Teachers and Staff

MAGIC IS IN THESE HANDS

Elementary School Teaching Staff

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.

Our Elementary School starts with Pre-Kindergarten and goes through 6th-Grade. In addition to “crew-specific” teachers, we have a dedicated music, art and student support staff for our Lower School students.

Annie Chippendale
Annie Chippendale
Stephanie Brodi
Regine Rogers
Rosie Striffler
Brenda Gants
Colleen Carr
Debrah Arriola-Jacobson
Marisa Capellan
Carolyn Highland
Kate Anderson
Callie Martin
Michael Casale
Susan Perry
Joe Taylor
Patrick O'Malley
Stan Charles
Amy Richards
Katie Bloom
Matt Morrison

Annie Chippendale

Stephanie Brodi

Regine Rogers

Rosie Striffler

Brenda Gants

Colleen Carr

Debrah Arriola-Jacobson

Marisa Capellan

Carolyn Highland

Kate Anderson

Callie Martin

Michael Casale

Susan Perry

Joe Taylor

Patrick O'Malley

Stan Charles

Amy Richards

Katie Bloom

Matt Morrison

Annie Chippendale | Pre Kindergarten Director

Anne Chippendale has been a teacher and coach in the Lake Tahoe area for almost 30 years. Anne earned her Teaching Credential from the University of Nevada, Reno while coaching the Squaw Valley Ski Team and facilitating swimming lessons at the Truckee Pool. Soon after, she began teaching at the State Preschool in Kings Beach, where she developed a fun and creative multicultural program for her students and families. Prior to Tahoe Expedition, she spent four years at Creekside Cooperative Charter School.

Outside the school environment, Ms. Annie loves traveling and seeing the world beyond our immediate reach. She volunteered and cheered for our local athletes at the last two Olympics (Italy 2006, Vancouver 2010), has skied in Argentina and enjoys biking and hiking in our backyard, on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

What inspired you to join TEA? The strong character and sense of adventure in the kids!!!

Where did you go to school? U.C. Davis Human Development, U.N.R. Teaching Credential, Pacific Oaks Early Childhood Education Certificate.

Do you have any special certifications? Early Childhood Education Certificate, Wilderness First Responder

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I’ve ski coached 4-year-olds at Squaw for 35 years.

Stephanie Brodi | Pre Kindergarten Teacher

Originally from Upstate New York, Stephanie moved to Truckee in 2012. Before joining Tahoe Expedition, she taught grades K-2 at Custom Learning Academy and most recently Year One in Auckland, New Zealand. Stephanie has a B.A. in Childhood Education and has both New York and California teaching credentials. Her mission is to create a learning environment that encourages students to take healthy risks so they are able to realize just how much they are capable of. Stephanie focuses on teaching the whole child in light of their individual and developmental needs so that they become life-long learners. Outside of the classroom Stephanie can be found outdoors taking in all that the Tahoe area has to offer. Snowboarding, mountain biking, and hiking are a few of her favorite activities. During the summer months, she coaches downhill mountain biking.

What inspired you to join TEA? Everything about TEA inspires me! From the knowledgeable staff right down to the kiddos. I am especially inspired by the love our students share for the outdoors.

Where did you go to school? SUNY Plattsburgh

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I am going to be an interpretive dancer in my next life.

Regine Rogers | Pre Kindergarten Teacher

Regine was born and raised in Cologne, Germany, where she received her degree in Business Management and International Communication. She has been living in the United States for over 25 years. In August, Regine fulfilled her dream and relocated to Tahoe from the Bay Area, where she had worked as a Preschool Teacher at Alto International School, a German-immersion school, Preschool to Grade 12. She received her degree in Early Childhood Education and Child Development from Canada College in San Mateo and has been passionate about early learning for nearly 20 years. Regine also taught art to Grades 2-5 for 10 years and was a teacher’s assistant during math, science and English language for K-2. Outside of school, Regine likes to spend time with her 3 children, Sophia, Henrik and Philip, exploring the Tahoe region. She enjoys hiking, swimming, and skiing in the winter. Regine has been traveling all over the world, discovering new cultures through art, music and great food. Whenever time allows, she relaxes with Ikebana and floral design and getting together with friends.

What inspired you to join TEA? I witnessed an amazing transformation of students first hand. It inspired me to move to Tahoe and become a teacher at TEA

Where did you go to school? Cologne, Germany Early Childhood Education/Child Development

Do you have any special certifications? Bilingual German/English, CTC (Certified Travel Counselor), member of PARCA (Bay Area based)

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I love to write and am working on a children’s book.

Rosie Striffler | Kindergarten Crew Leader

Rosie believes that every child has unique strengths, abilities, and passions that can be accessed through dynamic interaction and experience. She spent her childhood outdoors exploring her family’s apple farm and brings that spirit of “barefoot” nature exploration to her students. Over the course of the past 8 years, Rosie’s teaching has been focused on nature, science, physics, and social/emotional exploration, language acquisition, phonics, writing, and math skills for Kindergarten. She was first exposed to education by her mother who is a 35-year preschool teacher veteran. As an adult, Rosie began her teaching career at Tahoe Safe Alliance as a Violence Prevention Educator, where she taught Kindergarten through High School and a series of classes at UNR. She graduated from Sierra Nevada College with a B.A. in Humanities and a concentration in Psychology and has also received her M.A. in Teaching. Rosie focused her thesis on the importance of an education that is based on individual students strengths. When she is not teaching she is soaking up life in the Sierra’s or traveling to distant lands.

What inspired you to join TEA? Exploring in nature with children and being students of the unknown together. Being able to teach children about the importance of protecting the planet and each other.

Where did you go to school? I have B.A. in Humanities with a concentration in Psychology and an M.A. in Teaching from Sierra Nevada College.

Do you have any special certifications? 6 + years WRF certified, Nevada Teaching Credential, Student Teacher of the Year 2009-Sierra Nevada College, Fund for Teachers Recipient 2016- Peru “Save the Frogs” Eco-Adventure, certified Waldorf Approach for Public Schools teacher Rudolf Steiner College -2014, shamanic meditation teacher/intuitive.

