Get Outside Your Comfort Zone
And Learn How to Thrive in the Most Uncomfortable Situations
Our approach is centered around three guiding principles – academics, character, and adventure. Engaging academics and real-world adventures empower students to reach their full potential by cultivating intellectual growth, character, and confidence. We focus on fun and engaging problem-solving challenges – called Learning Expeditions – that extend the definition of a classroom out to the real world. It’s much, much more than occasional field trips or travel-abroad programs. Our Middle School students spend 30+ days in the field, actively engaging with experts on incredible projects and adventures that challenge them in unexpected ways. Throughout these Learning Expeditions, we intentionally create and engage with adverse situations to grow our student’s comfort zones. We call it Constructive Adversity, and it’s what sets our school apart from others.
Our core subject areas include English Language Arts, Math, Science, STEAM (Science / Technology / Engineering / Arts / Math) and Social Studies. Students learn core academics and the arts through multidisciplinary projects to gain a deep understanding of the subject matter. In this respect, we teach both breadth and depth – breadth in the sense that students learn a wide range of content and skills and depth because they regularly have the opportunity to apply the learning in real-world contexts. Our students spend significant time learning reading, writing, and math. We address the same Common Core Language Arts and Math standards, Next Generation Science standards and National Council for Social Science standards that other schools address.
Character development, service learning and leadership training are important elements for academic achievement, social emotional learning and ethical development. At TEA, “We are crew, not passengers,” and each student is a member of a crew. In these small, supportive groups, each student is known well and engages in the proactive cultivation of character and leadership. We help students nurture character values and practice meeting adversity head on so our graduates have the courage and intestinal fortitude to “survive and thrive” when things get tough.
Adventure is an integral component of our program and we have intentionally created more regularity, accessibility and intensity of our students’ adventures inside and outside the classroom. We spend one third of our time in the field working with experts and engaging firsthand. Both in the classroom and on field studies, teachers serve as mentors and guides; challenging, supporting, and inspiring. Moreover, our talented faculty encourage students to take calculated risks, produce quality work and realize their potential as scholars.
Learning Expeditions Drive Our Curriculum - "Be A Movement Maker" Example
We partner with EL Education, which now includes 170 schools and nearly 50,000 students nationwide, to collaborate with a professional network of schools and educators and to validate our program. EL Education is a proven model for educational reform that has gained national recognition. Learning expeditions are the core component of our academic program. Expeditions make content come alive for students, with kick-off and culminating experiences, compelling topics, guiding questions, learning targets (based on state and national standards), hands-on fieldwork, experts, local case studies, service learning and authentic products.
Our Middle School “Be a Movement Maker” Learning Expedition is about moving society, and in many ways, it’s as much about young people emerging into the world and finding their voices as it is about challenging retrogressive social norms. During the Learning Expedition, students engage in authentic fieldwork in the Bay Area, conducting climate change research, honing their craft, and studying the complex work of professional scientists, poets, and social justice advocates. Their final product, a Youth TEDx presentation focused on issues of climate change, integrate all of their learnings and then present them before a community audience. In this work, students use their knowledge to deliver a powerful oratorical piece that is as informed by the spirit of movement makers as it is by the indisputable facts of science.
Through the “Be a Movement Maker” Learning Expedition, Luke was inspired after learning more about climate change. When he found out the cost of the greenhouse was $5,000 he felt there had to be a better way. “And that’s why I invented the Hexadome. The Hexadome cuts down on global emissions from long distance food transportation that litters about 31 percent of our total carbon footprint production.”
What Sets TEA Apart
Every day begins with a crew meeting. This is a way to make every student feel included, to greet one another and to center themselves in the learning environment, to resolve any social issues, to address any concerns and to come together as a community.
Semester long, interdisciplinary curricula that use a topical lens and specific case studies to explore content in depth and engage with real world learning, problem solving and skills development.
Field Studies, Experts and Service
Learning Expeditions embed and integrate field studies, experts and service learning into a larger curriculum unit. By traveling into the natural world as well as to regional, national and international communities and locales, students are able to extend and apply their learning in authentic ways and to engage in realistic, hands-on learning experiences. Equally important, our students are able to expand their scope of understanding about the world around them and truly develop and grow as global citizens by meeting with experts and professionals in the field. Beyond the classroom walls, students engage in acts of service, locally, nationally and globally. During field studies, they collaborate with local organizations, engage with relevant experts and contribute to their community through entrepreneurship and volunteerism. By giving and intentionally directing their efforts, intellect and resources to where it can benefit the greater good, students become active citizens in their communities.
