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. Katie Finnegan
I have been teaching and working with children of all ages for more than 10 years. After receiving a degree in Criminal Justice and Sociology, I started working in the juvenile division at the Milwaukee Police Department. My time there is what inspired me to go into a field in which I could work more directly with children. After meeting my husband, I moved to NC and received a certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis and worked with military families and their children who were on the Autism spectrum. Another PCS move later landed us in FL where I taught Pre-K For five years as well as subbed for the school district. I have experience with every age! Last year, the military brought my family back to NC and I joined the Independence community. I recently completed my Master’s in Education at Grand Canyon University. I am so excited to step out of the classroom and into a role that allows me to continue to work with your children while also enabling me to support our school and the community. I am passionate about early childhood education and I’m so excited to work at a school where the whole child is nurtured.
I have three children of my own and in my spare time I’m running them to activities or reading a good book! I look forward to working with you and your children!
The Flower Rooms
Ms. Heather Mims
Lead Teacher, The Daisy Room
I have worked with children for many years in several settings. As a military spouse, I have been stationed at several locations which has given me the opportunity to work with different children and programs. I hold an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts and I am in my last year at Liberty University earning a Bachelors in Elementary Education. I love the practicality and realistic opportunities that are available to the children in the Montessori philosophy. I truly believe in letting the children lead the way in their learning process. My role as a teacher is to give the children the tools that they need to cultivate their own gardens of success. The thing I love the most about children is that they’re all different and unique in their own way, which allows me to help them blossom at their own pace. My goal is meet each child’s needs and teach them in a way so that they feel capable and successful. One of my favorite quotes is, “Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” B.F. Skinner. I want my children to not only learn something from their experience each day, but to thrive in the environment. I am so excited to give everything I can offer and grow with the children. In her free time, she is spending time with her daughter and husband doing anything outside or cooking.
Ms. Taylor Foster
Assistant Teacher, The Daisy Room
Ms. Taylor has been working with children for more than a decade. She began as a babysitter and nanny, then as a summer camp counselor. Ms. Taylor attended Towson University and plans on continuing her studies in Early Childhood Education. She moved from Baltimore to Ft. Bragg with her pup and husband, who is in the Air Force. Born and raised in Virginia, she is very excited about living in North Carolina and being a part of the team at Independence! After being the After Care Teacher, she is having a blast as the assistant teacher in the Daisy Room. She has so much fun coming up with new and innovative ways to teach and stimulate their children so they can master new skills and ideas. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, shopping and traveling.
Ms. Lynette Vergara-Acevedo
Lead Teacher, The Lily Room
Hola, Me llamo Lynette and I am so excited to be a part of the team. I am originally from the beautiful island of Puerto Rico and it is the country that shaped me into the person that I am today. I received my teaching certificate and taught for seven years in my native town before meeting my husband and moving with him once he enlisted into the US ARMY. Once settled stateside, I began working for the US government’s Child Youth and School Services. While there, I contributed to curriculum building, nutrition and fitness awareness and child mentor-ship. Teaching has been my passion since I was little; I love to help others and I’m also big believer that we are the role models for our future leaders. Being with them and helping them build their confidence and that love and respect for others is where everything starts. I will always give each child the opportunity to bloom at their level. In The Lily Room I will give them a safe environment where they can build with their curiosity and my guidance. The children create their own space where they can build their own knowledge. I am also a Spanish instructor for children from 3 to 12, and I love teach my language to others, especially to the younger ones. When not teaching others, I enjoy spending quality time with my husband and our three niños ranging in ages 7 to 13. My goal is finish my degree as Early childhood education at FTCC and to continue to become an elementary school teacher. I absolutely love contributing to the developmental growth of a child and watch them become better than they were the day before!
