First Pres Preschool & Pre-K Staff
Our staff consists of college graduates who are trained and experienced teachers in Early Childhood Education. Our teachers have specialized instruction in various areas including Child Development, Reading, Music, Art, Special Education, Elementary, and Secondary Education. All staff members are required to attend fifteen hours of continuing education annually which includes early childhood seminars, in-house speakers, and early childhood conferences. Staff members also log numerous hours every year observing other preschool classrooms, Kindergarten classrooms, and early education centers. Every staff member is CPR and infant certified.
There are two teachers in every classroom except the Pre-K. The Terrific Twos has a maximum of 14 students with two teachers. The Pre-K has a student-teacher ratio of twelve to one. All other classrooms have a maximum of 20 students with two teachers.
Chandra Gravit, Director
Chandra has been with First Pres Preschool since 2001. She spent six years teaching in the three year old program and three years teaching in the four year old program. For two years she taught in the four year old program and was one of the co-directors of the preschool overseeing the four year old program. In 2009 she moved into the role of full-time Director for the preschool.
Chandra received her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. After graduating
she spent ten years in the business world, first as a Technical Writer and then as the Documentation Department Manager for a large medical claims processing software firm in Naperville.
In a desire to leave the corporate world and spend more time at home with her children, Chandra decided to pursue her passion of working with young children. She returned to school in 1999 and earned her Early Childhood Education Teaching Certificate and Early Childhood Administration Certificate from the College of DuPage.
Chandra and her husband, Tim, have two boys who are both alumni of the preschool program. Kurt is a freshman at the University of Colorado in Boulder studying mechanical engineering. He is an avid guitar player, artist, and outdoor enthusiast who loves snowboarding and hiking. Kyle is a sophomore at West Chicago High School where he is a member of the marching Band and the tennis team. He enjoys reading, archery, and rock climbing. When Chandra’s not at the preschool, she enjoys walking with her two dogs, reading, playing the piano, and doing volunteer work.
Lisa Larson, Pre-K
Lisa Larson joined our staff four years ago. She taught for a year in the three year old program before launching the Pre-K Fabulous 5's program.
She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Elementary Education with a double major in Psychology at North Park University in Chicago. After teaching kindergarten for seven years in Prospect Heights, Illinois, she has had a wonderful opportunity to be home with her children.
Eight years ago Lisa and her husband Mark moved to Wheaton. Lisa grew up in Wheaton and is excited to have her children attend some of the same schools she did. Matt (16), Nic (13), and Natalie (10) keep them busy with homework, cross country, football, cheer, dance, and gymnastics. Nic and Natalie are proud graduates of First Presbyterian Preschool.
Lisa is actively involved with the children’s schools and church programs. She and her mother created a
children’s manners class called Courteous Kids Club. She also enjoys reading and cooking in her kitchen.
Kathy Kyrilis, Four Year Old Teacher
Kathy Kyrilis has been teaching in the four year old program at First Pres Preschool since 1998. She received her Bachelor of Science in Special Education and Elementary Education from Northern Illinois University. After graduation she spent seven years teaching primary special education.
After taking time off to raise her family, Kathy returned to teaching. She taught early childhood classes for the Wheaton Park District before coming on staff at First Pres Preschool.
Kathy and her husband, Paul, have three children. Jenny, a speech pathologist, works for a local school district and resides in Wheaton. Jenny gave Kathy her first grandchild, Charlie, who was born in July 2010. Kate, a Nutrition Specialist, was married last spring. She and her husband reside in Chicago. Mike, her youngest, graduated from the University of Iowa and currently resides and works in the Chicago area. All three of her children attended First Pres Preschool.
Kathy enjoys walking, spending time with friends, and traveling with her husband.
Sarah Leemans, Four Year Old Teacher
This is Sarah's second year teaching at First Pres Preschool after staying home to raise her three children for nine years. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Secondary Education in the areas of French and English from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign and completed her credit hours in Early Education from the College of DuPage. Sarah will be a teacher in our four year old program as well as a teacher in our Kindergarten Enrichment program.
Sarah has several years of experience working in the Wheaton schools as a Before and After School Program Director, an elementary reading aide, and also as a substitute teacher for every level from preschool to high school. She has also tutored children of all ages in the areas of reading, math, and French.
Sarah and her husband, Mike, have three children, Michael (10), Audrey (7), and Gabe (6), who are all First Pres alumni.
The Leemans family loves living in the Wheaton community and attending the fun family events around town! Michael enjoys piano, reading, science, and golf. Audrey loves dance, tumbling, reading, and also writing and illustrating her own stories. Gabe loves soccer, tumbling, and taking care of animals, especially the family's dog, Katie.
Sarah is an active volunteer at Emerson Elementary, where her kids attend. In her free time she loves to read, run, practice yoga, travel, and go on family trips to museums, parks, and zoos. Sarah and her family also love to swim, bike, visit Cantigny, and explore the Morton Arboretum.
Lisa Shine, Four Year Old Teacher
This is Lisa Shine’s sixth year teaching at First Pres Preschool. Lisa helped develop the curriculum and was instrumental in launching the Terrific Two’s program where she taught for four years. This is her second year teaching the Four Year Old program.
