The teachers are the heart and soul of WPENS. Their dedication and expansive knowledge of preschool children and parenting challenges make WPENS, a one of a kind program.

 Dara Thornton-0023 crop Dara Thornton
Teacher Dara has been teaching and entertaining children for more than 30 years. She began her adventure with children in Wisconsin, where she was a professional puppeteer and president of the Wisconsin Children’s Theater Association. She graduated with distinction with a B.A. in Communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since she moved to Santa Cruz with her family, she opened a much sought-after home daycare, taught for Santa Cruz City Schools, was a professional storyteller and worked with the Girl Scouts of Monterey Bay. Dara has been a popular children’s theater instructor at the West End Studio Theater and taught theater at Mission Hill Middle School.Dara and her youngest daughter were students at WPENS. She was so inspired with the program she got her Adult Education Credential in Parent Education and Multiple Subjects and became certified in Positive Discipline. Dara has taught preschool and parent education since 2003 first at SCPENS and now at WPENS. She was recognized as a Community Hero in 2010 by United Way for her work with preschool children.

Dara knows how vital early education preschool years are in the development of a child. “They’re taking in information faster than they ever will again in their lives, figuring out the world around them and deciding what’s right and fair. At the same time they are completely open to creativity and fantasy where all things are possible. Preschool is the time where the mold is set for how children are going to experience education for the rest of their lives.” Dara is dedicated to igniting a passion for learning.

She loves that WPENS is more than a preschool. Parents are students as well. She finds it rewarding to help parents develop and expand their parenting skills. “Children grow. Parents grow. Families grow. And in the process both adult and childhood friendships develop. Community flourishes as teachers, parents and children learn and work together.” Learning is an adventure that she enthusiastically shares!

Cory Cherk

Teacher Cory has been teaching since the early 1980’s. Before her position at WPENS, Cory served as preschool teacher, Headstart teacher and classroom teacher in the elementary grades, in a variety of settings. Cory also founded and taught in a parent coop with her own children and other families during the early 1990’s. Through this experience, Cory confirmed her belief that building community is essential to raising a happy family. She has continued to put this belief into practice in her work with children and families at WPENS.

Cory graduated from UCSC in 1985 with a B.A. in Environmental Studies. She has used her background in Environmental Studies in many settings with children. Exploration of the natural world is foremost in her teaching. Cory went on to finish a fifth-year program and to receive her multiple-subject credential from UCSC in 1985. Her first elementary assignment was to teach fourth grade at Spring Grove Elementary School in Hollister, California. During her five years at Spring Grove, Cory taught fourth grade, Kindergarten, a combination K/1/2 and Middle School ESL. Cory returned to Santa Cruz by 1990. She finds Santa Cruz to be a family-friendly and community oriented place. Cory and her husband Chris have raised their two daughters, Erin and Maya, in Santa Cruz. Cory founded a parent coop and was a Lead Teacher. She was instrumental in developing and supporting creative curriculum and parent support.

Cory’s first experience with WPENS was as a parent, as she and her daughter Maya enrolled in the program. Cory found WPENS to be a warm and educational community. She understood its value to families and society. Cory loves teaching at the coop because she gets to support children and parents as they practice skills, learn and grow together, and create life long friendships.

Cory has been teaching at the preschool since 1999. From 2013 to 2015, she returned briefly to the elementary setting, as she explored the newly created Transitional Kindergarten program. Cory also enrolled as a teacher in an Early Literacy Program, SEEDS, where she advanced her understanding of the foundations of teaching early literacy skills. Cory is currently a Mentor Teacher for other teachers in the SEEDS program. In this capacity she observes and mentors teachers who are learning how to implement literacy skills.

Cory returned to WPENS in 2015, drawn by the strong community and the work she gets to do with families. Cory says: “WPENS is the most supportive program possible for parents and children. It can be really hard to be a parent these days. Parents get a chance to meet, play and grow together. They realize that they are not alone in the issues they face as parents. When children have a difficult time, there is a whole community that rallies and supports them. I love teaching this age group. I observe the children and follow their natural curiosity. Working with children at this age is especially wonderful because I get to observe students as they discover the world all of the time, in every way. I feel privileged to share this very special time with families. Parents and children really do make life long friends through this program. They form connections that last into the elementary years and beyond. That’s the greatest joy.”