Meet Our Teachers

KAREN BECK, Director and Teacher - 16 years with UHP

Karen became a part of the UHP community while living in Eagle Heights from 1998-2002. Her two children, Ellie and Alex, attended UHP. Karen was the Treasurer Board Member, a Parent Helper, and a Substitute Teacher before the Board hired her as the Director.

Karen loves to garden. She has two rain gardens filled with native perennials to help replenish ground water and keep the lakes clean as well as for pollinators. She has a love for insects, bugs, and being outside. She is a backyard beekeeper and has Walking Stick Insects in the classroom. She enjoys sharing her passion for insects, nature, science, math, and building with the kids! Plus, she loves singing and doing process art and projects with the children.

Karen also enjoys kayak camping in the Apostle Islands, Wisconsin and tent camping in the Porcupine Mountains, Michigan.

Karen has been teaching for over 16 years. Her most recent accomplishment was earning her initial PreK - 3 teaching license through Concordia College receiving it in June 2020.

Susan Valko aka - Zsuzsanna - MWF Morning Teacher - Joined the UHP Community as a parent helper and Board Member when her children attended UHP - Starting to teach at UHP this year.

My name is Susan Valko (43), but if you are ready for a challenge you can call me Zsuzsanna, which is my original name. I was born and raised in a small town called Pécs in Hungary and after I finished my studies and worked a little bit there (as a management consultant doing IT related projects which sounds boring, but once I got to drive a trolley bus!) we decided to move to Toronto, Canada. We spent three great years there and then decided to move again, this time to Madison!

I have three children (fun fact: each one was born in a different country) – my younger daughter Blanka (11) doesn’t like that she is usually mentioned last when I talk about my family, so I’ll start with her: she loves to do gymnastics and loves to plays Among Us, my son Barnus (16) loves soccer and he is learning to drive a car, my older daughter Bori (13) is a KPOP fan and she also loves to do gymnastics.

I have three pets in my house a dog called Bodza, who is not sure about dogs, but loves all people and his favorite food is lettuce, a bunny called Bamboo who is a sweet boy and his favorite activity is to sit on top of his box and a guinea pig called Potato who lives in a “pig-loo” and he makes the best meep-meep sounds ever!

I have been working with young children for more than 12 years, first as a parent helper and board member at UHP (both Barnus and Bori went there when they were little) then as a music teacher and later as a gymnastics instructor and coach. I’ve developed my own preschool gymnastics program called GymMonkeys and led it for 5 years, it was a hoot! Currently I work at Capital Gymnastics in Verona as a team coach in the afternoons. I’m super excited to have the opportunity to teach preschool at UHP in the mornings starting in the fall!

Some of my favorite things besides coaching gymnastics and teaching preschool are: doing gymnastics, learning to throw pottery, working in my backyard, kayaking, yoga, crocheting, working on arts and craft projects with my kids, traveling and going on hikes with my family and enjoying our backyard hammock with a good book.

Tabitha Engstrom, MWF Lunch Bunch Teacher - First year with UHP

My name is Tabitha Engstrom and I am so excited to start my second year working in the preschool setting, and third year teaching, here at University Houses Preschool!

In 2019 I graduated from University Wisconsin, Oshkosh with a BA in International Studies and Spanish. After graduating I felt a little lost with my career prospects, plans change! With the desire to get a little exploration under my belt I packed up my life and flew of to Valencia, Spain. I spent the better part of a year there teaching English of students ages kindergarten through 6th grade. I had such a blast, exploring Spain and other countries in Europe. It was also a great opportunity to perfect my Spanish. Besides studying Spanish, I learned it from my mother and visiting her home country, Nicaragua.

This past year I worked at a Head Start in Crystal Lake, IL, where I grew up and have lived my whole life. While working in Spain I discovered Speech Language Pathology, volunteering with one of the SLPs that worked at our school. While working at Head Start my interest in SLP only grew. That brings me to where I am today!

Currently, I am studying at UW, participating in their Speech Science and Disorder Capstone program. This program offers post baccalaureate students an opportunity to take all the CS&D courses required to apply to a Master's program if they did not study the field in undergraduate.

I am so excited to explore Madison, I love being in new places! So far, I am loving the UHP too, I feel warm and welcome and like I am right where I belong!

Cristina Rioja, TR Lunch Bunch Teacher - First year with UHP

Hola! I am Ms. Cristina a Preschool Teacher. I am from Lima, Peru. Thirty years ago, I cam to Oshkosh. I have always worked surrounded by little ones “chiquitos” in different programs. In July of this year, I retired and moved to Madison. I am so happy to be the Lunch Bunch Teacher on Tuesdays and Thursdays at UHP.

We would like to welcome Cristina to UHP! Cristina has been working in childcare for over 30 years as a teacher at UW Oshkosh Head Start and as owner of her licensed daycare. She recently moved to Madison to be closer to her daughter. She was highly recommended to us: "Cristina has a genuine interest in providing natural and thoughtful experiences for children and families. She possesses a calmness that is shared with the children near her. Her love of teaching is unconditional and true. Her passion and patience for children leaves nothing to be desired." We are very happy she joined our team!

Renee Deschard - Substitute Teacher - 1 year with UHP

Renee has two children who attend UHP and is also the Fundraising Chair on the UHP Board. Renee was a public school librarian for 8 years in Wisconsin and is looking forward to working with children again (and reading fun stories!). Her favorite past times are dancing, listening to music, singing and playing tennis. Her favorite children's book author is Mo Willems.

We are recruiting a Tuesday/Thursday morning teacher, 8:15am - Noon and a Monday - Friday Lunch Bunch teacher, 11:30 - 1pm. The lunch bunch teacher can choose to teach 2, 3, 4, or 5 days. If you love children and being outside with them, please apply by emailing a letter of interest and resume to Here are the job descriptions:

§ UHP Preschool Teacher

§ UHP Lunch Bunch Teacher

LAURA SCHROEDER, 11 years with UHP


Hello UHP Families -

I hope this letter finds you all healthy and happy. I still find it hard to find the words to thank you all for the continued support and love over the last few months. Your generosity, meals, gift cards, letters, texts, emails, and more has helped my family get through some very hard times. My health is moving in the right direction.

After trying to figure out the best options for myself, my family, and the preschool I have decided to resign my positions at the end of the Spring semester. UHP has been and will always be such a wonderful time in my life. I have had so much joy in getting to know all the staff, children and families over the last 10 years. UHP has such an amazing future because of the staff, children, and families. I look forward to watching UHP continue to grow and flourish with its commitment to social and emotional development for children.

Again I say Thank you. Thank you for the years of trust with your children. Thank you for believing in a preschool that wants children to grow through play. Thank you for being part of a parent cooperative and showing such an interest in your child’s education. Thank you for all the fun times when you would Parent Help or be in the classroom. Thank you for all the laughs. Thank you for letting me hold all your babies. Thank you for helping my passion and dreams for early childhood education come true.

I look forward to still hearing from you all and watching your children grow.

So Much Love - Laura