Our People

Lauren Maples, 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, 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 in the real […]  read more

Mitch Epeneter, Director of Operations

Mitch has always been interested in educating kids. From teaching his younger sister how to explore in their backyard to running improv comedy classes, he’s enjoyed 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. Before joining Bija, […]  read more

Kat Murphy, Educational Director

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.  Kat grew up in New Hampshire and was constantly outdoors as a kid. She usually had some sort of costume on and could often be found […]  read more

Chelsea Hanawalt, Lead 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 […]  read more

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. […]  read more

Clara Warnaar, Substitute Teacher

As a kid, Clara loved every form of art-making: dance, drums, sculpture, tap, home movies, board game design – it was non-stop and all-consuming. She was a drummer by age 8, and learned by playing along to Earth, Wind & Fire tunes. Many of her happiest hours were spent in the Pacific Ocean, in the woods and rivers of Michigan, […]  read more

Jason Kohler, Classroom Teacher

As a kid, Jason was very interested in sports, chemistry, and anything dealing with ghosts or monsters. It was all about Halloween! He loved 1930s monster movies and football. He was also infatuated with the Beatles until 6th grade. Jason finds the values at Bija closely synced with his own – environmental responsibility and progressive […]  read more

Morgan Robinson, Classroom Teacher

As a child growing up in the south, all Morgan wanted to do was play outside on her trampoline and swings or jump in the mud.  She also loved softball and playing with her Barbies. She has worked with children for the past ten years, but initially pursued a job in the medical field, which […]  read more

Ashleigh Bragg, Substitute Teacher

As a kid, Ashleigh enjoyed exploring her neighborhood on her bike, putting on musical and theatrical performances for her family, and painting and drawing.  She loved going on family vacations to the ocean and the Redwood National Forest in California.  She also enjoyed learning about cooking and family recipes from both her mother and father.  […]  read more

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 […]  read more

Hannah Winkler, Substitute Teacher

As a child, Hannah loved being outside, whether it was making mud pies, playing soccer and softball, or cultivating her love of animals by walking neighbors’ dogs and collecting snails.  She also loved writing and performing songs and plays with her friends. She discovered she wanted to work with kids in high school, when she […]  read more

Hila Perry, Classroom Teacher

As a child, Hila performed and acted out scenes from movies.  She also loved crafts and anything she could do with her hands, like planting, painting, and building. She says she always knew she wanted to work with children because she absolutely loves them.  She feels she has a strength in providing support and comfort […]  read more

Steph Woman, Operations Manager

Steph was an adventurous kid with a lust for life! When she wasn’t busy plotting to run a veterinary practice, doctor’s office, and diner under the same roof, she was dabbling in ballet, gymnastics, soccer, piano, percussion, choir, musical theater, poetry, karate and visual art. She was a voracious reader and spent most of her […]  read more

Meena Hasan, Visiting Artist

Meena is fascinated by children’s expansive 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 […]  read more

Susan Paykin, Community Outreach and Farm Director

Susan joined the Bija team in an exciting new role supporting the development and expansion of Bija’s farm & garden activities, as well as community initiatives in the Hudson Valley and Brooklyn. Drawn to Bija’s commitment to progressive education that elevates food and farming in our lives and communities, she is thrilled to be a […]  read more

Gretta Wren, Special Needs Consultant

Gretta has had a long career working in various capacities with people with special needs and for the last 20 years has worked in the early childhood field. She is a classically trained pianist and singer and received her undergraduate degree in music education. After completing her graduate degree in special education, she was able […]  read more

Simone Bridges, Substitute Teacher

Simone was interested in alternative realities as a kid, always inventing and exploring things in her mind. She liked books that challenged her imagination. As a teenager, she was always the go-to person in the family to watch the younger cousins, and at that point realized how positive and rewarding working with kids was. Simone […]  read more