Meet the KaiPod Catalyst Founders

We have carefully chosen over 100 visionary founders from across more than 26 states, out of a pool of over 600 applications for the KaiPod Catalyst accelerator program. These remarkable individuals come from diverse backgrounds and hold a variety of educational philosophies, yet they are all united by a shared dedication to empowering students to achieve their highest potential.

Stephanie Van Horn

Stephanie, founder of Wellspring Preparatory School, is a dedicated educator blending faith and STEM education. Her multiple National Board Certifications and pursuit of a master’s in education reflect her commitment to lifelong learning. With experience spanning kindergarten to upper elementary, she offers a nuanced approach to child development. Through her school, she fosters an environment where students explore faith alongside academics, nurturing holistic growth. Stephanie’s mission is to help every child discover their unique purpose, empowering them to contribute meaningfully to the world.

Sarah Harrington

Sarah is the founder of Solstice Hybrid Academy. SHA was created when she decided she wanted to homeschool her son, but she didn’t have the financial ability to leave her job. Then she had the idea to homeschool a group of students.

She’s been teaching in public schools for 10 years. The first two years, she was a substitute teacher. The last 8 years she’s been focused on art education. She is extremely passionate about using art as a tool for teaching and making our world a better place. 

Her classroom operates out of a school bus so that each day after her students have completed their assignments they can drive to an enrichment destination.

Roekmini Pullom

Roekmini Pullom is a passionate educator, animal and nature lover, mountain hiker, camping enthusiast, artist, and the Wild Hearts Adventure Co. director and co-creator. Kind, authentic, and compassionate, Roekmini keeps the program running and works hard to keep everyone happy and fulfilled with her attention to detail and her problem-solving nature.

She loves to help, support, and empower children and their parents. She’s grateful to feel the connection with nature and art and loves teaching people who are excited to learn. She has a down-to-earth and calming nature. She is a credentialed teacher and has her master’s degree in education.

Suewong D. McFadden

Suewong D. McFadden is a dynamic and accomplished educator based in Phoenix, Arizona. She earned a BA in theatre education from North Carolina Central University in 2016 and an MAT in curriculum and instruction from the University of Phoenix in October 2022.

In 2017, McFadden began her teaching career at Bethesda Elementary, earning a Principal Award for her tenacity as a beginner teacher. She addressed the academic needs of at-risk students with data-driven strategies, rigorous learning, and targeted interventions.

In 2020, McFadden relocated to the West Coast and authored her first children’s book, In Ms. McFadden’s Class. Building on this success, she introduced the Amir & Asia series, with the first installment, Bossy Asia, released in July 2023.

Chris Larson

Chris Larson, an educator for 25 years, sees teaching as more than a profession—it’s his identity. Dissatisfied with the public school system’s inability to inspire and challenge, he recognized the need for a shift. Chris’s decision to leave the system was solidified by his frustration with its post-Covid return to outdated methods and focus on grades over true learning. This epiphany led him to the conviction that he must found a school centered on individualized, God-given curiosity–driven education.

After a stint in a parochial school revealed structural similarities to the public system, Chris realized that fulfilling his purpose required a radical departure from conventional educational norms. He resolved to establish a school that would empower learners to explore according to their individual gifts and curiosities.

Melissa Chapman-Ait Belaid

Melissa Chapman-Ait Belaid is a dynamic educator, instructional coach, and learning consultant with a passion for data-driven visual storytelling and educational equity. With a rich background in teaching, curriculum design, and leadership roles, Melissa brings a unique blend of creativity, strategic thinking, and deep understanding of diverse learners’ needs to her work. Through her innovative approaches to instruction, curriculum development, and professional learning design, Melissa is dedicated to empowering educators and students alike to achieve their full potential.

Meghan Pace-King

Meghan is the founder of Ember Academy, where children can fall in love with learning through a holistic education centered around their individuality. She has proudly served students and educators for 10 years as a paraprofessional, teacher, private tutor, and content area specialist with a passion for inclusive and developmentally appropriate practices. 

Meghan holds a bachelor’s of interdisciplinary studies, K-6 from Western Governors University. She holds certifications in birth-5, K-6, and K-12 ESE in the state of Florida and is reading and ESOL endorsed. Her three children inspired her to study constructivist approaches to education such as Montessori and Waldorf. She believes that each child should be presented with a palette of mediums through which they may learn and practice academic concepts.

