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, 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. Raylee Crawford
Director of Community
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 taking a break to have my daughter, I am so excited to be back in this new role where I can really focus on helping our community of families, and further bring my passion for teaching younger generations about all things nature and the outdoors to Independence Academy for years to come!
Ms. Lynette Vergara
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 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. I have my associates degree in Early Childhood Education from FTCC and plan to continue to become an elementary school teacher. I absolutely love contributing to the developmental growth of a child and to watch them become better than they were the day before!
Mr. Luke Gerhardt
Ms. Becky Thienel
I am so excited to be part of the team here at Independence Academy. I am originally from New England, but I have been living in North Carolina since 2008. I am a mother to three boys. Prior to having children, I achieved my Associate Degree in Human Service Management followed by my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. My husband and I met in high school; he joined the Marine Corps after graduation and was stationed here in North Carolina. As a young girl I learned quickly how to care for children. My mother worked a second shift job at a hospital leaving me to help care for my younger siblings. Early on in our military life my husband was away a lot for long periods of time which caused me to put my career on hold in order to raise our boys. Now our kids are in school and I have been given the opportunity to grow my career. I am looking forward to serving our community here at Independence Academy!
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.
Ms. Courtney Riley
Hey everyone! My name is Courtney Riley! I am so excited to finally start my future in the teaching field! I was born and raised in the north west corner of Connecticut- New England! I moved down here to NC in 2014 and have been here ever since! I am a mother to a little girl, and we have a little boy on the way! Growing up I was surrounded by a big family, with grandchildren ranging from 30 years old all the way down to newborns! As one of the older kids, I’ve always been a babysitter to the younger kids because of the passion I had for them. I always knew that I wanted to teach because I want to be able to help guide and shape the people that are going to be leading our future generations. When deciding what parenting style I was going to use on my children, I came across the Montessori and Reggio technique, and fell in love! Looking for a school to work at, it was important to me that they instilled the values I was instilling on my children. I love that I’m able to watch these children grow in not only their independence, but in their education, and imagination, physically and emotionally! I can’t wait for this adventure at Independence Academy and to further my education !
Ms. Chantel Raeder
Ms. Yadira Henriquez Nieves
Ms. Krista Sloup
Hello. My name is Krista Sloup. I am a Nebraska native which is where I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art with an emphasis in painting from the University of Nebraska. I’ve worked with all traditional mediums and also some graphic and publication design. My husband serves in the Army and we have 2 children, Grayson (8) and Josalyn (6) and a 10 year old bulldog named Stella. We love the outdoors, doing home improvement projects on our new house and anything LEGOs these days. I came into teaching art at Independence Academy when my daughter attended in the 2021-2022 school year. I subbed in for a teacher part way through the fall and then took on the class and added a second class in the spring semester. We had a lot of fun and I know I definitely learned a lot! I’ve really enjoyed seeing our little artists grow in their craft and expression in their favorite mediums. I love the sense of community within this school and I am thankful I was given the opportunity to share my passion for art and the creative process.
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. Joanmarie Santiago
Lead Teacher, The Daisy Room
I have been a part of the IA Family since 2020. 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 spend the last year and a half as the Assistant Teacher in The Magnolia Room working with children three years to six years old. For the past five years my experience has been teaching toddlers in a Montessori environment. I am so excited to work with toddlers again in The Daisy Room. My goal is to finish my Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood and to keep expanding my knowledge.
Ms. Cindy Yuan
Assistant Teacher, The Daisy Room
I am originally from Chapel Hill, NC, and relocated to Fayetteville, NC, in February 2021. I am a
Taiwanese American who graduated from Mars Hill University with an Art/Graphic Design
degree and Durham Technical Community College with an Early Childhood Education degree.
Art, music, and creative expression have been an essential part of my life! I have experience
working with children ranging from age one to five. I love teaching, learning, and connecting
with young children because they are our future. I enjoy drawing, painting, designing, playing
piano, watching animation films, and studying Japanese language and culture. I am fluent in
Ms. Anamari Cintron
Lead Teacher, The Lily Room & 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. Breanna Brancheau
Assistant Teacher, The Lily Room
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!