The Tree Rooms
Ms. Megan Dixon
Lead Teacher, The Maple Room
I am excited to be going into my second school year with Independence! I have worked with children in a variety of roles as baby-sitter, camp counselor, and tutor. After earning my Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice Management from Webber International University, I moved to Georgia and started substitute teaching. I quickly discovered that I have a deep passion for educating children and I am two semesters from earning my Masters Degree in Secondary and Special Education from Liberty University. I love the independence and individualized learning opportunities that the Montessori and Reggio philosophies offer to children. One of my favorite quotes is, “All students can learn and succeed, but not in the same way and not in the same day.” William G. Spady
Ms. Bri Benson
Assistant Teacher, The Maple Room
I hold many years of experience in various childcare settings and have taken on roles in nannying and babysitting with ages newborn to 10. In addition, I currently volunteer regularly as a childcare team lead at my local church. My passion for supporting young people in discovering who they are has inspired me to pursue a Masters in School Counseling in the future. I began my education career as a substitute teacher and quickly found an appreciation for the way that the Montessori philosophy meets the needs of each child mentally, physically, and emotionally. I believe that every child has the opportunity to be their unique selves and discover ways to model kindness, curiosity, and creativity to their peers every day in our classroom. As I near the completion of my Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science, I am excited to use my experience to create an environment that helps your child develop these values throughout the school year. When I am not working, I enjoy spending time at home with my husband and pets, reading, and listening to music.
Ms. Beth Doyle
Lead Teacher, The Oak Room
I first discovered my love of working with children ten years ago, when I graduated college with an English degree and moved to Germany to work as an Au Pair. I fell in love with the country and with fostering bilingual environments for young learners. I stayed on as an educator in the local international school where my love and passion for teaching continued to grow. Since then, I’ve worked as an ESL teacher on the island of Guam, and as a Kindergarten teacher in South Korea and England. It has been a privilege to be a part of learning communities around the world and I believe now more than ever in the power of connection, and the benefit of shaping environments where social-emotional learning is a valued part of everything we do. I am committed to fostering curiosity and to modeling lifelong learning as a journey that is never finished, and that only gets more exciting. I received my Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction as well as my K-5 teaching license through George Mason University in 2016, and am currently working on a PhD in International Education and Educational Leadership. Outside of school, I can usually be found hiking, cycling, and getting lost in the woods with my two-year-old son. I am so excited to be a part of the community that is being crafted at Independence Academy.
Ms. Nakelle Wallinga
Assistant Teacher, The Oak Room
I have worked with children for many years in a variety of settings beginning with in-home babysitting and home school tutoring younger children. I then continued working in summer camps, after school counseling, as an after school site coordinator, and most recently, in a daycare classroom setting. I am currently pursuing my Elementary Education Degree at Liberty University while pursuing my NC teaching credentials. I have an immense love for the Montessori and Reggio philosophies and I love the independence the curriculum inspires in the children. I believe that each child has unmatched potential. As an educator my duty is to learn about and encourage each child’s strengths, interests, skills, abilities and knowledge. I acknowledge that children learn through play and exploring. Our classroom cultivates a culture that inspires these opportunities in the environment.
Ms. Latoya Toomer
Lead Teacher, The Magnolia Room
I have always had a passion for working with children. I started myEarly Childhood Education career in high school, taking Early Childhood Education Honors 1 & 2. Through this program, I earned my NC Lead Teacher credential. I interned at multiple childcare centers and elementary schools during my two years in the program and gained valuable experience. I have worked with children of all ages through babysitting and leading youth bible study at my church. I come to Independence having taught several years at many childcare centers as I pursue my degree in Early Childhood Education at Liberty University. I believe that young minds deserve the chance to grow and flourish. I aim to instill the love of life long learning in all children I teach. I am very excited to join Independence Academy and enrich the lives of so many children!
Ms. Joanmarie Santiago
Assistant Teacher, The Magnolia Room
I was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico and attended “El Turabo” University in Caguas, P.R. I moved to Virginia in 2016 after the big life change of getting married! In 2020, I relocated with my husband to North Carolina. I have a deep passion for working with children. I have taught for the last five years in a Montessori environment which has brought me so much joy. My goal is to finish my Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood and to keep expanding my knowledge.