Marta MacBan

Marta MacBan is a Phoenix native whose passion for education grew after her oldest daughter started kindergarten during the 2019-2020 school year. After the disruptions in education that spring, Marta embarked on a homeschooling journey that led her to help develop a co-op into a thriving cottage school (a homeschool–private school hybrid). Now in its third year, the school has grown from 12 to 50 students.

Marta has also worked with a local nonprofit to help families navigate school options and programs in Arizona, becoming an advocate for school choice. Seeing the need for more unique school models, she founded Sonoran Learning Collective to serve families in North Phoenix.  

Marta has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and Spanish from Arizona State University and resides in Cave Creek with her husband and two daughters.

Lisa McLean

ProKnowledge Learning Academy, Jamaica

Lisa McLean is a seasoned educator with over two decades of experience, specializing in mathematics instruction. Her journey has taken her from local to international school systems, enriching the lives of students wherever she goes. Lisa is committed to creating dynamic and supportive learning environments that foster student engagement and literacy development.

Throughout her career, Lisa has crafted educational materials that empower students to unlock their full potential. She has published three children’s books, Love Has Wrinkles, Love Has Strong Hands, and Freedom Field.

Lisa founded ProKnowledge Learning Academy as a testament to her support for Jamaican families on their educational journeys.

Katerina Belik

Katerina Belik is an educator with over 28 years of experience. Her journey began when she earned her PhD in Russia at the age of 24 and took her first teaching position at her alma mater. Life took an exciting turn when she and her family immigrated to the United States in 2001.

She eagerly embraced the opportunity to teach English language arts (ELA) in an urban middle school in Houston. She became certified in teaching English language arts, general education, English as a second language, special education, school counseling, and school administration. The ELA department that she led achieved historic highs in reading and writing for three consecutive years.

In August 2022, she embarked on a new venture: educational start-up Vedara. At its core lies dedication to creating an optimal environment for the holistic development of every child.

Karen Anderson

Prevail Preparatory Academy, North Carolina

Dr. Karen Anderson is the founder of Prevail Preparatory Academy, a trailblazing institution dedicated to revolutionizing education and empowering students to reach their full potential. With over 15 years of experience as a teacher, curriculum coach, assistant principal, principal, and clinical faculty for educational leadership, Karen has dedicated her career to disrupting mediocrity and inequities in education.

In 2020, as Karen welcomed her first child, her commitment to creating change in education deepened. Driven by her passion for students’ success, she recognized the limitations of working within the traditional educational system, and Prevail Preparatory Academy was born.

Through innovative practices, personalized learning approaches, and a holistic development focus, Karen and her team are shaping the future of education—one prevailing changemaker at a time.

Jennifer Kirsch

Jennifer Kohnen Kirsch, who has always had a passion for education, plans to open a microschool for middle school students in fall 2024.

Currently a catechist in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program for ages 9 years to 12 years, she serves all three of her children while providing training for CGS assistant guides and parents on developmental stages, grace and courtesy, social covenants, and outreach service projects.  

After completing the Program for Inclusive Education at the University of Notre Dame, she founded Shepherd Them All, a collaborative parent group helping schools and churches to expand inclusive education and build community among families who often feel excluded or misunderstood.

Jaclyn Johnson

As she nears the completion of her doctoral degree in occupational therapy, Jaclyn Johnson reflects on a journey marked by compassion and dedication to empowering children with diverse needs. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in developmental psychology, her path led her through impactful experiences, from nurturing infants in crisis situations to supporting teenagers in foster care. Throughout clinical rotations, she witnessed firsthand the resilience of children facing complex disabilities and the barriers they encounter in being recognized for their capabilities. This realization fuels her passion to advocate for their rightful place in society. She is committed to fostering an environment where every student is unconditionally believed in and provided with the resources, therapy, and education they deserve to thrive.

Julie Philips

As a proud mother of five, including four children with special needs, Julie Philips has dedicated her life to nurturing and advocating for children. With experience as both a foster parent and an adoptive parent, she understands the importance of providing love and stability to those who need it most. For many years, she served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), tirelessly fighting for the rights and wellbeing of vulnerable youth. Her bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation administration has equipped her with the tools to support individuals with diverse needs. With a background as a former park ranger and realtor, her entrepreneurial spirit has always thrived. Now, she eagerly anticipates going full circle by opening a microschool for K-5 students with diverse needs.

