Teachers & Staff

Annette Gerlitz Appel
Parent and Child Program Director

Where did you grow up? I am a native Floridian. I grew up in Boca Raton and attended St. Joan of Arc School, Pope John Paul High School and then went off to the University of Florida. I lived in the same house my entire life (except when I went away to college) until I got married.
How long have you been at Sunflower? I started at Sunflower, as a Mama, in Circle of song in Aug 2014. I started facilitating Sunflower Babies and Little Sprouts in 2016.
What is your favorite memory of play from your childhood?
I have two favorite childhood memories of play. The first is running around in the woods of my father’s nursery (in west Delray Beach). My brother and I would traipse around for hours, getting muddy, looking for animals, and playing hide-and-seek. When I was in middle school, I remember playing “manhunt” (the big kid version of hide-and-week) with my friends.
What do you love to observe Sunflower students do? I love to watch and I’m privileged to be a part of the growth and change Sunflower Babies and their mamas go through over the course of that first year of life.
You’re going to Mars. You can bring one thing to remind you of home. What is it? If I went to Mars, I would bring a shoe box with me. It would contain a photo of our wedding, photos of the birth of each of our girls, a family photo (including all of our crazy pets), and a few of my favorite drawings that our girls have created.

 

Ashley Caskill
Chief Operating Officer

Where did you grow up? Miami, FL
How long have you been at Sunflower? Four years.
What is your favorite memory of play form your childhood? Riding my bike with my neighborhood friends (without parents) and finding secret hiding places.
What do you love to observe Sunflower students do? When they cover themselves in mud and paint and totally immerse themselves in their play.
You’re going to Mars. You can bring one thing to remind you of home. What is it? My cat (in an astronaut suit).

Colleen Putnam
Family Liaison

Where did you grow up? Western Massachusetts
How long have you been at Sunflower? About a half year.
What is your favorite memory of play form your childhood? Climbing trees by myself near my house or going in the babbling brook by my grandmother’s farm.
What do you love to observe Sunflower students do? I love their laughter and their sheer joy.
You’re going to Mars. You can bring one thing to remind you of home. What is it? A scrapbook of my family photos, stuck with Velcro so none of the photos float away.

Dorota Szladewska
Financial Director

Where did you grow up? Northern Poland
How long have you been at Sunflower? Ten years; five years with my children.
What is your favorite memory of play form your childhood? Burying treasures in the dirt near my house and playing tricks with jump rope.
What do you love to observe Sunflower students do? Their interactions with each other and the way they solve problems by sharing and talking with each other.
You’re going to Mars. You can bring one thing to remind you of home. What is it? Apples from where I grew up in Poland.

Haidor Tru
Seedlings Teacher

Where did you grow up? Estonia
How long have you been at Sunflower? Six years as a teacher; 2 1/2 years as a parent with my son.
What is your favorite memory of play form your childhood? I was in the forest a lot, alone (it was safe) and I liked to explore near my grandmother’s house.
What do you love to observe Sunflower students do? When they are playing with water in the Playscape. It gets interesting to watch!
You’re going to Mars. You can bring one thing to remind you of home. What is it? My son.

Irena Lawrence
Seedlings Teacher

Where did you grow up? Macedonia
How long have you been at Sunflower? Two-and-a-half years.
What is your favorite memory of play form your childhood? Climbing trees in the village where my grandmother lived with my cousin.
What do you love to observe Sunflower students do? Everything! If I had to choose one thing, it would be how they interact with nature.
You’re going to Mars. You can bring one thing to remind you of home. What is it? A rock from Earth to remind me of the Earth.

Julie Abdallah
Seedlings Teacher

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Palestine.
How long have you been at Sunflower? This is my first year at Sunflower (Fall 2021).
What is your favorite memory of play form your childhood? My favorite memory of child play is when we used to go to my aunt’s house and play around her field of almond trees. We would pick the almonds when they were still green and eat them. They were sour and tasted amazing.
What do you love to observe Sunflower students do? I didn’t get a chance to interact with the Sunflower kids yet but from watching the videos of the Seedlings, I love how they play with each other and try to solve problems on their own.
You’re going to Mars. You can bring one thing to remind you of home. What is it? I would take a box with pictures of my family and my favorite book.

Lindsey Mills
Sunflower Bridge Co-Creator

Where did you grow up? Lake Worth, FL.
How long have you been at Sunflower? Four years.
What is your favorite memory of play form your childhood? I loved to imagine I was a fairy climbing trees in my grandmother’s backyard. 🧚🏼
What do you love to observe Sunflower students do? There is no sweeter thing to me than watching Seedlings nibble the plants they pick in the Playscape.
You’re going to Mars. You can bring one thing to remind you of home. What is it? My smooth, round carnelian palm stone.

