Staff & Faculty


Gretchen Bucsko Head of School

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Education: University of Alaska Anchorage, M.ED Educational Leadership, Principal Certification K-8; University of Alaska Fairbanks, B.A. Elementary Education K-8

Gretchen Bucsko came to The Franklin Academy in 2014. She grew up in rural Alaska. When she was in high school, her small town ran out of classes for her to take, so they had her work as a teacher’s aid for elementary students. It was here that her passion for working with children first developed. She went on to receive her teaching certification and a degree in Elementary Education (K-8) from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Gretchen taught for many years in both Maine and Alaska, primarily 1st and 2nd grades. She received a master’s degree in Educational Leadership with a principal certificate from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She served as the lower school director at Pacific Northern Academy in Anchorage, Alaska, and at The Franklin Academy before becoming the Head of School at The Franklin Academy in 2019. She is glad to be part of such a welcoming community that truly values education. When she is not working, Gretchen enjoys exploring our area and spending time with her husband, her daughter, and Golden Retriever.

A favorite saying: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison

Melanie Hurley Associate Head of School

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Education: M.Ed., University of Sioux Falls, Educational Leadership and Reading Specialist K-12; B.S., Black Hills State University, Elementary Education, Middle School Minor (LA, Social Studies, Science); Orton-Gillingham Certification

Melanie Hurley joined The Franklin Academy in 2021. She attended Black Hills State University in South Dakota where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Middle School Minor. She continued her education at The University of Sioux Fall obtaining a master’s degree in Educational Leadership and K-12 Reading Specialist. Teaching and learning are her passion. From helping school districts meet rigorous standards, while learning how to differentiate to best meet students’ needs, Melanie has coached new teachers as well as veteran teachers to meet students where they are academically. 

Melanie’s experiences over the past 20 years have been in teaching children, adults and in administration: this has afforded her incredible opportunities; presenting international conferences, coaching school districts, developing school wide STEM projects and curriculum, mentoring new teachers, implementing reading challenges, creating school and district events and summer reading programs. 

Melanie’s educational experience began as a General Educator then Title One and District Literacy Leader. She taught K-5 and was a district demonstration classroom teacher. Her experience ranges from classroom teacher, to professor, superintendent, Department of Education consultant and coach. She has worked at both private and public school settings using her drive, inspiration and creativity to work serving students.

Melanie Hurley loves the outdoors and her family. She has a daughter who is her best friend and what she calls her “everything.” Melanie loves skiing, hiking, kayaking, reading, singing, gardening and spending time with her family. She has a strong faith which guides her throughout her life. 

A favorite saying: “It’s not about how much you do, but how much love you put into what you do that counts.” – Mother Teresa

Chris Lyzwinski Lower School Director, Kindergarten through 4th Grade

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Education: M.A. Education, Pepperdine University, Graduate School of Education and Psychology; B.A. International Studies, Pepperdine University, Seaver College

Chris has served in an array of teaching and curriculum development roles prior to becoming Lower School Director in 2023.  She began her teaching career as a kindergarten teacher for the Richmond Schools in Richmond, B.C., Canada where she taught for 4 years. After relocating to Washington state, Chris taught first and second grade for the Burlington-Edison School District. Chris also wrote and published a character education curriculum for the State of California. Chris has 9 years of experience teaching kindergarten and second grade at The Franklin Academy and is committed to STEM based practices in the classroom. Throughout her years at The Franklin Academy, Chris has built solid relationships with her students, families, and staff. It is Chris’ belief that every child is unique and capable and it is her desire to instill in students a love for learning that will continue throughout their years in school and as an adult. 

Chris loves spending time with her husband and two children, Cody and Téa.  Her interests include travel (especially to Italy where she lived abroad for a year during university), reading, paddleboarding, and skiing at Mt. Baker with family and friends.

A favorite saying: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – W.B. Yeats


Natalie Bennett Admissions Director

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Education: Drake University, M.S. of Counseling; Washington State University, B.A. of History & B.S. of Psychology

Natalie Bennett joined The Franklin Academy community as the Admissions Director in January of 2014. She was born in the midwest, and her family relocated to Bellingham when she was entering 3rd Grade. Growing up, a middle child of four meant taking on the role of being a “harmonizer” between her siblings. An early youth transplant to Bellingham and a Sehome graduate, she has worked and traveled in a variety of locations before returning to her hometown. 

She holds undergraduate degrees in both History and B.S. Psychology from Washington State University and a Master’s degree in School Counseling from Drake University. As an undergraduate, she received both an Academic Achievement and Track & Field scholarship (GO Coug’s); was awarded a research grant to conduct a pilot program at The Tropical Health Foundation of India in Kerala, India. After undergraduate, she held positions in Student Life at two separate institutions: Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado (designated Hispanic Serving Institution) and Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa (midsized, private university). She has been devoted to service-learning efforts and teaching emerging leaders. Before returning to the northwest, she completed her graduate studies with an internship at Istanbul International Community School in Istanbul, Turkey (one of the world’s oldest international schools). In addition to admission responsibilities, she assists with some of the school’s marketing initiatives, student ambassadors, and has previously taught a career exploration course for students as they prepare for high school. When possible she enjoys volunteering or coaching the Middle School Cross-Country team, too.

She chose this school because of the friendly atmosphere and the small community environment and loves how much the school has grown and refined its programs in recent years. Thankfully, she had joyful experiences both working and attending independent schools after undergraduate, too. It’s her hope to integrate student-centered conversations into her admissions philosophy. She is grateful to be serving both students and families to create a smooth and positive experience as they explore and discern the best educational path, from inquiry through graduation from the school’s program and beyond.

In her free time, Natalie can be found spending time with her daughter and husband, wakesurfing, curled up reading a good book, hiking/fishing, volunteering in the community, or “attempting” to train for her next marathon.

One of her favorite things about her job: Volunteering to help with morning drop-off, which allows her to regularly greet and see kids with their parents/loved ones.

