Bija professionals demonstrate humility, adaptability, heart, smarts, openness and effectiveness. We seek out individuals with educational credentials, artistic talent, and the desire to have an impact in the world.
Lauren Maples, Founder and Director
Back in 2005 while teaching yoga and dance in public and independent schools, Lauren became interested in why there was such disparity between successful and happy learning environments and those that struggled. Through inquiry and observation, she developed the Bija approach which strives to create a fulfilling and engaging educational experience that’s grounded both in the real world and with an eye towards the future.
Lauren found that open, minimal spaces that were intentionally curated and a progressive model of instruction set the framework for shaping students into aware, kind, and successful human beings. Her personal passions for food, art, sustainable living, social justice, and connection are interwoven in the daily experience at Bija. After ten years and many iterations Bija has found it’s own voice in the world of progressive early childhood education.
Lauren has danced with internationally acclaimed ballet companies including San Francisco Ballet and New York City Ballet and holds a BA from New School University. She is a 200 Hour Registered Yoga Teacher and licensed as an Ayurvedic Therapist from the Ayurvedic Hospital in Coimbatore, India. Lauren is currently completing her Masters in Early Childhood Education at Bank Street College.
Mitch Epeneter, Director of Operations
Mitch has always wanted to be involved with educating kids. From teaching his younger sister to all the different places to explore in their backyard to running improv comedy classes, he’s been interested in sharing knowledge and experiences from a young age. Mitch graduated from Cal Poly with a BS in Liberal Arts with a focus in Elementary Education and Mathematics. He taught in a Reggio based children’s center for three years and has lived in over 10 different cities including Bangkok, Thailand. As a child, Mitch enjoyed riding his bike through the streets, exploring and adventuring. Also Legos. So many Legos.
When not at work, Mitch would rather be in the mountains backpacking, riding his bike through the forest, playing drums or traveling abroad. He plans to keep up the big life adventure and pursuing opportunities that allow him to continue to explore, grow and help others.
Jess Glickman, Educational Director
Jess holds an MS in Early Childhood Education from CUNY Brooklyn College and a BS in Childhood Education from SUNY New Paltz. She also holds a professional NY State License in Early Childhood Birth through 2nd grade and an initial NY state license in Childhood Education 1st through 6th grade. She has 4 years experience as an Educational Director for a group of micro-schools in Brooklyn.
Jess wholeheartedly believes in the importance progressive education and using exploratory play as a deep examination of the arts. Sensory experiences, the arts, and building community are core tenets of her educational philosophy. In addition to being Bija Beacon’s lead teacher, Jessica works closely with Bija Brooklyn to facilitate professional development and offer teachers support.
Kat Murphy, Lead Teacher
Kat has taught preschool/pre-k in NYC for the last seven years. She has a BA in Theater and is currently studying for her MS in Early Childhood Art Education. As a kid, Kat was constantly outside in New Hampshire where she grew up. She usually had some sort of costume on, was exploring the woods or building a fort. She loved playing soccer and putting on musical productions with her little sister as the supporting character.
Kat became a big sister when she was 3. She was fascinated by how much her little sister didn’t know and how she could teach her. She realized she loved experiencing the wonder of seeing the world through a child’s perspective and wanted to capture that throughout her life. Kat chose Bija because Bija understands the wonder of childhood, the purity of experience and the amazing perspective that kids have. Bija’s emphasis of guiding and nurturing children to be creative, aware, conscious and curious citizens of the world aligns with her own. She is inspired by the simplicity and sincerity of the practice at Bija.
Over the next five years Kat plans to graduate, keep more than 3 plants alive at a time, learn how to play the harmonica, continue to be a teacher, and adopt a dog. She would love to travel to India to volunteer with the Miracle Foundation, hike through the rainforest, and build houses. When not at work she would rather be riding her bike or snuggling with her guinea pigs: Pancakes and Bacon.
Alyssa McKinney, Lead Teacher
As a kid, Alyssa found peace in escaping to other worlds through books. The idea of actually traveling to some of those realistic continents, countries, and spaces always held her attention. Acting out these stories at times seemed to be life. Alyssa babysat in order to earn money so that she could run on the track team at school. What seemed as a summer long job turned into a lifetime interest!
Alyssa says, why not Bija?! She believes the school is a fantastic place full of artistic, health conscious, and loving teachers who care about the development of the whole child. She is proud to be a part of a community that is focused on the development of the learners while also being open to learn themselves.
When she’s not at work, she’d rather be at the theater practicing lines for the next upcoming play, spending time with her family, working out, or exploring the neighborhood. Alyssa is educated as an elementary school teacher from Texas. She also spent several years teaching preschool aged children with various community and nonprofit groups.
In 5 years, she sees herself acting in a theater as a permanent member of a cast. She would also enjoy teaching children how to interact in the drama world. Merging her love to teach children with her passion for the different arts and drama is definitely the focus.
Charlie Smarts, Classroom Teacher
As a child Charlie loved basketball, football, dodgeball and running through the woods of North Carolina whenever possible. He knew he wanted to work with kids after spending a summer in California with his sister and her children. Seeing their rapid growth over a short time made him want to become a better role model.
He connects with Bija because it challenges the norm and the enrichment programs are creative and evolving. Outside of Bija, Charlie performs with a hip-hop group named Kooley High: http://kooleyhigh.com/. He loves relaxing on the beach and plans to continue creating music and putting smiles on people’s faces.
