Ms. Katelyn Gerhardt
Co-Founder & Owner
I’ve always been drawn to connecting with kids; listening to their quirky stories, watching them as they figure out new things and observing their joy in the simplest of things. For the past 17 years, I’ve been immersed in working with toddlers through teenagers. While studying Human Development at the University of California San Diego, I grew increasingly fascinated with how the brain works and specifically what factors contribute to overall emotional intelligence and happiness. I quickly learned that these foundations are set in early childhood. I know that we have a critical window of opportunity from birth to five to set these solid foundations. When my family, my husband, two children and I, moved to North Carolina in 2013 we realized that Western Harnett County offered scarce educational resources. After in depth studies, I knew that the Montessori Philosophy and it’s practices provided a rich environment for my, then very young, children to thrive within. In the fall of 2015, with the combination of my passion for early childhood development and the Montessori philosophy, IMA opened it’s doors to impact the lives of our communities’ youth. In the last 7 years, the school has had immense growth. As a lifelong learner myself, I am always striving to continue to grow our programs and practices and serve our community even better than the year before. This is why we expanded to embrace the Reggio philosophy in early 2021, hence transforming our name to Independence Academy, since we offered both Montessori and Reggio inspirations. I truly believe that our kids and their families deserve an environment that will give them the tools to elevate their social-emotional growth and foster their independent thinking. With an incredible educator team at the heart of all we do here, we continue to accomplish the goal of providing community and connection. When I’m not living and breathing all things Independence Academy, I am spending time with my two growing kiddos at the lake, doing yard-work with my husband, connecting with other female business owners on my podcast, “She’s the Boss”, reading, doing my favorite HIIT work-out and cooking!
Ms. Martha Myers
I have been with Independence since 2017. Starting as a substitute and knitting teacher, I soon transitioned to lead toddler teacher. At the start of 2020, I began training for my new role in the office while continuing to have a presence in the classrooms. I was one of those kids who always loved taking care of younger children. When I first entered college I knew I wanted to be a teacher and was focused on elementary special education. When I found classes in early childhood education I truly found my passion. The early ages, with a focus on social emotional growth and learning independence, is what excited me most. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from UNC, Chapel Hill, and extensive experience with many models of education, including Reggio, Montessori, and Waldorf, I am so excited to add my knowledge to the administrative team. One of my favorite memories from my time at UNC, is that of student teaching for a month in China. For fun, I love all things crafty, especially knitting, spinning, and sewing.
Ms. Lynette Vergara
Hola, I’m Lynette and I’m from Puerto Rico. My journey here at IA has been amazing, starting in 2019 when I had the opportunity to start doing a Spanish special. Then I became an aftercare teacher, a lead teacher in a new toddler room, a lead teacher in a tree room, and then started working as an admin team member as the Curriculum specialist. I have loved each of these experiences! With each of these opportunities, my passion and love as an educator, as a teacher, and as a leader started growing more, I found myself wanting to help families to connect in the classrooms and as a community, help staff members in their career journey, but most importantly wanted to help each of the students to succeed in their own way every day! I absolutely love contributing to their developmental growth and watching them become better than they were the day before! Now I have the opportunity to be the Director of IA, giving me the chance to touch more families and the community. This is such an honor to me. The past 4 years I have been working on finishing my degree at GCU and also taking different kinds of trainings; leadership, behavior, and classroom management. This helps me to make sure I have the tools to help the school and the community succeed. When I’m not at IA, I enjoy spending quality time with my husband who, after 14 years in the army, decided it was time to retire. This is how NC became our forever home, alongside our tres hijos, who are my motivation to keep working hard. You may catch my family at the baseball field on the weekends, exploring different restaurants, counties, hiking in parks, or just chilling at home watching movies or reading a good book.
I’m so honored to be part of the IA team! And to keep growing with y’all.
Ms. Raylee Crawford
I grew up in McDonough, GA with a love for everything nature. Following my passion, I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Biological Sciences with a focus in Fish & Wildlife Ecology & Management from Montana State University in Bozeman, MT. While in college, I worked at Bozeman FunZone where I ran their summer camp program. After graduation, I moved to Jacksonville, FL with my husband where I spent a year and a half as a kids camp supervisor for Omni Resorts on Amelia Island. In my spare time, I enjoy photography, reading, and exploring the outdoors with my family. My favorite aspect of working with children is to see the “wonderment” in their eyes when exploring and learning about the outdoors and nature. I came to IA to help start the Inde Nature program, and have been so lucky to see it grow to what it is now! Being in the classroom of the Nature program for a year and a half was such an enriching experience! After going on leave to have my daughter, I came back as the Director of Community, where I was able to really focus on helping our community of families. Now stepping into the Assistant Director position, I am so excited to further bring my passion for teaching younger generations about all things nature and the outdoors to Independence Academy for years to come!