A favorite saying:  “Hope changes brain chemistry, which influences the decisions we make and the actions we take. Hopefulness must be pervasive, and every single student should be able to feel it, see it, and hear it daily.”  – Eric Jensen

Justin Buntemeyer Director of Services

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Education: Associates of Arts and sciences at Whatcom Community College; B.S. in Elementary Education from Bellevue University (Nebraska)

Justin was born and raised here in Washington and grew up across the water in Bremerton. He grew up playing baseball, drawing comics, and experimenting in the kitchen. Throughout his many years of both playing and coaching youth baseball, he developed a passion for helping and working with children. After graduating from Whatcom Community College he earned a degree in education from Bellevue University. Justin went on to work with youths in an educational capacity for various non-profits, including The Boys and Girls Club and YMCA where he created and led programs that were not only county wide but were recognized by the mayor.

Justin also has a strong passion for art. Drawing and comics and cartoons is what he’ll be doing the rest of his life!

When he’s not in the classroom, or in his studio, you can find Justin spending quality time with his two puppies, Dusty and Winnie, and his wife. He loves exploring the outdoors but is also a couch potato who loves to stay in and watch a good movie or TV show.

A favorite saying: “Life is about making an impact, not an income.” – Kevin Kruse (American historian)

Anne-Marie Misko-Kennedy Finance Director

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Education: Drake University, M.S. of Counseling; Washington State University, B.A. of History & B.S. of Psychology

Anne-Marie was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta Canada. She relocated with her husband to the United States with a company relocation. After living in Portland, Oregon for 5 years her family was relocated to Spokane, Washington where they raised two wonderful sons. Both sons are current students at Western Washington University. Her eldest son is a sophomore in Accounting and the youngest is an incoming freshman majoring in Behavioral Neuroscience. She recently worked at Gonzaga Preparatory School in the Finance office as a General Ledger and Payroll Accountant. She is so grateful to continue working in finances, but still be around the school environment – students, families, faculty and staff. Her passions include rowing, biking, cross country skiing, baking bagels/bread and spending time with her family. This is her 21st year of rowing and raced a few regattas this year as a member of the masters team in Coeur D’Alene. She is looking forward to rowing with the Whatcom Rowing Club this fall.

A favorite saying:  “We can face any future without fear so long as we will not face it alone. For the sake of the future you, together let us strengthen the future us.” – Jonathan Sacks

Katie (Kiki) Patterson-Hulett Development Director

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Education: Western Washington University, M.A. English Studies; Utah Tech University, B.A. English Studies

Katie is a development and event professional, community organizer, writer, photographer, and artist, who finds joy in creating meaningful experiences to grow organization and community support. She believes in the power of education to transform lives and effect social change, and has aligned her professional and volunteer work to that purpose. After an early start majoring in dance and theater performance, Katie discovered her passion of studying and writing about human beings through their literature, and switched to English. As a student, she began honing her proclivity for fundraising and community organizing. She coordinated community events for undergraduate students to attend research conferences, while fundraising for local theater and film communities she participated in as a choreographer, director, and dancer. 

Katie moved to Bellingham in 2014 with her husband and two daughters where she pursued her M.A. in English Studies at Western Washington University. As a graduate candidate she taught several English composition courses to incoming freshmen, where she developed curriculum to support the anti-racist writing assessment strategies and disability studies practices of her degree focus. During that time she volunteered at her daughters’ school on the parent council and development committee, and co-/chaired three successful fundraising auctions, along with other school events and festivals. Following graduation, Katie joined a local brewery as an events director and non-profit fundraiser, then came on as Development Director for Whatcom Community College. Katie and her husband have additionally owned and operated an international wedding photography business since 2009. 

Katie values the Franklin Academy’s mission and core commitments. She is eager to bring her fundraising experience and passion for education to support the school’s faculty and staff, and the students and their families. In her free time, she loves spending time with her family, cooking, gardening, and being out in nature.

A favorite saying: “Life, after unspeakable loss, becomes poetry again … No despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there … We are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.” – Gregory Boyle quoting Thomas Merton in Tattoos on the Heart

Rachel Lee Administrative Assistant, Robin Hall

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Education: Washington State University; Western Washington University; Whatcom Community College; S.S.T. Travel School

Rachel joined The Franklin Academy community in August 2003 as an Administrative Assistant.

Rachel was born and raised in Bellingham. After graduating from Sehome High School, she attended Washington State University, Western Washington University, and Whatcom Community College. With a strong desire to work with people and travel, she attended and graduated from S.S.T. Travel School. She was hired by The Travel Gallery, Inc., where she worked for, and then later became manager for ten years. During this time, she married her husband Brian Lee. After their first child, Lindsay was born, Rachel decided to be a stay-at-home mom. After the birth of their son Jacob, she then started doing some part-time general bookkeeping and work for Whatcom Travel.

When both of her children had started at The Franklin Academy, she began volunteering in the school office and in her child’s classroom. Rachel was an active member of the parent association “PALS”, where she volunteered for, coordinated, and chaired numerous auctions. Rachel also served on the school’s parent finance committee and served as Officer to PALS as Vice President 2002-2003 and President 2005-06.

When not working, Rachel enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, going to the beach, and gardening.

A favorite saying: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” – Thomas A. Edison

Dawn Regier Administrative Assistant, Markell Hall

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Education: Taylor Business Institute, Executive Secretarial Degree

Dawn Regier joined The Franklin Academy team as the Upper School Administrative Assistant in December 2013.  She previously worked as an Office Administrator for a local civil engineering/land surveying firm, an Office Specialist for the City of Blaine Public Works Department, and for a short time as the Administrative Assistant at Whatcom Day Academy before joining the school family.

Dawn was born and raised in New Jersey and moved to Bellingham in 1989.  She currently lives in Bellingham with her husband, Jim, and is the proud grandmother of five children.

During her free time, Dawn likes to read, bicycle, hike, and watch all the Seahawks games!

A favorite saying: “Wrinkles will only go where the smiles have been.”  – Jimmy Buffett

Kiersten Horton Administrative Assistant, Markell Hall & Robin Hall

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Education: Masters in Education (MEd) from Washington State University; Bachelor of Sport Sciences from Ohio University

Kiersten is a Washington native who moved to Bellingham after completing her Master’s Degree in Education Administration  (WSU).  After 17 years at Western Washington University, she joined Franklin Academy as an Administrative Assistant.  She continues to play, explore and gain new appreciation for all the adventures that the PNW and city of Bellingham have to offer.  Some favorite hobbies include watching football (Go Seahawks!) or college softball and finding new coffee spots around town.

