Early Ecology

"Children are born with a sense of wonder and an affinity for Nature.  Properly cultivated, these values can mature into ecological literacy, and eventually into sustainable patterns of living."

-Zenobia Barlow


Joanna Ferraro, MA

Human Development/Early Education

 Early Ecology Founder & Director


 I have been an outdoor and early childhood educator since 2000.  It has been an honor and a pleasure to have been part of the lives of so many families and children.   I believe that early childhood is the most influential time in anyone’s life and also the time when families need the most support.  Though out my career I have led programs for teachers, parents and children all aimed towards creating healthy relationships between self, other and the natural world. 

 Joanna’s Story

As the former Director of Esalen Institute’s Gazebo Park Preschool & Infant Toddler Center I had the opportunity to participate in the most inspiring approach to early education I have witnessed world wide combining mindful communication, ecology education and play based curriculum.  Coming to Oakland, I knew that the children of this city deserve the same opportunity to a natural childhood that we were able to nurture in Big Sur.  I have been deeply inspired by the work happening in Reggio Emilia, Italy, Permaculture, the No Child Left Inside outdoor education movement as well as the creative communities of the Bay Area.   

“I was raised around caring adults who nurtured the freedom and joy that I found in nature as well as teaching me about the local ecology.  I felt so much peace and strength exploring the outdoors, climbing trees, finding new trails and dreaming up imaginary worlds.  As an adult I found my passion in early education and working with families.  Beyond that I found that given positive experiences with nature early on, all children were drawn to the beauty and mystery of the natural world.  It brought me alive to encourage my student's inquiry and share my knowledge with them, passing on this great wonder and joy that my mentors passed on to me.   The longer I teach and study the more clearly I see that a positive relationship with the natural world is one of the keys to lifelong happiness and health.”

-Joanna Ferraro

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Darci Andresen

Program Manager

Fox Class Teacher

I grew up among the oak trees and coyote bush in 1970s country-suburbs with plenty of space to follow creeks and climb trees. The kinship I felt for all creatures led me to an undergraduate degree in Biology (Ecology, Behavior and Evolution) and a Master’s degree in Resource Ecology and Management from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I've worked with children for 7 years, via the family camp I run called Mighty Earthling and Early Ecology where I have been a teacher for the last 4 years. I feel blessed to be part of a school where Nature is teacher. I love watching children harness their powers of perception to listen with all their might to the language of trees, rivers, stars, and creatures of all kinds. Via this learning we may all grow into more powerful and connected beings. 

Ashley Karell

Coyote / Bunny Class Teacher

My name is Ashley Karell, and I have been working in the field of child development for 13 years now. When Andres (my son) was born, I began to take a strong look at various alternative education models and decided to create my own home based pre-school that focused on garden education and community engagement.  

The four awesome years of our little school strengthened my commitment to creating healthy spaces for our children to thrive. It is my belief that a solid foundation for children begins with a strong sense of self-awareness in relationship to the environment and the community that supports and surrounds us. I feel humbled to be entering into my fourth year of teaching with Early Ecology as we explore our sense of self in relationship to one of the most beautiful places on earth, The California Redwood forest. I am excited to be learning alongside our children as we share experiences in the redwood forest. I am also looking forward to seeing your children and families around town in Oakland. Please reach out for a hug if you see Andres and I cruising through farmers markets, community gardens or playing around Lake Merritt.


Kate Evans

Bunny Class Teacher

I have been an early childhood educator since 2007 and a Forest School teacher with Early Ecology since 2015. I attended Cal Poly State University where I received my B.S. in Child Development and a minor in Psychology. I was initially trained in an early literacy program for toddlers and preschoolers. I feel very lucky to have stumbled upon Early Ecology. I am grateful to be working outside everyday surrounded by nature. I was raised by two parents who taught me the wonders of the outdoors by taking me on multiple outdoor adventures. I grew up exploring tide pools at the beach, mountains, and forests. I still spend much of my time outside and am often out wandering with my dog, Wally. Wandering is a great way to discover something new or rediscover something old. With no set destination I can simply take a map and go where my curiosity takes me. I wish to share my love of adventure and the outdoors with the children I work with as well as their families. I look forward to getting to know Early Ecology’s growing community and continue to share my passion of the outdoors.


