Preschool Classrooms

Ali Cardoza – Lead Preschool Teacher

Ali was born and raised in Dublin, CA. This year she moved to Twain Harte, after marrying the love of her life.

Ali attended Dublin High School through independent study, and was able to graduate a year early. She took advantage of that time by going to Diablo Valley College, volunteering at her local church in Dublin, and nannying for several families. After that, she worked at Valley Christian Preschool for two years. Ali received her AA degree in History, and a certificate for Early Childhood Education from DVC. She hopes to transfer in the future to be able to pursue her dreams of becoming a junior high school history teacher.

Ali found her love for working with children when she was 14 years old after taking a month long mission trip to South Africa. After that trip, she came back knowing she wanted to serve children and took every step she could to follow that dream.

Ali is a passionate person that loves the environment, history, children, animals, and reading. In her spare time, you can find her at the beach, at a lake, playing with her puppy, learning new things, reading, or riding horses.

Beth Sansom – Preschool Teacher

Beth grew up in the California East Bay after moving from her birth place of Chicago Heights, IL.

She graduated from Tennyson High School then received her first AA degree in Commercial Art and a second AA degree in Early Childhood Development from Chabot College. She continued to take photography and fine art classes, figure drawing and oil painting for fun, and took American Sign Language.

At first Beth thought she would follow in her dad’s footsteps in Advertising but hated it! So she proceeded with Early Childhood Development. Thirty some years later she is still at it!

As a child her family camped and spent many happy times locally in the Sierra foothills and mountains. She fell in love with this area and always felt more at home here. She felt “homesick” whenever she had to return to the Bay Area.

Beth always knew she wanted to live here. Finally, after a divorce, she decided to make the move. It was very scary not having a job or knowing a soul. But she was blessed by finding a tiny cottage for rent owned by a Sonora family. It even came with a rent-a-teen and a rent-a-dog.

At the time she was doing In Home Care for hospice patients and the elderly. She really loved that work and met many wonderful people. Three years ago she moved back to Hayward to assist her own elderly mother. After her mom’s death, Beth returned to her sweet little home here in the Mother Lode.

Currently she is active at Calvary Chapel and enjoys gardening, camping, taking nature hikes, fishing and painting in watercolors, acrylics and oils. She is very grateful to be living her dream here in Sonora!

Nicole Tucker – Preschool Teacher 

Nicole Tucker is a wife and a mom of two daughters and a son. She is a very family oriented person. She loves to watch her husband and son race. She loves being at all of her children’s extra-curricular activities. She loves to go to the lake/camping and spending time with family.

Nicole has always wanted to be a teacher since she was young, and took many child development classes through high school, as well as working for a preschool/daycare. After graduating high school, she moved and worked for Head start as a lead teacher for 4 years while going to college. She then moved her family to California and began working on my education. She received her Bachelors Degree in Liberal Studies. She helped open a Christian preschool in Turlock, and was a lead teacher there, then moving to another  preschool in Turlock, as lead teacher, then became the Assistant Director. Nicole is still working on her credential program to finish her multi subject credential.

Nicole’s educational philosophy for children that she works with is that they will learn as much as you teach them, so they can be the best that they can be once they move on. The foundation of their education is what is going to help them later in life. Living by the quote, “Their minds were not built to sit and be taught. They were built to explore, play, and learn.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is SafariStaff4620c-751x1024.jpg Jean Kriz – Preschool Teacher

Jean has been working with children for 12 years as an instructional assistant at an elementary school. She has worked with children in after school care, as well as with the reading specialist. Jean’s family moved to Sonora from Sacramento about a year ago and are very much enjoying country living. She has two grown children and one child still in high school. She spends her free time camping at the ocean with her family and my dog.

Charis Hernandez – Preschool Teacher

(and our social media girl!)

Charis Hernandez grew up in the mountains of California with her three younger siblings. Growing up she always loved babysitting and working in the Sunday school classrooms of the church she grew up in. She also taught her youngest special needs sibling his basic elementary school skills through various different fine motor and artistic methods his teachers had given up on him. These early experiences sparked her love for working with children of every nature. Charis is currently pursuing her teaching credential in order to be a 1st grade teacher. She strongly believes that every learning method should be utilized as not every student will absorb and learn the same way as another. She has previously worked as an aid in the special needs classrooms of Tuolumne County School District, where she was able to gather unique learning devices and methods. In her free time, she loves to travel the world, paint, sketch, and spend time with her husband, and family.