Teresa Hubbell BSN, RN School Nurse

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Education: Boise State University, B.S. in Nursing, College of Lake County, A.A.S. in Nursing; Western Washington University, B.A. in Anthropology with a Biocultural Concentration

Teresa Hubbell is a registered nurse who is committed to life-long learning and serving others. She began her study of nursing, while her husband was stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Base in Illinois. Shortly after obtaining her RN license, they moved to Idaho where she pursued her BSN degree. From 2013-2019, she specialized in geriatric care and has experience in both long-term and long-term acute care facilities.

Born and raised in Washington, she has lived in many cities across the United States. Teresa has been able to visit a number of interesting places. Of those, her favorite was Washington, D.C. The Memorials, Museums, and sheer history of the city were an impressive, meaningful, and highly educational experience.

In 2017, she was excited to move back to the Pacific Northwest where Teresa and her husband welcomed their first child into the world. When she finds some free time, she enjoys spending it with her family, going on walks, reading, and baking. Teresa believes Fall is the best time of the year and she loves everything pumpkin!

A favorite saying: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A.A. Milne

Bruce Reid Network Administrator

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Education: Simon Fraser University, Canada, Bachelor of Science in Computer Science

Mr. Reid has serviced the network and computer needs of the school all the way back to the first computer on Walnut St. in 1995.  He takes care of any computer, network, or other technology issues staff and students may have at either campus.  Email or speak to your campus’ administration assistant to report a problem or make a request.

Both of his daughters attended Little Epistles preschool and eventually graduated from Grade 8 and 9 at the formerly named St Paul’s Academy.  Later graduating from university thanks to their education from this wonderful school.

A favorite saying: “Earth is 30% land and 70% sailboat race course.”

Clara Reid IT Support Technician

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Education: B.S. Arts, University of British Columbia 

Clara is an alumni of the Franklin Academy, back before the beautiful Markell Hall was built. She holds a special place in her heart for the school and all the amazing connections built and wonderful memories formed as a Pre-k to 9th grade student. Clara feels so fortunate that she is still able to be a part of the family helping students, staff, and teachers with their IT-related problems. 

Clara grew up in Bellingham, WA and though she has left and returned a few times, she keeps coming back for more. Clara currently works a few part time jobs, including repairing outdoor gear and farming at a small organic fruit and vegetable farm. She loves the challenges that come with figuring out old and new electronics and the variety that comes with the job, as well as working amongst the hubbub of a school environment.

Clara enjoys living as off-grid as possible, snowboarding, mountain biking, sailing on her sailboat, relaxing at her built-out school bus with her chickens, exploring our surrounding islands and running through our nearby mountain ranges.

A favorite saying: “Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus, a Greek Philosopher

Jonathan Knowles IT Support Technician

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Education: College of Marin, A.S. Physics; University of California San Diego, B.S. Electrical Engineering

Jonathan Knowles was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He attended University of California at San Diego and earned his B.S. in Electrical Engineering. In a career that has spanned over 35 years, he has held positions as an Electrical Engineer, Software Engineer, IT Systems Administrator, and IT Manager.  In 2020 he retired from a full-time IT career to pursue his lifelong interest in boating. He passed the USCG Captains Masters License exam in 2022 and holds ASA Sailing Instructor Certifications for Bareboat Chartering.  In addition to working at The Franklin Academy, he also works part time as a Yacht Broker, Sailing Instructor and Delivery Captain for San Juan Sailing.

Jonathan has been heavily involved in the Bellingham Sailing Community.  He was Commodore of the Bellingham Yacht Club in 2015, and was in charge of the BYC Racing & Youth Sailing Programs.  He served as the Bellingham Youth Sailing Foundation President for 5 years. 

Jonathan’s passions include sailing, skiing, traveling and “Fixing Things”.   He enjoys both racing on Bellingham Bay, and cruising around the Pacific Northwest/Canadian waters with family and friends.  He has sailed up and down the California Coast, done Pacific Crossings TranPac crossing between Hawaii to San Francisco, and sailed the waters around the Caribbean, Australia, Turkey and Japan.

A favorite saying: “Men Wanted: For a hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.” – Ernest Shackleton


Alejandra Mellos Early Preschool (2 1/2 - 3 Year Old Program)

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Education: Normal de Educadoras Colegio Ensenada (School for Early Childhood Education), Tijuana B.C. Mexico; Southwestern College, Chula Vista CA; General Education, Major in Child Development Education Program.

My name is Alejandra Mellos, I have been working as a preschool teacher for over twenty 29 years. I started volunteering in preschools at a very young age, helping my older sisters who are also preschool teachers. I was born and raised in the city of Tijuana Mexico, where my parents both worked as school principals in middle school (Dad) and elementary school (Mom)…so I grew up around classrooms, teachers, children and everything related to schools and education. 

I moved from California to the beautiful city of Bellingham WA in June of 2018 with my husband, whom I have been married to for twenty eight years, and my youngest son. My oldest son lives now in Miami and my daughter lives in Little Rock Arkansas with her husband and she is currently doing nursing school after finishing her four year service in the Air Force.

I am fluent in Spanish, know folkloric dance, ballet, tap, jazz, Zumba and yoga. All of  which I like to include into my curriculum planning and share with my students. I have worked for Christian, private and public preschools as well for the school district, state and Head Start programs. I feel very excited and blessed to be part of The Franklin Academy family. I am very passionate about what I do. I love my job and realize the big responsibility of teaching each and every one of my students. I am very blessed to wake up every morning feeling thankful to God for giving me a job that makes me happy and filled with great purpose!

Thank you for trusting and letting me be part of your child’s life.


Mrs. Mellos

A favorite saying: “The greatest living in glory lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela

Debbie Ho Preschool (3 Year Old Program, 5 Days a Week)

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Education: A.A. in Early Childhood Education

Debbie Ho was born in Oregon, where she lived for only a short time. Her father’s work took her all over the world, and it was during these travels that she met and married her husband John.  In 1984 she moved to Bellingham with her family, and worked for First American Title Company until her second son Eric was born.  It was then she decided to attend Whatcom Community College.  Debbie graduated in June 2006 with an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She has been teaching preschool at The Franklin Academy since September 1999 and loves it! Debbie loves working with the children and their families.  She looks forward to helping children grow and progress. As a teacher she especially loves working with the little ones. 

