Share Share E-mail E-mail Print Print
Our Nursery classrooms are wonderful places for a child's first school experience. We believe that play is the work of young children, and provide a rich curriculum to engage each child on a social, emotional, physical, and cognitive level.

We begin the year by building friendships. Children learn to separate from their parents through a gentle process of adjustment, and come to love the routines, risks, excitement, and independence of school. They engage their senses by playing with sand, water, and playdough, by painting at the easel and singing together. Children gain confidence with small and large motor skills by making wood sculptures, building with blocks and running, climbing, and playing on the playground.         
The Pre-Kindergarten classroom is an open, playful environment, where children move around freely and interact with each other.

We believe that children learn best through a combination of play and teacher-directed activities, and we help children to develop friendships as they learn. We focus on the development of the whole individual, helping each child to develop language, social skills, and emotional readiness for kindergarten.
Nursery & Pre-K at Poly
Faculty Members
Larry Donovan
Head of Lower School
Larry Donovan, aka, “Mr. D.” is in his fourth year at Poly as Head of the Lower School and loves his role here! Before joining this community, he served as Assistant Head at The Chestnut Hill School near Boston. He began as a second-grade and fifth-grade teacher. He is thrilled to be working with this age group! Mr. Donovan teaches current events to grade four, and it is his favorite period each week. While at Chestnut Hill Mr. Donovan was the co-director of the summer program and served as Dean of Studies and then Dean of Faculty. He was also a member of the finance, buildings and grounds, and education committees there. At Poly, he sits on the Board’s education committee. Mr. Donovan also is on the board of The Ethical Community Charter School, located here in Brooklyn. He enjoys working out, dining out (thus the working out), travelling, and taking advantage of the vibrant arts scene in the Big Apple. Though a Red Sox fan at heart, he truly enjoys living in New York City. A lifelong learner, Mr. Donovan will attend the Klingenstein Institute at Columbia University this summer (2013); he will finish his M.A. in private school administration in December of 2014.

Leonie Bolles, P'08
Associate Teacher, Nursery B (Lower School)
Leonie Barquero de Bolles came north in 1976 to serve at Nicaragua’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations. Later, she married and established her new family in Brooklyn, sending her young son to the Woodward Park School in a lovely old building that eventually became Poly’s Lower School. More than 25 years ago, Ms. Bolles started teaching Spanish to Woodward’s middle-schoolers, later adding early childhood to her teaching credits. Over time, Ms. Bolles developed a lesson plan for the youngsters that focused on the natural world— biology, ornithology, astronomy, fractals, and dendrology—all with the passion she had brought from Nicaragua’s tropical ecosystem, to stir the preschoolers’ natural curiosities, urging them to express their own passions in art that respects and explores the world beyond school and city. Having seen her three children pass through the grand building on First Street, Ms. Bolles continues with her preschoolers and her home in Brooklyn, where she tends her unique garden.

Shirley Dayes
Associate Teacher, Pre-K B; After School Site Coordinator (N-Pre-K) (Lower School)
Shirley Dayes received her B.A. from the City University of New York. She has worked in the Lower School division for the past 13 years as a Pre-Kindergarten associate teacher. She enjoys keeping her students engaged in fun learning activities and believes in creating a classroom environment that encourages curiosity and challenges her students to take risks. Ms. Dayes incorporates science and math activities in the daily schedule to enhance the children’s learning experiences. In addition, Ms. Dayes also brings culturally rich activities through art and cooking to the program. She is also actively involved in the Lower School’s after-school enrichment program. She truly enjoys working in the early childhood grades and prides herself in her ability to relate to students and adult peers. Outside the classroom, Ms. Dayes enjoys traveling, volunteering, and cooking with her family.

Matthew Durando '96
Physical Education and Athletics (Lower School)
Matthew Durando is a physical education teacher at the Poly’s Lower School teaching kindergarten, first, and third grades. Mr. Durando is also an assistant coach and hitting instructor for the Poly Prep Blue Devils baseball team. He graduated Poly Prep in 1996 and was named co-captain and co M.V.P. of the Blue Devils baseball team his senior year. After leaving Poly, Mr. Durando attended Fairleigh Dickinson University-Madison campus where he received a B.A. in Business Management. A four-year letter winner playing baseball at F.D.U. Madison, he was named captain of the Devils for the 2000 campaign. After graduating F.D.U. Madison in 2001, Mr. Durando attended Long Island University where he received an M.B.A. in Business Management in 2005. He also received an M.A. from Touro College in elementary and special education grades 1-6 in 2006. Mr. Durando resides in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with his wife, Tina and son, Jonathan Matthew.

Alison Flannery P'30
Assistant Head of Lower School
Alison Flannery received her B.A. from Cornell University and an M.A. from Bank Street College of Education. Before becoming a fourth grade head teacher at Poly, she worked as a third and first grade associate teacher at Packer Collegiate Institute. While at Packer, she also coached middle school basketball, volleyball, and JV softball. She has been a fourth grade head teacher at Poly for 8 years and also serves as the Director of the Associate Program at the Lower School. Her love of math has lead to her attendance at the National Conference of Teaching Mathematics conference, participating in an independent research project on how the brain affects the learning of mathematics, and conducting an early morning math class at the Lower School.

