Administration

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
Admin Support

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
Director

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
Assistant Director

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!

Mr. Luke Gerhardt
Facility Manager

Mr. Luke is originally from Northern California, where he joined the military at 17. The Army brought his family to North Carolina in 2013 where he and Katelyn decided to open Independence Academy in 2015. Mr. Luke literally helped build this school from the ground up all while being active duty. In 2021, Mr. Luke retired from the Army after 20 years of service, traded his helicopter for a tractor and can now be found fixing, building, and doing all the maintenance work around campus.

Classroom Support

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
Substitute Teacher

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. 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
Spanish Teacher

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. Alexandra Moran
Substitute Teacher

Hi! My name is Alexandra, or Ms. Allie. I am a NC native, spending my childhood moving around a bit, but eventually ending up right back here. I am the youngest of three siblings, but I have always loved working with children. From becoming a certified babysitter at eleven years old to helping at my church’s children’s ministry, I always knew I wanted to be a positive influence for our younger generations. That became a reality very close to home when I became a mother to two amazing bonus daughters and one biological son. I quickly realized that our public school system is not the ideal soil for our children to grow in, and the more research I did, the more passionate I felt about it. That is what led me to come to Independence Academy and become a substitute teacher- and I am so happy I did! I am having so much fun working with kids of all ages. I love seeing the natural curiosity blossom from each student in a well-nurtured environment, and I hope to continue to be a part of this wonderful journey for some time!

 

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.

Ms. Kamryn Savage
Substitute Teacher

Hello! My name is Kamryn Savage. I was born in North Carolina but I have moved numerous times because my dad was in the military. I am 18 years old, and currently enrolled at Appalachian State University. I am getting my major in Elementary Education. I have always loved working with kids! My parents have fostered, and i have 3 siblings! In my free time I love being outside, traveling, being with friends, and shopping! I can’t wait to get to know all the kids, and for this amazing opportunity!

The Flower Rooms

Ms. Alexandra Echols
Lead Teacher, The Daisy Room 

Hello everyone! My name is Alexandra, I also go by Alex/Ms. Alex. I’m a NC native, a vegetarian, a lover of all things celestial, as well as an avid plant owner, and sushi lover. I am a super proud momma of three amazing kiddos who are the joy of my world, and what keep me both grateful and active every day. My 23 year old step son is in the Army, and currently stationed in Korea. He is married with a one year old babygirl who calls me ‘Gigi”, and a son on the way due in May of this year. My younger two, a 15 year old daughter, and a 10 year old son, are both extremely involved in sports, and have an array of hobbies that I am thankful to be apart of, including soccer, wrestling, football, basketball, piano and theater. Though my love of children began at a young age babysitting, the true admiration for youth began in 2014 when I began my own drop in care and date night business while stationed in Florida. I am so excited to be back working with children again full time since Covid, and grateful for the opportunity to be working with such an amazing school as I teach such a fun age!

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. Delaney Warling
Assistant Teacher, The Lily Room

Hello Everyone! My name is Delaney but I go by Laney as well. I was born in Minnesota but my dad was in the army starting at a young age so I have lived all over the United States. I am in college and graduating in 2024 with a Bachelors in Psychology and a minor in Child and Family Development. When I first began college, I was very lost and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I ended up taking a developmental psychology class and fell in love with the way we develop as kids and how that shapes us as adults! I have always loved kids and often found myself being the person kids were drawn to. I am more than excited to work with all of the children here at Independence Academy and look forward to meeting you all!

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. Ashley Lowe
Lead Teacher, The Oak Room

Hello! My name is Ashley and some of you may know me from the Lily classroom. My journey with IA has been a fun one – starting off as a parent, moving to floating between the classrooms, then stepping into a position with the 2/3 years olds – and it has been a fantastic journey the whole way! A little background in regards to me my degree is in Social Work. I focused heavily on human development and found the “why” behind development fascinating. When I graduated I decided to put my degree to use and worked with children and families focusing on domestic violence and sexual assualt. Focusing on families and helping children move through the rough kept me in my position until I decided to stay home with my littles. Speaking of my littles I have two – Gunnar & Freya. They are feral and honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way. When not at school you can catch us hiking, kayaking, gardening and enjoying all of our time outdoors. Nature is meant to be explored and seeing their love and curiosity blossom fills me with so much hope for their generation. I look forward to my time in Oak room getting to know, grow and learn from all of you!

Coming Soon!
Assistant Teacher, The Oak Room

Coming Soon!

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. Laura Alicea Irizary
Assistant Teacher, The Magnolia Room

Hola! My name Is Laura C. Alicea, and I was born and raised in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. I moved to the US in 2017. I’m a mom of two handsome boys, Omar and Herminio. My hobbies are reading, crafting and I love to spend time with my family and friends. I’ve always enjoyed working with kids and I’m very grateful I get to work at Independence Academy! I started as an aftercare teacher and am looking forward to becoming a TA in Magnolia Room. I can’t wait to get to know all the kids, and support and encourage them in their learning journey!

The Inde Nature School

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.

Coming Soon!
Teacher,  Inde Elementary 

Coming Soon!

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!

Extended Exploration

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. Yara Baez
Teacher, Extended Exploration 

Hello, My name is Yaireliz Tavarez Baez, but please call me Yara! I was born in Puerto Rico and have been moving around ever since. I’m a Military kid who adores travel! I love to be creative and tend to become passionate about new adventures and hobbies. I am a 2025 graduate pursuing a degree in Psychology and Linguistics! I love making new connections and conversing with interesting and unique people. Working at IA has allowed me to help to make new connections those new connections, not only with my colleagues but also with parents and these wonderful children.

Ms. Christina Somerton
Teacher, Classroom Support & Extended Exploration 

Hi everyone! I’m Christina and I was originally born in China. I was adopted as a baby and ever since then I have lived here in NC. I just graduated high school and am currently attending college as a nursing major in which I hope to work at a pediatric clinic. I am an animal lover with 3 rescue cats and a dog. I have worked with kids for more than half my life as a martial arts instructor and loved doing it. As I start my journey with IA, I hope to experience new things and continue my love for childcare!

Ms. Valeria Gamboa
Teacher, Classroom Support & Extended Exploration 

Hi! My name is Valeria! I was born in SC, but moved to Costa Rica with my family in 2012 and lived there up until now. I have a Bachelor’s in Customs Administration and International Trade, and I’m currently finishing up grad studies in Logistics and Supply Chain Management. I have a dog called Nova and a fiancé back in Costa Rica that I miss so much and hope to bring along with me on this new journey as soon as possible. During the last few years, I found out I have a knack for connecting with kids, which is why I’m so excited to be at Independence Academy! I look forward to spending time with all the amazing kids and staff here!

Ms. Angelia Tysor
Teacher, Classroom Support & Extended Exploration 

Hey Everyone, My name is Angelia Tysor. You all can call me “Lia” if it’s easier for you. I am 19 years old and have been living in Sanford, NC since I was born. I absolutely LOVE working with kids, I come from a big family so of course I would. I plan to enlist in the navy next year, in the medical field. I’m very active and fully of energy! My favorite part about working with kids is all of their different personalities. I can’t wait to get to know each and every one of them!