Meet the Staff

Kathleen O'Connell, Director of Education

M.A., Teaching in Early Childhood Education, Birth - Kindergarten
B.A., Child and Family Community Services, Birth - Kindergarten
Contact Kathleen

I’m Kathleen O'Connell, the Director of Education for Laurelwood Community Preschool. My hometown is Chicago, Illinois, and I'm the youngest of three siblings. Throughout my childhood I enjoyed playing games that involved teaching and caring for others and always had a strong inclination to be nurturing toward others. During my childhood I also struggled with school. I always had the desire to learn, but I never felt like concepts were being taught to me in a way that I truly understood. Thankfully, I have an incredibly supportive family who did whatever they could to encourage and inspire me. When applying for college and contemplating degrees to pursue, it was obvious - I needed to use my past educational experiences to better education for young children so they are given every chance to thrive.

I attended Michigan State University where I received my Bachelor of Arts in Child and Family Community Services, focusing on Early Childhood Education, Birth - Kindergarten. Throughout my time at MSU, I worked in the university's laboratory program as an Administrative Assistant and Assistant Teacher. I also completed my student teaching at this program. After graduating in 2011, I was hired as a Lead Teacher at Lansing Community College's laboratory program, Early Learning Children's Community (Early LCC). This is where I was introduced to the Reggio Emilia Approach and was able to work with incredibly inspirational teachers who mentored me in this beautiful, forward-thinking approach to early childhood education.

In 2013, I moved to Charlotte and enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for my North Carolina teaching license (Birth - Kindergarten), which I completed in December of 2014. I also became a nanny for a family in Charlotte in August 2013 and worked with them until recently.They have become my family in Charlotte, and it's been an honor to watch the children flourish into amazing people. In June 2015, I began my Master of Arts in Teaching in Early Childhood Education, Birth - Kindergarten, and graduated in May 2016. When I found the opportunity at Laurelwood Community Preschool to bring the Reggio Emilia Approach to the Charlotte area, I knew I had to be a part of this journey. I truly believe the Reggio Emilia Approach respects young children while developing imagination and critical thinking skills necessary for further learning through collaboration of children, parents and teachers.

As the Director of Education for Laurelwood, I will work our teaching staff, you and your child to provide a quality learning environment to help your child reach his/her creative and intellectual potential. I am looking forward to going on this journey with you and your family!


Elizabeth Romero, Educator/Studio Facilitator

A.A., Early Childhood Education
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Working with young children is more than a profession for me. It is my passion! My name is Elizabeth Romero, and I was born and raised in New York City. Growing up, my mom was an admissions director for a local college and later became an educator. I saw the shift in her mood as she became a preschool teacher. There was much more joy in her stories when asked about her day. I was always excited to help with preparation for the following school day. Teacher supplies made me and still make me very happy! Most importantly, I wanted to be that “teacher” who impacted a child’s life with positive school memories.

For the past 14 years, I have had the honor of working with and alongside children in a private Reggio-inspired school. I earned my Associates degree in Early Childhood Education from the Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York City. I have worked with children from infancy through second grade, and each day is better than the one before it. The Reggio approach is one I hold dear to my heart. Giving children the tools to explore their world and be a part of their very own learning is beautiful to watch and document.

In November of 2016, after the birth of my daughter Emelia, my family and I were ready for a new environment that would provide us with much more space for our growing family. In June, we moved to South Carolina and closed on our first home! I knew that I wanted to continue my role as a preschool educator and searched for a place that would value children. I have found that place at Laurelwood. The curiosity, love and joy of learning that children bring with them each day provides me with all the tools I need to build on their foundation of endless possibilities. I am excited to continue my journey as an educator and the studio facilitator here at Laurelwood Community Preschool. I look forward to collaborating with fellow educators, families, children and the community.


Kristen Leggiero, Educator

B.S., Child Development
Contact Kristen

I am Kristen Leggiero, an educator at Laurelwood Community Preschool. I have lived in the Carolinas for twenty years and began working with children in 2001. I began as a volunteer at an art studio for children called Noah’s Art and quickly discovered that I was passionate about pursuing an education and career in educating and inspiring children. I currently live in South Carolina with my husband and our one-year-old daughter. Being a mom has been the most rewarding and amazing experience.

I attended Appalachian State University where I received my Bachelor of Science in Child Development with a concentration in Psychology. I was introduced to the Reggio Emilia Approach while studying at ASU, and its philosophy fascinated and inspired me. I was inspired by the confidence and capability of children as young as two years old. They were responsibly using items made out of glass and using adult screwdrivers to investigate the internal workings of an old computer! Laurelwood is my first opportunity to work in a Reggio Emilia teaching environment, and I couldn’t be more excited. My past employments have involved teaching art to children ages two through ten, being a preschool educator for two-year-olds in a Child Development Center, working as a family assistant for a family with three special needs children, and working with an award-winning author whose subject is Asperger syndrome. Each of these opportunities has provided continuing education, immeasurable experiences and lasting relationships.

I pride myself in working closely with children and their families to ensure their child’s greatest potential is achieved. I am excited to work with each family at Laurelwood as we embark on this new and exciting journey.



Cheryl Johns, Educator

Early Childhood Education Studies at SPCC and CPCC
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My name is Cheryl Johns, and I am an educator at Laurelwood Community Preschool. I was born and raised in Boston, MA. I moved to Waxhaw, NC in 2005, and I am so grateful that I have not had to shovel snow since moving here.