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I am an artist! I use acrylic/recycled dry acrylic/recycled paper/canvas as my medium. Through my art, I explore the range of human emotions that happen during experiences and relationships through shapes, colors, and images.

Brenda Gants | 1st Grade Crew Leader

Brenda Gants has been working with young children for over 20 years. Her experiences range from being the Assistant Director of a local Pre-Kindergarten to teaching 1st – 3rd Grades in the Lake Tahoe Area as well as in Santa Cruz, CA. Although she has loved the various schools at which she taught, Brenda regards her time at TEA as the most rewarding she has experienced across her entire career. Brenda is very committed to strengthening herself as an educator. She has recently completed a year-long Teacher Induction Program at San Diego State University in topics such as Technology in the Classroom, Special Education, and Teaching Diverse Learners. In 2012, Brenda completed her Master of Arts in Teaching degree, with a focus on 2nd and 3rd-grade informational writing. In her year of completion of the MAT program, Sierra Nevada College awarded her the top honor for Outstanding Project. Brenda loves that her experience at TEA has allowed her to creatively cultivate her instructional and management skills and given her the opportunity to participate in planning curriculum that is well aligned across disciplines. As a teacher, Brenda loves weaving science and social studies concepts into Readers’ and Writers’ Workshops. Outside of the classroom, Brenda’s favorite thing to do is to hop in the car and take a road-trip adventure with her husband and 6-year-old son, Owen. They often don’t know exactly where they’ll end up, what they may end up doing or who they may meet! Both on-and-off the road, she enjoys skiing, dancing, hiking, kayaking, cooking and going on animal-observation journeys with her family.

What inspired you to join TEA? Getting to help students reflectively take ownership in their own learning and while inspiring them to be adventurous innovators.

Where did you go to school? Rutgers University, Psychology and Sierra Nevada College, M.A. Teaching.

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I have slept 2 consecutive nights in 48 out of 50 states (Alaska & North Dakota are the ones missing!).

Colleen Carr | 2nd-Grade Crew Leader

Colleen has been teaching for more than seventeen years. She grew up in the Bay Area but spent a great deal of time in Tahoe during her childhood. Her parents ski-patrolled at Mt. Rose and instilled in her a love of skiing and the Lake Tahoe area. Colleen completed her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and received her teaching credential from Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village. Throughout her years of teaching in her own classroom, Colleen has proven to be a reflective practitioner who pursues continued learning and applies innovative teaching strategies to design and implement unique and differentiated instruction to meet students’ needs in both academic and social areas. Colleen’s pursuit of knowledge and expertise is on-going and includes work with the Teacher’s College of New York, the Center for Childhood Creativity, Making Math Real, the Gifted Foundations Institute of Texas, and the California Reading and Literacy Project. Her curricular expertise and knowledge of meeting the needs of all learners will translate into effective support for both the teachers and students of TEA. Outside of school, Colleen is excited to enjoy all the area has to offer with her husband Rob, their son Macklin and their dog Jake. She will most likely be found skiing with her friends and family, paddling on a lake, or hiking out the endless trails.

What inspired you to join TEA? Having spent the majority of my career in public education, joining the communiTEA has been a breath of fresh air. The way that students learn here is incredibly inspiring and I am honored to be part of the impact, not just locally, but hopefully to a broader audience. As a parent, I have been blown away the impact that TEA has had on our son the last two years. He is inspired, passionate about his learning, and love, love, loves school.

Where did you go to school? University of California, Santa Barbara Bachelor of Arts Psychology. Sierra Nevada College Teaching Credential

Do you have any special certifications? California Clear Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, Teacher’s College of New York Reading and Writing Project, the Center for Childhood Creativity Institute, Making Math Real Training, the Gifted Foundations Institute of Texas, the California Reading and Literacy Project, CLAD Certified, WFA Certified

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I can handstand walk up and down stairs.

Debrah Arriola-Jacobson | 3rd-Grade Crew Leader

Debrah is thrilled to be a part of this inspiring communiTEA. She has spent much of her life moving around. She was born in Florida, lived in Sweden as a young child, and then was primarily raised in Virginia. She attended James Madison University for undergrad where she studied Psychology, and then attended Arizona State University for her Masters in Education. Debrah found her calling to education from a social justice perspective. She is an advocate for and firm believer that all children in the world have a right to attain a high quality education. This belief brought her to join Teach For America where she served two years as a corps member in Phoenix, AZ. After completing her commitment to TFA, she moved to Denver, CO to continue her career in education and seek a home that brought her closer to climbing, skiing and hiking. Debrah has spent three years teaching pre-kindergarten, one year teaching kindergarten, and then most recently spent three years as an Instructional Coach and Teacher Supervisor at an Early Learning School. She comes to us now having just returned to the US after one year of travel through Europe with her husband. Truckee and TEA already feel like home, and she can’t wait to see what this school year has in store for her and her crew.

What inspired you to join TEA? I am inspired by TEA’s emphasis on character, academics, and adventure. I am a firm believer that each of those three elements are equally important in holistically developing children. It is truly an honor to be joining this incredible community whose vision and mission is so seamlessly aligned with my own personal values and beliefs.

Where did you go to school? James Madison University, Bachelors of Psychology & Arizona State University, Masters of Education

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I am a black belt in Tae-Kwon-Do and Swedish was my first language 🙂

Marisa Capellan | 3rd Grade Crew Leader

Marisa’s interest in pursuing experiences “outside the box” began in her childhood. She grew up in a ballet studio donning pointe shoes instead of her now preferred hiking boots. As a former professional ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet and Miami City Ballet, with several film and stage acting credits, Marisa still holds a deep love for the performing arts and integrates her experiences and committed work ethic into her classroom teaching.

Soon after retiring from the ballet world, Marisa began her career as a classroom teacher in 2007. She holds a Masters degree in Early Childhood and Childhood Education as well as a Bachelors in Applied Psychology from New York University. She has taught in private and charter schools on both the East and West coasts as well as abroad in South Asia. Her areas of expertise include fostering growth mindset, identifying individual learning styles, encouraging cooperative learning, integrating kinesthetic learning and teaching mindfulness to children.