Dr. Léa Thompson

Purpose Prep Academy, Florida

Dr. Léa Thompson is a passionate educator with over 15 years of experience igniting a love of learning as a middle school science and math teacher. She also spent over 10 years at the university level preparing future generations of teachers.  

Dr. Thompson also homeschools her own children, where she champions project-based learning, technology, and allowing students to thrive in their “zone of genius.” This passion for fostering student strengths is also reflected in her published dissertation on enhancing achievement in mathematics through project-based learning and technology presented at the HKAECT Conference in 2014. Dr. Thompson believes that by allowing students to operate in their zone of genius, they can flourish. 

Irishia Williams

In Irishia Williams’ journey through education, she’s discovered a passion for making a difference in the lives of students. At Inspire Academy, she strives to create a warm and welcoming environment where every student feels valued and supported.

As an education consultant and specialist in special education, she has dedicated herself to empowering families to navigate the complex world of tailored education plans with confidence. Her commitment to personalized learning, social-emotional development, and embracing neurodiversity shapes every aspect of the programs at Inspire Academy. She believes that education goes beyond the classroom, fostering a sense of belonging and support that extends to both students and their families.

Heather Anderson

Heather Anderson began her homeschooling journey in 2004, motivated by the lack of quality education in her rural town. Heather eventually founded SHARE Homeschool Co-op, connecting the community with each other and the California state charter schools.

Heather’s passion for parental choice has driven her to provide every resource for parents to succeed in homeschooling. She offers community classes and creates opportunities for parents and children to connect.

As her journey progressed, Heather’s initial inspiration evolved into a passion for community-centered education. This led her to establish Classeteria in Charleston, SC, a nonprofit organization all about choice and dedicated to providing innovative teaching methods, embracing diverse learning styles, and prioritizing community-based learning.

Heather Ruggiero

Heather Ruggiero has been a tutor for more than a decade. Despite loving to teach, she originally majored in business and worked with individuals with disabilities at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After moving to Oklahoma, she returned to college to pursue the dream of being a teacher. In 2015, Heather received her master’s in elementary education. While she was passionate about education, the traditional classroom was not for her. Instead, she continued tutoring and began managing a government contracting business.

When she became a mother, Heather was determined to create a better education program for her daughter and others. She envisioned a holistic program that would nurture a lifelong love of learning and honor learners as unique individuals. Meraki Primary School is a place where love, creativity, and connection are the foundations of education.

Erica Ehrlich

Erica Ehrlich is one of the co-founders of Level Up School of Innovation. She and her colleague, Tina, decided to start this microschool as an alternative learning environment for 6-12 students in their community. 

Level Up School of Innovation is a STEAM- and nature-focused microschool in Alabama. Their mission is to provide innovative education that inspires a love for learning. They offer a variety of options to meet the each student’s unique needs, including personalized instruction, project-based learning, and hands-on experiences. They are committed to creating a supportive and engaging learning environment that fosters academic excellence and personal growth.

Erica is a former business and technology teacher. She has a bachelor’s in business administration and a master’s in teaching with a business concentration.

Elisa Hernandez

Elisa Hernandez began her educational journey fresh from high school. She knew she wanted to be an educator, trying out various grades and subjects before finally settling on secondary English. 

When she got her degree and teaching certification in 2013, she was excited to become a high school English teacher. Teaching has been one of the most immense joys of her life, but she has experienced how deep the struggles of a traditional education can be for some students.

She began searching for alternative methods of education. Thus, Noema Learning was born! She is passionate about getting students the personalized education they need. She holds students accountable while still respecting their space and options.

Josh and Heather Tye

Josh and Heather Tye are the co-founders of Revolution Rock Academy, a one-room microschool for elementary-age children that gives students the freedom to learn at their own pace while instilling traditional learning methods in an environment that fosters creativity. It is a multi-age classroom that follows the tenet that in order to master a subject, you must be able to teach it. They want each student to find passion in learning and to do so in a democratic atmosphere where they vote for the projects they want to work on and the subjects they are interested in.

Josh is an entrepreneur and chef. Heather is an environmental engineer who has always envisioned teaching as a second career. Together, they have owned and operated several small businesses and share a passion to not only elevate their own children’s education, but also to expand the opportunity to others in their community.

Dr. Crystal Goins

Dr. Crystal Goins is a wife, mother, and experienced educator with expertise in relationship-based classroom management, social-emotional learning, and restorative practices. She’s also an author and entrepreneur, running The Resilient Teacher Mom LLC and Teachers as Partners LLC.

