Meet the Staff of the Child Life Program Hero

Meet the Staff of the Child Life Program

Kristal R. Neal, BS, CCLS
Kristal, Child Life Coordinator, has been working at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital  since 2001.  She graduated from Utica College of Syracuse University with a degree in Psychology/Child Life.  She completed her Child Life Internship at Bellevue Hospital in New York, and was employed as a CCLS at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) before coming to Saint Peter’s.  She has helped to create a department staffed by three full-time child life specialists and other support staff.

Amanda Carlson,  BS, CCLS

Amanda is a full-time child life specialist who works in the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic and in the Dorothy B. Hersh Pediatric Emergency Department. She graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University with a degree in psychology, concentrating on youth and children. Prior to working at Saint Peter’s,  she interned at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, NY, where she worked in both inpatient and outpatient settings and at an annual bereavement camp for children. She volunteered for many years and completed a child life practicum at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, CT. She has extensive experience working with children and their families in different settings and is experienced also as a children’s dance teacher and nanny for children of all ages.

Alexa Curtiss, MS, CCLS 

Alexa is a full-time child life specialist.  She earned a master's degree in Child Life and Family-Centered Care and a bachelor's degree in Psychology and Human Development, both from Wheelock College in Boston.  Her internship experience includes work in the inpatient unit and pediatric intensive care unit at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tuft's Medical Center in Boston, the Massachusetts-based outpatient pediatric clinic at Joslin Diabetes Center, and work alongside the health and wellness educator at the Boston Children's Museum. She has also volunteered at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut and Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children living with life-threatening illnesses and their families. In addition to working with children, Alexa is passionate about animals and animal rescue, and has previously trained and been certified as part of an animal-assisted activity team.  

Jessica Poland, BS, CCLS
Jessica is the full-time Child Life Specialist who works in the Dorothy B. Hersh Pediatric Emergency Department. She graduated from Kutztown University with a degree in psychology. Prior to working at Saint Peter's, she interned at Jersey Shore University Hospital and completed a practicum at Saint Barnabas Medical Center where she gained experience in the Pediatric Emergency Department, Pediatrics, and the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). Jessica helps relieve anxiety and stress for children by educating them about upcoming procedures and helping them cope with the unfamiliar hospital environment.
Demetria Sardo, MT-BC
Music Therapist

Demetria recently earned a bachelor’s degree in music therapy with a concentration in voice from Montclair State University. She is working on her graduate degree in music therapy at Montclair.  Demetria completed her internship in music therapy at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, where she worked in the Child Life and Creative Arts Department. She worked with pediatric and adult patients in the NICU, Pediatric Unit, PICU, Center for Sleep Disorders, Same-Day Surgery, Outpatient Wound Clinic, and Burn units. Demetria focuses her individual and group sessions on providing emotional and family support, normalizing the hospital experience, helping with pain management, and helping her patients work toward self-expression.
Maria Valencia, BA
Maria is a part-time child life specialist.  She graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in psychology. As an intern at the Goryeb Children's Hospital at Morristown Medical Center, she worked in the Pediatric Unit, PICU,  the Emergency Department and the Valerie Fund Children’s Center. Prior to her internship, she volunteered with the Child Life Department at Bristol Myer's Squibb Children's Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. She has also volunteered at camps and with organizations dedicated to children affected by cancer and homelessness.

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