Ms. Juliana Gonzalez
Mi nombre es Juliana. I was born and raised in Colombia, South America. I’m a Journalist, Mom and Wife. My life changed when I met my husband in New York. We married and began our dream family. My husband got orders to NC so we moved from Florida at the end of 2021. I have been part of the IA family as a parent and I’m more than excited to start my new role as a Spanish and Kinder Teacher. My plan is to teach with love and joy while connecting with the kids. As a military spouse and mother I understand how important it is for our kids to feel that their school is a safe place and that’s what I love from IA – our little ones are heard, loved and encouraged to explore the world and their own selves. In my free time I work as a Communications & Social Media Associate for a non-profit that sends resources to people in need in my country, and I’m currently finishing my masters in digital marketing. My hobbies are traveling, shopping and cooking Colombian food.
Mr. Luke Gerhardt
Ms. Breanna Brancheau
Substitute Teacher & Music Teacher
Hello Independence Academy friends and family, I would love to introduce myself. My name is Breanna Brancheau. I grew up in a small harbor community located in Monroe, MI. Growing up, I spent a lot of time at the beach and exploring surrounding nature parks. This early exploration instilled a love for the outdoors and learning through hands-on experiences. I first moved here to North Carolina in 2013 to be with my husband who is stationed at Fort Bragg. We have been married since April of 2014. Together we have two children and two dogs. Shortly after we were married, I attended Animal Behavior College and studied behavioral science. After graduating, I noticed a lack of education for children and parents about dog safety. In 2016, I set out to fill that gap by writing and publishing a children’s book (Rosie The Pawsitive Pup). I used that book as a tool to teach dog safety classes to elementary age kids. It was then that I realized I loved teaching. I am so fortunate to be starting this journey here with you all. My goal is to continue growing as an educator while supporting the students and staff of this wonderful school. My hobbies include photography, singing, and writing poetry. Now that you know a bit about me, I’m excited for the chance to get to know you!
Ms. Perla Osorio
Hello! My name is Perla Osorio. I was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, but moved when I was almost 2 years old and grew up here in North Carolina. My family consists of my parents, me, my little brother, and our 2 dogs; both of which act like sassy little toddlers! I have always loved working with kids, finding new ways to connect with them and to inspire them to be their own person. In my free time I enjoy reading from many different genres, trying new recipes, exploring different styles of art, and hanging out with my friends and family. I am very excited to work at Independence Academy, and to learn from these kids as they learn from me!
Ms. Sarah White
Classroom Support Teacher
Hello! My name is Sarah. I was born and raised in Maine. My family moved to North Carolina in December of 2022 due to my husband being in the Army. I have a degree in business administration but have always loved working with children – it is a passion of mine! I love to see them blossom and grow! I’m so grateful to be apart of the Independence Family!
Ms. Monika Gomez
Classroom Support Teacher
Hello, My name is Monika, and here’s a little bit of information about me! I am a coffee lover, probably because I come from the beautiful country of Colombia. In 2019, I moved to the United States with my husband (in the Army) to our first duty station, Washington state. Everything about Washington is beautiful, except for the weather. I am so excited for our new adventure together here on the East coast! We are a small family; just my husband, our fur baby Rex, and I. I completed my bachelors degree in Healthcare while in Colombia, and now I’m looking forward to continuing my career path while in North Carolina. My hobbies are crafts, dancing, working out, baking, and spending time with animals. I am excited for the opportunity of being around the kids and the amazing staff at Independence Academy. Their energy and positivity is infectious and has had an amazing impact on me!
Ms. Anamari Cintron
Hello! My name is Anamari. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I moved to NC with my husband and daughter in 2007. Shortly after I arrived, I had the opportunity to work in Ft. Bragg with children ages 0-12. In 2010 I had my son. During that time I began my studies in Early Childhood and had the opportunity to work in the Head Start program for 6 years from floater and bus driver to lead teacher. I am so excited to be working with the team at Independence Academy. In my free time I like to cook, hang out with my family, and find and create new ideas for our students.