Heartwise Scholars is a dream school option for her five children ages 3 to 10 that caters to whole families and whole children. It is a homegrown learning community of socially motivated scholars Pre-K3 to 8th grade who take care of themselves, their community, and the world.  Dr. Goins is excited to implement her research and relationship-based practices with an intimate community of three educators and a maximum of 40 students in Chesapeake, VA.

Candice Hilton

Candice, an enthusiastic educator and the founder of Hilton Horizons Academy, brings over a decade of experience working with children.

Since 2016, she has served as a certified classroom teacher, focusing on personalized educational experiences for her students. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary studies: elementary K-6 with a 4-8 endorsement from Tusculum College.

Additionally, she has completed the Eastman Scholar MathElites program through East Tennessee State University. Known for her hands-on and interactive approach to teaching, Candice is dedicated to nurturing the intellectual, emotional, and social development of her students through innovative holistic educational practices.

Bethany Craig

Bethany Craig’s journey through the world of autism started when she began her career as a teacher in a special education classroom. She loved her class but felt every day that she was failing her smart and talented students. One day a board certified behavior analyst consulted in her classroom and opened her eyes to teaching methods specific to her autistic students. She started a new career as a registered behavior technician and learned all of the skills she was seeking as a teacher, which led to a postgraduate program to become a BCBA. 

She and her husband fell in love in an autism center and met a little boy on the spectrum who unexpectedly got placed in their home. From that day on, they were on a mission to share what they’ve learned to help others in this community.

RJ Collins

RJ is the founder of Alectrix Prep, a school dedicated to equipping students with the essential tools to cultivate foundational skills and unlock their full potential academically, emotionally, and socially. 

Drawing on eight years of experience in education, RJ has held diverse roles, including a dedicated tutor, a teacher at a school specializing in neurodivergent students, and an elementary special education teacher. His multifaceted background reflects a deep understanding of the varying learning styles and needs within the student community.

A Los Angeles, CA, native, RJ attended the University of Puget Sound, where he played baseball, before eventually earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Ashley Broadbeck

Ashley Brodbeck is the founder of Riverside Educational Services located in Indiana. Riverside serves students in grades K-8. Students here are met at their level with personalized instruction that is customized to their academic needs.

Prior to launching Riverside in 2023, Ashley was a middle school teacher for ten years. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Northern Kentucky University in middle grades education, with an emphasis in both math and language arts. She furthered her education by earning her master’s degree in education from Brandman University. Ashley has taught in private, public, and charter schools within the states of Ohio, Indiana, and California.

Aneulena Barber

Morning Star Learning Center, Maryland

Aneulena is the founder of Morning Star Learning Center. She served over 15 years in the US Navy as a language analyst. She has six years of experience teaching adult learners and discovered her love for teaching young children while homeschooling her children. She earned her Master of Divinity from Liberty University in December 2023 and holds a Bachelor of Arts in religion and an Associate of Arts in Chinese Mandarin. 

Aneulena endeavors to bring the homeschool experience to the children of working parents so they can enjoy a learning environment that celebrates critical thinking, nurtures curiosity, and encourages each child to reach his or her full potential. 

Becki Cope

Becki is the founder of Beyond the Classroom. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and learning and behavior disorders. Her teaching career began over 20 years ago in Kentucky where she taught K-8th grades. After moving to Mississippi in 2015, she continued teaching in kindergarten, where she focused on building a strong foundation in phonics and number sense. She was awarded the Teacher of the Year at her school in 2021 and was a Curriculum Associates Extraordinary Educator in 2022.

In 2024, Becki decided to take her passion for teaching beyond the classroom walls and open a microschool. Beyond the Classroom enrolls students in 3K, 4K, and kindergarten with plans to grow through third grade.

Alexandra Batista

Alexandra is the founder of Steps Learning Center, a school founded to empower students in the ESE population and give them the tools to achieve their maximum potential and lead the most independent adult life possible. She has extensive experience in education, including seven years in elementary schools. Previously, she worked for Upward Bound, Tutoring Services, and Standardized Testing Preparation Program

Alexandra was born and raised in Puerto Rico where she graduated with a double  bachelor’s degree in elementary and exceptional student education from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico (USA accredited).  She holds certification from the National Virtual Teacher Association.

