At Grace, our goal is to provide children with a nurturing learning environment in which they will flourish emotionally, socially, intellectually, creatively and physically. The heart of our philosophy is our belief that young children learn best in a natural, unforced way through exposure to a variety of activities and materials that are developmentally appropriate. Our skilled teachers create rich environments and use a variety of strategies to support and encourage children to engage in creative play. We feel that play-based learning is the best way to elicit curiosity, discovery and inspire a lifelong love of learning.
Our curriculum blends the best of several educational philosophies, combining a focus on topics or Big Ideas for children to explore and investigate along with an emergent approach where teachers carefully observe and support children's play themes. In other words our curriculum responds to children’s needs, growth and interests. This way of tailoring what happens in our classrooms to the children is the foundation of our joyful learning community. The activities in our classrooms are open-ended and our materials are flexible, which is a natural way to individualize our curriculum. Our multipurpose materials can be explored at many different levels. Through this process, children naturally build higher-level thinking skills as well as acquire a rich foundation of knowledge about the world.
We like to describe Grace as eclectic; which means that we incorporate some of the best elements of various early childhood philosophies into our curriculum. Being eclectic is also a reflection of the diverse backgrounds and interests of the teachers. We strive to reflect our teaching philosophy in the way we live and work together. We create a sense of community through sharing and collaborating. Through exploration of our neighborhood and its resources, children and families develop a sense of belonging and community pride. We believe that Grace offers something special to young children and their families. Come visit us and see for yourself…Come grow with Grace...a Joyful Learning Community!
Grace Neighborhood Nursery School (GNNS) was established in 1961 with a $50 gift, a few borrowed bicycles, 10 families and a handful of volunteer teachers. We were founded by members of Grace Trinity Community Church as a service to the community. We were housed in the education wing of the Grace-Trinity Community Church (GTCC) for 60 years until we moved to the First Universalist Church in 2021.
It was part of GTCC’s mission at that time to serve the children and families in our community by providing quality early childhood programming to everyone. The original intent was to seek out children who were deemed to be “at-risk” and provide accessible high-quality, non-sectarian early children education. To this day we continue that intention of providing quality early childhood education to all by offering scholarship assistance to up to 20% of our families. In 2009 GNNS became an independent 501c3, non-profit charitable organization. Click here for more information about our Scholarship Program.
BS and MS in Child Development from Northern Illinois University
Joined GNNS in 2015 after 30 years as an Early Childhood Specialist at the University of Minnesota. Barb was a Lead Teacher, then Director of the Shirley G. Moore Laboratory School and Coordinator of the Early Children Program and Teacher Licensure Program for the College of Education and Human Development. She is the 2015 recipient of the Evelyn House Award from the Minnesota Association of the Education of Young Children and current chair of the Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota.
Harriet Room - 33-39 months
Shannon Sullivan, Teacher
Joined GNNS in 2013
BA in Liberal Studies/Early Childhood from Viterbo College
Certified Montessori Teacher
Certified Music Together Teacher
Bde Maka Ska Room - 3 1/2 & 4 year olds
Cassy Guttenfelder, Teacher
Joined GNNS in 2016
BS in Elementary Education, UW-Madison
MS in Education, College of New Jersey
MN Early Childhood Teaching License
Sarah Wittenberg, Teacher
Joined GNNS in 2018
Studied Psychology at University of Northwestern
Many classes & continuing education in Early Childhood Education
Cedar Room - 4 & 5 year olds
Monta Hayner, Teacher
Joined GNNS in 1998
BA in Psychology from Reed College
Pre-K licensure program at the University of Minnesota
Nancy Nakaoka, Teacher
Joined GNNS in 2019
BA in Special Education from UW-Madison
MA in Curriculum & Instruction/STEM Education (in progress) from St Catherine’s University
Isles Room - 4 & 5 year olds
Carla Bode, Teacher
Joined GNNS in 2013
BS in English Education from Winona State University
Teaching Licensure in Dance and Theater Education from Mankato State University
Master's Certificate in Holistic Health Studies from St. Catherine’s University
Claire Thometz, Teacher
Joined GNNS in 1998
BA in Political Science and International Relations from Denison University
Diplome Annuel in French Language, Civilization & Culture, University of Paris
Many graduate classes and continuing education in Early Childhood Education
Sarah Madison, Teacher
Joined GNNS in 2017
BA in History from Middlebury College
BAA in Secondary French Teaching from the University of MN-Duluth
All-school Float Teacher
Terra Mayorga, Teacher
Joined GNNS in 2014
ASD in Early Childhood Development & American Sign Language from St. Paul College
BS in Early Childhood from Concordia University
Parent Advisory Board
Grace Neighborhood Nursery School is governed by a Parent Advisory Board. Board members include parents, the school director, a teacher representative, and a community representative. The board oversees the educational, business, and fund-raising aspects of the school. Board meetings are held at GNNS monthly, August through May. All parents are welcome and encouraged to attend board meetings.