Our Leadership

Championing Purposeful Play

Since our founding in 1996, Sugar Plums has been dedicated to fostering a love of learning through Purposeful Play and to helping young children grow and develop in a warm, nurturing environment.

We invite you to get to know our Founder, Director and Curriculum Coordinator who help translate research-based child development insights and protocols to our daily curriculum and operations.  Their collective expertise together with their love of children help make Sugar Plums a unique child development center.


Deborah Ellick, MA, SPED

Founder & President

From a very early age, Deborah knew she would be working in child development.  So when it came time to attend college at Syracuse University, her choice of Child Development was a natural one.

After graduating, Deborah was a lead preschool teacher for over two years.  Right away, Deborah was convinced that play was the gateway to learning - well before the concept of "purposeful play" had been formally introduced. 

Back in those days, if you saw Deborah in the classroom you might have experienced things like "D Week", where made-up songs featured words starting with D, art projects featured dinosaur stickers, snacks were all "D" themed like dates, and outside time where kids picked dandelions. By the end of the week, her students knew the letter D.  And Deborah knew that play was what engaged her children to learn.   

After spending time in the classroom, she became an assistant director, and from there, she became a co-owner of a local childcare center. 

But in 1996, one month before the first of her three children was born, Deborah opened Sugar Plums.   She wanted a place for her children that was warm and nurturing, but that also helped them grow and develop in all the ways she knew they needed to.  She wanted a place where their learning would be facilitated by Purposeful Play and a place where play was at the center of that learning, in every classroom, by every teacher, and in every lesson.  Sugar Plums was the realization of that vision.  

She would later add to her expertise with a Masters in Early Childhood Special Education from The George Washington University, wanting to ensure that children with special needs were exceptionally served at Sugar Plums.

A hands-on Founder, you'll oftentimes see Deborah in classrooms in the morning, greeting students and parents alike.  She knows the names of all of her Sugar Plum children.  She knows many of their favorite toys and delights in their milestones.  And she loves hearing the giggles that echo in the halls outside her office. 

Tricia Britton


Tricia is at the heart of our Center and responsible for our day-to-day operations.  But she's also a coach and mentor for our teachers, a back-up in our classrooms, and an active part of our Curriculum development.  She's a Jill-Of-All-Trades and an expert problem solver.  She's likely the first face you'll see when you enter our Center, and oftentimes the person wishing you a good night at the end of the day.

After earning a degree in early childhood education, Tricia set off to start her family.  So it was only natural that Tricia would start her career by owning and operating her own licensed home day care, providing a nurturing space for not only her own three daughters but for the children of like-minded parents who were looking for something more than 'babysitting'.  But when her children outgrew her Center, she too outgrew her own business and became a director at a local daycare center. 

But she took her career one step further when she joined Sugar Plums in 2013, giving her the opportunity to really focus on play as the essential learning tool and plugging into a network of like-minded professionals and teachers. She helped elevate Sugar Plums, successfully leading us in 2016 through voluntary Maryland State Department of Education Accreditation. 

With our Accreditation in hand, Tricia has now turned to creating comprehensive teacher professional development programs for our staff, including workshops, staff meetings, and professional development days.  That's on top of her day-to-day management.  

But even with all of that, don't be surprised to see Tricia on the floor playing with some of our youngest Sugar Plums, encouraging their first explorations.  She's never far away from what drew her to this field in the first place: the children.


Elvire Cajuste

Curriculum Coordinator

Elvire was inspired to work with children when she entered college and needed quality child care for her son. As an aspiring student with dreams to study psychology, she quickly realized that learning about early childhood education in her elective classes had meaning and purpose as a young mom. 

While Elvire was completing her degree at night,  she worked as a toddler and preschool teacher at two child care centers.  And she enhanced her learning with additional coursework in the Creative Curriculum offered through the Maryland State Department of Education.

With her undergraduate degree in hand, Elvire brought all of her education and hands-on experience together as a toddler teacher at Sugar Plums.   Her energy and creativity was contagious in each classroom and teacher whom she worked with.

Elvire was soon promoted to Curriculum Coordinator and in partnership with our Director and Founder, Elvire helped enhance the Sugar Plums curriculum to bring an even greater focus to Purposeful Play.   

But Elvire isn't done yet!  She continues to look for ways to bring Purposeful Play to life in our classrooms and is pursuing a Masters Degree in counseling/guidance.

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