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. Becky Thienel
Ms. Savannah Kushner
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!
I’m very excited to be joining the team here at Independence Academy! I am a lover of nature and all things outdoors and have spent the past couple of years in the environmental education field. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies from Florida Gulf Coast University. After graduating, I became the Education Coordinator for CREW Land & Water Trust, where I had the opportunity to coordinate and lead field trips for kids of all ages out on the primitive trails at CREW. It was amazing to be out in nature with the kids, getting to see their excitement over every little thing. Whether we were trudging through the mud on swamp walks and discussing watersheds or getting to touch different types of soil that we collected with a soil auger, you could see the wonder in their eyes! I also had the opportunity to be an environmental educator at Phinizy Center for Water Sciences, which is an amazing nonprofit like CREW. I feel that kids today often don’t spend enough time out in nature, which is why I’m so excited to be a part of helping with the expansion of The Inde Nature School here at Independence Academy. I’m looking forward to working on special projects related to the physical environment as well as community building projects, that will assist with carrying out the mission and core values here at IA. When I’m not working, I’m spending time with my husband and fur baby, Daisy, out hiking and exploring!
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
Ms. Racheal Locklear
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. Christine Ireland
Lead Teacher, The Maple Room
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.
Ms. Madison Nicholson
Assistant Teacher, The Maple Room
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. 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
Lead Teacher, Inde Nature School
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. Aubrey Childers
Assistant Teacher, Inde Nature School
I am very excited to be part of the Independence team! I have lived in North Carolina for the last year after my husband and I PCS’d here. I originally started working in a daycare in High School in my home state of Alabama. It was there that my passion and love started growing for children. I have over two years of experience in child care facilities and I have also been a nanny. When I first moved to North Carolina I realized that I missed the children from back home and how they would enrich my days so much. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I am currently working towards my Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education at Western Governors University. Outside of school, I am taking my dog on walks, listening to music, dancing, and doing yoga.
Ms. Valerie Coe
Teacher, Extended Exploration
Ms. Savannah Kushner
Teacher, Extended Exploration
Ms. Tara Yoder
Teacher, Extended Exploration
Ms. Kristina Ivey
Teacher, Extended Exploration
Ms. Kristen Godfrey
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!
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 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!