Ms. Jocelyn Lozano
Greetings, my name is Jocelyn Lozano. I have always had a strong desire to help those in need and was fortunate enough to work for a non-profit in my community. A few of my roles included empowering and educating the youth in a substance abuse prevention program, as well as helping the community with resources. Shortly after, I married my High School sweetheart and moved from Nevada to California. There, in the small military base of Fort Irwin I was able to get hired at the Child Development Center. From there my interest grew to learn more about child development! At the moment, we have a three-year-old daughter who has fallen in love with her time at Independence Academy, and we also have one on the way. A few hobbies I enjoy are baking, Art, traveling, trying new food and community involvement. I look forward to being a part of your children’s learning environment.
Ms. Beth Pierce
Montessori Mentor Teacher
I am so happy to be back at Independence Academy. I started my journey with this amazing school when the doors first opened many years ago. The pandemic and family obligations placed a pause on my teaching but I am so glad to be back! A lot has changed and I just love seeing the many avenues the kiddos can learn and grow in! I started my teaching career 26 years ago, with 21 years of experience in the teaching field. I obtained my credentials 1&2 at Sandhills Community College in 2000. I obtained my KHT Montessori certificate in 2019. I am married and have 3 grown adult boys, a daughter in law and three grandsons. So the nest is empty! Because of this, I’m so glad to fill my days with new kiddos to love, take care of, and teach.
The Flower Rooms
Ms. Amber Bostwick
Lead Teacher, The Daisy Room
Hey! My name is Amber. I am a stepmom, mother and wife. I have a 2 year old stepson and a 6 month old son. I’m originally from Georgia but my family relocated to NC when my Dad was stationed at Fort Bragg when I was 14. When I was in high school, every year that I could I volunteered at the Child Development Center. I have always had a love of working with children, watching them grow and learn, and seeing their personalities blossom! I was also adopted, so I feel like I have a unique perspective on loving and caring for children that are not biologically mine. I hope to make a positive impact in every child’s life that I teach!
Ms. Priscilla Kafton
Assistant Teacher, The Daisy Room & STEM Teacher
Hello everyone! My name is Priscilla and I’m originally from Northern California. I recently moved to North Carolina with my husband who is stationed at Fort Bragg. I have a passion for working with children and putting smiles on their faces! I also have a love for art, nature, and adventure! I’m looking forward to making so many fun memories with all the children I’ll be lucky to meet!
Ms. Yadira Henriquez Nieves
Lead Teacher, The Lily Room
Hola…Mi nombre es Yadira. I was born and raised in the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, and I have Dominican roots thanks to my dad. I am a military wife and the mother of three beautiful children. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Science of Nursing, and I was a nurse in an ICU unit for three years when I was living in Puerto Rico. When I decided to become a nurse, my dream was always to work with kids, but my life had a huge turn when my husband decide to enlist in the military. It was a BIG change and challenge for my family. We moved to NC in 2017, and as soon as we moved my middle son was diagnosed with non-verbal autism. I decided to become a stay-at-home mom so I could take care of his needs. With his therapists I learned English, and a lot about his condition and how to work with him. Through the years, I’ve been wanting to go to work again, and I’m so excited with the opportunity that Independence Academy has given me. I always dreamed of working with kids and this makes me VERY HAPPY. Im enjoying this new chapter of my life and I’m so thankful that I get to work with such an amazing team in such an amazing community.
Ms. Ashley Lowe
Assistant Teacher, The Lily Room
Hello all! My name is Ashley and I am very excited to begin my journey with Independence Academy. Outside of IA you can find my family and I outside enjoying life. Whether that be hiking, kayaking, hanging out in the garden or tending to our small slice of heaven. Speaking of family I have 2 wild children, a stubborn husband, 10 crazy chickens and a barn cat the kids have named “George.” I’m looking forward to this year and can not wait to learn and grow with your little ones while they are here at IA!
The Tree Rooms
Ms. Kristen Carroll
Lead Teacher, The Maple Room
I have had a passion for working with children since I was a young child myself and I always knew I wanted to become a teacher! As a child I would always help take care of younger children and as I grew up, I would babysit and volunteer in different children’s programs at church and school! I got my first job in a childcare facility when I was sixteen and have worked with children ever since! I enjoy getting to know all of them individually, watching them grow and accomplish new skills! I am currently pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. Working while being in school has definitely given me an advantage. I am able to directly apply what I am learning in my classes to situations with my students. I am so excited to have the opportunity of being the teacher assistant in Maple Room this year!