Liz Licht
Little Seedlings Teacher

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Montreal, Canada, and Hollywood, Florida.
How long have you been at Sunflower? I am beginning my fifth year as a Sunflower teacher.
What is your favorite memory of play form your childhood?
My favorite childhood memories of play all surround being a camper at a small french summer camp in Quebec call “Autour du Monde” which means  “Around the World.” It was a very rough and rugged camp and I loved everything about it, especially the waterfront. I remember washing my hair in the freezing cold lake water and seeing the soap bubbling and floating in the lake. I remember canoeing through the calm waters. I remember wandering through the muck and goo at the water’s edge.
What do you love to observe Sunflower students do? I love watching Sunflower students climb trees. They feel so strong, capable, and powerful physically and mentally, especially when they accomplish this feat after multiple attempts. Every child should be encouraged to climb trees!!!
You’re going to Mars. You can bring one thing to remind you of home. What is it? I would bring photos of my three dogs. They would remind me of all the love, joy, and everything that is pure and kind on Earth!

 

Marisol Castro
Seedlings Teacher

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Mexico City.
How long have you been at Sunflower? I’m a new Seedlings teacher (Fall 2021) and I’m very excited and grateful to be part of the Sunflower Family.
What is your favorite memory of play form your childhood? I remember playing with my brother in the mud kitchen and going on vacation to the beach. We would spend hours swimming, looking for shells, riding a water slide, and playing “Marco Polo”. I had a happy childhood!
What do you love to observe Sunflower students do? I have heard so many beautiful things about Sunflower: how magical it is and how kind everyone is that I can’t wait to experience the children for myself.
You’re going to Mars. You can bring one thing to remind you of home. What is it? I would take my family with me.

Melissa Franklin
Seedlings Teacher & Volunteer and Events Coordinator

Where did you grow up? Port of Spain, Trinidad and Miami FL
How long have you been at Sunflower? I have worked at Sunflower for a year, though I have been a part of the community for three years while my daughter attended classes here.
What is your favorite memory of play form your childhood? One of my favourite memories playing in my youth is riding my bike through the hills and mountains in my neighbourhood with about 10 to 15 other kids, getting lost in the beauty of the land, searching for faeries, making up games as we played, and not having to come home till dark.
What do you love to observe Sunflower students do?  I love to see Sunflower student’s problem-solve, to see the look on their faces of pure joy and satisfaction that “they” did it! The empowerment and self-reliance are amazing to me: it solidifies the belief that they are capable and self-directed play is imperative for their development.
You’re going to Mars. You can bring one thing to remind you of home. What is it? This is a tough one! Can a plant survive on Mars? OK. I’ll bring music, books, and my pictures. That’s too much? One thing? I’ll bring a photo of my family!

Michele Service
Seedlings Teacher

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Barbados but came to Englewood New Jersey when I was 12 years old.
How long have you been at Sunflower? I am beginning my fifth year as a Sunflower teacher.
What is your favorite memory of play form your childhood?
My favorite childhood memories are living in Barbados a block away from the beach.
What do you love to observe Sunflower students do? Play, make pictures, and listen to each other’s stories.
You’re going to Mars. You can bring one thing to remind you of home. What is it? Pictures of my loved ones.

 

Susan Caruso
Director and Founder of Sunflower Creative Arts
Teacher, Circle of Song, Sunflower Play Initiative Director

Susan Caruso is Director and Founder of Sunflower Creative Arts, a nonprofit organization that offers hands-on learning programs in Play, Nature, and the Arts for children and their parents. In June 2018, Susan started the Sunflower Play Initiative, a community outreach program that strives to give all children access to child-directed free play. She is a specialist in guiding children and adults to discover their passions, realize their potential and develop a strong personal voice.

She has been an educator, master player, parenting mentor, musician and compassionate voice and advocate for children for over 30 years. Susan is a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and an innovator in early childhood education. Her inspired, child-centered teaching approach led her to develop Sunflower’s educational model of respect for the individual, learning through experience and learning within the community. 

In addition to directing Sunflower’s vision and philosophy, Susan enjoys sharing her insights and continuing to learn and grow daily by working with children, parents and teachers through teaching classes and workshops, consulting educators and youth organizations and presenting at conferences.

Share This