Meet Our Teachers

Afton Rodriguez

Extended Day Staff and PreK Teaching Assistant; Lover of flash-mobs, the outdoors, and sloths

My passion for childhood education comes from years of volunteering in an elementary school after school extra-curricular program. I found such a purpose in being able to facilitate the learning experience in a way that students were able to interact with each other and think critically in every situation. I am so excited to be a part of Bertschi where that same kind of high-level, critical thinking is encouraged by enthusiastic instructors both inside and outside of the classroom. In my free time, I love to craft, rock climb, and be outside soaking up as much of that Seattle sun as possible!

B.A., English Literature, Seattle University


Ama Ahovi

Kindergarten Assistant & Extended Day Staff; Question-Answerer and Helper-Outer

My heart really is in working with Kindergarten kids. They are so curious and open to the world. I love answering their questions and am always interested in what they want to learn about next. I enjoy being there to help them with whatever they need assistance with - from lunch to school work. After school, I enjoy being with girls and working out together during Extended Day.

Early Education Certificate, Seattle Central Community College


Andrew Fox

2nd Grade Teacher; Paddle Boarder, Hiker, and Children's Book Author 

I love witnessing the growth that Bertschi kids make over the school year, both personally and academically. It's such a joy to see our students growing, changing, and learning every day. When I’m not in the classroom, you can usually find me cooking, getting outdoors to go paddle boarding or hiking, or eating out with friends.

B.A., Psychology, University of Colorado
M.S., Elementary Education, Banks Street College of Education

Audry Bernal

Extended Day Assistant Director; Karaoke Singer and Avid Reader

I’m new to working in education, but in my experience the school environment offers a constant supply of growth, passion, joy and community. Who wouldn’t want to be immersed in such a place for their career? I chose to work in a school because I enjoy hanging out with the kids, I thrive off their good energy. Outside of school I sing karaoke and am involved in several book clubs.

B.S., Political Science, University of Washington


Becky Putzier

Librarian; Hedgehog-loving, greeting card maker

I am incredibly passionate about my work in education. This is more than a job for me, it's a calling. I love to learn. I became an educator because I want to help students become life-long learners; I want them to discover just how exciting each day can be when you're curious. My position in the library allows me to connect with each and every student at Bertschi, helping them to explore their interests and drive their curiosity. When I'm not at school or gobbling up books, I love to create homemade greeting cards, design story time props and snuggle with my two pups.

B.S., Elementary Education, Winona State University
M.S., Library and Informational Science, University of Wisconsin: Milwaukee
M.Ed., Digital Education Leadership, Seattle Pacific University


Bekah Manikowski

2nd Grade Assistant, Science Fiction Enthusiast, Filmmaker, Gryffindor

All of my best teachers were the ones who gave me tools, rather than simple solutions. Whether the tools were the basics of reading and mathematics, or the guiding concepts of compassion and inclusion, the teachers who helped me acquire these tools gave me something much better than solutions to my problems. They gave me the confidence in my own abilities and the courage to use them to better the world. It is with these tools that I look forward to helping our students build their own toolboxes. When I'm not working as a teacher/tinkerer, I'm probably curled up with a dystopian novel, enjoying a great cup of locally roasted coffee.

B.A. Media Studies, Scripps College


Beth Williams

2nd Grade Teacher; Triathlete, Mover and Shaker

Everyday is unique and special in the classroom. I embrace the opportunity to introduce something special to my students or take the time for them to share their gifts. I love to experience my students' creativity, imagination, and excitement to take on the day and make it memorable. Outside of school, I am very active. I am a triathlete, I travel, and I run with my dog. I love to settle into a fantastic book or just absorb the sunshine and walk barefoot in the grass!

B.A., Graphic Design and Photography, University of Michigan
M.A., Elementary Education, University of Phoenix, UT

Brenda Schultz

Kindergarten Teacher; Runner, Soccer Player and Explorer

Spending several hours a day with 18 creative, inquisitive and kind people is a privilege. Supporting them as they grow and learn is why I love teaching. Each day, we get to wonder, solve problems and laugh together. Together we get to build a community of acceptance, peace, and compassion. I love it! When I am not teaching at Bertschi, I enjoy spending time with my family, doing fun runs, playing soccer, reading and exploring new places.