Angie and Andrew Nippert

Andrew and Angie Nippert are the founders of The Gathering Learning Studio, a homeschool learning community that provides families with a learning space, a learning coach, and collaborative projects that encourage students to solve real-world problems. The Nipperts share a passion for helping every student reach their full potential. 

Andrew worked as an executive in public accounting and management consulting for over 20 years. Recently, he began teaching at Concordia University.

Angie has been an educator her entire life, first as a college professor and now as a homeschool parent. She taught and advised undergraduate and graduate students at Concordia University.

Arman Sidhu

Arman is the founder and lead facilitator at iCubed Learning Inc., a microschool based in Chandler, Arizona. He is a lifelong Chandler resident and state-certified educator with experience as a former principal and teacher in public and charter schools. Most recently, he served as a K-8 principal in one of the largest charter management organizations in the country.

Prior to his career as an administrator, Arman was a middle school computer science and math teacher. He received his master’s degree from the University of Illinois and his bachelor’s degree from Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University. Outside of work, Arman enjoys writing, coaching basketball, and serving as a volunteer and board member for the Chandler Public Library

Isis Spann

Isis Spann is the CEO of FUNdamentals of Learning, LLC, and creator of Kindergarten Kounts®. Previously, Mrs. Spann spent twelve years teaching elementary school in South Carolina. She is a proud first-generation college student who earned her bachelor’s degree from Johnson C. Smith University, her master’s degree from Grand Canyon University, and is now pursuing her doctorate degree at GCU with a specialized focus in organizational leadership and special education 

Mrs. Spann is a dedicated mother of four and wife to her number one fan Terry Spann Jr. They all reside in South Carolina. She believes that every child is a genius, every family is an asset, and every educator has an opportunity to plant seeds of hope in children.

Jack Pannell

Jack Pannell is the founder of Trinity Arch Prep for Boys. He founded Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys in 2015 with 175 students, which quickly grew to 500 boys in grades 4-8. In state achievement tests, Collegiate boys outperformed their peers, with proficiency rates in English and math doubling those of Black male student peers in public schools. Over 1,000 Black and brown families gained access to a school preparing them for selective public and private high schools. 

Mr. Pannell is a Pahara Education Fellow and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. He is the author of Lunch Money Can’t Shoot and a trustee of the International Boys’ School Coalition. Prior to his work in education, Mr. Pannell had a distinguished career in government and politics. He is the proud dad of his son, Carlos. Jack also has a great friend, Icarus, who is an English Springer Spaniel.

Katy Rose

Katy Rose is the founder of NLighten Learning. She has been a compassionate caregiver for nearly twenty years, including ten years as a registered nurse in a Boston intensive care unit. More recently, Katy has launched two microschools in New Hampshire. 

Katy has seen the confidence, curiosity, and love for learning grow not only in her own children, but also in learners in NLighten Learning microschools. The connection that has been fostered through this learning experience with the students and the families validates her mission to continue to grow the nontraditional, flexible learning model.

Jim Pierce

Jim is the founder of The Players’ Academy, a network of microschools supporting the development of student-athletes. Prior to founding The Players’ Academy, Jim served as the founding chief operating officer at YSC Academy, where he played a pivotal role in establishing the first partnership between a sport-specific high school and a professional sports team in the United States. He is an accomplished educator with 20 years of experience in teaching and school administration. 

Jim holds a master’s degree in instructional design and school leadership with a focus on instructional technology from Drexel University. He is a dedicated trustee and head of the strategic planning committee at The Meadowbrook School, a K-6 independent elementary school in Pennsylvania.

Jourdan Simmang

Jourdan is the director of Spyrja Academy, where he wants all scholars of the school to cause ripples in the world, if not be the stone itself. He has fifteen years’ experience teaching in Texas schools. He started as a 5th grade history teacher, and since then has taught most everything, written curriculum, and served as department head and as an assistant principal. 

Jourdan has long felt a force pull him straight into the world of education. He is the child of a teacher, who is also the child of a teacher, who is also the child of a teacher, and, well, you get the idea. Though he initially did not want to follow in his ancestors’ footsteps, destiny is hard to turn from. Jourdan is also a huge Star Wars fan.

Mercedes Grant

Mercedes is the owner of Path of Life Learning. She began her career in a rural school district in Kentucky. She holds a master’s degree in education and has taught in elementary schools for nine years.

Mercedes is a military spouse, fortunate enough to work at several middle schools across the country. She launched Path of Life in the summer of 2022 in order to enable all students to have the opportunity to discover and enhance their gifts and interests. 