Clara Warnaar, Classroom Teacher
As a kid, Clara loved every form of making art. Dance, drums, sculpture, tap, home movies, game board design – it was non-stop and all-encompassing. She was a drummer by age 8 and enjoyed playing along with Earth Wind and Fire tunes. Many of her happiest hours were spent in the Pacific Ocean, woods and rivers of Michigan, flattening bottle caps on train tracks, etc…
Even from a young age, Clara felt that she wanted to help others in a hands-on way. During college she gradually began coaching and teaching others and discovered that’s what made her most happy. Clara discovered Bija when she moved to the neighborhood, only two blocks away. What continues to draw draw her in is the beautiful, convertible space, and the positive and honest attitudes the other teachers bring each day. She wishes she could go to school at Bija!
When she’s not teaching, Clara is usually performing or traveling with very few free minutes to spare. She also enjoys simple things: going to the farmer’s market, lingering in coffee shops, and eating. Lots of eating and cooking. And when a bike trip to Coney Island doesn’t quite cut it, she start daydreaming of traveling to exotic, obscure places around the world. In addition to her freelance performing, Clara plays regularly with Excelsis, an all female percussion quartet, and drums in her band Infinity Shred.
Chelsea Hanawalt, Classroom Teacher
As a child, Chelsea loved exploring nature, riding her bike, and playing sports. She was also very imaginative, acting out fantastical stories and characters. She did a lot of children’s theater and when she wasn’t performing, she was playing softball. Chelsea’s high school drama teacher was a big influence in her life and she knew that one day she wanted to be that influential to someone else.
She loves Bija’s emphasis on nature, play, health, and sustainability. She believes it’s important for kids to be active and to be kind to our earth! When she’s not at work Chelsea is creating art with her company, boom! theater. She writes plays, acts, sings and is learning to play acoustic guitar. Throughout college she worked as a kid’s birthday party performer. Chelsea has a BFA in theater and has worked at an Arts and Science Preschool in Seattle, called Huckleberry Forest, where she taught art, Spanish, and theater. She has also completed children’s yoga teacher training through HOSH Kids. In five years Chelsea hopes to have a Masters in Theater Education or Early Childhood Education. She also wants to have a successful vegetable garden!
Zoé Maloney, Assistant Teacher
Zoé grew up in the Caribbean (St.Vincent and the Grenadines). As a child she loved swimming at the beach, playing in the river and waterfalls, climbing, and playing with her many pets. Her mom was a preschool teacher and cared for children most of her life so Zoé grew up watching her and knew she wanted to do the same. Zoé appreciates that at Bija preschool is not just about teaching the children ABCs and 123s, but how to care for their environment and explore the world around them. She also likes that curriculum includes art, music, yoga, planting flowers, and healthy eating.
Zoé is currently working towards a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work: Child Welfare. Her five year plan after graduating is to continue her education by getting a Master’s and maybe even a Ph.D. She would like to work as a social worker at a school and then open a spiritual counseling center for families that can provide a positive and calming environment to help families in need. When Zoé’s not at work she enjoys taking walks, listening to music, and baking.
Holden Compton-Lujin, Assistant Teacher
Holden was a very imaginative kid. He loved to read and to play pretend with stuffed animals. Even from a young age, he loved to play games on the computer, which included going to the library every week to get new books and CD-ROMS. Holden started working with kids through America Reads which solidified just how much he loved the work.
Bija is a good fit because it meshes with his values and ideas. Holden is currently getting a BA from Gallatin in game studies with a minor in Creative Writing. He’s an OUTSpoken Peer Educator at NYU’s LGBTQ Student Center, facilitating allyship trainings and other events. He also co-facilitates the club for trans and gender non-conforming students. He plans to continue is education in graduate school for game studies after completing his degree at NYU. Holden plans to eventually work in academia, teaching and writing about games.
Bert Sheppard, Front Desk and Hospitality
Bert grew up playing basketball, wrestling and working with computers. He loved team activities and working towards a common goal. He has also always been fascinated with child development and volunteering at his middle school was critical for him.
The uniquely warm and positive environment is what drew Bert to Bija. He appreciates that the goal is never to make a child do something specific, but to help guide them to become independent and make decisions on their own.
Bert has a strong background in computers, from inventory management to C++ programming. He plans to finish his Computer Systems Technology degree and work designing virtual reality. In his free time Bert can be found at the gym, reading up on new technology, or on the quest for the perfect cheeseburger.
Meena Hasan, Visiting Artist
Meena is fascinated by children’s expansion imaginations, creative abilities, and freedom from societal preconditions, often modeling her own artistic practice after theirs. She has taken many art classes both as a child and as an adult, and they have been the best part of her days. Meena earned a BA in Studio Art from Oberlin College and an MFA in Painting/Printmaking from Yale School of Art. She is a practicing independent visual artist and has exhibited nationally and internationally.
Meena is continuously impressed by Bija and its unique and thoughtful programs. As a child Meena was a big collector, verging on hoarder. She had more than 50 sketchbooks filled with stickers and drawings of people and animals. She traveled regularly and loved been on airplanes. When she’s not at Bija, Meena is in her studio space in Gowanus. You can view her work at www.meenahasan.com.