In 2012, Marisa moved to the Tahoe area from San Francisco after living in cities for the majority of her life. Living amongst the mountain landscape energizes and inspires her daily.

When Marisa is not at school, you can find her teaching yoga locally, volunteering with the Truckee Tahoe Humane Society, sport climbing, dreaming of her next backpacking trip in the High Sierra and spending time with her husband, Rich, and her dog, Dakota.

What inspired you to join TEA? I’m a lover of adventure, nature, and learning. The combination of the three makes for powerful, meaningful experiences and is the reason why I’m thrilled to be part of the communiTEA. I’m passionate about bringing students outside and allowing them to learn, explore, and form an authentic connection to the natural world.

Where did you go to school? Masters of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) from Manhattanville College, BS in Applied Psychology from New York University

Do you have any special certifications? M.A.T. in Early Childhood and Childhood Education, Clear California Teaching Credential, Member of California Kindergarten Association, certified to teach Yoga through the Yoga Alliance

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I was in the 1993 movie ‘The Nutcracker’ starring Macaulay Culkin.

Carolyn Highland | 4th Grade Crew Leader

Carolyn grew up on the Maine coast, and has been slowly moving west ever since. She studied creative writing and Spanish at Northwestern University, then moved to the Denver area to pursue a master’s in education and spent 3 years teaching in a bilingual 4th grade classroom, and has finally landed in Truckee. Carolyn has also spent time teaching English in a public middle school in Chile’s Atacama desert, working in a backcountry hut on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, coaching middle school nordic skiing in Maine, and leading service & adventure trips for high school students in the summer for Adventures Cross Country. Any spare second she can get, Carolyn can be found backcountry skiing, trail running, mountain biking, backpacking, or climbing–she is a particular fan of long-distance sufferfests. She is also a freelance outdoor writer with work published in Backcountry Magazine, Misadventures Magazine, the NOLS blog, and the Teton Gravity Research website. Carolyn believes that lessons learned through outdoor experience are the most powerful, and feels honored to be working at TEA.

What inspired you to join TEA? TEA inspires me because it is an environment where students use their experiences outdoors and in the classroom to become better people, not just better students. I am excited to help mold a generation of problem solvers, critical thinkers, inspired creators, fierce advocates, environmental stewards, and empowered individuals who will create the kind of world I want to live in.

Where did you go to school? Northwestern University, BA in Creative Writing & Spanish, University of Denver, MA in Education w/ a concentration in Linguistically & Culturally Diverse Populations

Do you have any special certifications? Wilderness First Responder, AIARE Level 1, Fluent in Spanish

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I spent 3 months in New Zealand with the National Outdoor Leadership School sea kayaking, mountaineering and backpacking in 2012.

Kate Anderson | 5th Grade Crew Leader

Kate has been educating students for 8 years in a variety of settings and states. After teaching science in a school garden while earning her Environmental Studies degree at UC Santa Cruz, Kate went on to be a naturalist in the Sierra Nevada and then the East Bay Area. Wanting to have more time with students than the weeklong camps and experience a different part of the US, Kate moved to Asheville, North Carolina. There she was an Instructional Aide in special education classes and explored the mountains, rivers, forests, and crags that Appalachia had to offer.

Kate returned to California to earn her MA in Education and Education Specialist credential from Cal Poly. She was lucky to become the Resource Specialist at the same school where she did her student teaching, and ran the Resource Program for 2 years. Loving her time at Baywood Elementary, Kate was still itching to get back into an area where she could easily get into the wilderness and integrate her background in natural history and environmental education in the classroom.

When she is not teaching, you can find Kate running on trails, exploring new wildernesses, racking her brain for the latin name of the plant in front of her, flipping over logs to see what is underneath, or curled up with a good book. In this next year she is excited to get better at skiing, grow roots in North Lake Tahoe, and be part of the communiTEA!

What inspired you to join TEA? I love the opportunity to use experiential learning to grow a sense of belonging to locality while at the same time empowering students to understand and take hold of their potentials. Using placed-based learning and a hands-on approach, TEA takes rigorous state standards and makes them applicable, so students are able to develop real-world problem-solving skills.

Where did you go to school? M.A. in Education, with a Special Education Specialization from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. B.A. in Environmental Studies with a Focus in Environmental Education and Minor in Anthropology from U.C. Santa Cruz

Do you have any special certifications? California Clear Education Specialist Credential, California Assistive Technology Assessment Certification

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I know a lot about birds, and I’ve handled a number of raptors through different jobs including Red-Tailed Hawks, a Harris’s Hawk, a Great Horned Owl, a Western Screech Owl, and a Golden Eagle.

Callie Martin | 5th Grade Crew Leader

The two greatest joys of Callie’s life are teaching and her 3-year old son, Charlie. Both have provided her life with love, adventure and tons of laughter. She has been teaching on the central coast of California for the past 11 years. Although the Arts are her background, Callie also enjoys all things in the great outdoors. She spent her college years in San Francisco and her winters consisted of weekends leaving at 3am to hit the first runs at Heavenly, Northstar and Squaw. Backpacking, hiking, snowboarding and traveling with students have always been her favorite components of being an educator. These experiences are what ultimately brought Callie back to Tahoe and to TEA.

What inspired you to join TEA? In the past 11 years of being in education and schools I have been looking for a school like TEA! (Not knowing if something this idealistic existed!) TEA’s focus on academics, character and adventure being a part of every child’s education is exactly what I wanted for myself as a teacher and also for my son. Through this group of like-minded teachers, we manage to be unique perspectives, backgrounds, and knowledge to all grade levels at TEA.

Where did you go to school? Undergrad-San Francisco State University, BFA Painting and Art History, Masters in Art Education, Maryland Institute College of Art

Do you have any special certifications? Wilderness First Aid Certified, Member of National Art Education Association

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I am a unique hybrid of southern-girl demeanor and California cool

Michael Casale | 6th-Grade Crew Leader

Michael is excited to join TEA’s unique educational environment! Michael grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania – home to the Little League World Series. He grew up as an avid skier and from an early age was attracted to the mountainous western landscape. After graduating high school, he migrated west to attend college at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Sociology. After graduating, Michael relocated to Meyers, California where he spent winters as Youth Ski Coach and Instructor at Kirkwood Mountain Resort, and summers as Restoration Crew Leader at the California Tahoe Conservancy.