When she is not teaching, Debbie and her husband John enjoy spending time with their grandchildren, visiting their son Eric who lives in L.A., and following their son Ryan’s music producing career.

A favorite saying: “Children are our greatest untapped resource.” – The Dalai Lama

Tawny Johnson Preschool (3 year old program, 5 days a week)

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Education: Olympic College – Associate of Arts; Western Governors University – Bachelor of Arts, Elementary Education, expected 2024

Tawny Johnson joined the staff at The Franklin Academy in 2021 and is excited for another year of teaching preschool. She is currently a lead preschool teacher for the 3 year old 5 day program.

She was born and raised in Washington state. She moved to Bellingham to pursue her education and is currently a full-time student earning her Bachelor’s in Elementary Education. 

Tawny has always taken an interest in education and working with children. She has a background working as a preschool teacher/preschool assistant teacher, and substitute para-educator. She has enjoyed working at The Franklin Academy as a 3 year old teacher, Pre-K teacher, summer camp teacher, lunch & recess aide, and aftercare aide. This will be Tawny’s third year teaching preschool at The Franklin Academy. She has really enjoyed getting to know the students and loves to see them grow and learn.

Tawny believes in fostering a creative, fun, and organized learning environment for her students. She is always encouraging them to reach their goals and build their confidence to learn every day. She enjoys spending time with the students and making positive connections with each one she meets.

In her free time, Tawny enjoys spending time with her cat Flax, taking walks in nature, baking treats for loved ones, learning about plants, and antiquing.

Amy Benne M, W, F Preschool class and Tuesday/Thursday P.E. Teacher

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Education: A.A. in Early Childhood Education, B.A. in Child Development

Amy Benne grew up in Blaine, WA, with her parents and two younger siblings. She has her AA degree in Early Childhood Education and a BA in Child Development. Amy has worked at a variety of preschool centers around Whatcom County, along with teaching toddlers and school-age children. She loves discovering the world all over again with her little students. When she is not working, Amy enjoys building DIY projects, interior design, hiking, running, and cooking. 

A favorite saying: “They may forget what you said, but they will not forget how you made them feel.” – Carl Buechner

Shelley Owen Early K, (4-5 Years Old, 5 Days a Week)

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Education: AAS in Biology Whatcom Community College; BS in Biology and Mathematics Western Washington University

Shelley Owen was born and raised on the Gulf Coast of Alabama.  She moved to Bellingham to continue her education at both Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University.  In 2013, she graduated from Western with a B.S. in Biology and Mathematics. Shelley joined the staff at The Franklin Academy in October 2017 and she is a proud parent of a Franklin student.

Shelley is thankful for the opportunity to work in a nurturing and loving environment where children can learn and experience new challenges that will help to build their confidence.  She really enjoys seeing the benefits that a creative curriculum allows and is committed to helping children find the connection between the classroom and real-world experiences.

Outside of the classroom, Shelley and her family enjoy the many benefits that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. The family enjoys spending time together and making meaningful memories camping, swimming, bike riding, and exploring.

A favorite saying: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.” – Mary Poppins

Jo TeVelde Pre-K (4 Year Old Program, 5 Days a Week)

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Education: Tidewater Community College, Associate of Science for Early Childhood Education along with a career certificate for Preschool (Graduated Magna Cum Laude)

Joanne (Jo) TeVelde joined the staff at The Franklin Academy in 2021.

She was born in Abbotsford, B.C Canada but raised in Sumas Washington. She went to the same high school as both her parents. Some of her favorite past times growing up were the following activities: playing sports, riding horses, and showing dairy cows.  After high school, she became a nanny for a military family. She worked for that same family for seven and a half years raising their two children starting when the first was only three months old.

When she’s not working with children, she enjoys riding her horse, playing softball, and working with the draft horses that you see every year at the Lynden Fair.

A favorite saying: “You’ll never be bored when you try something new. There’s really no limit to what you can do.” – Dr. Seuss

Elizabeth Pennington Pre-K Teacher/Librarian

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Education: B.S. in English Literature at Western Washington University; M.A. in elementary education at Western Governor’s University

Elizabeth Pennington grew up in Snohomish, Washington and moved to Bellingham to attend Western Washington University. Here she earned her bachelor’s degree in English literature, met her husband, and found her home. Elizabeth worked as a lead Pre K classroom teacher for Blossom Childcare and then Bellingham School District’s GRADS program from 2017 to 2022. It was in these classrooms that she fell in love with Early Childhood Education and Development, discovering the joy of sparking little ones’ curiosity and love for learning. Elizabeth decided to turn this passion into her career when she earned her master’s in elementary education from Western Governor’s University in 2022. While she adores working with students of all ages, Pre K is her favorite group to teach.

Elizabeth loves to be outdoors walking, hiking, swimming and camping. She spends her free time sharing this love of nature with her husband Greg, dog Mae, and toddler Marty. She is an avid reader and enjoys discussing books and authors with anyone who will listen. She is currently learning how to paint with watercolors and hopes to share her new skills with her students this fall.

A favorite saying: “Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein

Michelle Ho Early Pre-School Assistant

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Education: Richard Bland College of William & Mary, Communication & Media Studies

Michelle Ho was born in Staten Island, New York. She met her husband during her studies in Prince George, Virginia. In Spring of 2018, they made Bellingham their home. Later that year, their daughter Ellie was born. During her daughter’s first year at The Franklin Academy, Michelle began volunteering in the classroom. In 2022, she joined the staff as a Lunch/Recess aide. She loves engaging with the children and watching them grow. Michelle and her husband have grown to love Franklin’s values and sense of community. She is thrilled to be an Early Pre-School assistant this school year! 

In her free time you can find her tending to her garden, hiking with family, thrifting and crafting with her Cricut.

A favorite saying: “Try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” – Maya Angelou

Naomi Killian Pre-K (4 Year Old Program, 5 Days a Week)

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Education: Western Washington University, B.A. History and Education

Naomi was born in Bellingham, and has lived here her whole life.  She graduated from Western Washington University with a B.A. in History and Education.   Upon graduating from Western, Naomi decided to teach preschool, because at the time she was the parent of two preschoolers.  What started as a temporary job, has turned into 14 year career. She loves the fact that preschool is such a hands-on learning experience.  Naomi taught preschool in a co-op for many years and had the opportunity to develop an integrated preschool with the Bellingham School District. She joined our school in 2019.

