Susan Nelsom

Susan Nelson

Teacher and Primary School Art Teacher

Susan was born in Chattanooga, TN. She has lived in Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Arizona, Maryland and California. She lived in Felton, California until she moved to Sonora in 2006. Susan began has an instructional aide at Safari and then received her early children units enabling her to teach. She has taught at Safari since it opened in 2007.

Susan graduated from high school in Antioch, California. She attended Woodbury University in Los Angeles for one year, then Academy of Art in San Francisco. She is currently attending Columbia College.

Susan has been married to Steve Nelson for 35 years. She has three children Ben, Tamara, and Shannon, daughter-in-law Laura, and two grandchildren. She loves painting, scrapbooking and Children’s Ministry. She has taken two missionary trips to India and and, with her husband, is involved in a ministry to the homeless in Sonora, CA plus volunteers for Samaritan’s Purse.

If you look on the playground, in the toddler room and in the Safari Day Care, Susan did the coloration and shading on our murals.

Beth SansomBeth 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!

Denise HinshawDenise Peck

Toddler Teacher

Denise was born in Sonora, CA but her family moved to Tulare, CA when she was only a few years old. She spent most of her childhood there and remembers learning Zoo-phonics® at Garden Elementary School with Mrs. Lawson. When Denise started high school her family moved back to the Mother Lode area and they have been here ever since.

Denise is attends Columbia College and is working toward her AS in Child Development. After taking her first child development class she knew that she had found her niche. Denise is the oldest of four siblings and one foster sibling. She has always loved children; she loved playing with her younger siblings and cousins. In her spare time she likes to sing, take pictures, read, play games, grow plants, and spend time with her family. She believes that children are a gift from God.

Terri RadovichTerri 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 as well as being the Administrative Secretary to the Director of Safari and founder of Zoo-phonics®, Inc.

She lives in a house on the property that is owned by her parents and helps take care of her mom who is 82, but still going strong. Her dad died in 2008 and she still misses him desperately.

Alisha BranionAlisha Branion

Primary School Teacher

Alisha was born in Merced CA and grew up in Winton CA. She moved to Copperopolis in June of 2013.

She loves being around kids and has always done thing that involves kids. She has worked at First Church of God as a care provider for kids for a little over a year. She also volunteered as a leader for a ids group called Awanas at Atwater Community Bible church for several years.

Even though she loved working with kids she wasn’t sure if she wanted to work with kids long term even though her family told her that she should get some type of job working with kids. After taking her first Child Development class she decided that she really enjoyed it and decided that she wanted to become a teacher.

Alisha Graduated from Central Valley Christian School in 2007 and in 2013 she successfully completed her AA Degree in Child Development at Merced College. She plans on furthering her education in the future.

When Alisha is not working with children she enjoys reading, spending time with friends and family, watching movies, scrapbooking, hiking, camping and would like to start getting into photography. In the future she would like to travel to Paris, Ireland, and Greece.

Jessica KatzJessica Katz

Toddler Teacher

Jessica moved back to her hometown of Sonora, CA two years ago from Los Angeles. Her first experience working with children was after high school when she coached gymnastics and discovered her passion for working with children.

In Los Angeles Jessica taught music classes at Gymboree and gained over four years of experience working as a nanny. It was after working with so many kids that Jessica realized that she wanted to continue her education to become a teacher. She graduated with honors from Columbia College with an AA degree in Liberal Studies with an emphasis on teaching. She is planning on continuing her education at CSU Stanislaus.

While living in Los Angeles, Jessica got to explore her other passions by studying holistic medicine, becoming a yoga teacher, singing and playing guitar. As the music and movement teacher in the toddler program she is excited to be able to combine most of these passions and use them to create an enjoyable experience for the children. Jessica’s hobbies include yoga, writing music, being outside in nature, and reading. In addition to working at Safari she also teaches yoga classes in Sonora.

Jodie GatesJodi 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.

