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; 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

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

Benjamin Greene

Extended Day Staff; Sustainability nerd, Endurance athlete, Outdoorsman

After 8 years of owning and running a personal training company I knew that it wasn't my calling. After many hours of reflection I realized that the moments that brought me the most joy were those spent training and coaching children. Upon this realization, I knew that I wanted a career in teaching, and an opportunity at The Bertschi School serendipitously popped up. From the moment I stepped onto the campus I knew that this was the place for me. I am so fortunate to be able to teach,learn and work with the The Bertschi School community. When I am not working I am probably exercising, camping, reading, cooking or trying to convince my wife to buy a Tesla.

B.S., Exercise & Wellness, Arizona State University

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

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

Coordinator for Advanced  Learning; Philosopher, Resident Cat Artist, and Motorcycle Tinkerer

Like all exhilarating things, learning is both fun and scary. Each day we're discovering these awesome new powers we never knew we had. But serious learning, the kind of critical thinking that really matters, also involves confronting our ideas about ourselves, what we're capable of, and the world at large. It's a wild ride. My hope is that kids leave each day with their hair a little frazzled, their eyes a little wider, and their hearts a little bigger.

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

Janaki Nagarajan

Kindergarten Assistant; Lover of clothes and bookstores; pizza enthusiast

I'm excited to be a part of the Bertschi community! I've spent the last few years working with kids in preschool, elementary and high school, as well as volunteering with the UW's Philosophy for Children program. Being around young children is particularly rewarding because of their uninhibited (and often hilarious!) take on life. Their simple yet profound responses to questions such as "what is real?" and "what is right?" have challenged my beliefs as both an educator and a person. Outside of work, I love spending hours browsing bookstores and finding new vegan recipes to cook.

B.A. Philosophy, University of Washington

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

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

La Verne Chen

Music Specialist; Cellist, Seward Park Regular, and Mom to a 4-year old

Music-making is a joyful, experimental, creative, (and sometimes loud!) process, and I feel so fortunate to be able to spend my days guiding young musicians in their paths to self-expression. I love the moments in my classroom when I witness a group of fifth grade drummers find their jam, or a kindergartener dancing with abandon, or the a-ha moment when a fourth grader realizes that she can read the music notes on the page in front of her and play them on her recorder. I have many years of experience teaching elementary music in both public and independent schools and I am excited to be joining the Bertschi community! When I'm not in the classroom, you might find me paddle-boarding on Lake Washington, running the trails at Seward Park, or taking millions of pictures of my husband and four year old son.

B.A. Music and Psychology, University of California, Berkeley
M.Ed. Music Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

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

Mia Santos Herrmann

Librarian; Travel enthusiast, Avid NYT reader, Scrabble fan

Reading has always been a great escape and a way for me to learn new things and explore new places. Finding a great book is like finding a new friend. The opportunity to help students discover their own escapes, interests, and journeys is both satisfying and joyful. I love sharing stories with students, hearing their wonderings and ideas, fostering their passions, and connecting them with books and the world. When I’m not at Bertschi, you can find me on adventures with my husband and two children (both Bertschi kids), perusing cookbooks, reading the NYT, and organizing anything and everything.

B.A., Political Science and Economics, Wellesley College
M.S., Elementary Education, Mercy College, NYC Teaching Fellow

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

Miranda Hoffman

First Grade Teaching Assistant; Mom, Artist, and Aspiring Runner

I previously worked as a costume designer for theater and opera and have taught at the college level, but I’ve always known I would eventually focus on teaching children. I can think of no greater work than to help young people become confident, empowered learners. I’m as excited about teaching kids to be self-assured and compassionate people as I am about teaching academics, and I’m very excited to learn from the dedicated teachers at Bertschi. Books have always been a huge part of my life, so I especially look forward to sharing this love with students. My family and I have recently relocated to Seattle, and we’re really enjoying exploring the Pacific Northwest together. In a rare free moment, I also enjoy trying new recipes, making art, and gardening.

BA in Literature from UC Santa Cruz
MFA in Theater Design from Yale 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

5th Grade Teacher; 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

Rebekah Gardea

4th Grade Teaching Assistant; Owner of a one-eyed cat, Dabbler in the art of mediocre roller skating,  and Banjo Player

Prior to starting graduate school, I developed a strong interest in teaching environmental education. The opportunity to live and teach at IslandWood was one of the most memorable and meaningful experiences I have ever had. It helped me diversify my interests beyond environmental education and develop an even strong passion for supporting healthy identity development in students. Given the current political climate, now more than ever, I aim to empower students as agents of change within their communities and give them a voice in their education. Looking forward, I am excited to have the opportunity to teach for social justice, while helping to create more accessible, inclusive, and interconnected learning communities for students and their families.

I can't emphasize enough how excited I am to build new relationships with the students at Bertschi, while helping them to strengthen their relationships with one another and the world around them!

B.A. Anthropology, Humboldt State University 
Certificate in Education for Environment and Community, IslandWood
M.Ed. Curriculum and Instruction; Science Education, The University of Washington 2017

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

Rory James

Assistant Director of Extended Day; Hiker, Biker, Adventure, Musician, Comedian, and Yogi

I first moved to Seattle just over six years ago to peruse a recording project with a Seattle based producer. Since then I have worked in a wide spectrum of schools ranging from Reggio Emilia to Waldorf. I plan to bring my diverse skill set to the Bertschi community this year as well as my joy of knowledge and adventure of learning.

BA environmental studies
Certified in Wilderness First Aid Certified Behavioral Technician

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

Tristan Gavin

Learning Specialist; Reader, Baked Good Enthusiast, and Relief Pitcher

I grew up in Santa Cruz, California, where I avoided the beach every summer by reading Harry Potter and playing sports. At Whitman College, I played varsity baseball for two years before realizing my favorite part of road trips was reading on the bus, prompting my permanent transition from the bullpen to the library. I like to think that even after hanging up my cleats for books, I have maintained my role as a relief pitcher by coming into new situations with patience and flexibility. I have found myself sharing my passion for reading with children in Walla Walla, Oakland, Chicago, Brooklyn, and even India. I believe we fall in love with reading through reading about what we love, but we become great readers through reading outside of our comfort zones.

B.A. English, Whitman College M.A. Elementary Education, Relay Graduate School of Education

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