Presenter Bios

Biographies of the presenters at 92Y’s Wonderplay Conference are available below.


Dr. Sergio Alati

Dr. Sergio Alati is in his fourth year as Head of School at Stevens Cooperative School, with campuses in Hoboken and Jersey City. Previously Sergio was Primary School Director and then Director of Studies at Kent Place School in Summit, NJ. He was the founding Head of Lower School at Claremont Preparatory School in downtown Manhattan. At 92Y, he taught Pre-Kindergarten for seven years and ran the Trailblazers and Camp Yomi summer day camps.

Sergio is currently the president of the Rutherford Education Foundation in New Jersey. He has published in Young Children Magazine, written numerous blogs and has conducted workshops at various schools as well as through NJAIS, NYSAIS, ATIS, ACA, and NAIS conferences. .

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Meg Allen

Meg Allen has been a teacher at the 92Y since 2013. She is a member of the nursery school’s Garden Stewardship Committee, which provides her the opportunity to bring her passion for gardening into the classroom. Meg has a BSM from Tulane University and is currently seeking her MS Ed in Early Childhood Education from Hunter College.

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Joan Almon

Joan Almon is an early childhood educator who has worked for over 30 years with Waldorf schools here and abroad. In 1999 she co-founded the Alliance for Childhood to address the decline in children's health and well being. In the U.S., the Alliance has helped create a renewed interest in play in out-of-school and kindergarten settings. She currently focuses on returning play-based experiential education to preschools and kindergartens and enjoys sharing stories and puppetry with children and adults. Joan co-authored the Alliance’s recent report Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School and is the author of numerous articles and book chapters on child development, play and early learning.

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Marina Bers, PhD

Marina Umaschi Bers is a professor at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development and the Computer Science Department at Tufts University. Dr. Bers received the 2005 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor given by the U.S. government to outstanding investigators at the early stages of their careers, a National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Young Investigator's Career Award for her work on virtual communities of learning and care, and the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Jan Hawkins Award for Early Career Contributions to Humanistic Research and Scholarship in Learning Technologies.

Since the mid 90's, Prof. Umaschi Bers has conceived and designed diverse technological tools ranging from robotics to virtual worlds. Her recent research focuses on how new technologies such as robotics and programming languages, can be successfully used to promote math, science, technology and engineering education in early childhood alongside with socio-emotional development and the arts. For example, she is the developer of the KIBO robotic kit and co-developer of the ScratchJr programming language.

Dr. Bers is the author of “Blocks to Robots: Learning with Technology in the Early Childhood Classroom” (Teacher's College Press, 2008) and “Designing Digital Experiences for Positive: Youth Developmen:From Playpen to Playgroud” (Oxford University Press, 2012).

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Rebecca Burdett

Rebecca Burdett is an early childhood teacher from New Paltz. She leads workshops throughout the region with a specialty of Curriculum and Block Building. She is an author of a chapter in the soon to be published book “Teaching Kindergarten: Learner-Centered Classrooms for the 21st Century.”

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Lawrence Cohen, PhD

Lawrence J. Cohen is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Boston. He is the author of Playful Parenting and The Opposite of Worry. In addition, he is the co-author of The Art of Roughhousing, Best Friends Worst Enemies, and Mom They're Teasing Me. Dr. Cohen consults and speaks with schools and community groups nationally and internationally, and is on the advisory board of the Blue School in Manhattan.

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Patricia Cooper, PhD

Patsy Cooper is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education and Director of Early Childhood Programs at Queens College, CUNY. She is also the co-editor of the peer-reviewed Journal for Early Childhood Teacher Education. In addition, Dr. Cooper has wrtten numerous articles and chapters related to teaching young children, and is the author of The Classrooms All Young Children Need: Lesson in Teaching from Vivian Paley. Dr. Cooper founded both School Literacy and Culture at Rice University and the Trinity School for Young Children in Houston, TX. She started her career as a pre-school and kindergarten teacher in Chicago. She frequently presents and consults around the country on issues related to teaching, parenting, and teacher education in early childhood.span>

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Cat Corbett, MS Ed

MCat holds a MS Ed in Early Childhood Special and General Education from Bankstreet College. In addition to teaching, Cat's work in children's theatre includes off-Broadway and regional productions in “The Greatest Pirate Story Never Told” (Offsides Entertainment) and direction and choreography for the New York Renaissance Faire.