These are mixed age classes focusing on life skills such as sewing, blacksmithing, dancing, ceramics, and stewardship. Students choose their guilds in the beginning of each semester and enjoy mixing up the social dynamic through fun Friday Afternoon activities.
Meet Our Amazing Middle School Teachers
Our faculty and staff empower students to question, think, explore and lead. Relationships between our students and teachers are paramount to creating a community of care, service, and commitment. To learn more about our faculty and staff please click below. In addition to “crew-specific” teachers, we have a dedicated music, art and student support staff for our Middle School students.
Matt Morrison | Middle School Dean of Students / Middle School Crew Leader / History Teacher
Matt’s passion for teaching came from his time as a snowboard instructor at Northstar. Though he enjoyed instructing adults, it was the kid groups that truly made him smile. Life had other plans though, and Matt put his ideas of teaching on hold while working in the private yacht industry, plying the waters of the South Pacific during the winters and cruising around New Zealand during the summers. He ended up going back to school to get his teaching degree in New Zealand and worked in a local elementary school as a 4th/5th-grade teacher for 2 years before moving back to the USA. Once back home in 2012, Matt joined TEA where he taught 5th grade for 6 years before making the transition to the Middle School and High School in 2018. Matt was thrilled to join the Middle and High School team and have the opportunity to focus in on his love of history, while also helping to solidify the Middle School as an integral part of TEA.
What inspired you to join TEA? Seeing my kiddos come home from school each day with smiles on their faces and stories to tell
Where did you go to school? University of Waikato / Graduate Diploma in Teaching; Sierra Nevada College / BS in Business Administration
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I have logged over 26,000 nautical miles at sea.
Beth Vallarino | Middle School Humanities Teacher / Middle School Crew Leader
Beth was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. After she graduated from high school, she attended a small college in New Hampshire for a year and a half before moving back to Hawaii to finish her undergraduate degree. During her college years she participated in four separate study abroad programs that took her all over the world. She studied French and Environmental Science in Tahiti, sailed around the Marquesas Islands learning through a lens of Pacific Archaeology, and sailed around the world two times while taking college classes through a program called Semester at Sea.
After she graduated from college, her life and teaching career took her on a journey teaching and living abroad. After spending ten years teaching at private international schools in Central America and in the Middle East, she returned to the United States where she taught at a college preparatory school in the Pacific Northwest.
Beth is excited to embark on her second year teaching at TEA, and her 13th year teaching Middle School. Her passion for life and love for adventure resonates through the experiences and opportunities she provides for her students. In Cairo, Egypt, she spent four years facilitating an outdoor education program in addition to classroom teaching. She organized sandboarding trips to the Fayoum desert, windsurfing trips to the Red Sea, horseback riding to the pyramids, and trips into lesser known Oases outside of Cairo’s city sprawl. One of the highlights of her life was returning to Cairo in June 2018 to surprise her former students at their High School graduation!
Some of Beth’s personal interests include reading, writing, surfing, stand up paddling, cycling, mountain biking, hiking, running, snowboarding, traveling, floating rivers, and spending time with her golden retriever. She’s been to over 50 countries, ran a half marathon, and summited Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, and Mount Meru. On the weekends you can find her luxuriating in all of the glory and joy Lake Tahoe has to offer.
What inspired you to join TEA? Working at TEA has inspired a daily practice of gratitude and self-reflection. It’s helped me to look at mistakes or missteps as areas for growth, rather than areas of being small. It’s helped me to ask myself “What can I learn from this? How can I grow? What more can know or learn in order to be successful next time?”
Where did you go to school? Chaminade University, BA in English, MAT, and MEd.
Do you have any special certifications? WFA Certified
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? One of my core values is having an appreciation for beauty and excellence. Clear blue skies, sunsets, and sunrises electrify my soul.
Loren Trux | Middle School Math and Science / Middle School Crew Leader
Loren earned his California Multiple subject Teaching Credential from Chico State University and is currently working toward a Waldorf teaching certificate. During his most recent teaching experiences in Waldorf education he discovered many alternative methods for reading instruction and teaching techniques. Loren discovered his passion for working with children at a day camp in Tahoe City more than fifteen years ago and is very excited to be doing what he loves in Tahoe once again. He is eager to learn more about the expeditionary model and looks forward to sharing his ideas with the communiTEA.