B.A., Sociology, Washington State University
M.Ed., International Education, Framingham State University

Caitlin Chamberlin

4th Grade Teacher; Boat Enthusiast and Dog Lover

There are so many reasons I love to teach. Inspiring children to grow as unique individuals is incredibly rewarding. I truly enjoy the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with my students and learn alongside them each day. The Bertschi community fosters a creative and passionate teaching environment that I feel fortunate to be part of! Away from school, I enjoy being on the water, spending time with my several young nieces, and going on outdoor adventures with my family.

B.A., Biology, Colby College
M.Ed., Curriculum and Instruction, University of Washington

Chris Golden

5th Grade Teacher; Dad, Husband, Outdoorsman

In college, my wrestling coach got me started working with kids. I never had plans to become a teacher, but the more I coached these elementary and middle school students, the more I realized how much I enjoyed working with kids. When career time came, the choice was obvious – what better way to spend your day than with children? Since then, I've enjoyed every day I get to help kids become better students and better people. Outside of work, I love getting outdoors and enjoying the natural beauty with my wife and our two young kids. We have a ton of fun riding bikes, hiking in the forest and discovering wildlife.

B.A., Honors Classical Studies, Queen's University, Canada
B.Ed., Queen's University, Canada

Claire McCulloch

Kindergarten Assistant & Extended Day Staff; Backpacking Yogi Baker

Working with children on a daily basis is the best! Kids never cease to amaze me; I love experiencing “aha!” moments with them. I am excited to work in a dynamic learning environment, with faculty and staff who share my values. Outside of Bertschi, I am an avid hiker and backpacker, and I also enjoy yoga and baking at home.

B.S., Early Childhood Education, University of Vermont

Derren Haskell

Extended Day Teacher & Sports Coordinator; Coach and Athlete

I really enjoy working in the classroom and seeing our kids light up when they understand a new concept. I also enjoy being active with kids when they’re playing sports and other games. And honestly, when I ‘m not at Bertschi, I’m usually watching, playing or coaching some sport—my very favorite is basketball.

A.A., Gender Studies, Shoreline Community College
B.A., Human Services, Western Washington University

Dustin Stoddart

4th Grade Assistant; Philosopher and Motorcycle Tinkerer

My first experience working in a school was as a volunteer philosophy instructor for children. After every session I left the classroom with a spring in my step – I knew I was doing something important. Deep, authentic interactions with students fuel my fire... and fourth grade's emphasis on world religions, philosophy, and virtues lends every day at my job that extra layer of profoundness and wonder. Outside of class I'm tinkering on motorcycles, searching the library for a perfect movie, or just sitting on my porch.

B.A., Honors Philosophy and Comparative Religion, University of Washington


Gary Reed

Dance and Movement Specialist; Snowboarder

It’s very easy for me to identify with our wonderful, kinetic kids here at Bertschi.  I love to challenge them with opportunities to explore, create, and express themselves physically. Ever since I let go of rehearsing and performing dance professionally, I’ve taken up snowboarding as my personal full body expression. I’ve found that I function better in all aspects of my life when I have opportunities to challenge myself and move full out.

A.A., Music, Shasta College
B.F.A., Fine Arts, University of Utah

Jennie Bloch-Garcia

Director of Learning Services; Mom, Author, and Chauffeur

I love figuring out how different minds work and identifying or creating the best ways to teach them. I also love watching young minds develop over time. When I was a classroom teacher, my favorite students were those who had difficulties in one area--often they excelled at creative thinking or thinking visually; they were funny, and wrote excellent poetry, but were perhaps terrible spellers. So, I completed a Masters Degree in Learning Disabilities so I could specialize in working with these kids all day.  Outside of school, I enjoy playing with my dog, Buddy, reading, and being a chauffeur for my two kids. In August of 2015, I proudly published Word Wires, a classroom curriculum adapted from Wired for Reading with two co-authors. The second Word-Wires book will be published in August 2016.