The Tree Rooms
Ms. Breanna Dearman
Lead Teacher, The Maple Room
Hello! My name is Breanna and I am so excited to be apart of the Independence Academy team! I am originally from Canada (born and raised), and have been living in the United States for the last decade. I have a Bachelors of Arts in Humanities from the University of Victoria, Canada and a Masters in Education from Armstrong University, now called Georgia Southern. I have really enjoyed working in early childhood education. This is a time of curiosity, innocence and exploration. The Environment is interesting, their imaginations are thriving, and it creates a really awesome student-led learning atmosphere. I especially love working in early childhood education because I know that creating a solid foundation between a student and their learning environment has a long lasting positive influence in both their educational journeys as well as their social lives. I really enjoy using sensorial works with the students, as well as encouraging them to problem solve and work together to find solutions. It’s so amazing to see students find joy in independence, whether it’s putting on their shoes, opening an applesauce pouch, or tracing their name from start to finish! As a mother of two young boys, I can appreciate how so much of this independence transfers from the classroom to the home.
When I am not teaching, you are likely to find me at home with my family. I have two boys: August (5) and Samuel (3). My husband, Gabriel, is stationed at Fort Bragg. We have two dogs: Ladybird (Boxer) and Louie (Boston terrier). I enjoy baking, cooking, reading, yard work, and exercising with my moms workout group!
Ms. Kristen Carroll
Assistant 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. Julia Sailer
Lead Teacher, The Oak Room & German Teacher
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. Kimberly Aanerud
Assistant Teacher, The Oak Room
Hello. I am Kimberly, a mother and an army wife. I am originally from a small town in Minnesota but moved to North Carolina in 2020 with my husband and our daughter. After taking some time off to be a stay at home mom to my daughter, I am excited to start a new career here at Independence Academy! As a dedicated child-care provider, I am adept in my ability to deliver safe and effective care in children’s social development and growth. I have had several years of child-care experience, from becoming a mother to my daughter to working as a private in-home nanny in which working with children ranging in age of newborn to 12 years old. In my free time, I love doing anything crafty (especially DIY projects), fitness and health, thrifting/antiquing, family activities, crocheting, and tending to our 12 animals (a dog, a cat, and 10 chickens) on our crazy coop farm!
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. Adeline Petterson
Teacher, Inde Elementary
I grew up in Fuquay Varina, North Carolina. I received my bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Spanish at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 2018. I am also a certified yoga instructor, which includes children’s yoga. After college, I had the opportunity to live in Spain and teach English as a Foreign Language to preschool and elementary school kiddos. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I returned to the US and worked in insurance. I am SO excited to be back in the education field. I am fascinated with finding the best way for children to learn. I love how IA works to encourage independence and support each individual learner. The outdoors has always been a passion of mine and Nature School would have been my dream as a kid. One of my favorite activities is to go on hikes and explore with my pup, Luna. I’m elated to have joined the Independence Academy team and I can’t wait to help your children learn and grow.
Ms. Angelina Hugaboom
Teacher, Inde Elementary
Hey there! I was adopted at the age of 3 in Miami, Florida and raised in Canton, Georgia. I have settled with my husband here at Fort Bragg! I was in the Army for 8 years as a weapon specialist and my husband is currently a combat medic and earning his flight paramedic status. Before moving here, I earned my bachelors degree in French Modern Language and Culture with a concentration in humanitarianism, which allowed for me to teach English in Benin, Africa to young children and students. I have always had a passion for teaching and helping others. When I am not in the classroom, I enjoy photography, art and being outdoors!
Ms. Kyomarie Garcia
Teacher, Inde Elementary
Hola, Me llamo Kyomarie Garcia. I am originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico but have been in Fayetteville, NC most of my life. I speak both Spanish and English fluently. A passion of mine is working with kids. I adore them! I am currently on track on completing my Bachelor’s Degree in Education. I am a dog mom of 3 German Shepherds who love playing outdoors. During my downtime, I enjoy traveling and visiting new countries, and spending time outdoors with my family and friends. I am very excited to join the team and be able to absorb as much knowledge as I can!
Ms. Laura Alderman
Lead Teacher, The Inde Nature Explorer Sparrows
Co-Teacher, Inde Homeschool Hangout
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
Co-Teacher, Inde Homeschool Hangout
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 also go by Abby. I’ve lived in NC for 5 years now, since moving from my home state (FL), and have loved every moment. I am currently attending CCCC to earn my Associate in Science and hope to become a future Veterinarian! I’ve always taken a likening to animals and the natural beauty around me. I hope with my opportunity working at IA that I’ll get to make a positive impact on the kids who attend IA and help open their minds to appreciating and respecting the wild creatures and environments that surround them!
Ms. Monika Gomez
Teacher, Extended Exploration
Ms. Lina Hudson
Teacher, Extended Exploration
Ms. Noelle Rodriguez
Teacher, Extended Exploration