I am a mother of three, and after having my first child 21 years ago, I often found myself wondering what my daughter was doing during her hours at preschool. My hope was that she was in a loving, nurturing, safe, and healthy environment. This led me down the path to becoming a preschool teacher.

I have been teaching for over 15 years in Early Childhood Education, and I am very passionate about children’s growth and development. My favorite part of teaching is that children have different ways of viewing the world than I do as an adult. My philosophy has always been that children learn best through their senses, movement, and curiosity about the world around them. They should have endless opportunities to express themselves. It is for this reason that I’m inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, as well as being a part of the Laurelwood Community Preschool family.






Lindsy Cooper, Educator

B.A., Experimental Psychology and A.A.S, Business
Contact Lindsy

Hello my name is Lindsy Cooper. I have two older brothers, so I’m just as comfortable running a classroom as I am getting my hands dirty and playing outside. I’ve never let go of my inner child, and that is why children hold a special place in my heart. I truly believe that each child is exceptional, and my goal is for each child to reach their full potential. I’m blessed for this opportunity because I know this position will empower me to do what I love by pouring into and developing these children.

I inherited a strong work ethic from my parents who built a successful business from scratch with just a dream and dedication. Growing up, our home stressed the importance of education, and it is still a value I foster today. Through the years, family members and friends would come to me for advice, and I knew early on I had a passion for helping others. As a first generation college student, I obtained my Bachelors in Psychology from USC Columbia. While in school, I worked as an after school instructor at a church summer camp and as a line therapist to children with degrees of autism. It was then my true calling was revealed to me, helping children.

I embraced my gift and began to follow the path that was meant for me. After working with the Early Autism Project, I accepted a position as a preschool teacher at my first Reggio-inspired center in 2016 and loved every moment of it. Since then I have continued to grow and learn from each child and experience. From the moment I toured the Laurelwood Community Preschool, I had an overwhelming sense of peace; I knew I was meant to be a part of this amazing team. I’m motivated to join the Laurelwood team as an educator, and I look forward to building lifelong relationships with my students and their families. “Children need the freedom to appreciate the infinite resources of their hands, their eyes and their ears, the resources of forms, materials, sounds and colors” - Loris Malaguzzi.



Jane Walkup, Educational Consultant/Trainer and Writer

B.S., Elementary Education from George Peabody College of Education of Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee)
Additional training and Certification in Early Childhood Education from Queens University in Charlotte, NC
Graduate work in Early Childhood Education at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC

I come from a family of teachers, musicians and artists. My career has focused on teaching and directing programs for young children ages 3 through 8. Beginning in Project Head Start in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I have worked with children and families in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Indiana.

The mother of three grown children and grandmother of six, I can not remember a time when I was not in the company of teachers or children. Work experiences have included teaching and directing in: Head Start, public schools, private nursery schools and kindergartens, and as director and teacher of a Pre-K program (The Early Learning Center) that served as a laboratory school at Queens University. Leaving that position at the center closing, I opened an art studio for children (Today’s Child) in the Dilworth community of Charlotte, NC.

Leaving Charlotte, I moved with my husband to Pittsburgh, PA and then, to Indianapolis, IN. While in Indy, I taught fours before becoming director of a church preschool. Additional work has been in the field of teacher training and curriculum development. In this capacity, I have worked for Ivy Technical College (Indiana), Central Piedmont Community College (Charlotte, NC) and York Technical College (Rock Hill, SC). Training experience has included positions with Child Care Answers in Indy and Child Care Resource and Referral, Inc. in Charlotte, NC. I have co-authored and illustrated a curriculum book for teachers (First Time Circle Time) published by Simon and Schuster.

Art, music, and poetry writing are some of my hobbies. The Reggio Emilia approach is my passion. Currently, I am serving as the Creative Director of RE-CHARGE (Reggio Emilia Charlotte Area Group Engagement), a study group of the NC Southwest Association for the Education of Young Children. In addition, my role with Laurelwood is that of curriculum advisor.


Angela Berger, Director of Operations

B.S., Business Administration
Graduate work at Gardner-Webb University and the University of NC at Charlotte
Contact Angela

I’m Angela Berger, owner, of Laurelwood Community Preschool. I’m a native North Carolinian from Shelby and now reside in beautiful, historic Waxhaw with my husband and two children. My life changed in 2009 when I had my precious twins, Hannah and Joshua, and so did my career interests. In 2014, I decided to pursue a degree in Early Childhood Education to complement my degree in Business Administration. During my studies, the Reggio Emilia Approach to early childhood education captured my heart and mind. With the support of others in the early education field, I decided to open a Reggio-inspired preschool in Waxhaw.

The focus of Reggio Emilia revolves around the children as capable, competent learners, their parents as valued educators in the process and the community we all share that greatly influences our lives. Waxhaw is rich in its love for nature, an appreciation for the arts, and a feeling that the community history we have in Waxhaw is special and worth preserving. All of these elements are celebrated in the Reggio Approach making it the perfect choice for the community of Waxhaw and its neighboring towns.

I invite you to take your time examining the website to understand the values and philosophy of Reggio Emilia and encourage you to tour the center to see the difference that a Reggio-inspired education offers your child and family.

One last closing thought is an expression of gratitude for all of the families who choose to make Laurelwood Community Preschool their child’s home-away-from-home. As parents, your children are your world and allowing us to come along side of you in the education and care of your children during their most formative years is an honor and profound responsibility that drives everything we say and do at Laurelwood. Thank you, parents.