B.S., Elementary Eduction, Valparaiso University
M.A., Identification and Treatment of Learning Disabilities, Teachers College Columbia University

Jennifer Friend

Learning Specialist; Runner, Reader and Traveling Tall Lady

Teaching is my calling! I love to work with kids and figure out how they tick. I approach each child as a unique puzzle. I'm also attracted to the pace of the school day; recess, snack, bursts of energy... This is my world and I'm so happy to be at Bertschi. What else can I tell you about me? I am really tall and I have four children who are also really tall: two sons and two daughters who all play basketball.  I've lived and worked in New York, Maryland, Georgia, California and now here in Washington State. I also really enjoy running, reading and traveling to discover new places and meet new people.

B.A., American History, Harvard College
M.A., Curriculum and Teaching, K-8, Teachers College Columbia University

Jill Corsi

1st Grade Teacher; Mom and Runner

Teaching is my passion. It is rewarding on a daily basis. I enjoy watching children’s faces light up when they learn something new. I love seeing my students’ confidence grow as the year progresses, and I truly appreciate the amazing interactions I have with my 1st graders and their parents. When I am not teaching, I enjoy spending time with my husband and two children (both Bertschi Kids themselves). We all love traveling and finding new vacation spots. Our favorite place to visit is the island of Kauai, where I grew up. When I need time to myself, my favorite thing to do is go for an early morning run.

B.S., Human Development and Family Sciences, Oregon State University
M.A., Elementary Education, City University

Joey Tanaka

Technology Integration Specialist; Adventure Traveler

As a boy of 10, I would help my dad in custom construction, building houses during the summer. I would program all day long in my head and couldn’t wait to get home and back to my computer in the evening to code. I’d stay up far too late, creating the early equivalent of an online game and get into trouble because I couldn't wake up the next day!  I realized technology wasn't going away, but evolving, growing, changing. I could see that it would become part of everything and help make things like movie making, photo editing and music recording, easier and common place.

When I see that million dollar smile or hear the laughter of sheer joy when students discover something original, create something unique or develop something they have been laboring on for weeks using technology, there really isn't anything better in the world! When I’m not teaching, I enjoy adventure traveling around the world, doing exciting things like helicopter snowboarding, surfing with friends in Hawaii, or long-board skating.

B.A., International Studies, University of Washington
M.A., Educational Technology, Antioch University

Josiah Colombo-Espinoza

Learning Specialist; Chocolate Lover and Active Explorer

I am a firm believer that learning is a life-long process and the classroom is a fundamental place where students' journeys begin. When I was a kid, I'd get up extra early in the morning to go into school with my teacher-parents and help them prepare their classrooms for the day. Living and working with my folks fueled me with a passion for learning that can never be found within any textbook. I'm excited to help prepare Bertschi Kids for middle school, to help them develop their individual strengths, and to learn together how to become global citizens. In my free time, I enjoy sharing time with my family and friends, eating chocolate, reading non-fiction, exploring the city, running, staying active and traveling.

B.S., Elementary Education, University of South Florida
M.Ed., Higher Education Administration, Loyola University Chicago

Julie Blystad

Science Specialist; Traveler, Gardener and Family Gal 

I believe that science empowers children. It gives them the right to question and to think things through for themselves. And perhaps more than any other discipline, science provides tools to learn about the world. Teaching science at Bertschi School is one of the most interesting, challenging and exciting educational opportunities anyone could ever have. Working with young people insures that no day is ever the same. When I’m not at school, I love to travel, hike, bike, garden, cook and read.  I also really love sharing time with my large extended family celebrating special events and holidays.

B.S., Biology, University of Washington
M.A., Gender Diversity, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
M.A., Curriculum and Development, Seattle University

Laura Henneghan

1st Grade Teaching Assistant; Lover of Laughter, Nature, Family, and Friendship

I feel so lucky to spend my days alongside children, watching them sparkle with curiosity and joy. I believe that young students are so creative and capable of grappling with big ideas, and that is one of the reasons that they are so fun to be around! I love to smile and laugh with students as we grow and learn together. Outside of school, I enjoy walking my friends’ dogs, drawing, painting, creating, trying out new and exciting recipes, and adventuring in the woods, mountains, lakes and rivers.

B.A., Biology, St. Olaf College
M.Ed., Curriculum and Instruction, University of Washington


Linda Arland

Kindergarten Teacher; Avid Reader, Hiker, and Artist 

Five and six year olds still understand there is magic in the world, and that is why I believe it is the perfect age! I've spent the majority of my career working with kindergarten students. While I personally love a great novel, I am always on the looking for great chapter books that captivate the interests and imaginations of my students. My dream is to one day be a published author of a great chapter book for young children.

