Pipster Prep Staff
Owner, Executive Director
Tessa Steinberg is the Director and Owner of Pipster Prep. Tessa earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Accounting from Oregon State University. After working in the accounting field for a few years, she decided to make a career change. With a love of children and education, Tessa moved to South Korea where she taught English to children ages three to ten years old. Upon returning to Portland, she enrolled at University of Portland and earned her Master’s in Teaching. She went on to teach Kindergarten and First Grade in the Evergreen School District. As a kindergarten and first grade teacher, she saw how important kindergarten readiness was. Her dream of opening a preschool began while in Korea, and with her experience in public education, she is excited to be able to prepare students for entering elementary school. When Tessa isn’t working she enjoys spending time with her husband and two children, Solveigh and Weldon.
Lake Oswego Site Director
Jessica Castrapel is the Site Director of our Lake Oswego Pipster Prep. Jessica began her career at Pipster Prep in August of 2014 and is so proud to be working alongside her sister who is the school founder, Tessa Steinberg. She earned her Master of Education from Loyola University. Jessica is AMI Montessori trained and earned an Assistance to Infancy Teaching Diploma from Montessori Institute Northwest. She has a passion for early education and knows that providing an environment full of rich, happy experiences aids a child in developing a love for learning. Her goal is to inspire children to seek peace, reveal their uniqueness, and fulfill their potential. When she is not at Pipster Prep, Jessica enjoys gardening, paddle boarding, and spending time with her dogs and husband, Elias.
Concordia Site Director
Briar Hayworth is the Site Director of our Concordia Location. Briar was Pipster Prep’s first employee and started when it opened in April 2014. She earned her bachelor's degree in Child and Family Studies and her master's degree in Education from Portland State University. Briar is passionate about education and inspiring children to love learning in a supportive, fun, and nurturing environment. She believes that building community in the classroom is the foundation for a creative and exciting learning experience. Briar encourages her students to construct their own learning by engaging in rich conversations and open-ended questions. Her goal is for her students to learn about topics that apply to their lives while building meaningful relationships. When Briar is not at Pipster Prep, she enjoys spending time with her family which includes her daughter, son, husband, two puppies, and one kitty. She also loves adventuring outdoors with friends and reading.
Hillside Site Director, Teacher
Alisha Harms is the Hillside Site Director and Head Teacher in our Rabbit Classroom. Alisha started at Pipster Prep in September of 2017. She received her bachelor’s degree from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana with a major in Biology. After college, Alisha moved to Portland and worked as a nanny for five years. She also spent a year interning at OMSI in their Early Childhood Education Department before starting at Pipster Prep. Alisha has always loved working with children, and believes that providing a space that caters to everyone's individuality will instill a love for learning throughout their entire life. In her spare time, Alisha loves hiking, birding, crafting, and spending time with her son, Leon.
Rachel Podrabsky is a Head Teacher in our NE Fawn Classroom and our NE Assistant Site Director. Rachel started as a Co-Teacher at our NE Pipster Prep in October 2018. She earned a bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Oregon in 2015. Before beginning her career at Pipster Prep, Rachel worked for the David Douglas School District as an Instructional Assistant for 3 years. Rachel is most interested in helping students become successful by working with each individual student's personal needs. She hopes to build a child's independence by teaching the social and emotional skills that are so needed when heading into their early childhood and beyond. Rachel enjoys spending time with friends, traveling, camping, and reading.
Northwest Site Director
Kelly Schilling is the Site Director of our Northwest Pipster Prep Location. Kelly started at Pipster Prep as a Co-Teacher in February of 2018. She was the lead teacher in our NW Fawn Class before becoming a Director. She was born and raised in the greater Portland area. Kelly earned her bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a focus on children and families from Oregon State University. Kelly has always wanted to work with children and has prior experience as a nanny for a family of three girls. She is excited to be a daily part of a child's preliminary educational experience. It is her purpose to make each day a great one for every child and to help them develop and get ready not only for kindergarten but for life. When Kelly is not at Pipster Prep, she spends her time taking care of her many houseplants and her dog, Duke.
Northeast Site Director, Teacher
Nina Kessler is the NE Site Director and Head Teacher in our NE Bear Classroom. Nina started at NW Pipster Prep in 2019 as a Head Teacher. Since then Nina has earned her Bachelor of Science in Social Sciences with a focus on Family Studies. She has traveled around the world where she has enjoyed volunteering at schools in Cambodia and Belize. Nina aims to foster an environment where students and staff feel valued, heard, and free to be themselves! In her free time, she enjoys visiting family, exploring the Portland food scene, and hanging at home with her cat Walter.