Tyler Sheaffer

Bobcat Class Teacher

I grew up in the ancient Appalachian mountains surrounding the Susquehanna River, the ancestral land of the Susquehannock people, and had the great privilege of walking out my back door into a green cathedral of ferns and oaks and hickories. I've been working with children since 2010, including nature connection programs and an outdoor school co-op. I'm also a musician and crafts person, specializing in woodcarving and basket weaving.

I love the way children are naturally creative, hilarious, resilient, and open. I believe that giving children the opportunity to be in relationship with wild, undomesticated places is among the most important gifts adults can give for healthy psychological development.

I want all children to feel safe and a sense of home and belonging in the world, a kinship and connection not only with their peers but also owls, caterpillars, and lichen.

I'm passionate about creating spaces for children to explore their curiosity, to play, sing, and to express themselves and communicate their needs. My intention is to encourage children to develop a profound reverence and abiding belief in the sacredness of the planet, to fall in love with the natural world, and grow up kind, compassionate defenders of life.

 Debi Cooper

Fox Class Teacher

Debi Cooper is an early childhood educator, world traveler and photographer. She is committed to a holistic educational approach that fosters children’s social-emotional growth and development by teaching and modeling self-awareness, communication, empathy, problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. Debi believes in allowing children to discover their world at their own pace through extended periods of play in nature and that enlivened education is filled with an abundance of wonder, vitality, compassion and spirit of imagination. She is enthusiastic and loves bringing the magic of tactile learning through art, movement, exploration and stories to children.

Having grown up in Montana and Northern California with healthy doses of camping, spending time on lakes, rivers, tide pooling, sailing, creating circuses, hiding and seeking and playing outdoors until 9:00 at night with all the neighborhood children, she laid an early foundation for lifelong learning and a passion and great appreciation for nature and all it has to offer and teach us.

She has a BA, Liberal Studies, JFK University, Early Childhood Education Certificate, Merritt College, studied Waldorf Education, Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training and attends Continuing Education throughout the Bay Area on topics including mindful meditation and yoga for young children, emergent and project-based curriculum and brain development.


Romy Gabriel

Bunny Class Teacher

I grew up here in Oakland and have been hiking all over the Bay Area since I was a little girl. I now hike these very woods with my nine year-old daughter. I have taught preschoolers to kindergartners since 2009. I am well versed in many curriculum disciplines such as Montessori, Reggio-Emilia, and play-based and have enjoyed them all. However, it is my passion and deep love of nature that brings me to Early Ecology Forest School. It is a dream come true to be teaching and exploring out in nature with your children. I am so excited to be a part of the Forest preschool community. Thank you for the privilege of teaching your children.


Eva Sivill

Bobcat Class Teacher

I was born in a small village, near Barcelona, between the Mediterranean sea and the Montserrat mountains. I love hiking, biking, climbing, trees, birds and children. I came to Oakland through a program for visiting teachers 5 years ago to teach Spanish in a public school through the Oakland Unified School District. I was in the Elementary Education for 8 years teaching English to 4 to 12 year olds in Spain. I have been working with kindergartners and preschoolers for the last 2 years with Early Ecology. I feel called to be involved in the path of Education, that’s why I took a forest teacher training through the Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers 2 years ago to learn other ways to facilitate learning and development for all children. How to help support children with trauma and underprivileged children is also a call. Bringing outdoor Education into lower income communities is a purpose of mine.

I’m eager to unlearn old-habit-teaching patterns, learn new ways to instill the love of learning and provide a context where children can fully develop themselves in the first stage of life.

I look forward to continue to grow and develop not only as an educator but as a human being through the work we do at Early Ecology.

May we not provide children with the tools to adapt into the world, but provide them with the space to thrive with who they are into the world. “ Waldorf inspired”


Michael Jacobsen

Fox Class Teacher

I am a father, artist, and musician, who has been working with children & youth for 19 years.