B.A., Elementary Education, University of Montana
M.A., Teaching Science, Miami University

Maria Grade

Art Specialist; Printmaker and Designer

Teaching elementary art is inspiring and dynamic...always changing shape! Our art room is an environment where students experience the power of expressing themselves visually. They think creatively toward solutions, strengthen their ability to respond, refine, reflect and build a strong base of visual art skills, enabling them to excel in any direction they choose. I feel that when students approach art in this positive, non-restrictive way, it plays an essential part toward the development of individuals and whole communities. Outside of school I love to draw, practice printmaking, explore the natural world, watch films and invent recipes.

B.F.A., Printmaking and Art Education, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design


Michelle Sullivan

5th Grade Teacher; Nature Loving Art Dabbler

I can’t imagine not teaching. I love collaborating with my 5th graders to build relationships and grapple with big ideas. They ask such fabulous questions! I actively pursue learning and risk-taking and model these behaviors for my students. Nudging them to test the waters outside their comfort zones and watching their inner courage unfold is so inspiring. When I am not on campus, I relax by reading, gardening, making art of any sort and size, scoring a thrift store find, or walking in the forest - preferably all in the company of my twin daughters.

B.A., Speech and Interpersonal Communication, University of Washington
M.Ed., George Washington University

Niamh O’Connell

3rd Grade Teacher; Irishwoman and European Traveler

I love empowering young minds to grow and flourish.  It may be idealistic, but perhaps I can influence some change in the world through these young minds. When not working with Bertschi kids, I really enjoy swimming, going to the movies, spending time with my family, and traveling—I am from Ireland and I try my best to visit a different European city each year.

B.Ed., Education, Mary Immaculate College, Ireland
M.A., Educational Leadership, Argosy University

Rachel Simon

5th Grade Assistant; Ultimate Player and Trivia Fan

My favorite part of teaching is getting to know my students as individuals. I love making connections with them, and learning what makes them light up. The strong emphasis on community and global engagement was a big draw for me as I considered joining Bertschi School. When I’m not teaching, I am an avid Ultimate Frisbee player, trivia fan, and I really enjoy baking up something new in my kitchen!

B.A., Politics, Peace, & Conflict Studies, Oberlin College


Raney Cumbow

3rd Grade Teaching Assistant; Movie Aficionado and Pursuer of Many Interests

I love being a part of the third grade team. Third grade is one of the most exciting years because you can see students quickly start to understand more about themselves and what is going on around them. I have a background in theater and history and I enjoy sharing these passions with my students. My hobbies include playing board games, reading, baking, sewing, trivia, and traveling. In my free time I can usually be found at the movie theater seeing everything from black-and-white classics to frivolous action movies!

B.A., Liberal Arts, Sarah Lawrence College
M.A., Early Modern History, King's College, London

Robin Cheyney

4th Grade Teacher; Traveler and Fan of Fourth Graders

I love teaching this pivotal year in child development—Fourth graders are at a turning point physically, emotionally, and academically. Ten and eleven year old children aren’t afraid to ponder lofty ideas or challenge established paradigms, their own and others. When I'm not at Bertschi, I am taking classes, traveling, reading, and cooking with family and friends.

B.A., History, Seattle Pacific University
B.Ed., Elementary Education, Seattle Pacific University

Sandra Washington

Coordinator for Academically Advanced  Students; Yogi, nature-lover, seeker of adventure

I believe that similar to the way each person has a role in the world’s community, each student has a role in a classroom’s community. Every student is complex and unique – they bring different personalities, motivations, interests, and learning styles into the classroom. I seek to honor and celebrate these individualities so that each student can discover his/her own path and can reach his/her own potential. I'm thrilled to be a part of the team at Bertschi, and to help Bertschi students hone their individual skills in preparation for participation in a diverse and exciting world! Outside of the classroom I enjoy teaching yoga, exploring in nature, and scoping out delicious restaurants around the city.

B.A., History & French, University of Washington
M.A., Teaching, Seattle Pacific University 


Sayuri Johnson

Music Specialist; Cyclist, Traveler and Soccer Fan

When I was a little, I grew up learning music. It was always a part of my life. And I always wanted to be a teacher. I like to see children enjoying music and excited about playing an instrument. Seeing them singing with all their heart, with a genuine smile makes me feel good during the day.  At home, I like watching movies, watching our kids play frisbee and soccer, and traveling.