Latoya Nelson

Latoya is a Philadelphia, PA native living in Middle Georgia. She holds three degrees, a B.A. in sociology, an M.Ed in special education and an M.Ed in curriculum and instruction with a focus on trauma and resilience in the classroom. Latoya has ten years of classroom experience from K-12 grade, including most recently as a K-5 autism classroom teacher. Previously, she served as a preschool director and a community schools advisor.

Latoya is a married caretaker to two teenagers, one in college at Albany State University and the other an 8th grader. In her spare time, she partners with companies to offer trauma informed and conscious discipline PD to educators. She is a conscious discipline, trauma informed education, and social justice advocate.

Sebastian Predescu

Sebastian is new to the education space coming from a 12-year career in business and technology. In 2022, he began substitute teaching in the San Francisco Bay Area and loved working with students, but also saw many ways in which schools could be better. He learned about microschools while working with the Wildflower Foundation and was immediately inspired by the model. He’s excited to develop Inner Fire Academy, working with 8-12-year-olds to help them unlock their full potential and build an intrinsic love of learning.

Sebastian holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University. He is a Romanian-Canadian former national chess champion who’s lived on three continents and speaks five languages. He enjoys basketball, yoga, reading, and strategy games.

Freddy Price

With over a decade of experience in education, Freddy is an accomplished educator committed to fostering inclusive and innovative learning environments. She embarked on her teaching journey as the assistant director of an education program for Florida refugees. Freddy worked toward a master’s in education at Fordham University while simultaneously teaching in New York City public schools.

The decision to establish her STEAM-based microschool was inspired by personal experience. Witnessing the limitations imposed on her own child’s educational journey, Freddy resolved to create a haven where students could thrive. The vision for the microschool is clear—to create a hub of innovation, where engaging, problem-based lessons empower students with the educational freedom to think critically and find solutions that resonate with their individual interests and aspirations. 

Amanda Lucas

Amanda Lucas is the proud mother of two daughters and one boxer puppy. She is the founder of Lucas Literacy Lab, a Christ-centered, literacy-based microschool for middle schoolers in Woodbridge, NJ. Amanda has been a teacher in charter and private schools across NYC since 2015. She has taught grades pre-K through 8th grade utilizing a child-led, hands-on, project-based approach. Her BA is in English language arts from Hunter College, and she attended Columbia University’s master’s program in elementary inclusive education. Before becoming a teacher, Amanda was a writer and editorial assistant at Parents and American Baby magazines. She has also self-published a picture book about her daughters entitled I Need an Idea. Amanda is a lover of quirks, good books, and strong coffee.

Ashley Walker

Ashley is the founder of thze Las Vegas–based microschool Renaissance Education Center. Following the completion of her BA, she went on to complete her first M.Ed in higher education administration at the University of Virginia. Ashley began working as an enrollment specialist and high school completion program coordinator for a career college. In this role, she realized she wanted to work with students before they reach the collegiate level. She joined Teach for America and completed a M.Ed in English curriculum development with University of Nevada-Las Vegas. 

In Teach for America, Ashley met a dear friend and coworker, Tamika McSwain. During the Covid-19 pandemic, they identified several areas of learning loss and student behavioral issues. They started Renaissance Education Center, a microschool dedicated to empowering parents, students, and educators by prioritizing student needs. 

Elizabeth Ruddell

Elizabeth is the founder of Beacon Academy in Portland, Oregon. She has been teaching since 2013. She is a fourth- generation educator, the daughter of school administrators, a mom to an amazing, autistic kiddo, and an adjunct professor at a local university.

Ms. Frizzle has always been the teacher she strives to be. She desires to provide her students with an exceptional experience during their time with her. She loves to make learning fun, individual, and hands-on.

The pandemic sparked a change in the education system and exposed a greater educational need within many families, hers included. Elizabeth is creating a school where students can thrive. Her goal is to support students and families alike, giving them tools to build a life full of success that extends beyond the classroom.

Tom Dowell

In 2018, Tom started substitute teaching at the middle school level. He immediately realized that this was what God had planned for him. He enrolled at GCU and began teaching social studies and PE in the Kyrene school district after graduation. He had his own classroom for two years and quickly found that there were fundamental problems with public education that could not be fixed without major policy and leadership changes. He began to develop a support system for families who were willing to take control of their children’s education. The idea of a hybrid tutoring classroom program became Premier Academics and Tutoring.