Lisa received her Bachelor of Science degree from Michigan State University with a major in Family Community Services and an emphasis in Child Development. She worked for the University of Illinois at Chicago in the field of developmental disabilities and for the American Heart Association in non-profit management.
Lisa and her husband, Tim, moved to Wheaton 17 years ago; and Lisa stayed home to raise their three daughters Emma (17), Julia (15), and Sarah (12). All three daughters started their schooling in the 3’s and 4’s programs at First Pres Preschool. Lisa spent many years teaching Sunday School and other Children’s Ministries at First Pres. Because of her love for preschool-age children, Lisa jumped at the chance to teach this age group!
When Lisa is not teaching, she enjoys running, reading, and traveling. Also, you are sure to run into her at one of her favorite places in downtown Wheaton, the Popcorn Shop!
Heidi Gagnon, Three Year Old Teacher
Heidi Gagnon has been teaching three year olds at First Pres Preschool since 2003. For three of those years she also taught in the Terrific Twos program, a program which she helped to launch.
Heidi earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from the University of Illinois. She worked for IBM in Chicago before taking time off to raise her family.
It was at the University of Illinois where she met her husband, Bob, who is a financial planner. They have lived in Wheaton for twenty-eight years and have four daughters. Jacqueline Sinclair and her husband Matt live near Champaign. Jacqueline works for First Trust Advisors, and Matt is a football coach for the University of Illinois. They have a four year old daughter, Charlotte, and one year old son, Sean. Julie is married to Will Noble and they have a one year old son. Will works for Toyota, and Julie is taking time off from teaching to raise Liam. Megan works for X-Bridges in Chicago and is enjoying all the city has to offer. Morgan is a very busy sophomore at Wheaton South. She is an alumnus of First Pres Preschool.
In her free time Heidi enjoys watching her grandchildren, walking her chocolate lab, Toblerone, working in her yard, biking, traveling, entertaining, attending sporting events, and shopping at Costco. She is currently a Deacon here at church.
Melanee Burns, Three Year Old Teacher
Melanee Burns has been teaching in our three year old program at First Pres Preschool for seven years. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from Eastern Illinois University.
Melanee was a substitute teacher in Decatur, Illinois, before moving to the Wheaton area, where she was a teacher’s aide in the Glen Ellyn School District and then a three and four year old preschool teacher for the Glen Ellyn Park District Preschool. After taking time off to raise her family, Melanee returned to teaching preschool at First Pres after her youngest son started second grade.
Melanee and her husband, Brian, have three boys who are at completely different stages in life. Daniel is a graduate from Hope College in Michigan. He is the fourth generation to be working in the family business, CW Burns Co. Inc., a commercial plumbing and piping business. He was married in September of 2012 to Allison Lamberts. Melanee is thrilled to have a “girl” in the family! Alex is a senior at DePaul University majoring in Environmental Studies with a double minor in Service Learning and Photography. Connor is an eighth grader at Edison Middle School. He enjoys lacrosse, fishing, and water-skiing. Alex and Connor are both alumni of First Pres Preschool.
Melanee enjoys spending as much time as possible in Green Lake, Wisconsin, with her family, where she loves to fish (ice fish in winter), ride her bike, and take long walks with her golden retrievers.
Sue O’Connell, Two Year Old Teacher
This is Sue’s second year at First Pres Preschool as a teacher in the Terrific Twos program. Prior to joining our staff, she taught in the three year old program for the Wheaton Park District.
Sue recieved her BA in Elementary Education and Learning Disabilities from Monmouth College. She earned her MS in Reading through Northern Illinios University. Sue taught for fourteen years, eleven of them in Addison as a self-contained Learning Disabilities teacher. With the birth of her first child, she became a stay-at-home mom.
While at home Sue was active as a girl scout leader, Sunday School teacher, and part of the PTA board at her children's elementary school. Sue and her husband Dan have three children. Kelly is an eighth grader at Edison Middle School and enjoys playing the violin and baking. Sarah, a seventh grader at Edison, is an Irish Dancer and a violist. Danny is a sixth grader at Edison who likes sports and playing his cello.
In her spare time Sue enjoys reading, running, and spending time with her family. She is thrilled to be a part of the First Presbyterian Preschool faculty.
Laura Seymour, Two Year Old Teacher
This is Laura’s third year teaching; and she loves working directly with children after spending more than a decade working in administration for organizations that benefit children including: Children’s Memorial Hospital, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, The San Diego Center for Children, the Illinois Association of Park Districts, and the American Red
Laura received her undergraduate degree from Illinois State University with a major in public relations. She also earned a master’s degree in public administration with an emphasis in non-profit management from the University of Illinois at Springfield. To prepare her for this teaching opportunity, Laura received an Assistant Teaching Certificate in Early Childhood Education from the College of DuPage.
Laura has lived in Wheaton for 14 years and enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom prior to teaching at the preschool. She is an active volunteer working with children at Whittier Elementary School its PTA.
Laura and her husband, Jay, have two boys. Justin is in middle school at Edison; and his passions are reading, fishing, and playing sports – especially golf. Jack is entering fifth grade at Whittier; and he enjoys music, singing, and performing in plays. Both Justin and Jack developed their love of school as students at First Pres
Preschool. When Laura is not spending time involved with her children’s activities, she loves reading, photography, and taking care of their Cavalier King Charles, Lily.
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