He also enjoys many outdoor activities including mountain biking, kayaking, fishing and exploring nature with his family. Loren likes to play music and work making things with his hands. He lives in Kings Beach with his wife Ashley and daughter Iyla. Loren believes that a teacher’s task is to help each student reach their greatest potential. To do this he must be a guide, and companion in the pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit should be authentic for the student and teacher.
What inspired you to join TEA? The opportunity to help kids reach their greatest potential.
Where did you go to school? California Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from Chico State University
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I am an avid blacksmith and teach a blacksmithing class at TEA’s summer camp.
Natalie Bladis | Math and Science Teacher
Natalie was born in Westchester, New York and grew up on Lake Rippowam in South Salem where her love of the outdoors began. In high school, she took a class called Wilderness which sparked her interest in entering the fields of outdoor and project-based education. She even wrote her college application essay about being a high school math teacher.
After high school, Natalie attended the State University of New York at Geneseo where she studied Mathematics and Secondary Education. The summer after her junior year of college, Natalie hiked the Pacific Crest Trail before teaching abroad in Ghana West Africa during her senior year.
After college, she moved to California to be closer to bigger mountains and teach at a project-based learning school called Da Vinci Charter Academy in Davis. At Da Vinci, Natalie taught Integrated Math 2, Algebra 2/Trigonometry, AP Statistics, and AP Calculus AB. Natalie also founded and coached the Ultimate Frisbee team.
Here in California, she has learned to rock climb and ski. In her spare time, Natalie enjoys yoga and creating ceramic art.
What inspired you to join the TEAm? The most inspiring aspect of TEA for me is the concept of constructive adversity. I seek out constructive adversity in my own life every day to become the best version of myself. One of my personal core values is to face my fears with perseverance and an indomitable spirit. To work at a school that shares this core value inspires me to push myself and help my students set goals that push them every day in the academic setting.
Where did you go to school? SUNY Geneseo, Mathematics and Secondary Education, Minor in Asian Studies (Visual Arts)
Do you have any special certifications? I’m a Yoga Teacher and Ceramic Artist
What’s something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? Even though at heart I am a mountain girl, I love creatures of the sea. I once carried 2 whale vertebrate (each about 3 feet in diameter) 10 miles on the lost coast trail for my collection of sea things by strapping them to my already full pack. I have since traded one of the vertebrae for a moose skull.
Charlotte Semmes | Art Teacher
Charlotte was born and raised in Maryland, outside of Washington D.C. She studied Fine Arts and Anthropology at Skidmore College in upstate New York. Directly following her graduation in 2004, she took a cross-country road trip with her best friend, eventually landing in San Francisco. There she pursued her longtime passion of working in textile and apparel industries while intermittently traveling and volunteering with youth in the visual arts. In 2011, Charlotte received a teaching fellowship in a newly evolved Design research program at UC Davis where she completed her MFA in Textiles. Realizing the joy she found working one-on-one with students, she acquired her California teaching credential in Art. She trained at a Waldorf-inspired high school in Sacramento and taught for one year in the Central Valley before joining her husband in Truckee.
What inspired you to join TEA? The focus on experiential and exploratory education. This is how I always learned best so I’m proud to be working at school who values this.
Where did you go to school? MFA in Design, UC Davis; Bachelors in Fine Arts, Skidmore College; Sac State teaching credential Art K-12
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I have a baby named Penelope who was born on Christmas Eve, and I started a business designing baby blankets and clothing when she was born www.penelopeprints.com
Michelle McCay-Moran | Spanish Teacher
A graduate of UC Davis (BA) with a Major in International Relations and Minors in Spanish and Anthropology and a MA in Cultural Anthropology from the Universidad de las Américas, Puebla, Mexico, Michelle has been a bilingual teacher for over 25 years. Michelle has studied, worked and lived all of her adult life in or around the Spanish language. Michelle’s teaching background includes pre K through college formal classroom instruction though she has also directed her own private language school “Learn Spanish Now!” while teaching students of all ages throughout the greater Northern California, Nevada County and the Tahoe regions for the past 17 years after she returned to Northern California, from Mexico in 1996 to marry her true love and start a family. Michelle’s passion for all things Spanish and the art of teaching allows her to constantly implement her dream of connecting people in the world while helping them realize their goals, strengths and passions through learning and language every day.