During this time, Michael discovered a passion for teaching and educating youth in the outdoors. He earned a K-8 Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from Sierra Nevada College and completed his student teaching with Sierra Nevada Journeys (SNJ), an education nonprofit in Reno, Nevada. Michael continued teaching at SNJ as an Experiential Educator and Volunteer Coordinator where he developed and implemented STEM curriculum in K-6 classrooms throughout Washoe, Douglas and Lyon county. He most enjoyed engaging with students and families from diverse backgrounds in hands-on science activities, and coordinating volunteers to support local outdoor learning experiences around the Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin.

Seeking an opportunity to integrate STEM and experiential education in a traditional classroom setting, Michael pursued a short-term 6th-grade math and science teaching position at Sierra Nevada Academy Charter School in Reno, Nevada. He is thrilled to continue that journey as a Middle School Crew Leader at TEA – a school whose mission aligns with his teaching philosophy to create engaging learning experiences and foster students’ development. He looks forward to tapping into each child’s strengths and cultivating a curious academic environment in the classroom, on the mountain and beyond.

What inspired you to join TEA? The unique learning environment and experiences TEA provides for the entire school community.

Where did you go to school? University of Montana, Missoula: Bachelors of Science-Sociology

Do you have any special certifications? California/Nevada Department of Education Teaching Credential (K-8), Professional Ski Instructors of America Level II Alpine, AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Safety Certification

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I have been to over 300 live music events and enjoy playing live music with friends.

Susan Perry | 6th-Grade Crew Leader

Susan’s desire to challenge herself and live surrounded by beauty inspired her to move to Tahoe in 2016 after living in the Sacramento area for 38 years. After an unfulfilling career in event planning, graphic design, and public relations, she decided to go back to school again to become a teacher. Susan has her Bachelor’s degree in communication and business, and her Master’s degree in cross-cultural education. She has been a teacher since 2007 and has finally found her passion. She has taught every grade except third, including five years teaching high school students visiting from China. She loves the outdoors, especially kayaking, and anything to do with water. She is on a continuous personal journey to become a better skier and hiker and accept (as gracefully as possible) any other physical challenges that are thrown her way.

What inspired you to join TEA? I love the idea of constructive adversity–pushing kids out of their comfort zone, into their growth zone: academically, socially, and physically. This was something I hadn’t wanted to do personally, until adulthood and now has become a personal quest for me.

Where did you go to school? Undergrad-California State University, Sacramento: Communication Studies, Bachelor’s Degree. Grad–National University, Cross-Cultural Education, Master’s Degree

Do you have any special certifications? Certificate in Graphic Design

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I’ve been skydiving. Twice.

Joe Taylor | Art Teacher

A Kings Beach local, Joe spearheaded the North Tahoe Boys and Girl’s Club art program and has served as its Director for the past four years. Joe has a proven track record as a community servant and works extremely well with children of all ages.

His experience, enthusiasm, and knowledge of his craft make Joe an extremely valuable asset to our community. His love for his subject and background knowledge are the ingredients that are necessary to give our students the skills to identify with their innate ability to recognize beauty while they practice a passion for aesthetics.

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).

 

Stan Charles | Music Teacher

Stan Charles moved to Long Beach in 2001 to earn a degree in music and communications. He played with several groups professionally in the LA area. After graduating, Stan Charles came to the Sierras and formed the band “Truckee Tribe” going on to tour and perform with bands including the Whalers, Reel Big Fish, Eek-a-mouse, and Tosh meets Marley. He is currently living, teaching, performing, and producing in Truckee, CA.

Stan Charles’ teaching experience includes Sierra Expeditionary Learning School, Lake Tahoe Music, Tahoe Music Conservatory, Between the Notes and Split Rock Music.

As a songwriter, producer, and engineer, Stan’s work has been showcased at London Contemporary Dance School, CrisisArt Festival (Arezzo, Italy), and Maligrad Contemporary Dance, (San Francisco, CA).

He has performed live music with members of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse, Long Beach Allstars, and more.

Amy Richards | Elementary School Student Support Services

Amy began her teaching career as an outdoor educator and naturalist for the YMCA on Orcas Island, WA and subsequently the Marin Headlands in the Bay Area. Witnessing the power of experiential learning through the lens of marine and coastal ecology and the character development of the students through low and high rope courses, Amy moved to Tahoe to pursue an Elementary Education credential from Sierra Nevada College. For five years, she taught 4th grade, primarily with low income and linguistically diverse learners in Reno and Sparks.

Realizing the unique educational challenges facing her students, she spent a year earning her Guided Language Acquisition and Design certificate, which integrates the core content areas of literacy, science and social studies to enhance language acquisition and literacy. She continued to incorporate best practices in curriculum development, teaching methods and language acquisition through a professional development course hosted by the Department of Education. After combining meaningful content with explicit literacy instruction, Amy continued her literacy training with the National Writing Project, becoming a consultant for the Northern Nevada Writing Project. In this role, she presented and crafted model lessons regarding the 6 writing traits for teachers to utilize in their own classrooms.

Amy holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees from UC Santa Cruz: Environmental Education and Latin American and Latino Studies. In addition, Amy is trained as a Student Learning Facilitator, improving student achievement through the use of research based engagement strategies, assessment practices and differentiated instruction.

What inspired you to join TEA? Watching all students engage with their world in a true, meaningful way

Where did you go to school? UC Santa Cruz Environmental Studies (BA) and Latin American and Latino Studies (BA). UNR (MS) Equity and Diversity in Educational Settings

Do you have any special certifications? National Writing Project, G.L.A.D. (Guided Language Acquisition and Design), Student Learning Facilitator

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I always lose at mini golf. I am the worst skier in my family but the best snowboarder.