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Deborah Damast

Deborah Damast is the Artistic Advisor of the Dance Education Program at NYU Steinhardt and Master Teacher of technique, pedagogy and choreography courses. She is the Artistic Director of Dance Concerts and Kaleidoscope Dancers, and directs a yearly study abroad /cultural dance exchange program to Uganda. Her work has been shown in NYC venues including Ailey/Citigroup, Judson Church, Riverside Church, Peridance, University Settlement, World Financial Center; and internationally in Italy, Japan, Korea and Uganda. She teaches dance at LREI, conducts professional development for the NYC Department of Education and is a co-teacher for 92Y Wonderdance.

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Leslie Day, PhD

Leslie Day was a life science and biology teacher for 20 years in a lively classroom where she and her students cared for more than 70 animals. She is the author of several books about the natural world of New York City, including the recently published Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City. Leslie has a doctorate in science education from Teachers College Columbia University.

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JoAnn Deak, PhD

JoAnn Deak is a widely recognized educator and psychologist who works with parents and teachers in their roles as guides or 'neurosculptors' of children. Dr. Deak’s perspective is best described on her website, “Every interaction a child has, during the course of a day, influences the adult that child will become.”

In the 1980's, Dr. Deak worked with the Laurel School as a consulting psychologist, where she participated in a six-year study with Harvard and a team of researchers led by Carol Gilligan. She currently consults with organizations, schools, associations and parenting groups across the United States and internationally.

Dr. Deak has written several books, including Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, How Girls Thrive and Girls Will Be Girls: Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters. Her first children's book was published in 2010. Her new book will be available in November: The Owner's Manual for Driving Your Adolescent Brain.

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Julie Diamond

Julie Diamond was a teacher of young children for over twenty-five years in both preschools and in public schools. She taught Early Childhood Curriculum at Bank Street, and has supervised student teachers at NYU and CCNY for the past seven years. Her book on teaching, Kindergarten: A Teacher, Her Students, and a Year of Teaching was published by The New Press in 2011 (in hardcover as Welcome to the Aquarium).

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Renee Dinnerstein

Renée Dinnerstein has over 40 years experience as an early childhood educator and received the Bank Street Early Childhood Educator of the Year Award in 1999. She is currently working as an early childhood consultant and writing a book, to be published by Heinemann, Fall 2016, on developing literacy-rich, inquiry-based exploration centers in grades pre-k-2. Renée has a blog, Investigating Choice Time: Inquiry, Exploration and Play 

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Lisa Fiore, PhD

Dr. Lisa Fiore is Dean of Faculty and an associate professor of Early Childhood Education at Lesley University. She is the author of Lifesmart: Exploring Human Development and co-author of Your Anxious Child: How Parents and Teachers Can Relieve Anxiety in Children and The Safe Child Handbook: How to Protect Your Family and Cope with Anxiety in a Threat-filled World. Her current research and professional development interests focus on mobile learning experiences in early childhood classrooms and drawing inspiration from the citizens and practices in Reggio Emilia, Italy—documenting ordinary classroom movements to analyze and celebrate the competence of young children.

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Lella Gandini, EdD

Dr. Lella Gandini taught at both Smith College and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from the Erikson Institute in Chicago in 2004 and the Smith College Medal in 2008. She is Reggio Children’s United States liaison for the dissemination of the Reggio Emilia approach, and serves as associate editor of Innovations in Early Education: the International Reggio Exchange.

Lecturer and author of many articles and book chapters about early childhood education in Italy, she is co-author and co-editor of the first, second and now third edition of The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation. Other books include Beautiful Stuff: Learning with Found Materials; Bambini: The Italian Approach to from Reggio Emilia: Stories of Infant/Toddler Care; In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia; and Insights and Inspirations Children and Teachers from North America. With George Forman, she produced videos presenting and examining projects in the schools of Reggio Emilia, including An Amusement Park for Birds. She is the author of several books for children in Italian. She is a board member of the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance (NAREA).