Ms. Chantel Raeder
Assistant Teacher, The Maple Room
I am so excited to be working at Independence Academy! Growing up in Utah, I was able to work with many young children through foster care, babysitting, and church activities. I moved to Colorado after High School to pursue my interest in Family Portrait Photography. After spending four years doing that, I married my husband which began our military journey around the world. We have two teenage kids, 3 dogs and a hedgehog! We have been stationed in Colorado, D.C., Nepal, Georgia, Texas and now North Carolina. I have experience volunteering to work with military families by being a part of the Soldier and Family Readiness Groups, working in the consulate section of the embassy, and working at a preschool as an assistant teacher. This is my first year at IA and I look forward to working with the kids in their educational development!
Ms. Julia Sailer
Lead Teacher, The Oak Room
Hallo, ich bin Julia! I am so excited to be part of IA! I joined the team in August of 2021. I immigrated to the US two years ago after getting married to my husband when we met on his tour in Germany. Life definitely has been a rollercoaster since then and I had to face tons of challenges that helped me grow into the person I am now. I have been tutoring younger children since I was 14, I always enjoyed helping the little ones out in school and teaching them new things. Getting the position as an aftercare teacher has been a blessing, I love the environment of the school and the nature around it. It is so great to see the students smiling and enjoying their time at Independence Academy and I am so proud to be a part of this wonderful community.
Ms. Lina Hudson
Assistant Teacher, The Oak Room
Hola! My name is Lina. I’m originally from Colombia. I have a bachelor’s degree in teaching. For the past eight years I have been working with children from twelve months to fifteen years old as a foreign language teacher for three years in my home country, in elementary and middle school, and about five years in childcare in the USA. Coming to the United States was a dream of mine. First, I wanted to master my English skills and second, I love to explore, know, and interact in other cultures. With that being said, in 2018 I came to the USA through a cultural exchange program which I did over two years in Colorado. Colorado brought me a second beautiful family, friends, wonderful experiences, and enjoyment. During this time, I also met my lovely husband who is originally from NC and who I love to spend time with. During my free time, you are likely to find me spending time with family and friends, traveling, hiking, playing boardgames, trying new restaurants and food, or just relaxing at home. It has been about four months since I started my journey at IA as an aftercare teacher and all I can say is that I am very grateful for the opportunity given at this beautiful community. I’m looking forward to continue growing personally and professionally, and to continue providing our little ones with meaningful and safe learning environments.
Ms. Mary Hebner (Ms. Liz)
Lead Teacher, The Magnolia Room
Hello, my name is Mary Elizabeth, and I go by Liz. My husband Jeremy and I are originally from Southern Indiana and have been married for 17 years. My husband has been in the Air Force for 18 years and will be retiring in the next year. We have two kids, a girl named Abigail (10) and a boy named Peyton (14). At our home we have what we call our mini farm! We have 2 dogs, 2 cats, 9 chickens, and 2 ducks. We have lived in New Jersey, Turkey, Guam and now North Carolina. I love spending time with my family and friends, crafting, and cooking. I have taught children for over 15 years. My first job in Childcare was at a CDC at our first base and I just fell in love with working with children. It is such a great feeling to see children learn and thrive. I am looking forward to getting to know your children in such an amazing and positive environment!
Ms. Nabina Thapa
Assistant Teacher, The Magnolia Room
Namaste. I am Nabina and I am originally from Nepal and immigrated to the United States in 2022. I lived with my young niece and nephew as they were growing up and I admire the immense love towards people they have, their wild imagination and their innocent nature. I joined Independence Academy as a substitute teacher which gave me the opportunity to spend time in each and every classroom and spend time with children of different age groups. I enjoy spending time with children and teaching them through various plays and activities, and also encouraging them to do things independently as well as assisting when they need. It has given me the opportunity to see and learn about life here in North Carolina from a different perspective. I am looking forward to working in Magnolia Room and making happy memories with the children while they learn and grow. I recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and I used to work in primary school before I moved to the states. I like traveling, camping and cooking. I used to spend most of my free time in Nepal hiking around the mountains, taking pictures and I am looking forward to exploring North Carolina.
The Inde Nature School
Ms. Paige Jackman
Teacher, Inde Elementary
Hi! My name is Paige Jackman. I am from Tennessee and moved to North Carolina to be with my husband who is stationed here. We have two dogs and love to be outdoors. I have always loved working with and connecting with kids. I worked in pediatric dentistry before becoming a nanny. I’ve always wanted a career where I could work with kids and I’m so excited to be able to do that at Independence Academy. I am so glad to be apart of this team and am looking forward to helping children learn and grow.