Southwest Site Director
Hannah Verbout is the Site Director of our SW Pipster Prep. Hannah started at Pipster Prep in December 2019 as a co-teacher. Since then, Hannah has earned her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Preliminary Teaching License in Oregon. She was the lead teacher of our NE PreK classroom before becoming a Director. Hannah aims to provide an inclusive and fun environment where her students feel valued and empowered to be their own unique selves. Her goal is to inspire students to love learning and equip them with strategies that can be used beyond the walls of the classroom, in all aspects of their life. When she’s not at Pipster, Hannah enjoys baking, eating ice cream from Salt & Straw, going to the beach, spending time with her family and friends, and playing with her cat, Kitty.
Lake Oswego Teacher
Anaisa Soto is the Assistant Site Director and head Teacher in our Lake Oswego Raccoon Classroom. She started at Pipster Prep in June of 2021. Anaisa received her Bachelor's in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Teacher Preparation at California State University, East Bay. She believes in tailoring the classroom to the needs of her students, while simultaneously providing the opportunity to explore. She believes that learning should be fun and activity-based. She understands that a classroom is also a place where children develop. Anaisa promotes kindness, patience, and empathy in the classroom. When not at Pipster Prep, Anaisa works on bringing old family dishes to life and enjoys hiking and skating whenever she can. She looks forward to connecting, learning, and developing with the students at Pipster Prep.
Korah Vonderahe is the Head Teacher in our Concordia Owl Classroom. She started at Pipster Prep in May of 2021. Korah received her Oregon teaching license and Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from George Fox University. As the oldest of five siblings, teaching young children has been a dream of hers since she was a little girl, and she is enthusiastic about building strong relationships and delivering differentiated student-centered support in a way that makes learning fun! Korah is passionate about social and racial justice, and play/discovery-based learning, and is dedicated to using patience, compassion, creativity, and culturally responsive instruction in her teaching to foster an engaging and supportive environment. When she is not teaching, Korah loves to spend time with loved ones, go shopping, be out in nature, do art, and make music!
Dominique DeRose is the Head Teacher in our SW PreK Fox Classroom and our SW Assistant Site Director. She started at Pipster Prep in February 2021. Dominique has her Bachelor's degree in International Business from the University of St. Thomas. As a teacher, Dominique helps to foster social/emotional skills and build self-esteem. She aims to celebrate individuality and teach the importance of kindness & inclusion. Dominique's simplest goal is to inspire her students to love learning! Dominique moved to Oregon from Minnesota because of her love for the outdoors. When not at Pipster Prep, she loves doing yoga, cooking, and hiking & camping with her boyfriend, Nick, and their pup, Luna.
Grace Pestridge is the Head Teacher in our Concordia Otter Classroom and our Concordia Assistant Site Director. Grace graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor's in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education and her Arizona Teaching License. She completed two years of student teaching across Preschool and Elementary settings in addition to over six years of experience in childcare. In her senior year, Grace completed an honors thesis on positive behavior intervention strategies. Grace believes that her classroom should be a place where all students feel safe to explore, ask questions, and try new things. She strives to foster a hands-on and inclusive learning environment. In her free time, Grace enjoys baking, traveling, and going to the movies. In the future Grace hopes to get a Master's in Education.
Lake Oswego Teacher
Kasey Hiblar is the Head Teacher in our Lake Oswego Mini Pipster Classroom. Kasey started as a co-teacher at Pipster Prep in August 2021 while working on her Master of Arts in Teaching through George Fox University, which she completed in December 2022. With a bachelor's in Biology/Anthropology, Kasey always encourages children to be curious and ask questions about science and the world around them. She is passionate about discovering and understanding the unique needs of each child to ensure everyone can thrive within the classroom. Kasey aims to create a nurturing environment with kind, respectful relationships between teachers and students, as well as among students. When not at Pipster Prep, Kasey enjoys going on walks with friends, experimenting with baking, and reading.
Sami Willard is the Head Teacher in our NE Mini Pipster Raccoon class. She began working as a Co-Teacher at our NW location in 2015. Sami quickly fell in love with early childhood education and fostering a safe space for her students to grow and learn. She puts a lot of effort into making our youngest students feel excited to be in the classroom and explore new ideas and lessons. Sami was born and raised in the Portland area and has a great love for her city. She obtained her associate’s degree in applied science from Mt. Hood Community College and plans to return to school and further her schooling in education. When Sami isn’t in the classroom, you can find her exploring all Oregon has to offer with her daughter Khloe, cheering on the Blazers, or planning her next trip to somewhere tropical!
Bernadette Karns is the Head Teacher in our Hillside Preschool Bear Classroom. Bernadette started at Pipster Prep in June of 2021 as the co teacher for the Mini Pipster Fawn class. She then transitioned into head teaching in September of 2022. Bernadette graduated from Portland State University in 2020 with her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a minor in Child and Family Studies. Prior to working at Pipster Prep, Bernadette worked as a behavioral technician assisting children ages 2-3 who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Her goal is to create a classroom environment where all children feel safe, happy, creative, and most importantly empowered to be their best selves. When she’s not at Pipster you’ll catch her around Portland trying new foods, shooting film photography, or spending time at home embroidering with her two cats.