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Shelly Gargus

Shelly taught at Beginnings from 2005 to 2009 when she became a head teacher of 4-year-olds at Blue School, and returned to Beginnings in 2012. Shelly has a BA from City College and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Early Childhood Special Education at Hunter College. Shelly co-presented her work on the Making Table at The Hundred Languages Conference: A Metaphor for the Extraordinary Potential of Children and Adults in April 2015 as well as for instructional coaches from the New York City Department of Education in May 2015. She is a consulting educator with Teaching Beyond the Square and worked with Le Petite Ecole, a French immersion preschool in the spring of 2014.

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Derrick Gay, MS Ed

Derrick Gay has 18 years of independent school experience as a language teacher, advisor, and senior administrator. He currently serves as a resource to schools, both domestically and abroad.

Derrick has partnered with scores of independent schools in work ranging from (1) facilitating parent meetings/workshops, (2) conducting climate assessments, (3) guiding administrative teams through strategic community planning, (4) presenting workshops to students, (5) training boards on issues of community life, (6) delivering keynotes to regional consortia and (7) providing faculty and staff professional development. Derrick's work was recently featured in the New York Times and subsequently on the PBS Brian Lehrer show discussing the importance of integrating all identities into diversity discourse. He has also produced two Ted Talks on the “Double-Edged Sword of Diversity” and “The Elephant in the Room,” exploring the challenging and often confusing diversity paradigm in independent schools.

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Katherine Gregory, MS Ed

Katherine Gregory is the 4-5’s teacher at The Brick Church School. She has been a Head Teacher at the Brick Church School for ten years, working with four- and five-year-olds, and serves as the school’s Science Specialist. She has an MS from Bank Street College of Education. She traveled to Liberia in 2014 as part of Brick’s commitment to support the African Dream Academy and to grow compassionate world citizens.

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Betsy Grob

Betsy Grob, a former Kindergarten teacher, has been facilitating Block Building workshops and teaching graduate courses in Block Building in New York City and beyond. She is co-editor, with Julie Diamond and Fretta Reitzes, of the upcoming book “Teaching Kindergarten: Learner-Centered Classrooms for the 21st Century.”

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Mary Gordon, MC

Mary Gordon is recognized internationally as an award-winning social entrepreneur, educator, author, child advocate and parenting expert who has created programs informed by the power of empathy. Ms Gordon is also the founder of Canada's first and largest school-based Parenting and Family Literacy Centres, which she initiated in 1981.

In 1996 she created the Roots of Empathy which offers programs in every Province of Canada and in ten countries. Ms. Gordon has had several dialogues with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Her book, Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child, is available in multiple languages.

Ms. Gordon speaks and consults to governments, educational organizations, and public institutions, including the World Health Organization and the United Nations. She is the recipient of several awards recognizing her contribution to innovation in education and international social entrepreneurship. Ms. Gordon is one of North America’s first Ashoka Fellows (globalizer) and sits on the Ashoka Global Board. Ms. Gordon is a Member of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honouring of a citizen.

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Susan Harris, MS Ed

Susan Harris has been teaching music and movement with Manhattan Country School’s youngest students for over thirty years. It is an honor to present civil rights issues so that children can begin to learn, in age appropriate ways, what adults have been struggling with for decades.BA University of Rochester, B Music from Manhattan School of Music, MS Ed from Bank Street College, Dalcroze Certificate and License.

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Mark Horowitz, MS Ed

Mark Horowitz is vice president, Early Childhood Education and Family Engagement at the JCC Association. He is the founding Executive Director of the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative (JECEI). Mark holds a Masters’ Degree in Education from SUNY Buffalo and received his investiture and an honorary doctorate from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He served as the Executive Director of the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Buffalo, NY; the Director of Education and Early Childhood at Temple Beth Am in Williamsville, NY; Assistant Professor of Religion and Fine Arts at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY; and as Supervisor of student teachers and teacher of Sociology of Education and Field Experience at SUNY @ Buffalo. Mark’s roots and first love are in two year old classrooms where he thrived as a teacher for many years. He is the Educational Consultant to the New York International Piano Competition. Mark was also awarded Honorable Mention at the 2002 Van Cliburn Foundation’s International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs in Fort Worth, Texas.