Outside of school, Naomi enjoys hiking and camping with her husband Kevin, and her three kids.  They are rarely allowed to head out on hiking trips without their beloved lab puppy, who insists on tagging along.  As a family, they have a goal to hike in all the national parks.

A favorite saying: “It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” – Zig Zigler

Hannah (JoJo) Belmont Kindergarten

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Education: Western Washington University (WWU), B.A. in Language, Literacy and Culture; Teaching Certificate, Endorsement in K-8 Education, ELL and Reading

Jojo Belmont was raised in Longview Washington where her passion for teaching began. From there she traveled north to Bellingham where she earned her degree in elementary education. After studying in Bellingham, she fell in love and decided to make it a permanent stay. This is her fourth year teaching at the Franklin Academy. Previously she taught second grade at the academy and is now transitioning to Kindergarten. She is looking forward to all the memories that will be made. She has a love for teaching as well as learning.

Outside of the classroom, JoJo is married and lives in Glenhaven. The beautiful forest area is perfect for long walks with her husband and three dogs (Tumbi, Spoons and Gran-Gran).

A favorite saying: “Teachers have three loves: love of learning, love of learners, and the love of bringing the first two loves together.” – Scott Hayden

Olivia Dizon Kindergarten

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Education: B.S. Elementary Education, Philippines; Teaching Certificate, Endorsement in K-8 Education, State of Washington; Master of Education, Learning and Technology, WGU; Completed all requirements except thesis for Master of Professional Studies major in Educational Management, Philippines; moved to US before thesis completed

Olivia was born and raised in the Philippines. She started teaching first grade two months after she graduated from University. Her teaching experience grew across different grade levels for several years until she moved to the United States.

She enjoys engaging with children in ways that help them grow emotionally, socially, academically and physically. Being with the children is always a blessing for her and she is amazed at how their natural curiosity leads them to new learning. The children make her feel good with their laughter and hugs.

During her free time, she likes to read, paint, try new recipes, and do crafts. Lately, opportunities to travel have captured her attention, and she thoroughly enjoys taking thousands of photos of all the different places she visits.

A favorite saying: “Well done is better than well said.” – Benjamin Franklin

Suzanne Yorks Kindergarten

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Education: M.A. Montana State University, Special Education (Learning Disabilities focus), B.A. Elementary Education, Native American option (high honors)

Suzanne Yorks was educated in a private/independent school for first and second grade so she understands first hand the value of small classes and a personalized learning environment. She is thrilled to be joining St. Paul’s Academy for the 2018-19 school year. She credits her early learning instructors for giving her an academic advantage, which led to her graduation early at age 16 from high school. Like the families at our school, education was very important to her parents, and careers were common topics. She knew by middle school that she wanted to become a veterinarian or a school teacher. Suzanne wanted other children to love school the way she does, and she chose education as her field. After received her Elementary Education degree she went on to teach for five years on the Crow Indian Reservation in Pryor, Montana. Some of her students had unusual difficulty in literacy, and she returned to college in Billings, Montana to gain insight and strategies. She received her Master’s Degree in Special Education, with a Learning Disabilities focus, in order to help children in the regular education classroom. She moved to Washington to be near her parents in Longview, and taught primary-level students for six years in Neah Bay. Suzanne moved to Bellingham to teach first grade with the Mount Baker District in 1993. She continued her education in teaching strategies with language acquisition programs: GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design), and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Suzanne then became a National Board Certified Teacher, as a generalist in Early Childhood Education.

It is Suzanne’s passion to make learning fascinating and accessible. She strongly believes that every child wants to succeed. The best strategy of all lies in the teamwork between student, teacher, and family. Suzanne is delighted to teach kindergarten at St. Paul’s Academy, as part of the wonderful team of parents and staff who support its high academic standards. Her goal is to lay the foundation for success with her kindergarteners so that they enjoy learning and become life-long learners, delighted to explore new ideas. Each child is unique, and their creativity and individuality is encouraged in a learning environment that is safe, fun, and caring.

Outside the classroom, Suzanne volunteers with the Master Gardeners’ Weed Garden at Hovander Park. She is a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) instructor and participant, and has her beginning level ham radio license. She enjoys the outdoors, and loves to learn about the local plants and animals (bird watching, scuba diving, tide pool life…). Her old border collie/lab mix accompanies her whenever she can.

A favorite saying: “My best friend is the one who will get me a book I have not read.” – Abraham Lincoln

Megan Carr 1st Grade Teacher

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Education: University of West Florida, Master of Education, Curriculum and Instruction; Boston College, Bachelor of Arts, Political Science and History

Megan Carr was born in Maryland into a military family and raised around the country.  Her family settled in Pensacola, Florida after her father retired. Raised with a sense of adventure she left Florida and attended Boston College and studied political science and history for her undergraduate degree.  While working at a preschool in college Megan found her passion for teaching and knew it would become her career.  After graduation she returned to Florida where she began substitute teaching while earning her master of education degree.  Upon completion of her education degree, Megan started teaching intensive reading to middle school students.  She continued teaching as her family moved around the country.  Megan settled in Washington with her family in 2017.  After taking several years to be at home with her children, she began substitute teaching for the local school districts.  In 2021 she became a movement and library specialist where she taught physical education, music, art and library to kindergarten through third grade students.  While Megan enjoyed her time as a specialist teacher she is excited to be at The Franklin Academy and teaching first grade. Megan strives to create a welcoming and inclusive classroom for all where students feel supported and valued.

Megan lives in Anacortes with her two daughters and labrador retriever.  When she’s not teaching Megan loves to explore the local trails and beaches with her children.  She also enjoys reading, baking, and cheering on all of the Seattle sports teams.

A favorite saying: “See the light in others and treat them as if that’s all you can see.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer

Marie Brewin 1st Grade Teacher

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Education: University of British Columbia, B. Ed. with a concentration in Early Literacy, Endorsement in Elementary Education (K-7); Simon Fraser University, B.A. in English and Psychology.

Marie Brewin was born in British Columbia and attended Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, where she received a Bachelor of English with a minor in psychology. She then completed a Bachelor of Education with a literacy concentration at the University of British Columbia.