I have worked in many areas, including being a nanny for twin toddlers in New Mexico and as a preschool teacher in Ashland, OR. I have also worked as an art instructor for the ArtEsteem program in West Oakland, a music teacher for Oakland Fine Arts Summer School, and a mural instructor at Richmond High School. I also worked with the 100 Families Oakland Project in both West Oakland & Chinatown, and most recently I was a mentor to at-risk youth in Mendocino County.

Growing up in several states around the country during my own childhood, I could often be found fishing the lakes in Minnesota, catching reptiles in South Florida, wandering the mountains of Western Montana, or spending summers helping my grandparents tend their fields and animals on their farm on the plains of Northern Iowa.

As a forest school teacher, I enjoy teaching students (through songs, games, & arts & crafts) about our local plants and animals so that over time, nature ceases to be perceived merely a green backdrop, but begins to become a community and a home.

And ultimately, it is my hope to guide our students to become more self-aware, confidant, and compassionate human beings so that they may become future stewards of our planet.


Chaise Levy

Coyote Class Teacher

Chaise Levy grew up wandering the arroyos and chaparral canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains and moved to the Bay Area in 2014. As a participant in the Weaving Earth Center for Relational Education’s Immersion program, he spent three training in the practice of Nature Connection and intergenerational community based in deep connection to place.

Chaise feels profoundly commitment to the service of the growth and development of young people. He has done that through his work at Stepping Stones Project , Trackers Earth and continues here at Early Ecology.  Chaise lives at Canticle Farm in the occupied territory of the Chochenyo Ohlone people in what is now called East Oakland.


Jenny Marshall

Bunny Class Teacher

I grew up in the Bay Area, with frequent visits to the redwoods.  As a teacher, I took preschoolers to play and explore in Golden Gate park for 10 years.  As a musician, I played piano in a Waldorf school (as well as for dancers and other performers).  I have also taught my own music / movement classes for little ones.  I have loved working with children for over 20 years, as a nanny for many families, and as a preschool teacher in various settings.  I have been inspired by teaching styles ranging from Reggio Emilia approach to Bev Bos' philosophy. 

 My roots in the Bay Area artist/activist community have deepened my connection to the planet as a whole.  In creating positive experiences in nature for kids,  I wish to bring them to their own deep connection with the world and themselves.  And bugs and salamanders.   


Andrea Hector

Fox Class Teacher

Andrea Hector grew up in Martinez, California where she spend most of her childhood exploring the hills beyond her families home and in her father’s garden.  It was introduced to her early on the importance of growing her own food and how nourishing nature could be.  She has spent over 15 years working with young children. After receiving her Bachelors of Science at Sonoma State University she realized she could integrate her passion for working with young children and the natural world.  She spent an additional three years getting her Masters in Early Childhood Education and Environmental Education, specializing in garden/nature based learning. During this time, she was worked at a Reggio Inspired school both as a teacher and a garden coordinator where she implemented a small composting program and taught the children about gardening and the importance of growing and harvesting their own food. 

In 2016, she found herself teaching as a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher for two years, under the mentorship of many trained Waldorf teachers.  Her interests are in integrating Waldorf principles with her passion for providing outdoor environments for young children where they can explore the natural world with in its entirety. As a trained teacher in the Reggio Emilia Approach, she is also deeply passionate about inquiry based learning and supporting children’s interests through open ended exploration.  In 2018 she helped develop the Early childhood forest program for an outdoor homeschool enrichment program, Wild Oak Education.  In her free time she enjoys spending time with her husband and three daughters, Asilee, Fiona and Marleigh, gardening, hiking, camping and finding joy in everything!


Dana Neufeld

El Nido Teacher

As someone who is passionate about nature, language and cross-cultural exchange & understanding, I am thrilled to be a part of the El Nido program, helping give young children the gift of learning the Spanish language. Sharing my love of Spanish through song, stories and art, all while surrounded by the majestic Redwoods, is a true joy.

I have worked with children in many different capacities over the years including as a camp counselor, private tutor, special education classroom aide, and play-therapy facilitator with newcomer immigrants. More recently my experiences with children have revolved around son, Joaquin, who has been lucky enough to be a part of Early Ecology since he was barely two. When I'm not in the forest with my son or dog, I'm often working at my other job with an adult ESL program here in Oakland. I also love hiking, photography and iced coffees!

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