Denise Fraifeld
Associate Teacher, Nursery A (Lower School)
Denise started her early-childhood teaching career in 2001 at The Berkley Carroll School where she worked as a Pre-K and Kindergarten associate teacher for six years. In 2007, she was accepted to teach in the Nursery program at Poly Prep. Before her teaching career, Ms. Fraifeld spent many years in the children’s book illustration field, publishing more than fifty titles in her native Brazil and the United States. She won a national and an international award in 1984 and 1987 respectively for her illustrations, which led her to a scholarship in 1988 from the Brazilian government to pursue her M.A. in Fine Arts at the Pratt Institute, from which she graduated in 1991. She is passionate about art, books, and young learners. She enjoys using technology tools to capture her students engaged in their school life. With them, Ms. Fraifeld creates handcrafted books and many art projects.

Evelyn Gomez
Head Teacher, Pre-K B (Lower School)

Kassim Howell
Physical Education (Lower School)
Kassim Howell joins Poly’s athletic department as a K-4th grade physical education teacher, and a football, basketball, and lacrosse coach. He graduated from the University of Rochester where he majored in psychology. While at Rochester, Howell was a 4-year letter winner, received freshman all American and all-conference honors, and was named co-captain of the football team. After Rochester, Howell managed a non-profit high school intramural basketball league and coached football at Grand Street Campus High School, Brooklyn Technical High School, as well as the University of Rochester. In addition to his coaching and programming work, Howell also co-founded the Brooklyn Crescents lacrosse club, a youth lacrosse club that emphasizes teamwork, athletic skill development, and character.

Shannon L. Hummel
Dance and Movement (Lower School)
Shannon Hummel is a choreographer, arts educator, and Founding Artistic Director of The Cora Studio-Theater in Red Hook, Brooklyn, home to her professional dance company, Cora Dance, and its pay-what-you-can educational programs that strive to create access to the arts for all people. Ms. Hummel's frequently critically acclaimed choreography has been commissioned nationally by over 30 arts institutions and produced by over 25 New York City venues. A teacher for over 20 years, she has been on faculty at a plethora of New York dance education organizations and is longtime Movement Specialist at Poly’s Lower School in Brooklyn. She has been a full-time dance professor at James Madison University (VA) and Queensborough College (NY); taught and lectured at American Dance Festival (NY), ACDFA (Mid-Atlantic), NY Live Arts/DTW (NY), Rutgers University (NJ), College of William & Mary (VA), Marlboro College (VT), among others. She has received many honors and awards, including being named Outstanding Alum by her alma mater, James Madison University, in 2002; and one of 2012's "30 Extraordinary Women of Brooklyn" by Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes for her work in underserved communities.

Carolyn Lin
Head Teacher, Nursery A (Lower School)
Carolyn Lin has a Masters in Early Childhood Education from Hunter College, an Early Childhood associate degree from Sunbridge College, and a BA in East Asian studies from Columbia University. She was the lead nursery teacher at the Rudolf Steiner school from 2001 to 2008 and most recently a parent/child teacher at the Brooklyn Waldorf school. Her classrooms provide an aesthetic environment to support love of learning and child-initiated play. She has two daughters and practices tai chi chuan and meditation.

Jennifer Nelson, P'12, '14, '19
K-4 Music and Grades 1-4 Chorus (Lower School); Acapella 9-12 Music (Upper School)
Jennifer Nelson received an M.A. in Music from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, with a concentration in voice. She has taught singing, piano, violin, and recorder for 25 years and conducted choirs in Boston, New York, and Cincinnati. As a student in France, she received the Medaille D’Or from the Conservatoire Nationale in Strasbourg. In Boston, she sang with the Cantata Singers, the Boston Lyric Opera, the Boston Baked Children’s Theater, the ART, and performed song recitals with the pianist Ira Braus. In New York, her acappella quartet, Vox Bop, performed throughout the region and won several awards at the National Acappella Sweepstakes. In addition to teaching K-4 music and directing the high school Acappella group at Poly, Ms. Nelson performs with Chocolate Chip Chamber Music, directs the children’s choirs at Old First Reformed Church, and leads her family band, The Charismatic Megafauna. To make good music with good friends is her greatest joy, and Poly gives her that privilege every day.

Laurie Maher P'24
Lower School Learning Specialist
Laurie Maher Samra received her B.A. in history from Boston College and a M.Ed. from Lesley College in middle school education. After teaching English and history at the Trinity School for 8 years, Laurie became interested in working with students with learning differences. Laurie received her M.A. in learning disabilities from Hunter College and became a learning and reading specialist. Presently, Laurie works with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders at Poly’s Lower School. Ms. Maher Samra enjoys spending time with her son Owen, who also attends Poly’s Lower School. In her free time, Ms. Maher Samra enjoys traveling, yoga and running.