In 2023, he decided to pivot and develop a microschool inspired by his own experience in an all-boys Catholic high school. Moreana Boys Academy is based on the Christian ideals of faith, love, and charity.

Tena Crock

Tena is the founder of Vanguard Learning microschool in Ohio. She served as the VP of marketing and CX at The Step2 Company until 2017 and then established her own digital marketing consultancy, TC Rock. Her career has been characterized by innovative leadership and a heartfelt approach to understanding the needs of parents. She has worked with start-ups, growth-stage, and Fortune 500 companies.

Faced with the challenge of finding the right educational setting for their son, Tena and her husband realized there was white space in the options currently available. That’s when Vanguard Learning started to take shape—a place where middle and high schoolers could thrive in an environment that values subject mastery, self-directed learning, and mixed-age collaboration, all underpinned by Montessori principles.

Shakira Releford

Shakira is the executive director of Connecting Youth Achievement Center. She has worked in education for more than ten years as a behavior analyst, paraprofessional, social-emotional learning coach, academic coach, director of education, researcher, and advocate. She is currently a professor at Ivy Tech Community College in the psychology and communications department.

Shakira has worked in the nonprofit sector and has a wealth of experience and knowledge of public health, urban community development, diversity and inclusion, prevention intervention, and Applied Behavior Analysis. She believes every child deserves the right to learn their way without barriers. That is why Connecting Youth Achievement Center was born.

Gail Ulloa

Gail has 16 years of education experience in Miami, FL, not as a teacher but as a dedicated support professional, evolving from a school registrar to an HR liaison and finally an office manager. In 2020, she and her family relocated to Texas, where she transitioned to a role as a paraprofessional in a SPED (special education program), witnessing the challenges faced by teachers and the lack of support in special needs classes.

Motivated by her 13-year-old son’s experiences with special needs, she founded Unique Families Learning Academy. Her vision is a personalized learning environment, especially for children with autism, acknowledging the diverse needs that traditional schools may not meet. She offers tailored educational experiences, embracing innovation and hands-on learning, ensuring no child’s journey is constrained by a rigid system.

Lina Ragin

A.I.R.E. Academy, Virginia

Lina is the founder and CEO of Rebel Tutoring, a virtual and in-person academic option to empower and build academic skill and confidence in students in grades K-9. She serves students in NY, VA, and WA and is building A.I.R.E Academy, an in-person microschool in Norfolk, VA. 

Lina is from the Bronx, NY and has worked as a teacher and administrator for 15 years. She moved to Virginia Beach, VA in 2020 and continued working in education in homeschooling and coordinating programs in Norfolk and Portsmouth public schools. Her passion lies with helping students expand their visions and create life goals they actively work toward through rigorous academic material, creative experiences and opportunities, and connections in the real world.

Deja Hillis

Deja Hillis, founder of FaithScape Learning Pod, earned an English degree with a certificate in literature from Northern Arizona University, laying the foundation for a career driven by a profound commitment to education and literacy.

Having expanded her expertise with a technical writing certificate from the University of South Alabama, Deja brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. In her journey, Deja has worn many hats: K-2nd grade writing teacher, lead kindergarten teacher and team lead, children’s book author, freelance educational writer, and tutor!  Her space offers students the chance to openly share their faith, conquer fears, and thrive despite disabilities or obstacles.

Dr. Lisa Swinson

Dr. Lisa Swinson is the founder of Creative Minds Microschool. With a background in innovative teaching methods and a deep understanding of personalized learning, she is dedicated to crafting an educational experience that nurtures each child’s unique abilities and passions.

Having spent 27 years in education, Lisa is an exceptional teacher and a visionary leader. Her positions include being a National Board Certified teacher, curriculum director, principal, and state education consultant. She believes in the power of collaboration and open communication, valuing the partnership between educators, families, and the community.

Lisa’s teaching philosophy centers around creating an inclusive, supportive, and stimulating environment where students feel encouraged to explore, question, and discover.

Kimberly Fazzalaro

Kimberly is the founder of Prima Learning Academy. She is an alum of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, where she received her Bachelors of Science in sociology. After working for several years, she returned to school and received her master’s degree in elementary education from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Ms. Fazzalaro is a certified K-8 teacher with several years of teaching and tutoring English language learners in public schools in Arizona. She continues to work toward improving how children learn by blending traditional teaching techniques with the technology of tomorrow.