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Katlynd Wright – Preschool Teacher

Toddler Teachers

Jodi Gates – Lead Toddler Teacher, Assistant Director

Jodi Gates was born in Iowa City, Iowa. She moved to Antioch, California with her parents and younger brother when she was 3 Years old.

After graduating high school she attended California State University working towards a degree in psychology. While attending college she worked for the Head Start program in schools all over Sacramento County. When she moved back to Antioch she began working for Starbucks Coffee Company and The Family Stress Center based in Concord, CA. While at the Family Stress Center she mentored youth with mental illness. While this job was extremely rewarding she moved on to work at the Fine Arts Preschool in Walnut Creek, CA and continued at Starbucks. In the meantime, her boyfriend, now husband, applied for a job in Tuolumne County. He received an IT position with the county and they moved to Sonora.

Jodi transferred to Sonora with Starbucks and continued to work for the company for seven years. The perks were great. She got married to Jamie and they had two little girls, Julia and Jenna. After Jenna was born Jodi became part of the team at Safari Learning Academy, the perks here are even better. She loves teaching children and helping them to find their voice. Jodi became the Head Toddler Teacher in the toddler program in 2015.

When Jodi is not working she loves to spend time with her family. They love hiking and camping. Every year Jodi and her husband hike to the top of half dome in Yosemite.

Alexa Smiley – Toddler Teacher

Alexa was born and raised in Merced, California until she was 17, then moved to Copperopolis where she currently lives. Alexa knew she wanted to work with preschool age children at a very young age when she began volunteering in a Preschool After School Program at her church. She attended Columbia College before transferring to CSU Stanislaus to begin working on her Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies, but always knew that the preschool classroom is where she belonged.

Alexa loves her job at Safari and looks forward to coming to work every single day. She loves working with the children and believes that showing up every day with a smile is the only way to start the day. Teacher Alexa strength is being silly with the kids, connecting with them and helping them grow.

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Natalie Sell – Toddler Teacher

Natalie was born in Berkeley Ca, but raised in Oakdale, Ca. She moved to Sonora about 16 years ago to attend Columbia College after she graduated High School. Natalie is a mom to 2 beautiful daughters, both who attend Safari Learning. I have always wanted to be a Teacher, ever since I was little. Natalie has taken several Child Development classes through Columbia College, working towards an AA in Liberal Studies, as well as several classes through Oregon State University’s online program working toward a BA in Human Development and Family Sciences. Natalie recognized the development and growth in my oldest daughter since starting at Safari Learning, and loves being a part of something so amazing.

In Natalie’s free time she likes to be with her husband and girls. She is very family oriented, and also enjoys watching her oldest child dance on her competitive dance team. Natalie has a love of music, dancing, board and card games, snowboarding, hiking, playing corn hole and being outside.

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Adhi Smith – Toddler Teacher

Adhilakshmi Smith was born, and spent her early years, in Pondicherry, India.  She came to the USA when she was almost 11 years old.  Adhi has been living in USA for 18 years, mostly in San Diego.   She became a US Citizen in 2009.  She has been a resident of Calaveras County for two and a half years.

Adhi has 24 units of Early Child Development, with nine years of experience of working with children in various settings.   She understands what an important job working in a preschool is.  She also really enjoys working with children! She believes toddlers and preschool age children need a loving and safe environment where they can learn and grow. She also knows that parents need to feel confident that their children’s preschool will provide excellent care.

When she’s not working, Adhi likes to spend time with her family and friends.  But family is the most important thing to her.  She enjoys working out, hiking, traveling, and watching movies with her parents.