Katie Bloom | Elementary School Student Support Services

Katie was the 2nd grade Crew Leader at TEA 2014 through 2018. Now she is excited to teach students in her new role as our Literacy Specialist and Student Support Services Teacher. Her many years of teaching experiences, ranging from kindergarten through middle school English, have helped her become an expert in how students learn to read as well as identifying skills needed in struggling readers. Originally from Buffalo, NY, Katie is still a big Bills fan. Katie went to college at the State University of New York Plattsburgh, nestled in the Adirondack mountains. Her adventures in the Adirondacks made it easy for Katie to see that she always wants to live in a mountain town and are what sent her across country right after graduation. Katie lived in Mammoth Lakes for seven years, where her experiences as a recreation guide and ski instructor led her into the classroom. She has been happy to call Truckee home since 2009. Outside the classroom, Katie enjoys skiing, hiking, cooking, dancing, reading and spending time with friends and family. Having traveled to Canada, Peru, Costa Rica, and Mexico, Katie’s list of places to visit is still long.

What inspired you to join TEA? Where to begin… I have never been to a school where students are so engaged in their learning. TEA’s focus on having even our youngest students solve real-world problems is inspiring and makes me proud to be a part of the “TEA Magic”.

Where did you go to school? SUNY Plattsburgh, BA English Literature, Cal State East Bay Teacher Credentialing Program, UCSD Reading and Literacy Program

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I get more joy out of reading children’s literature than adult literature.

Matt Morrison | Elementary Program Director

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.

Middle and High School Teaching Staff

Beth Valarino
Beth Valarino
Loren Trux
Natalie Bladis
Adam Smith
Katy Kimple
Nilo Bill
Jess Svoboda
Michaela Fooksa
Zach Neater
Laird R. Blackwell
John Considine
Merinda Zywicz
Charlotte Semmes
Laura Quarin
Mara Jenkins

Beth Valarino

Loren Trux

Natalie Bladis

Adam Smith

Katy Kimple

Nilo Bill

Jess Svoboda

Michaela Fooksa

Zach Neater

Laird R. Blackwell

John Considine

Merinda Zywicz

Charlotte Semmes

Laura Quarin

Mara Jenkins

Beth Valarino | 7th/8th Grade English Language Arts Teacher

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 | 7th/8th Grade Science Teacher

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 | 7th/8th Grade Math 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. ​

Adam Smith | 7th/8th Grade History Teacher

Growing up in the Washington D.C. area, Adam’s first loves were competitive swimming and getting lost along the nature trails near his house. At the age of 12, he moved to La Jolla, CA where he attended The Bishop’s School and quickly adapted his swimming skills into new obsessions with surfing and water polo.

As a senior in high school, Adam achieved All-American status in water polo after leading Bishop’s to its first-ever county championship. But more importantly, in that same year, an inspirational teacher ignited his passion for history and philosophy. After spending a summer volunteering at a First Nations village in the Alaskan interior, and leading a clean water initiative at the “Casa de la Esperanza” Orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico, Adam graduated from high school with academic, athletic, and community service honors. In 1998, he committed to U.C. Santa Cruz where he continued to play water polo and surf, while completing his BA in history.

After college, Adam spent the next 13 years working in real estate in Los Angeles, but, at the age of 35, he decided to resign and pursue his master’s with the intention of becoming a teacher like the one who had originally inspired him. However, before returning to graduate school, he spent 18 months traveling around North America in a camper with his dog “Tuna.” Adam has traveled extensively throughout North and South America, Europe, and Asia, still loves anything to do with the water and has cultivated a new interest in mindfulness practices.

What inspired you to join the TEAm?While I began the process of applying for teaching positions, TEA’s philosophy of constructive adversity through experiential learning jumped out at me immediately. It is precisely the kind of school would have loved to attend in my youth, and I feel extremely fortunate for the opportunity to join the TEA family as a teacher.

Where did you go to school? I attended U.C. Santa Cruz (including a semester abroad in Greece) and Western Washington University. I completed my BA and an MA in history and have minors in both legal studies and Greek.

What’s something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I’ve read every book ever written by John Steinbeck and Kurt Vonnegut.

Katy Kimple | Middle and High School Student Success Specialist

Katy graduated from SUNY Cortland in 2011 with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation became a nationally certified Recreational Specialist in 2012. Katy spent her first three years out of college working as a wilderness therapy instructor and found Lake Tahoe along the way. After moving to Tahoe, Katy has worked in many positions assisting people of all abilities and disabilities. She started a community integration program for adults with developmental disabilities in Truckee and South Lake Tahoe and then transitioned into working for Achieve Tahoe. Katy found her passion for teaching while working at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village. Katy worked for three years as an Outdoor Adventure Leadership professor. Finding that taking students into the wilderness and out of their comfort zone was still a passion of hers. Most recently, Katy utilized her background in disabilities while working at Sierra Mental Wellness Group in social work.

What inspired you to join the TEAm? I believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn and grow in the outdoors and TEA does exactly that, creates growth through adversity.

Where did you go to school? State University of New York at Cortland, Therapeutic Recreation, BS in Science

Do you have any special certifications?Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, WFR, ASIST, and Know the Signs trainer

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should?Backpacking is my jam…I’ve through hikes the Camino de Santiago in Spain and about 3/4 of the way through the Appalachian Trail.

Nilo Bill | High School Math and Science Teacher

Having received his Ph.D. from Oregon State University in geology and climatology after receiving his undergraduate degree from University of Miami, earning a triple major in Geology, Anthropology, and International Studies, Nilo draws from a diverse array of academic disciplines. The pursuit of knowledge has brought Nilo to do fieldwork all over the world, from Antarctica to Alaska. Recently, being named a National Geographic Explorer allowed him to work on solutions to climate change problems in the country of Iceland. This early work of Nilo’s has culminated in several publications in scholarly journals including in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, as well as a coauthor on a high-school level textbook titled The Himalayas: An Encyclopedia of Geography, History, and Culture. If you walk into Nilo’s classroom you will likely find students engaged in hypothesis driven science or discussions surrounding scientific epistemology, or, how scientists know what they know. Nilo believes that an eye toward his students’ future is important while maintaining a healthy dose of fun and adrenaline along the way. To Nilo, no matter where he is in the field with his students there is an outdoor lesson in natural science waiting to be unleashed. The real world provides the most interesting and useful problems to solve, and that is where Nilo’s classes always begin. If he is not talking about science with his students, Nilo is likely comparing notes with students on ski conditions, best Tahoe ski runs and plans of attack for upcoming powder days.