Ms. Julia Frederes
Teacher, Inde Elementary
Hello! My name is Julia Frederes. I am very excited to be working with your children. A little about myself: I moved to Greensboro 20 years ago with my husband and two sons. Previously, we lived north of Philadelphia. North Carolina has been a wonderful place to raise our boys. We all love the weather and the beaches. A year ago, we moved to Sanford and we now own a home on a lake, and I love spending time on the water. I worked for Guilford County Schools for several years as a Teacher Assistant in Kindergarten, First Grade and PreK. I thoroughly enjoy working with this age of children and helping them to develop academically and socially. I love the light bulb moments! In my free time, I enjoy reading, walking and spending time with my friends and family.
Ms. Laura Alderman
Lead Teacher, The Inde Nature Explorer Sparrows
I am originally from Colorado, and moved to North Carolina in 2012. I was raised in a close knit extended family as one of the oldest of fourteen cousins which gave me experience and a love of caring for younger children early on. I have a passion for teaching that I have had the opportunity to explore through babysitting, nannying, coaching, and working with children with autism spectrum disorder. I find so much joy in guiding children and providing a safe, loving environment in which they can grow and develop! I decided last year that it was time to pursue my love of teaching and started working toward my Associates degree in Early Childhood Education. I was previously the lead teacher in The Lily Room before taking maternity leave. I am so excited to be back and working with our Inde Nature Explorers!
Ms. Analicia Gonzalez
Assistant Teacher, The Inde Nature Explorer Sparrows
Hi there! My name is Analicia and I’m from Austin, TX. I moved to NC back in 2013 to explore and experience a different place apart from what I always knew. While living here, I met my amazing husband and we decided to move back to Texas. However, after spending a few more years back home we felt a strong pull to move back to North Carolina. My husband and I have a beautiful daughter who we adore! She’s part of the reason why I have a passion for teaching kids and seeing just how capable they are of accomplishing things. When I’m not working I enjoy serving the community, spending time with the ones I love, singing, listening to crime podcasts, and anything that gets me outdoors. I have a huge heart for service and helping others see the greatness within themselves. I’m absolutely thrilled about being apart of the Independence Academy team and having a hand in the amazing things that happen here. I can’t wait to meet you and your kids!
Ms. Olivia Fee
Lead Teacher, The Inde Nature Explorer Starlings
Hello! My name is Olivia and I am so excited to be a part of the Independence Academy team! I am originally from Ohio but I moved to North Carolina in May of 2022. My hobbies include, yoga, art, reading, and spending time with my family and friends. I love working with children and watching them grow, create, and learn new skills. I look forward to getting to know your child and creating a positive learning environment for them!
Ms. Abigail Houle
Teacher, Extended Exploration
Hello, my name is Abigail but I prefer to go by Abby! I’m originally from FL but moved to NC in 2017 with my family. I have two wonderful little siblings, Lily and Jacob, and four adorable pets; our family dog named Arthur, two cats named Mai and Ivy, and a hognose snake named Brownie! Some hobbies of mine are photography, painting, and hiking. I’m also currently a college student at CCCC and plan to to transfer to a NC University to become a Veterinarian! I’ve always loved animals and the beauty of nature. I hope that with my opportunity with working with IA, that I’ll get to make a positive impact on the kids who attend and help open their minds to appreciating and respecting the wild creatures and environment that surround them!
Ms. Danielle Hannah
Teacher, Extended Exploration
Ms. Megan Griffin
Teacher, Classroom Support & Extended Exploration
I’m excited to be working at Independence Academy! Growing up in Florida, I spent a lot of time at the beach and parks canoeing, hiking and occasionally camping. I’ve enjoy working with children ever since I started babysitting at the age of 15. I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina with my family in 2007 and after a year of being here my husband enlisted into the Army and was stationed at Ft. Bragg. I’m a mother of four boys, two of which are teenagers (sixteen and fourteen) both in high school. My other two are twelve and nine years of age. I started working in daycare after coming back to Bragg from JBER, Alaska where we were stationed. I have worked mostly with infants and one year olds as an assistant teacher. This is my first year here at IA and I look forward to getting to know you and your children in this positive learning environment!
Ms. Laura Alicea Irizary
Teacher, Classroom Support & Extended Exploration
Ms. Alexandra Moran
Teacher, Classroom Support & Extended Exploration
Ms. Galina Lech
Teacher, Classroom Support & Extended Exploration