Allen Creek Preschool Current Teachers

Classroom Teachers

Dina Stillings
Creative Arts Specialist

Artist, Mother, and Teacher. Dina combines these three important roles to bring a unique voice to the Allen Creek community. Born in Arizona and raised in the Midwest, Dina attended the Art Institute of Chicago where she was awarded full Honorary Scholarships. Her career as a painter and art handler took her to NYC where she explored East Coast life. Travel throughout Europe and extended trips throughout India further enhanced her insight into the cultural beauty of this planet. With children of her own, Dina Stillings brings a deep understanding of the love and respect budding minds and hearts need to grow healthy and strong. Through continuation of her own work as an artist, she remains fresh and flexible to change, believing this nurturing of her own skills is inherent to passing on the gift of learning.

Gale Whittier-Ferguson
Teacher & Education Director

Gale was one of the founding teachers of Allen Creek and has worked with children in a variety of settings for over 30 years. She holds an MA in Early Childhood and Elementary Education from Bank Street College of Education in New York City. Gale and her husband have two grown children who continually delight and amaze them. Their family also includes 2 rambunctious dogs and a black and white cat. Gale likes to challenge herself physically through cycling, running and weight training; she loves to sing, listen to music, speak Spanish, quilt, read, and be outside.

Katie Chappell-Lakin, BA, BSW, MMT

Katie comes to Allen Creek after several decades of working with children. Her most recent experience was in preschool administration, and her passion lies in being with the children in the classroom. Her interests and professional experiences include music therapy, music education, folk and traditional music, Kindermusik, fiber arts crafting, and outdoor education. Katie has a master's degree in music therapy, and coursework for a PhD in education, where her research focuses on how play-based learning affects motivation in the long-term. In addition to play, other early childhood education topics of interest include social-emotional learning, mindfulness, Reggio-Emilia philosophy, music, and the arts. 

Keri Adkins
Substitute Teacher

Keri Adkins has been a member of the Allen Creek community for nine years. This year she will enthusiastically continue her relationship with the school, which she feels is a unique and amazing place for children and families, as a substitute teacher. Keri enjoys puzzles, musicals, and traveling 'Up North' with her husband and two daughters. 

Lesley Kabza Criscenti
Imagining the Arts Teacher

Lesley's work with and interaction with children is highly regarded in the Ann Arbor community with her early education and preschool art classes with First Steps Washtenaw Ann Arbor and as a dance and creative movement teacher for Arts in Motion. "I feel a very strong connection to the world of the imagination and I have been privileged to have worked in the creative arts for many years." Lesley has a degree from the University of Michigan in Dance and Elementary Education and a M.A. from EMU in Creative Writing. She directed Blue Dragon Dance Theatre, a multi-age dance company receiving grants to work in the Michigan schools. She also directed the professional dance company Dance Focus, which performed in every single Ann Arbor school. "As the Creative Arts Specialist at Allen Creek Preschool I am enriched by the day to day interaction with your children, and I know my teaching style benefits from contact with other highly skilled professionals." Lesley also works under the name of Princess Whimsy – paint and poetry on wood and in fiber arts, creating one of a kind scarves with yarn and beads.

Lorna Rankin

Lorna brings many years of experience to Allen Creek, as well as deep knowledge of fiber arts, medieval history, and creative ways children engage with classroom materials. She travels to pursue these passions and can be found around the country immersing herself in historical recreations and demonstrations.

Michelle Graves, M.A.
Teacher & Admissions Director

Michelle Graves joined the Allen Creek staff in 2002. Before coming to Allen Creek she worked as an education consultant for the High/Scope Foundation. During her 22-year stay at High/Scope she traveled extensively throughout the United States, leading training workshops, presenting at national conferences, observing and giving feedback to teachers in a variety of classroom settings, and authoring several books and articles. Her own classroom experience includes daycare settings, private non-profit preschools, and special education elementary schools.

Her interest in children comes from deep within, and she is committed to their emotional and physical safety and to developing genuine relationships with them based on mutual respect. She lives in Ann Arbor with her family, including two cats. When not working, she enjoys gardening, biking, dancing and reading.

Marcia Healey

Marcia joined the Allen Creek teaching staff in 2010.  Teaching is the beginning of a new chapter in her professional life.  A software engineering position with Bell Northern Research brought her to Ann Arbor after graduation from Western Michigan University in 1985.  She also held software development positions with the Ann Arbor companies once known as Medstat and Comshare before resigning to go off to graduate school. While her grandson attended preschool at Allen Creek (2006–2008), she was in graduate school at Erikson Institutein Chicago studying early childhood development.  After graduating with a Masters in Early Childhood Education and Illinois Teaching Certification, she returned to her home in Ann Arbor and now holds Michigan Teaching Certification with an Early Childhood Endorsement (ZA).  During graduate school she spent a year in a top notch Reggio Emilia (RE) inspired preschool.  "The heart of the RE philosophy holds the image of the child as strong, capable, and with rich resources.  This is a powerful vantage from which to explore the beliefs and practices one brings to education." She is happy to be working and learning with the Allen Creek community.

Meghan Wernimont, M.S. CCC-SLP

Meghan is re-joining the Allen Creek community after taking an 8-year hiatus to be with her family. Her bachelor’s and master’s degrees are both in Speech/Language Pathology, with a heavy education emphasis at each level. She has worked in a variety of preschool settings, including special education inclusion classrooms in Colorado, a wonderful cooperative preschool in Chicago, and, of course, Allen Creek. “I am especially excited to be coming back to a place which I know has such a deep respect for the whole child, and which has such an exquisitely sensitive approach to interaction with children and families.” Much of Meghan’s spare time is happily spent with her family. She also enjoys exercising (especially tennis!), reading, leading and participating in Bible studies, and walking in Nichols Arboretum.

Teresa Schwarz-Helleis
Substitute Teacher

Teresa Schwarz-Helleis was born and raised in Graz, Austria and moved to Ann Arbor with her husband in 2007. She graduated from the University of Vienna with a MA in Psychoanalytic Educational Science. Teresa was a preschool teacher at Allen Creek Preschool for 3 years. Besides teaching, Teresa enjoys spending time with her family, being outdoors, reading and traveling.

Trisha Miller

Trisha Miller graduated with honors from Central Michigan University. Her degree is in elementary education, with a major in early childhood development and a minor in music. Prior to Allen Creek, she worked in various preschool settings.

"What I like most about working with children is sharing my love of learning with them. Young children are so curious, and I am thrilled along with them every time they learn something new. I am privileged to have a job where I get to make close relationships with my students. Besides being a teacher, being with my children is one of my major sources of joy. Another is my relationship with my partner. Other things I enjoy are: music, singing, reading, cooking, studying natural health, and walking in the woods."

Kumiko Ito-Teitgen

Kumiko Ito-Teitgen joined the Allen Creek teaching staff in 2016.  She had 17 years of prior experience working with children before coming to Allen Creek. She holds a BS in Elementary Education with Early Childhood Education, Integrated Creative Arts, and Math and Science minors from Western Michigan University. Her most recent experience as a Studio Educator brought more interest in Reggio-Emilia philosophy, connecting children back to nature and the arts.  When not working, she enjoys photography, gardening, collecting nature materials, walking/hiking in the woods and other outdoor activities, and spending time with her family.