Our Wonderful Staff

Kara Crespo


Kara joined the Learning Tree Preschool family as both a parent and a teacher in 2006 and was named Learning Tree’s Director in 2012. From 2006-2012, Kara taught the 3-year-old class and developed and taught the 3-year-old enrichment program. Before joining Learning Tree, Kara taught the toddler and 3-year-old courses as well as served as Assistant Director at the Goddard School in Hazlet. Kara has her teaching certificate for Nursery School through 8th grade as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and Psychology from Georgian Court University. When Kara isn’t at Learning Tree, she enjoys being involved in her community and sons activities. Kara serves as a committee member, merit badge counselor and fundraising co-chair for Boy Scout Troop 32. She also loves to help out the Backpack Crew whenever she can.

“I loved the warm, family-like feeling that I got when I first entered Learning Tree doors. Through the years, I’ve enjoyed watching so many of our most precious gifts, our children, learn & grow. I love being a part of their first educational journey. The most wonderful thing in the world is seeing the smiles on their faces, hearing their laughter & stories, and experiencing their amazement when they learn new things! Teaching truly is a work of heart.”

Kelly Hegel

Pre-K & Enrichment Teacher

Kelly joined the Learning Tree family in 2009 as a mom.  Since then she has worked in all classrooms as a cooperating parent, substitute and as a 3’s and 3’s enrichment teacher.  Before Learning Tree, Kelly was an elementary school teacher in Middletown to 4th graders and Kindergarten students.  Kelly graduated from Georgian Court University in 2000 with a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities and Elementary Education.  When Kelly isn’t working, she enjoys volunteering for the Middletown Soccer Club and Monmouth United Soccer Club for her daughter and son, who of course both attended Learning Tree.

“All students are individuals, and everyone learns in their unique way. I enjoy using multiple teaching methods in my classroom so each child can reach their potential.” 

Heather Gourley-Thompson

3’s & Enrichment Teacher

Heather joined Learning Tree in 2007.  In looking for preschool programs for her daughter, she fell in love with Learning Tree.   In addition to enrolling her daughter, she interviewed and accepted a position teaching a Mom & Me class. Before Learning Tree, Heather taught all subjects in the High-Intensity Language Training program for eight years in the Arlington Public Schools in Virginia.  Heather has a B.A. in Speech and Hearing Science and Spanish, as well as a Master’s degree in Secondary Education and Second Language Acquisition from The George Washington University. Outside of school, Heather is very involved in her hometown of Shrewsbury and currently serves as a board member on the Shrewsbury Board of Education.

“At Learning Tree, I’m able to see not just the child in isolation, but I get the opportunity to know the whole family. This to me, is so important because we are not just teaching ABC’s, we are helping raise young learners and this should be a team approach!”

Diana Scheffling

2.5 & 3’s Aide

Diana first came to Learning Tree in 2015 after a friend recommended our school. After her daughter completed preschool last year, she jumped at the chance when an aide position opened up for the 2018/19 school year. Before working at Learning Tree, Diana worked in both Middletown and Oceanport Schools after receiving her Masters in Early Childhood Education.

“I love that Learning Tree has such a strong parent/teacher communication and such a positive involvement of parents. It is so important for a child’s education. Together may we give our children the roots to grow and wings to fly.” 

Tricia Simon

Pre-K & Enrichment Teacher

Tricia was hired as an aide at Learning Tree in 2008 after her children attended our preschool. She has an A.A. in Fine Arts and a B.F.A. in advertising design. Tricia enjoys being very involved in her community. She has served as an advisory board member for Middletown Parks & Rec., Parent Information committee representative for Middletown District, member of Facilities and Planning Ad-Hoc Committee for Middletown District, County Committee, a representative for the Rage Core Group, and various parent duties at River Plaza Elementary. We are so lucky to have Tricia working at our preschool. She is sure to be seen around Learning Tree any day of the week!

“I love Learning Tree because it is the only time during your children’s education that you can be hands-on! I cherish my memories at Learning Tree with my children. My favorite part of the day is listening to the children tell me about their experiences. I love seeing their excitement each day!”

Learning Tree Preschool is a non-profit, integrated auxiliary of the United Methodist Church of Red Bank. We are an Early Childhood Learning Center licensed by the State of New Jersey, Department of Human Services, and Bureau of Licensing. Learning Tree Preschool does not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, religion, age, or disability in the processes of admissions, educational programs or employment.