What inspired you to join TEA? TEA’s commitment to character and adventure with a strong foundation in academics sensitive part of today. I see Steve Mo commitment to character and adventure with a strong foundation academics sensitive heart today. I believe our students do more, see more, feel more and grow more because the opportunities TEA gives them every day!
Where did you go to school? Graduate of UC Davis, International Relations Specializing in Third World studies, minors in Spanish and specializing in Third World studies, minors in Spanish and Cultural Anthropology; Masters, Universidad de las Américas, Mexico, MA in Cultural Anthropology, specializing in Environmental Anthropology.
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I am a steadfast supporter of varied forms of social justice and environmentalism as a life-long participant in activism and volunteerism wherever I have the good fortune to be.
Patrick O'Malley | Physical Education Teacher
Patrick grew up in Massachusetts spending more time outside than anywhere else, playing sports, adventuring through the forests, and exploring with friends. After graduating from Bucknell, he did a cross-country bicycle trip from California to New Jersey, raising over $1 million for his school. Soon after his trip, he went into the world of finance in NYC…which only lasted a few short years before his sense of adventure took hold once again and never subsided.
Since quitting his job in NYC, he has been a ski-bum in Colorado, lived and traveled across Europe, taught in Central America, spent a number of summers leading mountain bike tours in Alaska, and has recently come back from an eight-year stint in Asia where he started a school in South Korea and managed a high school in China. While doing all of this, he earned his Masters in Education, backpacked across most of Asia, played Ultimate Frisbee at a World-class level, and has helped raise money for different local passions in every country he has lived.
While in Alaska last summer, he was given an opportunity to come to Tahoe for the first time (ever!) to help some friends with an emerging business. While trying to figure out a life in Tahoe, he came across TEA has loved being a part of such a dynamic school! One job isn’t enough, however. When not TEAching, you can find Patrick giving adventure tours around the Lake, organizing sports and events for TCPUD, touring people around breweries on Tahoe, and everywhere in between! When he has a day off (rare) you can find him playing with his Ultimate Frisbee club team, taking advantage of EVERYTHING the Tahoe-area has to offer, or laying in a hammock with a crossword puzzle or a book!
What inspired you to join TEA? The fluidity. Having started a school, I understand how hectic scheduling and logistics can be, but I love how the TEA family goes with the flow and is more concerned with the EXPERIENCE over anything else.
Where did you go to school? Bucknell University – Accounting/Econ, Philosophy; Univ. of Missouri – Masters in Education
Do you have any special certifications? Wilderness First Responder
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I was once a CPA (not something I brag about, haha).
Lindsey Cunningham | Middle School Student Support / Middle School Crew Leader
Born and raised in Southern California, Lindsey has spent the last 10 years in San Diego where she went to school and then began teaching. Lindsey was born with a passion to teach and impact those around her. She first taught preschool for two years, and then transitioned into a program called Arrowsmith that retrained the brain for those with learning disabilities. Following that program she transitioned into older grades where she has spent the last 3 years teaching.
What inspired you to join the TEAm? Allowing students to experience real-life situations that build their character. TEA is inspirational because it is scaffolding a generation to become problem solvers.
Where did you go to school? Point Loma Nazarene University; Child and Adolescent Development (B.A.); Master of Arts of Teaching (M.A.T.) with a focus in Learning Disabilities
What’s something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? Something that not everyone knows about me but probably should is that I went to Africa and experienced several life changing events through working for a family in a village. In return I still write letters to one of the daughters on a regular basis and am able to sponsor her education and access to food and health care.
Laura Quarin | Instructional Guide / Student Support
Though originally from Canada, Laura’s love of exploration and travel have taken her all over the world. Laura has been fortunate to live and work in Canada, Australia, Panama, Egypt and now the United States. She has taught a variety of academic subjects, served as an athletic director in two different countries, worked as the humanities specialist and principal at a small school outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, and had an incredible first year at TEA as the Middle and High School Student Support teacher. Through Laura’s experience in various educational contexts, she has developed a passion for facilitating opportunities for young people to learn and grow in ways that inspire them. Her experience has taught her that given the right levels of engaging content, emotional support and academic challenge, all students can grow toward their own unique potential. Laura is a lifelong learner who follows her curiosity into historical non-fiction, through travel to new places and into the mountains as often as possible. She is grateful to have the opportunity to continue living out her passion for actively exploring the outdoors in the beautiful Tahoe area. Laura is in awe of the positivity of the entire TEA community and loves being a part of it.