Jamie BridgesJamie Bridges

Preschool Teacher

Jamie was born in Hayward, CA and lived in Graham, WA until she was 13. She spent the summer before her senior year of high school working at the Tiny Tots program in Sonora before graduating from Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove, CA.

Growing up, Jamie always loved taking care of children and and initially went to college at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, CA to become a pediatric oncology nurse. After moving back to the Sacramento area, Jamie eventually ended up living in Sonora and attending Columbia in order to focus on completing school. It was in Sonora, while working at a local barn teaching children to ride horses, that she changed her focus in school from one life passion to another: equine science.

After deciding to do a complete 180-degree switch in majors, Jamie moved to Quincy, CA to attend Feather River College and graduated in 2013 with four separate degrees in Equine Science, General Agriculture, Agricultural Sciences, and Liberal Arts, including a focus in Child Development.

Throughout her schooling, Jamie has worked at several different preschools and has spent eight years working with children from 6 weeks to 12 years of age. She also works at a local barn teaching children and adults both horsemanship and western riding, and enjoys working under large animal veterinarians in both general health care as well as breeding.

In her spare time Jamie enjoys reading, painting, quilting, writing, horseback riding, yoga, photography, scrap-booking, hiking, and relaxing while watching a good TV show or movie.

 Michelle Davis

Toddler Teacher

Michelle grew up in the bay area and moved to Sonora when she was thirteen years old. She graduated high school in 2006 and attended Columbia College, where she met her boyfriend of over 10 years. She obtained an AA degree and is attending Ashford University online working towards a BA degree. She put school on hold when she had her first child, Colton, and now has a daughter, Caytlyn. Michelle has worked with children for a long time; from babysitting as a teenager to providing daycare in her home. She worked at Head Start for a couple of years and applied to Safari in 2015 where she has been loving it ever since.


 Diana Sanders

Substitute, Primary Spanish and Music Teacher

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.


Dayle Schenstrom

Toddler Teacher

Dayle was born and raised in Modesto until 2012 when her family moved to Sonora. She graduated from Gold Rush High School a year early in 2013, and is currently attending Columbia College for an Associate’s Degree in Child Development.                                                                                                                           Dayle grew up in a home daycare owned and run by her mother and quickly developed a sense of patience and maternal instincts. At twelve years old Dayle spent three hours working in her mother’s daycare after school.   Dayle loved caring for children and didn’t realize her calling until her family moved to Sonora and she no longer worked in her family’s daycare. While attending high school Dayle began tutoring middle school students in Algebra and continued to do so for two years. Tutoring older children was a wonderful experience, but not quite what Dayle was looking for. She entered college and began studying the field of Child Development and Early Childhood Education, with the aspiration of one day opening her own daycare center.   When Dayle is not working or at school she likes to spend her time with close family and friends. She enjoys activities such as fishing and hiking with her boyfriend and brothers, as well as baking and window shopping with her mother. She also likes reading, writing and drawing, and can somehow entertain herself for hours on end with a box of Legos.

  Angelina Montelongo

Kitchen Coordinator

Angelina was born in Fremont, California and grew up with her parents and younger brother in San Jose, California until she was 10-years-old. Her family moved to Sonora to be closer to family. When Angelina graduated from Sonora Union High School, she was accepted to California State University, Sacramento as an Expressed Criminal Justice major. She went to Sacramento State for two years and decided to change her career goals and move back home. She is now a Liberal Studies major at Columbia College, taking classes towards her major, but also completing Child Development units to excel at Safari Learning. She will graduate in the spring 2017 with her AA in Liberal Studies and will attend California State University, Stanislaus. She plans to get her BA in Liberal Studies, but would also like to minor in Child Development. She has a passion for children and babysits two little girls and two and six-years-old in her free time. When she can, she likes to watch her dad’s classic country/classic rock band play locally in Sonora.

  Amy DeFelice

Classroom Manager