Sonja Neill-Turner

Founder and Executive Director

Sonja Neill-Turner is the founder and Executive Director of Brooklyn Sandbox overseeing the strategic direction of the school, admissions as well as school operations. Ms. Neill-Turner received a B.A. in Communications from the University of
Virginia. Her previous work experience entailed overseeing global education and leadership development for Sephora USA.

Sonja is a Park Slope parent and mom to Chase, a self-professed “mathamagician”. Her son’s limitless hours of play and discovery are the inspiration behind Brooklyn Sandbox.

An avid cyclist, you can find her on the rolling hills of the Hudson Valley or on the Prospect Park loop.

Lana Folk

Education Director

Lana Folk began her teaching career in 2006 as a substitute at a YAI preschool in Brooklyn as she worked to obtain a bachelor’s degree in childhood education from Hunter College. She was surprised to discover a love for early education and inspired by young children’s ability to problem solve, innovate, and collaborate. Continuing her education at Hunter College, she received a master’s degree in educational psychology. In 2009, she went on to teach at TriBeCa Community School: A Reggio Emilia inspired preschool in downtown Manhattan. There, she had the opportunity to share her classroom work and best practices at national conferences and with visiting educators from all over the country.

After nearly a decade of serving as a classroom teacher, Lana found an interest in supporting other educators in their practice and in 2015 made the leap into school administration as she assisted in launching two child care programs in Brooklyn. Lana’s background in educational research and social constructivist approaches to education now guide her work as Educational Director at Brooklyn Sandbox. With the belief that careful listening, relentless support, and reflective teaching can foster children’s sense of curiosity, activate their autonomy, and cultivate their understanding of the world around them, Lana strives to provide a research-based program that builds a partnership between school, parents, teachers and child. 

When not collaborating with teachers or offering snuggles to the students in her care, you can find Lana running loops at Prospect Park, attending concerts and Nets games at Barclays Center, or dining at local restaurants near her home in Windsor Terrace.  

Vanessa Lamoreaux

Art Educator

Vanessa Lamoreaux oversees our developmental art program. She graduated from Pratt Institute with a master’s degree in in Art Education and has extensive 18 years of experience as an art educator   holding positions in Renton, Seattle and NYC Public School Districts.  In addition to her work in the classroom, she has served as an neighborhood  Arts Commissioner where she curated gallery exhibitions and art festivals for Normandy Park.  Vanessa is a sculptor, painter and a lover of all things related to art. She spends her spare time creating art with her 9-year-old daughter, cooking at home with her husband and consulting schools on their art programing.  



Orange Room (Two’s)

Vandana Mathrani


With ten years of educational experience under her belt, Vandana brings a calming presence to any classroom. She holds a MA in Early Childhood from Bank Street College and has a passion and talent for art. Vandana wrote and Illustrated the book Close encounters in the Rainforest: A Children’s Book for Eight and Nine-Year-Olds. An avid lover of nature, Vandana enjoys hiking, traveling the world and exploring nature with her students. In her spare time, she listens to music, practices yoga and spends time with friends, family and her twin sister! Vandana comes to us from her most recent experience as an after-school teacher at the Bank Street School for Children and brings with her an immense body of knowledge on supporting the social-emotional development of young students.

Karla Capistran-Pesantes


Karla has five years of preschool teaching experience. Karla’s most recent teaching position was that of a Toddler Teacher at One World Project, a Spanish-immersion preschool program in Brooklyn. Karla’s favorite classroom experiences are the type that make a big MESS and she can most often be found with her sleeves rolled up, playing alongside the children. Karla is currently working on completing her master’s degree in School Counseling at Long Island University. She loves to cook, eat, and watch soccer (Go Brazil!). As one of  5 siblings, she greatly values the time she is able to spend with her family. Born and raised in a small town in Ecuador, Karla speaks fluent Spanish.

Yellow Room (Three’s)

Danielle Faele


Danielle has over 7 years teaching experience in early education  and has a keen sense for developing child led/emergent curriculum as she is a quintessential lifelong learner who explores and discovers alongside the children. Her warm embrace and flexible mindset make her a favorite among Brooklyn Sandbox  students. Danielle is currently working on completing her master’s degree in Early Childhood Education at Brooklyn College. She is a lover of kickboxing, arts and crafts, swimming and dark chocolate. In her free time, you might find her at a pop-up art exhibit or preforming at a local Karaoke Bar. 

Emily Bennetts


Emily is drawn to the natural curiosity and unbridled joy of young children and is currently working on a dual degree in Early and Childhood Education at Bank Street. She is a world traveler who loves to hike, camp and be among nature. Emily taught in and attended a Montessori School from Pre-k-6th grade. Her most recent teaching experience was at Battery Park Montessori. She appreciates order and organization but enjoys the natural tumult of children at work. In her spare time, she cooks, crafts and listens to live music.

Janine Murdaugh

Assistant Teacher

Janine received a Bachelor’s Degree from City College of New York in History and Religious studies and is looking to pursue a master’s degree in Early Education. She enjoys reading, journaling and listening to music and is a youth mentor in her free time. Given her drive, initiative and passion for building relationships with children, it was only natural that she be promoted to assistant teacher. As the seventh of nine siblings, Janine knows how to command a room. Her stories about her cat, Eclipse keep the students on the edge of their seats!

Green Room (Three’s)

Carly Zurcher

Lead Teacher 

Carly recently completed her master’s degree in Early Education from Bank Street and spent half a year teaching at a Danish Kindergarten in Copenhagen while studying the Danish cultural connection to nature. New to Brooklyn, Carly is excited to try out all of its culinary offerings. She is a foodie at heart and an avid cook. Carly played water polo in college and enjoys singing, road trips and exploring new places. Carly comes to Brooklyn Sandbox from Greenwich Academy in Connecticut where she worked as a Preschool and Kindergarten Teacher. Her great sense of humor, quick wit and passion for progressive education make her an integral member of the Brooklyn Sandbox team. 

Elise Sommers

Assistant Teacher 

Elise holds a BA in American Studies and Child Development from Tuft’s University. They have worn many hats in education in the last 7 years, working as an Art Educator, Literacy Coach, Preschool Teacher and Curriculum Writer. Elise holds a passion for social activism and has written school curriculum on topics of social justice. Most recently, they were a Lead Teacher at the Eliot Pearson Children’s School at Tufts University. New to the streets of Brooklyn, Elise was born in Brazil and grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They take a keen interest in dinosaurs, cooking and travel and is a theater aficionado and performer of drag and. Elise is also a lover of glitter – be warned!

Diana Gonzalez

School Floating Teacher

Diana graduated from the University of Southern California. With a background in film and a passion for early education, Diana brings her creativity, patience and love of learning to all of the classrooms at Brooklyn sandbox. She is a former ESL teacher and a Bilingual speaker who is fascinated by language development in young children. Diana enjoys comic books, video games, and board games- Blokus is her absolute favorite.

Jamila Brown

After-school Teacher

Jamila is the after-school coordinator and has a knack for oral storytelling and overall hi jinx. She is the Grand Marshall for many of the group games in the After-school program so she is quite popular with many of the children. Her time as a museum educator for both the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and Children’s Museum of Brooklyn serves the classroom well. Her ideas for activities are creative and engaging. In her spare time, she works as a freelance filmmaker and has even had her film entered into film festivals here and abroad.

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