What inspired you to join TEA? Creating students that are the best versions of themselves. Being able to not only teach students science and math in ways that excite me, but mentoring them into proto-adulthood.

Where did you go to school? Oregon State University, Ph.D., Geology

Do you have any special certifications? NOLS Wilderness First Responder

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I love bluegrass music and play guitar and banjo.

Jess Svoboda | High School Math and Science Teacher

Jess grew up in the suburbs of Chicago with a passion and curiosity for science and nature. She began college at the University of Illinois for a degree in microbiology, but soon realized her she loved sharing her passion for science and working with children. She switched her degree and school to focus on secondary education. After graduation, she was supposed to spend one summer in California working at a summer camp. Three years later, she is happy to have found a home in Truckee.

What inspired you to join TEA? TEA’s mission to focus on the student as a whole inspires me. I love that I get the opportunity to help shape character and adventure, as well as academics.

Where did you go to school? Eastern Illinois University, Biological Sciences, Bachelor’s of Science and Secondary Education

Do you have any special certifications? Bachelors of Science – Biological Sciences, Phi Sigma Biological Honors Society, Illinois and California Teaching Credentials

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I spent a year working at an outdoor school in Nevada City. Teaching NGSS-aligned classes out on the trail helped shape my teaching style and practice teaching based on the natural phenomena around us.

Michaela Fooksa | High School Math and Science Teacher

Michaela has been slowing making her way west her whole life. She was born in Boston and received her BA in Mathematics from Colgate University, where she led a math tutoring group at a local high school. She then moved to Nashville, Tennessee to work in a computational biology lab and receive her MS in Chemical and Physical Biology at Vanderbilt University. The next stop was Lake Tahoe, where she fell in love with the unending outdoor activities and the natural beauty and tranquility of the Sierras. Michaela has studied and done research in Math, Physics, Computer Science, Chemistry, and Biology, and she is excited to be able to share her interdisciplinary background as a math and physics teacher. In her free time, Michaela enjoys trail running, backpacking, skiing, swimming, yoga, reading, and country music.

What inspired you to join TEA? Learning through real-world experiences not only cements lessons in students’ minds, but it also allows freedom and creativity to connect classroom experiences to real-life problems. I am excited to help show all that nature has to teach us and to inspire people to connect with and protect the natural world.

Where did you go to school? Colgate University, BA in Mathematics, Vanderbilt University, MS in Chemical and Physical Biology with a concentration in Molecular Biophysics

Do you have any special certifications?  Member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, fluent in Czech

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I spent six months studying intensive statistical theory in Cape Town, South Africa, where I also took a course in African drumming and competed on the university’s swim team.

Zach Neater | High School Humanities Teacher

Zach Neater grew up immersed in experiential education. As a kid in Cincinnati, Zach attended one of the first Montessori schools to offer K-6 education. He continued to water the seed of constructivism in high school at the School for Creative and Performing Arts where his love for writing took root. Zach’s passion for expeditionary education was fostered further as he traveled extensively, even living abroad as an exchange student in Norway.

What inspired you to join TEA? The passion of both the staff and students for experimental education.

Where did you go to school? Ohio University, B.S.Ed, Education

Do you have any special certifications?  Professional Teaching Licenses in Ohio and Colorado

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I cry when dogs die in the movies.

Laird R. Blackwell | ELA/Humanities Learning Intensive Instructor

Laird was Full Professor at Sierra Nevada College for 31 years, teaching numerous courses in psychology and literature, and was Chairman of the Humanities Department for 18 of those years. He has led wildflower field classes for over 40 years and has written several wildflower field guides for Tahoe, California, the Great Basin, and Mount Rainier in the Cascades. In the last couple years he has authored two critical analyses of Classic Detective fiction with a third to be published soon. He has also written two children’s books about Wandering Daisy and her quest to discover herself, which are currently waiting for the illustrations to be completed.

After retiring from Sierra Nevada College, Laird has taught part-time at TEA for the last six years joining several of his ex-college students on the faculty. He is currently teaching Intensives in “Brain and Mind” and “The Animal-Human Connection.” He lives with his wife Melinda and a menagerie of horses, alpaca, llama, goats, miniature donkey, dogs, and cats on a small ranch in Washoe Valley, where he and Melinda provide equine-assisted learning experiences for corporate groups and at-risk kids.

For his 70th birthday, he fulfilled a life-time dream of hiking the Incan trail with a local guide into Machu Picchu, and this year he fulfilled another dream by seeing the 30,000 year-old paintings and carvings in the Paleolithic caves in France.

What inspired you to join TEA? The focus on character and adventure as well as academics, and the philosophy of “crew not passenger.” I am confident that our graduates are and will continue to be responsible and active citizens, advocates of diversity and human dignity, and champions of healthy interdependence with the natural, social, and political environments. They will also be passionate and enthusiastic life-long learners who take responsibility for their beliefs, values, and actions.

Where did you go to school? Stanford University, PhD, Psychology and Education

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? My best friend in Junior HIgh School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was Bob Seger, and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and talk with Barack Obama and Willie Mays.

John Considine | TEA Films Program Instructor

John Considine attended Penn State University where he studied Film and Television Production. While attending school, John worked as a freelance cinematographer for FUEL TV and The Big Ten Network, covering live sporting events and Reality TV shows.

After college, John moved to South Lake Tahoe, CA to film and ski in the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. He began working with Deep Roots Media and Cory Rich Productions as both a Camera Operator and Editor. John has also traveled the world as an editor and guest mentor for Nikon’s Mentor Series. John also worked as Producer /Director/Editor for the Docu/reality series “The Line” for Deerfield Media.

Currently, John is running Considine Media with clients including Red Bull and Vail Resorts. He enjoys living in the mountains with his wife and dog as well as traveling to see new places.

