in the Bay Area.
The teachers are creative, compassionate,
smart, and silly —exactly the kind of people you
want shaping your young ones.