What inspired you to join TEA? The incredible level of growth I’ve witnessed TEA students experience, both in their academic depth and character development, as a result of their emersion in real-world constructive adversity, is absolutely astounding.
Where did you go to school? Brock University – Bachelor of Kinesiology/minor in History; University of Wollongong – Diploma of Education; Western Kentucky University – Masters of Science in Athletic Administration
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? Laura has summited three of the highest peaks on the African continent: Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, and Mount Meru.
Eric Martin | Director of Athletics and Activities
Eric graduated from Salisbury University in 2004 with a BS in Business Marketing. At Salisbury, Eric had a standout lacrosse career — winning two National Championships in 2003 & 2004 and was named the 2003 & 2004 National Defenseman of the Year and the 2004 National Player of the Year. The summer following college, Eric was drafted by professional lacrosse teams in New York and California. After spending time on both coasts Eric made San Francisco home for the next 8 years, that is, while he wasn’t flying to/from or playing lacrosse games across North America. Eric enjoyed a nearly 10 year professional lacrosse career in the National Lacrosse League and Major League Lacrosse. Eric was a member of the US Men’s National Team that won the 2010 World Championship in Manchester, England. He’s a member of the Salisbury University Athletics Hall of Fame. Eric started working at TEA at the beginning of the 2011/12 school year. Prior to moving to Tahoe, Eric worked in sales and marketing within the sport and manufacturing industries. He directed and coached One City Lacrosse, a non profit that introduced lacrosse to underserved youth in San Francisco. He also co-founded and ran a lacrosse camps business. Eric believes that athletic participation and competition define character and perseverance. Eric will draw from his extensive professional background to help students discover and pursue their athletic passion.
What inspired you to join TEA? The opportunities and challenges that Lake Tahoe and its surrounding lands provide to everyone willing to step out of their comfort zone.
Where did you go to school? Salisbury University, BS in Business Marketing
Do you have any special certifications? High Sierra Lacrosse Board Member, Wilderness First Responder
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I’m a better cook than you.
Mara Jenkins | Middle School Program Director
Mara Jenkins was born and raised in Oregon. Whether it was skiing Mt. Hood, traveling the world with her family, hiking the Pacific Northwest or camping up and down the West coast, Mara spent her childhood taking advantage of the beautiful world around her. Mara attended the University of Oregon to earn a Bachelor of Arts in History. After graduating, she moved to Tahoe and enrolled at Sierra Nevada College where she earned her teaching credential in secondary social studies as well as a Master of Art in Teaching. Her master’s thesis focused on using primary and secondary sources to teach about social injustices throughout history. Mara is passionate about connecting history to current events and sharing the passion for learning that she enjoys with her students. Mara has worked in a variety of settings with students ranging in levels from Kindergarten through University. In 2016, Mara joined the faculty at Tahoe Expedition Academy and has been the high school history teacher, 11/12th grade crew leader, Dean of Students, and Middle School and High School Director. Mara is passionate about bringing real-world experiences to the students of TEA and ensuring they have the skills and abilities to leave TEA to become courageous citizens of the world. She was drawn to her leadership position in order to advocate and support students, parents, and teachers while contributing to the “magic sauce” of TEA.
What inspired you to join TEA? TEA allows teachers to bring curriculum alive in order to make learning fun, challenging, and applicable to the real world. Traveling for fieldwork with students allows them to dive deeper into content, work with experts, develop a multicultural understanding of the world, and allows the student and teacher relationship to develop. When I see TEA students alongside students from other schools I am always blown away by their social and emotional maturity. TEA allows us to bridge the gap between rigorous academics, social-emotional learning and character development, and real-world adventure. At most schools, it is hard to implement change, but at TEA we thrive on it because we live in a dynamic world.
Where did you go to school? University of Oregon, B.A. History + Sierra Nevada College, M.A.T.
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I love cooking and baking. I used to make wedding cakes and novelty cakes for special events.