What inspired you to join TEA? The ability to teach and learn real-life skills.

Where did you go to school? Penn State University, Media Studies/ Film and Television Production

Do you have any special certifications? 2017 Telly Award-winning Director for General TV Biography

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I was on once the back of 16 million Lunchable’s boxes.

Merinda Zywicz | Spanish Teacher

Merinda is from California and grew up spending time exploring and playing in the Sierras. She studied International Development with a focus on Latin America and Political Ecology. Her studies focused on trying to find solutions that balance the social, environmental and economic needs of the world, which makes her very excited to be at TEA where students grapple with those problems regularly. She has spent time working with non-profits that tackle these challenges in Ecuador, Chile and Costa Rica.

Prior to working at TEA, Merinda worked as a ski instructor and naturalist in Tahoe. These jobs helped her realize her passion for teaching kids in settings where they are empowered to learn through their own experiences and pursue their curiosities. Merinda also spent a year in Madrid, Spain where she studied Spanish and worked as an au pair to foster language acquisition for the three young girls in the family.

Teaching Spanish at TEA is a culmination of many of Merinda’s personal interest and she is excited to share her passion for the value of language with the students. Outside of TEA Merinda loves to ski, run, climb, bike and generally take advantage of the outdoor opportunities in Tahoe.

What inspired you to join TEA? TEA’s approach towards framing learning as a way of tackling real world problems as well as their acknowledgment of the value of learning through experiences.

Where did you go to school?  University of California Berkeley, Bachelors in International Development with a focus on Political Ecology in Latin America

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I have skied in more countries than states.

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

Laura Quarin | Middle and High School Instructional Guide / Student Success Provider / High School History Teacher

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.

Mara Jenkins | Middle and High School Director / Middle & High School History Teacher

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.

All School Staff

Taylor Simmers
Taylor Simmers
Benjamin Korn
Jack Benter
Greg Wright
Eric Martin
Alex Peugnet
Caroline Kaplan
Alison Levin
Ally Chase
Brian Collier

Taylor Simmers

Benjamin Korn

Jack Benter

Greg Wright

Eric Martin

Alex Peugnet

Caroline Kaplan

Alison Levin

Ally Chase

Brian Collier

Taylor Simmers | Co-Founder

Taylor is co-founder of Tahoe Expedition Academy. Since 1995, Taylor has worked with students in K through 12th grade in a variety of locations and types of schools across the country. He has taught, coached, designed curriculum, led outdoor education programs and served as a school administrator. Since 2004, Taylor has lived and taught in Lake Tahoe and developed an appreciation for and an understanding of the developmental needs of students in their formative years.

Taylor has a B.A. in English from Princeton and a Masters in Education from Brown University. As an educator, Taylor believes authentic products, meaningful academics, and outdoor experiences create long lasting knowledge and important skills for children. To help start a school that combines these educational components has been a dream come true. For the past ten years, Taylor has guided adventure-based trips for students throughout the American West, where he currently enjoys backcountry skiing, mountain biking and climbing on his own time. Taylor lives in Tahoe with his wife and sons, Sully and Mickey, and dog, Olly.

What inspired you to join (or start) TEA? Our culture of iteration and ability to problem solve

Where did you go to school? Princeton University, BA English; Brown University, MAT Education

Do you have any special certifications? Wilderness First Responder, CA / NV Teaching Credential

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? My four front teeth are really white because they are really fake.

Benjamin Korn | Development Officer

Benjamin Korn received his BA in English and American Literature from UC Santa Cruz and his MA in Arts Administration from Golden Gate University. He has worked as a fundraiser for the majority of his career in the non-profit sector and has held major gift positions at Oregon State University, UC Davis School of Medicine, and the University of Nevada at Reno. Most recently, he served as Executive Director of the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada. Prior to his work in fundraising, Benjamin was a freelance violinist and played with the Modesto Symphony and Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition to his educational credentials, Benjamin holds a CSPG designation awarded by Cal State University at Long Beach for specialization in planned giving. Benjamin’s interests include teaching fencing, playing the guitar and violin, and restoring his 1959 Ford Thunderbird.

What inspired you to join TEA? I am inspired by the “start-up” nature of the academy. Because TEA is so young, there’s a real opportunity to leave a lasting and permanent contribution here.

Where did you go to school? Undergrad at UC Santa Cruz and an MA in Arts Administration from Golden Gate University

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I’m a USFCA certified fencing master.

Jack Benter | Director of Adventure

Jack’s career and personal life have been defined by adventure. His career in education began after graduating Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in Education from the College of Charleston when he headed into outdoor and environmental education in 1999; he has instructed and guided groups throughout the western states ever since. Jack’s career thus far has included guiding three-week Outward Bound and NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) expeditions through the mountains, rivers, and cliffs of Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona. He has also developed and led more than 25 different programs as a Park Ranger in Yosemite’s high country, including 5-7 day High Sierra loop trips. For five years he worked for the Yosemite Institute (now Nature Bridge Yosemite), holding the positions of Field Educator, Summer Programs Coordinator, Backcountry Programs Director and Risk Manager. He also has coordinated and directed nature-based educational adventures in Washington, Oregon, Donner Summit, and throughout California.Jack’s passion lies in creating and developing transformational experiences for students. These programs look to challenge one’s inner and outer limitations, while building group cohesion, and creating synergy and lasting accomplishments. He has guided children of all ages to find a deep connection with the natural world, while using it as a launching pad to explore their goals and fulfill their vast potential.

Jack is thrilled to join TEA as its Adventure Coordinator and looks forward to the challenge of integrating the adventure and character development pillars into its academics. When not exploring the vast outer wilderness and mountainous regions spanning the globe from Patagonia to Nepal, Jack enjoys the inner landscapes of the psyche. He studies psychology, is a certified life coach, works locally as a Therapeutic Mentor, and incorporates yoga of mindfulness into his life.

What inspired you to join TEA? Our commitment to adventure and the growth mindset. And expanding the field of education to meet the changing world.

Where did you go to school? College of Charleston, Education

Do you have any special certifications? AMGA, SPI, WOFR, Masters Degree in Psyc

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? Michael Jordan has watched me play basketball.

