Natural Bridges Children's Center 

Jonnie Cardinale - Owner/Founder

Jonnie Cardinale is the owner of Natural Bridges Children’s Center and a 1st grade teacher at Gateway School. She has been educating children in Santa Cruz County for 17 years and has experience that spans both preschool and elementary school settings. Jonnie holds 2 degrees in Early Childhood Education, and a national certification as a handwriting specialist. She additionally holds a micro-credential in the Neuroscience of Growth Mindsets and specializations in reading & literacy, curriculum planning, and educators mindfulness. Jonnie’s passion for children’s learning and social emotional development drives her continued education. She regularly attends educator forums on brain science which deepens her understanding of children's milestones and teacher best practices. It also refines her skills in stimulating children’s executive function and guides her work with families. Jonnie is a fierce advocate for the field of early childhood education and enjoys imparting her knowledge on its importance to children's seamless transition into Kindergarten and future academic success. She has written several articles on this topic and has served on both local and statewide boards. Jonnie has been a part of the Santa Cruz community for over 40 years and lives with her husband Joey and cat Freddie. They have two daughters and enjoy spending time with family and friends and eating good food! Jonnie’s next adventure is writing a children's ‘Learning to Read’ book series.

Alicia Sims - Site Supervisor / Teacher

Alicia has been teaching for over 15 years and has her Masters of Science Degree in Early Childhood Education along with her California Directors Certificate. She loves to create and implement curriculum using research methods to teach foundational concepts. These methods being used to aid in developing language, literacy, social emotional, cognition, including math and science, physical development, history and art.  She enjoys bringing lots of science curriculum to the class to continue supporting the curious minds of children.  Alicia is bilingual in English and Spanish and shares her duel language with the children.  When she is not teaching, Alicia enjoys traveling worldwide, dancing, cooking, gardening, going to the beach and spending time with family and friends! 

Cassie Nickel - Teacher

Cassie has worked in education for four years. She was inspired by her Dad's incredible impact as a educator of young children, teens, and adults to pursue a career in education. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a dual degree in Psychology and Political Science, she taught for a year in Spain and received a certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. She brings this love of language to NBCC and enjoys speaking in Spanish with the children. Cassie especially loves incorporating music into the preschool classroom, and brings guitar, song, and sometimes a little banjo to our curriculum. She loves the joy and creativity of early childhood education, and strives to bring the most exciting and engaging aspects from her educational experiences to the preschool classroom. She is inspired by a quote from Maria Montessori that "children are built to learn" and are learning continually! In Cassie's free time she loves to cook, garden and explore the beautiful place she lives, Santa Cruz.

Courtnay Schmidt - Teacher

Courtnay teaches in our Monarch classroom and has a gift for working with our Pre-K learners. She has a background and education in early childhood development, and has always known she was meant to work with children! She understands and connects with the children giving them the space to explore, communicate and share their curiosities. Her previous experience in facilitating and running 'Art & 'Messy' camps has aided the thoughtful and engaging curriculum she develops in the classroom. She specializes in creating amazing sensory experiences for our students while supporting their growth and development through art and play. The children can always look to Teacher Courtnay for hours of fun and learning! When Courtnay is not teaching, she enjoys backpacking, hanging out with her family, cooking amazing meals or creating her own art!

Karyn Schmidt - Co-Founder/Director/Teacher/Family Support

Karyn has been in the field of Early Childhood for two decades! She brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience in the areas of social and emotional development and in the sharing of community and family resources. After receiving her degree in Child Development, she went on to specialize in creating family supported communities to encourage collaborative learning and growth. Through the Child Development Family Support meetings at NBCC, she very much enjoys seeing families share together, building relationships and a community that will last a lifetime! Her certificates include Anti-Bias Education, Families and Diversity, Administration, and Curriculum Planning. Karyn appreciates a plethora of teaching philosophies. The ones that speak to her the most involve the Reggio-Emilia approach, play based learning using the constructivists theory; where it is believed that children learn through doing. Her greatest experience however, comes from raising three children of her own. She loves spending time with her family gardening, taking hikes, playing and watching basketball, and enjoying the community that they’ve been a part of for generations.

​ Teaching Team

Mikey Bruce - Teacher

Mikey has been surrounded by early childhood environments all his life with his mom running a home childcare center.  For Mikey, interacting with and supporting children is part of his nature.  He recently graduating with an A.A. in Early Childhood Education from Cabrillo College and plans on furthering his education at San Jose State University.  He has been involved in a variety of teaching experiences and has been apart of NBCC’s teaching team since November 2022.  He is also currently working with CYT Santa Cruz as the Our Gang Coordinator teaching musical theater to 4-7 year olds. His love of music is shared as he sings and plays his guitar with the children all during their day! His favorite part about working with children is getting to witness their curiosity and contribute to their love for learning.  Mikey is excited to share his knowledge of early education and curriculum this school year!  During his free time, he enjoys surfing, hiking, and spending time with friends and family. 

​                   Administration Team

​Sarah Jane Murphy - Teacher
Sarah Jane is in her third year with the Honu Room, our youngest learners here at NBCC.  She has been working in education for over 4 years and comes from a family of educators. Her experience shows in her gentle understanding of young children and their learning processes.  She started by working in after school care and substituting at Gateway Elementary School before joining the NBCC team. Sarah Jane is currently a senior at the University of California, Santa Cruz where she is working on getting a bachelor's degree in Intensive Psychology.  She loves celebrating each child's unique play and learning styles to better support and celebrate their growth. She enjoys creating connections with kids through their individual play and communication.  When Sarah Jane is not teaching she is doing art, hiking, journaling, and hanging out with friends.