3816 Waldo Avenue, Riverdale, NY 10463  
(718) 884-3950  

• Faculty  •

The Riverdale Nursery School and Family Center sees the charge of educating young children as a partnership between the family and school with ongoing collaboration between the child’s significant adults and the child’s educational professionals. A skilled and experienced faculty work together to provide a positive and enriching preschool experience for each child and to support parents in the task of nurturing their children. Each class is conducted under the guidance of a skilled, well-qualified teacher, SEITs (special education teachers) and an appropriate number of assistant teachers to maintain an excellent staff-child ratio.

Staff members have specialized training in child development and early childhood education. Professional expertise is enhanced through attendance at conferences and workshops, ongoing in-service training and collaboration with other educational institutions. In addition, a roster of professional consultants are available to lend guidance in support of the child, allowing the school to accept a diverse group of children that will benefit from placement in a mainstream educational setting.

Unique to RNSFC is the counseling and preparation for post nursery school placements done by the Director and staff. Ongoing communication is maintained with the Riverdale and Manhattan Independent Schools, as well as local and specialized public schools.

• The Staff •

Susan Smelin, Director

Susan Smelin is the founding director of RNSFC and the director of RNSFC and its predecessor nursery school since 1997. Susan has a Masters degree in mathematics and learning disabilities, has taught preschool through college age students, and has trained many teachers. Susan was a preschool-kindergarten teacher and then the computer coordinator at the Riverdale Country Lower School, and did teacher consultation for "Teaching Matters". Susan and her husband have co-directed summer camps for many years, including Fieldston Outdoors at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School. Susan has 41 years of teaching experience and is in her 20th year as director of RNSFC.

Greg Blackhall, Special Needs Coordinator

Greg Blackhall is one of our educational consultants. He is here to mentor us and works with all of the children at RNSFC. He spends time interpreting and adapting children's behaviors to assist them in having enriching, meaningful experiences. Greg has a Masters of Science in Education and Special Education. His certifications include: NYS Permanent Certification, Elementary Education pre-k-6, and Special Education pre-k-6. Greg has 20 years of teaching experience and has been at RNSFC for the last 9 years.

Barbara Russek, Consulting Psychologist

Barbara Russek has over 40 years' experience in mental health and psychology. She has a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree in clinical psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Yeshiva University, and a B.A. in French from Barnard College of Columbia University. Barbara trained in family therapy at the Ackerman Institute for the Family, where she is a faculty member of the Center for the Developing Child and Family. She has been at RNSFC since it opened, consulting with staff to enhance understanding of and develop strategies to meet the social and emotional needs of our students.

"Coming to RNSFC has been an enriching experience both as a teacher and as a parent. I love what I do and I love learning alongside the children. Best of all, I love that my daughter looks forward to Monday because she can return to school to see her teachers and friends." - Paola Cartagena

• Head Teachers •

Sara Bender, Head Teacher

Sara has been teaching at the Riverdale Nursery School and Family Center for the past seven years and holds Masters Degrees in both general and special education birth through grade 2. She has worked with several age groups but has found her niche as part of the 4’s-5’s teaching team. Sara has also gained a lot of experience working with children as a lead counselor for many summers at Fieldston Outdoors Summer Camp. She enjoys baking for the RNSFC staff.

Paola Cartagena, Head Teacher

Paola Cartagena has over 20 years of teaching experience. She has taught Pre-K and Kindergarten at RNSFC for the past 9 years. She has a dual Masters Degree in early Childhood Education and Children with Disabilities. Her past experiences include working with children of varying ages. She has also taught swimming for the past 10 years at a local summer camp. Paola is a mother of 4 and an alumni RNSFC parent.

Lori Flynn, Head Teacher

Lori Flynn has been the head teacher for the 3's class at RNS for the last 11 years. She is a graduate of Manhattan College, earning her B.A. in elementary education. Lori received her Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education from Lehman College. Lori is married with 2 children who adore attending RNS- Ryan, class of 2017, and Colin, class of 2019.

Melinda Berman, Head Teacher 

Melinda joined the RNSFC staff this year in the position of lead teacher for the Two's classes. Melinda has over 25 years of teaching experience. She has been a head teacher for 2s and 3s for the past 19 years and loves working with very young children. Melinda is licensed in New York State and holds a Masters Degree in Special Education. She loves spending time with her family and all her pets.




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