The Inde Nature School
Ms. Raylee Crawford
Teacher, Inde Nature School, Inde School Age Support Program
Ms. Raylee grew up in McDonough, GA with a love for everything nature. Following her passion, she 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, she worked at Bozeman FunZone where she ran their summer camp program. After graduation, she moved to Jacksonville, FL with her husband where she has spent the last year and a half as a kids camp supervisor for Omni Resorts on Amelia Island. Ms. Raylee’s favorite aspect of working with children is to see the “wonderment” in their eyes when exploring and learning about the outdoors and nature. In her spare time, Ms. Raylee enjoys photography, reading, and exploring the outdoors. She is excited to bring her passion for teaching younger generations about all things nature and the outdoors to Independence Academy.
Ms. Madison Nicholson
Teacher, Inde Nature School, Inde School Age Support Program
I’ve been studying early childhood education for over a year and will obtain my Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education in the spring. I plan to continue my education and get a Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education while working at Independence Academy. I think it’s so great that we get to have the children connect with nature through our program, and learn that the Earth is a place we should respect and treat with kindness. One of my favorite parts of working with children is watching those “ah ha!” moments. Being able to watch and assist children as they grow and learn throughout the year is the most rewarding part of the job. In my free time I enjoy spending time with my husband and dog. I also have a passion for music and playing the piano!
Ms. Racheal Kroll
Teacher, Extended Exploration
Ms. Christine Ireland
Teacher, Extended Exploration
Ms. Kristina Ivy
Teacher, Extended Exploration
I’ve worked with children in various capacities over the past 15 years and am SO excited to join the Independence Academy family in Extended Exploration! I spent 10 years on Active Duty with the Army and was Medically Retired in 2019. I have a vast background in Emergency Medicine and Trauma and a Bachelors of Science in Geospatial Information Science and Environmental Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point and look forward to beginning my Masters this fall/winter. The past year I got back in touch with teaching by teaching ESL to Chinese Children and I’m excited for a change of pace and to have the opportunity to guide and encourage learning and growth in the children of our community here at Independence Academy. The first five years of children’s lives are such a critical time period and I feel absolutely honored and privileged to get to be a part of their daily lives in a place that places such a high value on social and emotional growth. I have a passion for holistic health and life-long learning and strive to continue to develop and grow in ALL areas of life. Outside of my time at school I can be found spending time with my 2.5 year old daughter and two dogs, at the pool, on hikes, or reading books on holistic and naturopathic medicine. I’m excited to join the team here at Independence Academy!
My passion for working with children started over 20 years ago as a babysitter and tutor during my teenage years. I decided to turn that passion into a career in Early Childhood Education, where I have taught preschool for 10 years. I have also coached soccer and baseball for 5 years and look forward to using my passion for sports in our Sports and Agility special! In my spare time I enjoy reading, cooking, hiking, and music. I am very excited to be here at Independence Academy and look forward to learning from and loving on the children.
I am so excited for the opportunity to grow with this beautiful community at Independence Academy. I am originally from Michigan and raised in New Mexico, and have always loved working with children, the questions, curiosities, and ideas they have never fail to surprise me. I have my associates in Early Childhood Development and am starting classes soon as I work towards my bachelors in Elementary Education. In my down time I love to do anything that keeps me out in the sun, I am also a Painter, a published poet, and a photographer that has made it into the Santa Fe Museum of Art.
Ms. Katelyn Gerhardt
Co-Founder & Owner
I’ve been working with toddlers and children for the past 16 years. 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. 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 quickly 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 five 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. I truly believe that our kids and their families deserve an environment that will give them the tools to elevate their social-emotional growth. 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, reading, doing my favorite HIIT work-out and cooking!