B.M., Piano Performance, New England Conservatory
M.A., Piano Performance, New England Conservatory

Shannon Cruzen

Pre-K Teacher; Mom, Cellist, Outdoor Enthusiast

I love teaching because children keep me real, make me smile, and always bring laughter. I chose teaching because I love building relationships, getting to know people, and listening to their stories. I appreciate how young children see the world and enjoy helping them wonder and think deeper. I have two wonderful children that keep me busy when I am not at work. We love to spend lots of time at Priest Lake in Idaho, canoeing and sailing. I love the outdoors, and I also play the cello!

B.A., Sociology, University of Washington
M.A., Elementary Education, Antioch University

Shannon Sanders

1st Grade Teacher; Kick-baller and Card Collector

I am so thrilled to be part of such a vibrant learning community that is full of kid-power and creativity. I honestly think 1st graders are the best people on the planet. Each day is new and interesting to them. I love following them on their educational journey, and helping them learn to love school at an early age. When I’m not at Bertschi, I enjoy being outdoors exploring my new Seattle home, playing kickball, learning to knit, and finding special greeting cards to share with friends.

B.S., Elementary Education, University of Connecticut
M.A., Elementary Education, University of Connecticut

Shelby Brown

Pre-K Teacher; Nature Lover and World Traveler

I chose to work in schools because I love being part of a dynamic and energetic environment.  I find inspiration in the colleagues, families and children I work with and appreciate the sense of joy and belonging that comes from creating a community together. Young children are so passionate about their ideas and I enjoy collaborating with them and creating projects together.  Each day is different and I never know what new discoveries and adventures are awaiting us! I love being in nature, especially scuba diving, hiking, swimming and kayaking and am always willing to try a new sport or exercise. I am perpetually planning my next vacation and am passionate about traveling to new places I’ve never been before.

B.A., Speech and Language Pathology Honors, Ohio University


Thomas Cunningham

3rd Grade Teacher; Dad and Water Sportsman

I enjoy Bertschi because I get excited about the many possibilities before me each day. I choose to teach because I relish the responsibility of shaping a child’s life. And I love knowing that the year we have together will be with them forever. Outside of school, I enjoy exploring life with my daughter and wife, cooking, and sports with precipitation combined with boards.

B.A., Geography, University of Washington
Masters In Teaching, Elementary Education, University of Washington

Tina La Plant

Drama Specialist; Storyteller and Artist

You can't have community without the unity. The thing I love most about teaching drama at Bertschi is the element of unity I experience. I appreciate how stories, both our own and those that come to us from culture or history or others’ imaginations, create commonality, increase empathy and provide a foundation of unity. Everyone has a story inside of them. Some may never find the way to share their private stories with the people around them, and through drama our students have the opportunity to learn to tell stories, to love stories, and incorporate stories into their daily lives. When not at school I enjoy various avenues of creative exploration, such as painting and beadwork. I also like spending time with my dogs and working in my garden.

B.A., Theatre, Western Washington University
M.A., Integrated Arts and Education (In Progress), University of Montana

Vida Towne

Physical Education Specialist; Cook, Dog-Lover, and Outdoor Adventurer

I enjoy being with children. I like helping them to discover what they are capable of and seeing their confidence grow. Working with Bertschi students and colleagues reminds me, every day, that being a good person is paramount. Outside of work, I enjoy being in the mountains and on the water. I love to spend my time with my family, dog, and friends--playing, creating, and enjoying good food.

B.A., Art History and Italian Studies, Wesleyan University
M.A., Human Development, Pacific Oaks College

Xiomara Romero

Spanish Specialist; Cultural Explorer, Painter and Chef

I feel fortunate to work at a school that expresses and explores compassion for the world around us. I love my job because I’ll be able to grant students the opportunity to discover the joy of communicating in another language, explore other cultures, and expand their openness to differences. Outside of work I am very active – I enjoy walking, sewing, painting, cooking, reading and singing. I live to both play and learn.

B.A., Education, Universidad San Antonio abad Cusco
M.A., Children's Literature, Pontifica Universidad Católica