Greg Wright | Director of Marketing and Communications

Greg’s path to joining TEA was through the world of action sports. Prior to TEA, Greg was at the helm of an influential action sports publishing network whose titles included Freeskier Magazine and Snow Board Magazine. His particular area of expertise is branded content production and distribution, and he’s found an impactful application for that skillset at TEA. From our TEAFilms.org program to our yearbook, website blog, social media, and weekly feel-good-friday email newsletters, Greg is most definitely the “Chief Storyteller” at TEA.

What inspired you to join TEA? The opportunity to use storytelling and content distribution to influence kids to solve real-world problems and advocate for causes they believe it.

Where did you go to school? Sierra Nevada College, BS in Business Administration with an emphasis in Ski Area Design, Layout and Management.

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I love to cook and have even won competitive cooking awards for my pork green chili (that’s made with 100% jalapeños).

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.

Alex Peugnet | Athletics and Activities Manager

Alex’s position at TEA as Assistant Activities Director combines her passion of working with kids, providing healthy activities, and exploring the outdoors. Alex graduated from Arizona State University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science in Health Promotion. Alex’s career has included designing and executing after school programs for at-risk teens, farming, and working with teens as a guide in Wilderness Therapy. Alex started her work at TEA as an Adventure Guide in 2018 and is thrilled to now be a full-time member of the TEAm.

In her free time, Alex loves hiking, cooking, traveling, and trying new restaurants. Alex is excited to live in Tahoe and explore all the outdoor activities available here!

What inspired you to join TEA? I am inspired by how TEA encourages students to be curious, think outside the box, and hones in on the strengths of each student.

Where did you go to school? Arizona State University, Bachelor of Science in Health Promotion

Do you have any special certifications? Wilderness First Responder

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I am passionate about sustainable practices and decreasing food waste.

Caroline Kaplan | School Counselor

Caroline Kaplan is pleased to serve as a volunteer guidance counselor for Tahoe Expedition Academy. Since 2005 Caroline has been volunteering and interning as a counselor in various schools around the Lake Tahoe Basin. For the past three years, she has been supporting Incline High School’s counseling department by serving as their grief counselor and assisting with mentoring students on career/college planning.

Caroline graduated with a Master’s Degree in School Counseling and Educational Psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Music Performance.

Caroline and her husband, Jim, have two daughters, Lily and Hattie. The couple moved to Lake Tahoe in 2003 and they are thrilled to be raising a family in an environment that encompasses both outdoor and indoor exploration and creativity. Fortunately, Tahoe Expedition Academy has come to fruition and we are grateful and proud to be a part of this wonderful community.

Alison Levin | Community Manager

Growing up in Alabama, Alison spent her days exploring the Cahaba, playing catch with her dad, and rooting for Auburn. Her love for education began as a kid when she’d hold class for her stuffed animals and build challenge courses for the front yard caterpillars. She spent her summers at camp and eventually followed a college friend up to the Finger Lakes where she became a counselor and outdoor instructor in Skaneateles, New York.

After 4 years at the University of Maryland (with a semester abroad in Cape Town, South Africa) Alison joined the Peace Corps and spent 27 months in the South Pacific. On a small island named Ambae on the archipelago of Vanuatu, Alison served as a community development advocate and English literacy facilitator. Alison focused on environmental education and incorporating creativity into the curriculum and teaching methods. She was on the Gender and Development Committee and ran several Training of Trainer workshops for the local educators.

Though the whole adventure was filled with successes and failures, some of her fondest memories come from forming a Women’s Committee and building a market house so that each woman can gain financial independence and empowerment with her own income and community role. That, and stargazing after a few shells of kava in the company of her incredible host mama and papa.

After the Peace Corps, Alison traveled for 6 months in Southeast Asia, hugged her family back home, and moved to Lake Tahoe where her camp friends had landed several years before. She has been here since, finding her favorite trails and learning how to ski – and loving every minute in this beautiful place!

Alison is thrilled to join the team and begin contributing to the collective vision. She already suspects that her inner child will become an honor student at TEA!

What inspired you to join TEA? The emphasis on connecting kids with the world: with nature as stewards to the land, with the local community as allies and advocates, and beyond as global citizens and changemakers.

Where did you go to school? University of Maryland, Supply Chain Management

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? If I’m not outside exploring, I’m either at a craft fair with my hand-lettered creations, at the Truckee Roundhouse makerspace learning something new, or in a hammock with a good book.

Ally Chase | Team Manager

Ally Chase has been living in Lake Tahoe for almost 10 years. Ally moved to Lake Tahoe in 2009 from Houston, Texas where she was born and raised. She is a proud Texas Aggie. She graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies. She began her career with Ferrari of Houston where she made her way into the racing world managing logistics as a Team Manager. After her move to Lake Tahoe she joined the Vail Resorts Team at Northstar where she used her Human Resources knowledge as an HR Coordinator then after a year transitioned to the Marketing Manager role. In 2013, she went back to join the car racing world which took her back to Houston but that didn’t last long because she missed Tahoe and quickly found her way back “home”.

As a mother with two little ones, she found that there wasn’t a place that compiled all of the kid-friendly activities in the area and launched Tahoe Kidz – an online community that shares all the happenings going on in the North Lake Tahoe area to help fill her time during her professional break. Ally also has a passion for creativity and crafting.

Ally is excited to continue her adventure here at TEA and is looking forward to bringing her knowledge to help the growth of the school.

What inspired you to join TEA? I love the creative and critical thinking that goes into each lesson the kids learn, the environment and the growth potential that is provided for everyone on campus.

Where did you go to school? Texas A&M University, B.S. Interdisciplinary Studies: Human Resource Development & Business

What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? The very first time I went camping was when I did the Napali Coast in Kauai, hiked 11 miles to the campsite and 11 miles out.

Brian Collier | Facilities Manager

Brian has worked at Tahoe Expedition Academy for 5 years as the school’s Facilities Manager. Prior to his time at TEA Brian worked locally and abroad in an array of different industries. He enjoys motorsports, camping and watching, playing and coaching a variety of sports. He has a wife and two children.