Marie has enjoyed teaching and learning in many different settings over the years. After graduating, she taught Pre-K in Maui, Hawaii for several years. In 2007, Marie moved to Bellingham and was excited to become part of The Franklin Academy family. She taught kindergarten, first grade, and third grade, before taking some time to be home with her children and running a small tutoring business. Beginning in 2014, Marie taught part-time at a local private middle school as the 7th and 8th grade math and science teacher. She enjoyed sharing a love for math and science and launching inquiry-based projects. Marie was also the science and social studies specialist at a private Bellingham elementary school, where she focused on fun, hands-on lessons. Marie was thrilled to return to teaching at The Franklin Academy in 2018 and enjoys the strong sense of community. Her own two children attend Franklin as well!

Marie’s goal in the classroom is to develop a relationship with each child and family and to guide the natural curiosity in each student.  Marie strives to create a positive classroom community where students have choices in their learning. She loves the creative ideas of young learners. Their enthusiasm is contagious and is a joy to be around!

When not in the classroom, Marie enjoys reading, paddle boarding in Birch Bay, making puns, and exploring at the beach with her husband and two children.

A favorite saying: “Truly wonderful, the mind of child is.” – Yoda

Danielle Jorgensen 1st Grade Teacher

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Education: Western Washington University, B.A. in Education in Interdisciplinary Child Development, Endorsement in Elementary Education; Skagit Valley College, AAUCT Transfer Degree

Danielle Jorgensen has been teaching first grade at The Franklin Academy since 2007. After graduating from Lynden High School and later Skagit Valley College, she graduated from Western Washington University with a Bachelors of Arts in Education degree in Interdisciplinary Child Development, with an endorsement in Elementary Education.

As a teacher, she believes it is her responsibility to create and maintain a comfortable classroom environment, where her students are able to grow both academically and socially.  Danielle’s goal is to make her students learning as enjoyable as possible, by using a variety of teaching methods and techniques.

When not at school, Danielle enjoys spending time with her husband, Trevor, and their son Treyden.  She also likes crafting and reading.

A favorite saying: “I think I can, I think I can!” – The Little Engine That Could

Katie Nardi 2nd Grade Teacher

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Education: Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood and Elementary Education from Western Washington University; Masters in English Language Learning from Western Governors University

Katie Nardi joined The Franklin Academy in 2023. Katie was born in Norfolk, Virginia but was raised here on the west coast in Tacoma,Washington. She moved to Bellingham in 2014 to attend WWU for her Early Childhood and Elementary Education dual degree. After graduating WWU in 2018 Katie returned to the summer camp she attended as a child and took on the role of Assistant Camp Director. Katie has a passion for working with children both in the classroom setting and in an outdoor setting as well. During this time she continued her education at Western Governors University earning her Masters in English Language Learning in 2020. After leaving camp in 2020 she taught both kindergarten and second grade classes in a variety of settings and locations. In Katie’s classrooms she is dedicated to fostering a strong sense of belonging, appreciation for nature, and love of community. Katie lives in a Tiny Home on Wheels, making it easy to move from place to place!

When she is not teaching, Katie is out hiking or mountain biking with her dog, Maple. She loves backpacking, paddling, gardening, and any activity that gets her outside!

A favorite saying: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – Christopher Robin

Lori Swets 2nd Grade Teacher

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Education: M.A. in Elementary Education from Western Washington University; B.A. in Elementary Education from Calvin University in Grand Rapids, MI 

Lori Swets was raised in Racine, Wisconsin, as the youngest of six children of Dutch immigrants. She moved to Bellingham after college and taught third grade at Evergreen Christian school for 9 years. After marrying the math/science teacher there, the next decade was spent raising their three children and working part-time as a curriculum consultant. In 2012, the Swets family moved to Saudi Arabia, where Lori taught Kindergarten to children from all over the world. The chance to travel extensively as a family and raise their kids in an international community kept them overseas for 10 years. The Swets moved home to Bellingham in the summer of 2022, and Lori spent one transition year substitute teaching in the Bellingham School District. She is thrilled to join the staff at The Franklin Academy as a second grade teacher. 

Lori believes strongly in building a classroom community where children demonstrate kindness, perseverance, and respectfulness, and also have lots of fun together. Lori also knows that partnering with parents is essential to the success of each student. As a teacher, she strives to be organized and enthusiastic, and aims to engage children with stimulating, intriguing, hands-on lessons. 

Lori likes to keep learning new things so she does not forget what it is like to be a student. When the weather is fair, Lori enjoys being on the water by kayak, canoe, or paddleboard . On land she likes to do crafts, hike, bike, do yoga, read, cook, and spend time with her family and her little Havanese dog, Tucker. Her husband, Judson, is a high school math teacher. Their two sons, Nathan and Jackson, are Engineering majors in college, and their daughter, Lydia, goes to Sehome High School.

A favorite saying: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Anna Dudley 2nd Grade Teacher

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Education: M.A.T. in Elementary Education from Western Governors University; B.A. from Western Washington University, major in Environmental Education, minor in English

Anna Dudley was born in Tacoma, WA. She moved to Bellingham to attend Western Washington University, where she graduated with a degree in Environmental Education. The next 4 years, Anna worked for Bellingham City Parks, Washington State Parks, and Montana State Parks. In these positions she led school field trips, visited classrooms, and ran junior ranger programs. Dissatisfied with the amount of office time versus teaching time, Anna applied to work as a paraeducator in the Bellingham school district. She loved being in a classroom so she decided to get her Masters in Elementary Education while continuing to work in a special education program. Anna is very excited to be teaching at Franklin Academy.

Anna loves learning and helping students grow as critical thinkers. She values creativity, thoughtfulness, and kindness.

When not in school, Anna prefers being outdoors. She enjoys running, hiking, and kayaking. Some of her favorite things to do are cooking with her husband, playing board games with friends, reading with her cat on her lap, and hanging out with her nephews and nieces.

A favorite saying: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” – Gandalf (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Sarah Howe 3rd Grade Grade Teacher

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Education: BA Geography/Environmental Studies, Framingham State University; MAT Elementary Education, National Louis University

Sarah Howe grew up in Massachusetts where she also attended Framingham State University. After graduating with a Bachelors in Geography and Environmental Studies, Sarah joined AmeriCorps, a national service program. For three years, she served in various communities throughout the country.