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Jen Katz-Burk, MA

Jen Katz-Burk is an Early Childhood Educator, Dance Educator, and Performer in New York City. She currently teaches at the 92nd Street Nursery School and is a contributing writer and professional development facilitator for the DEL Early Childhood Dance Program at 92Y. Committed to integrating dance into the early childhood classroom, Jen has given workshops on this topic at national conferences including NDEO and 92Y Wonderplay. From time to time Jen continues to perform with Claire Porter’s PORTABLES. She received her BA in Dance Performance and Choreography from UMD, College Park and earned her MA in Dance Education from the Steinhart School of Education at NYU. Source: WP2014

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Jessie Klein, PhD, MSW, M Ed

Dr. Jessie Klein is a Sociology/Criminal Justice Associate Professor and the Founder and Director of creating compassionate communities in the Center for Health Innovation at Adelphi University. She is the Author of The Bully Society: School Shootings, and the Crisis of Bullying in America's Schools (NYU Press, 2012). Dr. Klein is working on a new book tentatively titled: Creating Compassionate Communities: Overcoming the Current Culture of Misery by Building Empathy. In the past she worked as an Acting Assistant Principal of Guidance, school social worker, and as a social work professor.

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Steven Kurtz, PhD

Dr. Kurtz is the President of Kurtz Psychology Consulting PC, a mental health group serving the emotional and behavioral needs of young children throughout the Metro NY area. They specialize in assessing and treating externalizing behaviors, such as ADHD oppositionality, as well as severe internalizing behaviors, such as anxiety disorders and selective mutism. His team has also done pioneering work in Teacher-Child Interaction Treatment (TCIT) – bringing behavioral coaching for teachers to a new level of effectiveness.

Dr. Kurtz is one of the nation’s leading clinicians in the treatment of children’s behavioral problems and disorders, as well as being a widely respected clinical researcher. He is one of only 20 master trainers in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), and a dedicated advocate for children with special needs. He has appeared on numerous programs addressing child mental health, including NBC’s “Today,” CBS’s “The Early Show” and PBS’s “Keeping Kids Healthy.” Dr. Kurtz’s Brave Buddies program for SM was also featured on ABC’s “Nightline.” Brave Buddies has been formally replicated in Chicago, Boston and Miami.

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Susan Linn, EdD

Psychologist Susan Linn is an award winning ventriloquist, and lecturer on Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She has written extensively about the links between play, creativity, and health. The Boston Globe called her newest book, The Case for Make Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World, “a wonderful look at how play can heal children.” Dr. Linn made several appearances on Mister Rogers Neighborhood, and is internationally known for her innovative work using puppets in child psychotherapy. With Fred Rogers’ production company, she created Different and the Same: Helping Children Identify and Prevent Prejudice, an acclaimed video series for first- to third graders. Among other honors, she was awarded a Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association for her work on behalf of children.

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Lisa Nagel, M Ed

Lisa Nagel is Head of School at St. Anne’s School of Annapolis, Maryland. For many years, Lisa has worked with schools, presenting trainings and workshops on cultivating caring classroom communities, where authentic learning experiences serve as vehicles for informing and empowering children’s emotional and social development.

Lisa began exploring the bridge between play and the social curriculum as a classroom teacher at an independent school in Ohio. She used her experience as co-creator and editor of Contemporary Women’s Issues, an on-line library database focused on women’s and children’s human rights, to inform her understanding of the importance of cultivating empathetic classroom citizens. Lisa is a trained mediator and diversity educator. Her international work supporting teachers in their pursuit of democratic classrooms has fundamentally shaped her perspective as a teacher, leader, and learner.

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Jane Racoosin, MS Ed

Gabrielle Greenberg has been on the faculty and has played a key role in the growth and expansion of the Parenting Center program for over 25 years. She works with parents and caregivers, babies and toddlers, leads groups in the Parenting Center classes and co-leads the separation programs for two and three year olds. She is a co-author of the 92Y Wonderplay Best Practices Handbook and has also developed a parenting series for teen mothers living in group home settings and for women in prison as they prepared to re-unite with their young children.

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Dana Roth, MS Ed

Dana Roth has been teaching for 13 years, 12 of which were spent as a kindergarten teacher at PS 10 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She has led several workshops around New York City on “Inquiry-Based Choice Time” and “The Importance of Play,” as well as international teacher training sessions in Ghana and Bolivia. She has a Bachelors of Science degree in Elementary Education with an Early Childhood Annotation, and she has a Masters of Science degree in Childhood Education and Special Education from Touro College. During her spare time, Dana likes to travel, dance and go hiking.