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Carissa Davis – Toddler Aide

Carissa is 26 years old, born in Roseville, California, but raised here in Tuolumne County. She has always had a love for children. Carissa is currently attending classes online through Penn Foster to finish getting her child development units. Carissa is a mom to a wonderful little girl. When Carissa is not at work she loves spending time with her family and truly loves animals. Carissa loves her students and shows her dedication to them by showering them with love throughout the day.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is SafariStaff4589c-751x1024.jpgJustice DeBellotte – Teacher 

Justice was born and raised in Fremont ,CA and moved to Tuolumne County in 2017. She attended Washington High School in Fremont up until her junior year when she transferred to a charter school so she could compete at a competitive level in gymnastics and take college classes which helped her graduate valedictorian. During high school she discovered her love for teaching. She started with teaching swim lessons, and then moved on to coaching gymnastics and eventually found herself in a preschool setting her senior year of high school. She attended classes at UCLA online while working as an afternoon aid in the preschool she attended as a child. She has a huge passion for learning about all the new and exciting ways to teach and helping children thrive!

In her free time she loves to spend time with her family and go on road trips with her dog. She enjoys going to baseball games, doing yoga, going on hikes, and LOVES to teach!


Karin Boklund – Teacher                          

Karin has lived in Sonora since 1999. She has always wanted to teach preschool children. She started her adventure in 2005 and 13 years later, after very much hard work and determination, she graduated with her AS degree in Child Development. In her spare time she likes to go to the lake, go hiking, horseback riding, doing yard work, and spending time with family. Karin’s favorite part of teaching is watching the children grow as and learn.

Infant Classroom

Sandy Huntley – Infant Teacher

Sandy grew up in Stanislaus County. She and her husband had always dreamed of living in the mountains and a few years ago we were able to make our dream come true when we moved to Twain Harte. Sandy is a wife and a mother to four adult children and twelve grandchildren.

Sandy always had a desire to work with children so she started at Modesto Junior College, she started taking child development classes. Sandy then went on to CSU Stanislaus and majored In Child Development. Sandy has over one hundred college units and my Children Development Permit.

Sandy has worked in State Preschool and Child Care Centers, as well as in Elementary Schools for a total of ten years. She also worked as a family advocate and later on she was the coordinator for their Healthy Start program. As the coordinator of the Healthy Start Program I worked with children ages 0 to 5 and their families. She very much enjoyed working with the families and the children.

Sandy started working at Safari three months ago. She states, “I love being a part of a high quality program that is making a huge difference in the community.”

Stephany Cullens – Infant Teacher

Stephany was born in Modesto, California but grew up mostly in the state of Missouri. She moved to Sonora in 2008. Stephany is a wife and the mother to 3 boys. She enjoys spending time with her family doing fun activities and enjoying this beautiful county we live in.

Stephany has always had a love for children, but knew that she wanted to work with kids when she volunteered in my eldest sons classroom when he was attending Safari Learning Academy. Discovering this new passion Stephany started attending Columbia College to study child development. Her path continued and led her back here to Safari Learning Academy where she states, “I couldn’t be happier.”

Primary Classroom

Terri Radovich – Primary School Teacher

Terri was born in Sonora, CA. She was second generation to be born in Tuolumne County on both her dad and mom’s side. She has two younger brothers, two nieces, three nephews, five great nieces and one great nephew.

She attended a one room school, Wards Ferry Elementary, from first through seventh grade. She graduated from Curtis Creek in 1969 and went to Sonora Union High School where she graduated in January of 1973. She earned the Bank of America Business Award her graduating year.

Growing up, she always wanted to be a school teacher and use to torture her brothers into playing school. While in high school she had great typing and secretarial skills and teachers pushed her in the direction of secretarial, which she pursued. She went to work for the Tuolumne County Court Reporter in January of 1973. She worked there for two years also filling in for the Superior Court Judge as secretary when his secretary became ill.

She then went to work for a local Attorney and worked for him for eight years. He closed his business and she went to work as a Legal Secretary for the Calaveras County District Attorney’s Office. She got married and quit work to be a housewife. That was not fulfilling enough and she opened her own business typing California State Parole Hearings for eight years with a contract through the State of California.

When the contract was up, she went to work to fill in for a school secretary that was ill at Columbia Elementary and ended up being hired as an aide and part-time secretary. Again, her great secretarial skills pulled her into the office full time and away from the kids. That again was not satisfying and she joined AmeriCorp to be able to go back to college and pursue teaching. She was a tutor and aide for Soulsbyville and Jamestown Elementary School. Jamestown hired her as an aide and she worked there for ten years.