During her time in Chicago, Sarah graduated with a Masters in Teaching in Elementary Education (K-8) from National Louis University. She started her teaching career in a 4th grade classroom at Francis W. Parker School. Sarah then taught in the Helena Public Schools in Montana as a Title 1 Reading and Math Teacher. For the past four years, Sarah has been teaching at Sonoma Country Day School in Santa Rosa, California. She has loved being a third grade teacher and is excited for the opportunity to teach third grade again at The Franklin Academy.

Sarah is a responsive educator, who values the diversity of students’ strengths. She believes in an inclusive, equitable, and democratic learning community where students can thrive and reach their full potential. Through building strong interpersonal relationships, Sarah strives to develop a positive teacher-student-family dynamic that will support students’ academic achievement, critical thinking skills, and social and emotional growth in a safe classroom.

When she is not teaching, Sarah is exploring her new hometown of Bellingham with her husband! She loves bouldering, biking, and is hoping to learn how to sea kayak. She also enjoys playing board games, listening to podcasts, and eating dessert!

A favorite saying: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Nickie Rail 3rd Grade Teacher

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Education: California State University San Marcos, Bachelors in Education, Minor in Visual and Performing Arts, CSUSM Teacher Credential Program, Arts Cohort; Concordia University, Irvine, Master’s in Educational Administration

Nickie Rail was born and raised in San Diego, CA.  She attended California State University San Marcos where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Education with a Minor in Visual and Performing Arts. 

She received her Teaching Credential from CSUSM and her Master’s degree in Educational Administration from Concordia University, Irvine.  She taught for 12 years in the Vista Unified School District in Southern California in grades Kindergarten through Fourth grade. Since moving to Bellingham in 2018, Nickie has worked as a substitute teacher and Reading Intervention Specialist in Bellingham Public Schools as well as a preschool and kindergarten teacher at The Franklin Academy.

She absolutely loves teaching and believes that each child is a unique individual who needs a secure, caring, and stimulating atmosphere to grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially.  As a teacher, she strives to be creative, enthusiastic, motivated, and inspired to help make connections between the content and her students’ lives. 

Nickie lives in Birchwood with her husband and two elementary aged kids.  She really enjoys exploring the beautiful nature the Pacific Northwest has to offer.  In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, hiking, swimming, reading, and cooking.

A favorite saying: “A teacher affects eternity; s/he can never tell where his/her influence stops.” – Henry Adams

Nadia Bennett 4th Grade Teacher

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Education: B.A.E in Elementary Education and General Science at Western Washington University; A.A in Elementary Education from Whatcom Community College

Nadia Bennett was born and raised right here in Bellingham, Washington. After traveling out of state to attend Portland State University for a brief year, she knew Bellingham is where she was meant to be. While raising her Son and attending school simultaneously she completed her Associates degree at Whatcom Community College with a Direct Transfer Agreement to Western Washington University, ultimately graduating with a Bachelors in Arts through Woodring College of Education and Western’s College of Science and Engineering. Nadia was heavily involved in Science Education at Western, attending National Science Teachers conferences and heading up treasury at their local National Science Teachers Association for two years. 

After graduating, Nadia started teaching for the Bellingham School District as a 2nd and 4th grade teacher. Her philosophy of teaching revolves around a student-centered approach to learning.This begins in her ability to form strong relationships with students and families. This partnership allows her to consider how to design an inclusive classroom environment and learning engagements that meet the diverse needs of all her learners. 

When Nadia is out of the classroom, she enjoys playing board games with her family, reading books when it’s raining. Nadia also enjoys hiking with her husband, two children and dogs.

A favorite saying: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” – Amelia Earhart

Michelle Morse 4th Grade Teacher

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Education: B.A. Elementary Education, Pacific Lutheran University

Michelle grew up on a raspberry and blueberry farm in Whatcom County. After spending time in Tacoma receiving her teaching degree, Michelle was excited to move back to her native Whatcom County and put down roots. 

Her journey to The Franklin Academy has included teaching 5th grade as well as a number of years substitute teaching while her two boys were younger. She is excited to be in the classroom where helping each student to feel confident on their learning journey, fostering classroom community and discovering each student’s passion, sparks her teaching mission.

In her personal time, Michelle enjoys spending time with her husband, two boys and two dogs. Reading, hiking, beach combing or hanging in the hammock are a few activities where you will probably find her rain or shine.

A favorite saying: You haven’t failed until you stop trying.” – Unknown

Barbara Misday STEM/Science Instructor (K-4)

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Education: M.A.E.D. University of Phoenix Administration: Supervision and Leadership (K-12), Literacy Specialist Certification (K-12); B.S. University of Pittsburgh, Elementary Education (K-8), English Literature/Writing

Barbara Misday was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She attended the University of Pittsburgh and received a BS in Elementary Education. While at Pitt, she studied abroad and student taught in Birmingham, England. Barbara taught middle school for the Pittsburgh Public School District before moving to Las Vegas, Nevada to teach for the Clark County School District. Barbara’s teaching career in Vegas included teaching second, third and fourth grades, and serving as the remedial reading teacher and science specialist (K-5). She also opened a new school and served as the literacy specialist and learning strategist before moving up to administration.

Barbara was an assistant principal for less than two years before being appointed as Principal of Tomiyasu Elementary. Barbara served the Tomiyasu school community for six years, before she was recruited to serve as the Head of School at Sandy Searles Miller World IB School. Sandy Miller was designated the Number One Magnet School of America and received School of Excellence and School of Distinction by the Magnet Schools of America with Barbara as their Head of School. During the six years that Barbara was principal of Frank Kim Elementary achievement soared, and Frank Kim ES was designated a 5 -STAR, High Achieving School.

Barbara retired after 33 years with CCSD in 2014, and moved to Birch Bay, WA with her husband Tom. Her adult children, Sean and Kayla soon followed, and they now live in Seattle. Barbara soon missed working with children, so she started to work as a substitute teacher for the Blaine School District before coming to The Franklin Academy.

Barbara believes that every child wants to learn and can achieve. She works tirelessly to unlock each child’s potential and helps them realize and achieve their goals. Her classroom is a safe, happy place where mistakes are accepted and celebrated as a part of the learning process. Barbara creates a hand-on learning environment for her students and believes in an integrated subject approach to instruction to build connections and make learning more meaningful for her students. She is a lifelong learner and has enjoyed putting all that she learned as an administrator and teacher leader into practice in her classroom.