Basia Niemczyc
Associate Teacher, Pre-KA (Lower School)
Basia Niemczyc was born in Poland to a family of artists and educators. Both her parents were painters, writers, and teachers, and their creative and playful approach to life inspired her choice of career. When she was a child, she drew all the time, and, as a young woman, she earned an M.A. from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. While living in Warsaw, Basia illustrated children’s magazines, and was involved with a variety of graphic projects. She also published her drawings in Doha magazine during her extensive stay in Qatar. Upon moving to New York, she worked as a senior book designer at Chelsea House Publishers, and art consultant for The Polish Daily News. She was always interested in working with children and, in both Warsaw and Doha, ran art classes for preschoolers. Eventually, she left publishing and became a pre-kindergarten teacher at Poly Prep. Ms. Niemczyc enjoys the vivid imagination and enthusiasm of her students, and shares their excitement for learning and art. She is currently working toward an M.A. in early childhood art and education at Brooklyn College.

Rosemarie Pico
Lower School Learning Specialist
Rosemarie Pico received her B.S. in psychology from St. Francis College and a M.S. from Bank Street College in learning disabilities. Ms. Pico has taught in mainstream and special education independent schools for many years. Prior to being at Poly, she was the learning specialist at Chapin for 10 years. Presently she works with Poly students through 2nd grade on literacy skills. Ms. Pico enjoys going to Mets games, the beach, and reading.

Kristen Robb
Lower School Librarian
Kristen Robb received her B.S. from SUNY Oneonta and M.S. from Bank Street College of Education. Ms. Robb started her career at Poly Prep as a second grade teacher. After 8 years of classroom teaching, she became the librarian and has held this position for the past 5 years. As Lower School Librarian Ms. Robb started an author series and has brought many amazing authors and illustrators to the school, including Mo Willems, Patricia Polacco, and Brian and Andrea Pinkney. She attends many conferences each year—such as Book Expo America, Bank Street's Bookfest, and the American Library Association's annual meeting—in search of inspiring authors and ideas for new books for the library. She spends her days reading to and discussing books with children in every class at the Lower School and enjoys every minute of it.

Patti Smith, P'20
Visual Arts (Lower School)
Patti Smith received her B.S. in mass communications from Boston University’s College of Communications. She has been teaching at Poly since 2007, when she began as a guest artist. Ms. Smith currently teaches visual arts to second and fourth grades. In the past, she has also served as an assistant to Pat Montero, Director of Lower School Admissions. Ms. Smith has been teaching art since 2003, in addition to working as a freelance graphic artist, fiber artist, and professional calligrapher. She spends her summers in the Berkshire Mountains with her family, where she is the arts and crafts director of a sleep-away camp. She is also a proud Poly parent.

Irwin Tawil P'08
Head Teacher, Nursery B (Lower School)
Irwin Tawil P’08 has been in the field of early childhood education for over three decades. He was one of the first few men to nationally graduate with a M.A. in parent and infant development from Bank Street College. Mr. Tawil has worked in a variety of settings including Project Head Start, infant and parenting programs, Friends School, and the Woodward Park School, which became The Poly Prep Lower School. Both his daughters attended school at Poly and are currently in college. In recent time, he co-created an environmental and natural science program for three- and four-year-old children. Mr. Tawil has been a life-long naturalist and enjoys outdoor activities such as photography, canoeing, kayaking, and hiking.

Stephen Taylor
N-K Music (Lower School)
Stephen Taylor graduated from Milton Academy, MA, and Middlebury College, VT, with a major in economics and a minor in Italian. He moved to New York in 2001 and was introduced to early childhood education through Music Together, a program he currently teaches in Park Slope, as well as private lessons for children in guitar, piano, and drums. He was welcomed into the Poly community in 2008 as Music Specialist for Nursery - Kindergarten and strives to inspire children with an organic and fun approach to music discovery. When he is not teaching, he is generally traveling or creating multimedia projects in his home studio, composing and recording music, shooting and editing video, and blogging on his personal site,

Olugbala Williams
Head Teacher, Pre-K A (Lower School); Lower School Diversity Coordinator
Olugbala Williams received his master’s in education from Brooklyn College. He also attended the School of Visual Arts where he studied fine arts. Mr. Williams has been teaching for the last 17 years and most of this time has been spent in the Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten classrooms at Poly Prep. His classrooms are full of mirth, art, and learning. He believes in presenting a curriculum that develops the whole child, social-emotional skills, and cognitive skills, while teaching children to become comfortable with taking risks. Mr. Williams brings a sound teaching philosophy, a love for the visual arts and a global perspective into his classroom, which is derived from his many travels to exotic world locations. In addition to teaching duties, he has run the Diversity Committee at the Lower School for the last two years.

Heidi Zarou '86, P'22, '22
Visual Arts (Lower School)
Heidi Zarou ’86, P’22 received her B.A. in Visual Arts from Bennington College and attended Pratt Institute’s graduate program for Art and Design Education. She has been teaching visual arts at Poly’s Lower School since 2000. Before working at Poly, she was the art specialist at Steven’s Cooperative School in Hoboken, NJ. During the summer, Ms. Zarou is the art specialist at the Chautauqua Children’s School in Chautauqua, NY. She attended Poly Prep and is a current Poly parent.