Dana Wink is the Head Teacher in our SW Opossum Classroom. She started at Pipster Prep in January 2022. Dana moved to Portland from Ohio after graduating with her Bachelor of Science in Psychology at Bowling Green State University. She previously worked as a Behavioral Therapist for children with ASD where she gained a passion for helping kids create a toolbox of skills personalized to their own needs. Dana strives to build confidence in children, socially and academically. In her classroom, she encourages independence, and curiosity, and celebrates diversity. It is her goal to create an environment where her students feel safe, respected, and excited to grow! When not at Pipster, you can find her spending time outdoors, going to concerts, or playing with her cat Bugs.
Courtney Nigo is the Head Teacher in our SW Rabbit Classroom. Courtney began her teaching adventure at Pipster Prep in September 2021 and cannot wait to continue her love for teaching here! Courtney graduated from Clackamas Community College with her Associate's degree in Early Childhood Education & Family Studies. She has eight years of teaching experience with PreK students. Courtney strives to build a kind and caring classroom through social-emotional skills; as well as teaching the importance of independence, creativity, and diversity in an engaging and hands-on learning environment. When she is not at Pipster Prep, she enjoys traveling, OrangeTheory, her two cats, and spending time with her husband and family.
Brooke Rencher is our Hillside Assistant Site Director and the Head Teacher in our Hillside Mini Pipster Fawn Classroom. Brooke graduated from Portland State University with a Bachelor's in Mathematics with minors in Music and Education. Originally intending to teach high school, Brooke began working in Early Childhood Education in 2015 and fell in love! She’s spent the last six years working with children and building her experience as a teacher and caretaker. Brooke believes classroom learning happens when children feel safe, empowered, and inspired at school, and approaches all behavior management with a problem-solving mindset. She loves to incorporate her background in math and music into the classroom in all different developmental areas. In her free time, Brooke loves baking, exploring her local farmers market, and spending time with friends.
Blake Moreno is the Head Teacher in our NW Badger Classroom. Teacher Blake has worked in early childhood education for over 19 years. He has most recently been in preschool leadership positions but has spent about 15 years working in classrooms creating enriching activities and lessons for his students. Blake believes that education in a classroom starts with respect for your students and families. Building a relationship of trust and compassion is the foundation for a collaborative and meaningful learning experience. Blake has lived in Portland since he was in middle school. He currently lives downtown with his 2-year-old Labradoodle- Ruxpin. They really enjoy walking the neighborhood and he loves drinking iced coffee all year long.
Maria “Fer” Bennett
Maria “Fer” Bennett is the Head Teacher in our NW Bear Classroom and our NW Assistant Site Director. She has been at Pipster Prep since the summer of 2021. She earned her Montessori certificate in the summer of 2022. Prior to Pipster, Fer worked as a nanny for 3 years as well as in a Montessori early childhood program at her church. Fer believes that all children are unique and must have a stimulating educational environment where they can grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Her desire is to create this type of atmosphere where students can meet their full potential. She believes this can be reached by providing a safe environment where students feel welcome to share their ideas and take risks.
Mercedes Tracy is the Head Teacher in our SW Preschool Bear Classroom. Mercedes has a BFA in Performing Arts with a triple concentration in acting, playwriting, and directing from Cornish College of the Arts. With this background, Mercedes encourages students to use creative exploration in their learning. She celebrates self-expression and aims to create a space for students to be their most authentic selves. Throughout the last four years, Mercedes has had the opportunity to build her experience in the classroom as an Assistant Teacher as well as working in Special Education in the Portland area. She started at SW Pipster Prep as a Co-Teacher in September 2022. Her aim is for her classroom to be a space of inclusivity and acceptance for children of all backgrounds. Mercedes' lessons are driven by the individual needs of her students with the goal to help each student discover and reach their potential. She supports her students in building independence and confidence within themselves along with developing empathy and kindness toward others. When not at Pipster Prep you can find Mercedes baking, watching movies, and traveling.
Abby Franz is the head teacher of the SW Owl Class. Abby began working at SW Pipster Prep in May of 2022. After earning her Bachelor’s degree in Family Social Science from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, she relocated from Minneapolis to Portland and loves being in the PNW. Abby’s knowledge of interpersonal relationships have influenced her passion for meaningful connection and emotional intelligence. She understands the importance of creating a welcoming environment where student relationships can thrive and students are embraced for the unique individual they are. She empowers her students to advocate for their needs and have a strong sense of self-worth. Supporting your child during such an important developmental chapter is something she cherishes deeply and does not take lightly. Beyond the classroom, Abby adores the outdoors and the peace that can be found in nature. She loves camping with her partner, Vince, doing puzzles, and snuggling with her kitty, Olaf!