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

Bobcat 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

Fox 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 5 year old little boy) 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.

Shana Negin

Bunny Class Teacher

Shana has been working with children in one way or another since shortly after she stopped being a child herself. She has been a classroom teacher (grades 4-12), after school program teacher, camp counselor, teen mentor, mom, auntie, and lately, early childhood educator. She has enabled children to create art, play in nature, sing songs, build robots, and design web sites. She has driven 12 passenger vans filled with children, lead children on field trips using busy public transportation and guided children on hikes through the trails of the Oakland Hills. She has also been a teacher to adults, helping classroom teachers to learn to use computers. In her spare time, she likes to be with her family, kayak, ride bikes, cook and make plans for future endeavors. After experiencing teaching in many different environments, it was the forest classroom that bubbled to the top for Shana, being so automatically accessible to all, and affording little cleaning to do at the end of the day. She brings the added bonus of having been an Early Ecology Parent of two children, holds the role of 'first mama bear', and planned the first Early Ecology Potluck. Now she is  *only* a teacher, her kids now alumna. She is excited to spend more years as a teacher with Early Ecology, gaining some depth to add to breadth of experience. 

 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.

Vince Czekus

Fox Class Teacher

Hello! I'm Teacher Vince!

I have been working in early childhood education for over 15 years. Besides working with kids, I am also a professional musician and artist. Recently I've traveled abroad to teach Hip-Hop workshops to youth groups, and I love incorporating my passion for art, music, and dance into my curriculum and circle times. You will often will see me with my guitar in hand! I hold an AA degree in child development and have taken and facilitated many workshops on music/movement, conflict resolution and other child development related topics. I am excited to join the team here at Forest School and I look forward to meeting you all!!


Eva Sivill

Bunny 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”


Chiara Symens-Bucher

Bobcat Class Teacher

Chiara grew up in Oakland, occupied territory of the Chocenyo Ohlone people, and has so much love for the East bay hills and their plants and wildlife. She deepened her connection to nature and learned valuable practices of awareness as a participant of the Weaving Earth Immersion program from 2013-2016. She now lives at Canticle Farm in Oakland, a community experimenting at the intersection of social justice-based, faith-based, and Earth-based nonviolent action.


Within the last 10 years Chiara has taught in play-based and nature-based preschools and mentored in after-school programs. She loves exploring and being curious with children outdoors. She is very committed to working with girls and young women by helping them to remember that they are inherently good and belong in the world and is a mentor at Gaia Girls Passages, an organization offering nature connection and rites of passage for girls.

She believes that the practices of nature connection empower us as humans to know who we are, where we come from, and what gifts we have to offer. Chiara is dedicated to supporting our young ones and the future generations.


Chaise Levy

Bobcat 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

Fox 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.   

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