top of page

Our Philosophy

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! 

Our History


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.

Our History
Our Philosophy

Our Community


Teaching Staff

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. 

Please reload

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

Please reload

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

Please reload

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

Please reload

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

Please reload

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

Please reload

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.  

Our Leadership
bottom of page