At that time, she also attended full-time college and took 24 units of Child Development, two teaching classes and liberal studies earning 94 college units at Columbia and Modesto Junior College. She also has attended every workshop and class she could for working with developmentally disabled children. She has worked with several autistic children, bi-polar, and other special needs children.

While working at Jamestown she again ended up doing more secretarial than teaching and saw an ad in the newspaper for a teaching job at Safari Learning Academy. She immediately contacted us, and was hired making her dream of teaching come true. She is currently teaching a K-1 class at Safari Learning Academy.

ToniLee Faughnan – Primary Teacher

Toni grew up in the East Bay Area and went to Modesto Jr. College and Humboldt State University here in California, as well as University of Mary Washington in Virginia. She has always had a love for working with children and her favorite quote is “never lose your childlike enthusiasm” (which really shows in her methods of teaching). Toni also has a great love for music and is an accomplished singer songwriter and performer.  Toni considers music the greatest tool for learning, and incorporates music into most her lessons, even art, Spanish, reading, or even PE! Toni has worked in the past as a musician, teacher and as a Program Director for an after school program. She has dedicated herself to becoming a life-long educator and learner, and she strives to instill a similar desire in all of the students with whom she works, with lots of positive reinforcement.

Support Staff

Abigail “Abi” Barker – Administrative Assistant

Abigail was born in Monterey County and moved to Copperopolis at the age of 10.

She attended Sonora Elementary, Sonora High and the Sonora R.O.P. Cosmetology Program. After working as a caregiver and being in the hair industry for 3 years, Abi decided to take a different career route as a personal assistant which eventually lead her to an opportunity here at Safari Learning Academy.

Abigail loves working with children and insures that each and every child feels special and welcome.

In her free time Abi loves to camp, spend time with animals, hike and study aviation!

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Vanessa Dean – Kitchen Coordinator

Vanessa was born and raised in Sonora, CA. She attended both Summerville and Sonora High School, but graduated early from Gold Rush Charter School. Vanessa has been in the work force since the age of 16. She began as pool attendant at the Black Oak Casino Resort, eventually moving up to be a barista, and worked for the casino for 3 years. She is the oldest of 6 siblings so taking care of young ones comes naturally. In her free time she loves being outside, with her boyfriend, or just relaxing at home with her cats.

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Grace Spoljaric – Kitchen Coordinator 

Audrey Canida – Substitute

Audrey was born and raised in Sonora. She attended Sonora Elementary School and Sonora High School through her sophomore year. Deciding that getting a job and graduating high school early was important to her, she transferred to Gold Rush Charter School doing Independent Study. Audrey worked various jobs until she found something she knew she would enjoy and that would help her move towards her career. Audrey got a job at amazing Safari Learning Academy and started taking classes at Columbia College for child development. Audrey loves the staff and the children and is very appreciative to have a job she enjoys. In her free time Audrey likes to play with her dog and hang out with her family.

Diana Sanders – Substitute

Diana’s training as a teacher started in Menlo Park where she went through the Miss Lorraine’s Modeling School where she taught skin care and exercise classes.

She continued to educate herself and attended Foothill College majoring in Computer Science. She ran a small clothing business while attending San Francisco University majoring in Broadcasting. She then began to study Opera at San Jose State, taking music classes, working full time and recording songs.

Diana started her own talent agency, found work for bands in the Bay Area and created a small circuit in the Motherlode. She was able to create jobs for models, musicians and dancers.

It wasn’t until she became a parent that she realized how much she enjoyed watching little bright eyes discover the world. Diana volunteered in all of her children’s preschools and joined the Sonora Parent Nursery. This encouraged her to go back to college and learn about child development. She worked for Mother Goose Preschool in Sonora, Pooh Corner in Arnold, and the Superintendent of Schools as a substitute Teacher’s Aide. She also started a charity for enrichment after school and is attending an on-line college; Grand Canyon University.

Diana has worked with children for over 15 years and has received an award from Ed Minium for filling a need in the community. Diana has gained a great deal of experience and insight on how to help very young children learn.