JoDee Wilch

JoDee Wilch is the founder of Teach to the Child. Her journey began as a parent of a special needs child. She realized that the district services and learning experiences that her daughter received did not help her thrive,so  JoDee decided to become a teacher. After completing her bachelor’s degree, she obtained a master’s in special education.  

JoDee has worked with neurodiverse students in public and private school environments for more than ten years. Her ultimate goal was to open a school for neurodiverse learners.  

In the summer of 2023, JoDee opened Teach to the Child Educational Support Services as a building block for the school. She gets to know each child personally to design a learning environment that works best for them. All learners will feel empowered, capable to thrive, and most importantly, valued as individuals. 

Lindsay Snea

Lindsay is the founder of Rocky Mountain Learning Collective microschool. She holds a Bachelor of Education and has been teaching for four years. Previously, she worked various seasonal outdoor jobs, including a trail guide on horseback, tree planter, mountain bike liftie, snowcat driver, and manager at a ski/snowboard rental shop. Lindsay also owned and operated a trail riding business for three years. 

In 2009, Lindsay’s son Ryder was born. The seasonal outdoor jobs no longer worked with motherhood. Lindsay then ran and operated an in-home daycare for three years. During this time, she realized how much she enjoyed working with children and decided to go to university to become a teacher. Lindsay wants to take her passion for learning and being outdoors and pass it on to our younger generation.

Christina Jones

It started with a vision, a goal, and then reality. Christina is the founder and director of the Academy of Creatives and has homeschooled her children over several years in a hands-on, beyond four-walls-based environment. Developing relationships with learning pods where other parents wanted the same experience for their children was only a blessing to further the mission. Through learning pods and providing academic resources for foster children such as tutoring and life skills classes, an advocacy movement for individualized learning for children became the priority. Christina Jones holds a BA in sociology and an MA in counseling psychology. She works with many families in a social and educational environment.

Brooke Mitschang

Brooke is a dedicated educator with a lifelong passion for learning. She has a California Multiple Subject Teaching Credential, a Master of Education from the UC Berkeley Language, Literacy, Society, and Culture program, and a Child Development Site Supervisor Permit. Over the past 16 years, she has worked within various schools and camps throughout the Bay Area. 

In 2022, she founded the Seeds of Love Collective to facilitate collaborative and meaningful relationships among teachers, children, and families working together to nurture academic and social-emotional development in connection with nature. She serves as the director and teacher of her Open Wilderness Literacy & Science (OWLS) program to foster a kind and safe community for neurodiverse learners ages 6-11.

Joanna Cervantez

Joanna is a passionate educator and founder of A Fuller Education. Since her first year in the classroom, she’s been on a journey of reimagining education and discovering how children learn best. She began as a middle school math teacher in inner-city Los Angeles and later in a school for an orphanage in El Salvador. For the past ten years, she’s been coaching K-12 teachers and administrators to help them find ways to authentically attend to their students’ thinking and transform their classrooms into joyful learning communities.

Joanna holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a concentration in mathematics from Biola University and a Master of Education in organizational leadership from Teachers College at Columbia University. She currently lives just outside of Philadelphia with her husband and their two sons.

Jeanna Buckner​

Jeana Buckner is an entrepreneur with a bachelor’s in computer science and a Master’s in cybersecurity. She owns a staffing firm and she is also the founder of TwiddleU, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization focused on providing education for autistic and neurodiverse children. 

Jeana founded TwiddleU in 2020 to serve the local community. As the parent of a nonverbal daughter with autism, Jeana experienced numerous challenges with finding a learning environment that suited her child’s unique needs. After what felt like an endless search, Jeana realized that individualized learning options for the neurodiverse community were severely limited. With the help of other parents in the area, Jeana created hands-on programming catered to the needs of neurodiverse children.

Yalonda Chandler

Yalonda Chandler was a celebrated teacher for more than a decade when she left her classroom to support her neurodivergent son. Today she is a wife and busy mom of two adult children and two energetic pre-teens who have homeschooled for 12 years.

Yalonda is the owner and head administrator of Legacy Builders Academy. The company initially provided administrative oversight for homeschool families but was inundated with requests for academic support. In 2022, Legacy Builders Academy began offering  K-8th grade STEM classes to homeschoolers. In 2023, the microschool was launched.

Yalonda is the cofounder and executive director of Black Homeschoolers of Birmingham, a homeschool community whose mission is to create a safe space for Black and brown children to learn, play, and grow.