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Pamela Scherr, BFA

Pamela received a BFA in Theater from the University of Southern Mississippi and moved to New York City where she worked backstage at Blue Man Group and taught dance at Groove With Me, a non-profit organization offering free dance classes to girls in Harlem. In 2006 she helped launch a puppetry and theater arts program at Blue School, where she was the drama teacher for 6 years. Pam also worked as a teaching artist and puppeteer at Moomah, a creative arts center for kids in Tribeca, and taught young children at Beginnings Nursery School, Chelsea Day School and Horace Mann. She is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Early Childhood Education at Hunter College.

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Jean Schreiber, MS Ed

Jean Schreiber earned her MS in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College where she is on the faculty in the Continuing Professional Studies Program. For more than two decades Jean developed and directed early childhood programs and parenting centers. Jean consults to a wide variety of schools across the country supporting the professional growth of educators and the social and emotional development of children and their parents. She also provides guidance to parents both individually and in group settings.

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Lydia Soifer, PhD

Lydia Soifer, a language pathologist, is assistant clinical professor of pediatrics in the Early Intervention Training Institute, at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. As a parent educator, teacher trainer and staff developer, she specializes in the needs of children with deficits in learning, behavior and communications.

Dr. Soifer founded the Soifer Center for Learning and Child Development in White Plains, NY in 1991 and is currently its director. The Soifer Center is an interdisciplinary practice of speech and language pathologists, educational therapists and psychologists specializing in identifying individual learning styles to help children achieve their maximum emotional, academic and personal potential.

Dr. Soifer has acted as a consultant to private and public schools, advising faculty on the identification and enhancement of learning for children with different learning styles. She has developed, customized and led workshops and in-service training programs.

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Lydia Spinelli

Lydia Spinelli has been director of the Brick Church School since 1983.. She is the Vice President of the Board of the African Dream Academy Foundation which supports the African Dream Academy in Monrovia, Liberia. She has traveled to the school three times since its founding in 2012. Lydia has served on the Accreditation Commission and the Professional Development Committee of the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) as well as the ISAAGNY Board of Trustees. She is the founder of Summer Steps, a program that seeks to prepare low income students for New York City independent school kindergartens and is a member of the Board of Early Steps, an organization that promotes racial diversity in New York City independent schools.

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Ron Taffel, PhD

Dr. Ron Taffel is one of the most esteemed specialists in child rearing in the country. He is the author of eight books, the latest entitled, Childhood Unbound: Authoritative Parenting for the 21st Century, and over a hundred articles on parenting and professional training. He consults to schools nationwide, serves as chair of the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, has a child and family therapy private practice in New York City, and is the parent of two children. Dr. Taffel has been featured in The New York Times, on “20/20,” “Dateline,” “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “Primetime Live” and “Larry King.”

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Rosemarie Truglio, PhD

Rosemarie T. Truglio is the Senior Vice President of Curriculum and Content at Sesame Workshop. She is responsible for the development of the interdisciplinary curriculum on which Sesame Street is based and oversees content development across platforms (e.g., television, publishing, toys, home video, and theme park activities).

From 1997 to 2013, she oversaw all educational research pertaining to program development, the results of which informed both the production and creative decisions for how to enhance the entertaining and educational components of linear and interactive content. Before joining Sesame Workshop in 1997, she was an Assistant Professor of Communication and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Dr. Truglio has written numerous articles in child and developmental psychology journals and presented her work at national and international conferences. Additionally, she is co-editor of “G is for Growing: Thirty Years of Research on Children and Sesame Street” (2001) published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Dr. Truglio has appeared on numerous broadcast, cable, and radio news and talk programs.

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Julia Watkins, MLS

Julia C. Watkins, has been the children’s librarian at the independent Harford Day School in Bel Air, MD for more than 20 years. Her extensive knowledge of books for young children is augmented by her well known innovative library practices, including dramatization, “lunch readers,” and family book fairs.

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Elaine Winter

Gabriel Lit received his Master's Degree in Music Therapy from New York University, with a clinical internship at the renowned Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy under Dr. Alan Turry, He has worked as a staff Music Therapist at Arts For Healing, was the Music Director of the Miracle Project NYC, and is a founding member of Actionplay. He has worked as a Music Therapist in a wide variety of settings from Early Intervention through End of Life Care, the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, the Creative Music Therapy Studio and Heartsong Inc.

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