When not in the classroom, Barbara enjoys gardening, decorating, cooking, reading, watching the Seahawks and spending time with her pets (dogs Mickey and Pluto; her cat, Minnie). She loves to travel the world with her husband, Tom and her adult children, Sean and Kayla. Barbara finds her peaceful place on the water…boating, watching the sunset or walking along the rocky beach at Birch Bay, WA.

A favorite saying: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jared McMinn Middle School Math/Economics/Engineering, Advisor for 5th and 6th Grade Ferlin House

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Education: Bachelor of Arts in Education from Western Washington University, Major: Interdisciplinary Studies, Teacher Certification (K-8).

Jared grew up on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington in Sequim. After graduating high school, he was hired at the local Boys and Girls Club. It was here that his passion for working with children was realized. He went on to enroll at Western Washington University, working at the Whatcom Family YMCA while attending classes, to receive his teaching certification and Bachelor’s degree. After graduating from WWU in 2019, Jared worked as a substitute teacher and football coach for Bellingham Public Schools while also teaching elective courses at Franklin Academy in 2020. He is ecstatic to be welcomed into a community that truly understands the value of education and the potential of our youth.

When he’s not working, Jared enjoys spending time outdoors via hiking, camping, and fishing or indoors via games, books, movies, and watching sports.

A favorite saying: “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Grace Schmidt Middle School Math, Advisor for 5th and 6th Grade Kaiser House

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Education: Seattle Pacific University, Psychology; Masters of Arts in Teaching at Western Governors University

Born and raised in Bellingham, Grace Schmidt grew up with a love for all things Pacific Northwest. After graduating from Seattle Pacific University with a degree in psychology, she moved back to the area and worked as a legal assistant for several years. During this time, Grace frequently volunteered with children of all ages leading her to realize her true passion of educating children, especially in math. In 2019, she earned her Masters of Arts in Teaching through Western Governors University and has been a teacher at the Franklin Academy ever since.

When not in the classroom, you can find Grace experimenting in the kitchen, traveling the world, or exploring our wonderful corner of the country with her husband, Daniel, and her dachshunds, Spezi and Cowboy Pete.

A favorite saying: “As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has- or ever will have- something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” – Fred Rogers

Karen Schaper Math, Engineering, Makerspace, Advisor for 5th & 6th Grade Hess House

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Education: University of Nebraska Omaha, Master of Science, Educational Leadership, K-12 Principal Endorsement; Washington State University, Master of Science, Environmental Science and Regional Planning and Teaching Certification Program; Middlebury College, Bachelors of Arts, Chemistry and Environmental Studies

Karen Schaper grew up in Wisconsin and attended Middlebury College in Vermont with a major in chemistry and environmental studies.  She earned her MS in environmental science and teaching credential from Washington State University.  Her Master’s thesis focused on maximizing inquiry learning in middle school environmental science classes.  

After teaching middle school science in Portland, OR, Karen moved to Rhode Island where she taught middle school science and high school chemistry.  Karen and her husband, Trevor, then moved to Saudi Arabia, where Karen taught middle school science and was a team leader and science curriculum coordinator at the American International School of Jeddah. They journeyed next to the Cayman Islands where Karen taught IB chemistry and middle school science at the Cayman International School.  After their second child was born, Karen and Trevor returned to the United States to Trevor’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, where Karen was a stay-at-home parent and earned her MS in Educational Leadership with a K-12 principal endorsement.  She returned to work as an Academic Dean and STEM teacher at local Catholic High School.

Karen, Trevor, their children, and their yellow lab are moving to Bellingham to be closer to family and friends and have better access to the outdoors.  Karen believes that children learn best when engaged in learning with their curiosity and imagination. She is passionate about utilizing inquiry based, hands-on learning in the classroom.  Karen enjoys camping, hiking, canoeing, and playing board games. She is excited to start on her journey as a STEM teacher at Franklin Academy.

A favorite saying: “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” – Dalai Lama

Renee Schulte Math, Language Arts, Advisor for 5th & 6th Grade Ershig House

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Education: Western Governors University, Master of Science, Curriculum and Instruction; Western Washington University, Bachelor of Arts, K-8 Education and Psychology of Human Development.

Renee Schulte was born and raised in Seattle Washington, and from an early age she learned that she was happiest when she was outside exploring the world around her. She fell in love with Bellingham while attending Western Washington University and knew that she would eventually return to put down roots there. Renee began her teaching career in Seattle Public Schools, serving as an active member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team and teaching at a small K-8 school where she led a yearly backpacking trip with the 8th graders. In 2017, Renee earned her Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction from Western Governors University.

In the summer of 2020, Renee was excited to make her way back to live in Bellingham to be closer to family. Renee taught 3rd grade in the Ferndale School District, has worked as a substitute teacher, and most recently supported students as an academic tutor. At last, she found the missing puzzle piece when she was asked to join the Franklin Academy team.

Outside of the classroom, Renee loves skiing, hiking, camping, cooking, playing boardgames, and spending time with her husband Zach and their dog Kailua.

A favorite saying: “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.” — Malala Yousafzai

Michelle Watkins Middle School Science, Advisor for 7th & 8th Grade Ferlin House

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Education: Bachelor of Arts in Education from Western Washington University, Double Major: Elementary Education and Physical Geography, Minor: Geology; Master of Education from Lesley University, Major: Curriculum and Instruction

Michelle Watkins is a native Washingtonian who began her career teaching for six years in the Seattle School District. She was awarded a Fulbright Teacher Exchange in Edinburgh, Scotland, which sent her on a 16-year journey teaching middle school math and science at The International School of Aberdeen, Scotland, Nanjing International School in China, and NIST International School in Bangkok, Thailand. Teaching abroad was an invaluable opportunity for Michelle to work with students from diverse backgrounds and experience designing various approaches to curricula, assessment, and learning.

Michelle believes life is a continuous learning experience and loves facilitating curiosity. She enjoys creating lessons with her students that are challenging, relevant, and thought-provoking. 

When she’s not working, Michelle enjoys all forms of art (music, cinema, poetry, painting, design) and being outside in the sunshine. She spends her time biking, camping, paddling, and enjoying the beauty of the PNW. Most importantly, she loves laughter and appreciates giggling at the silly things in daily life.

A favorite saying: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Ferris Bueller

Kristen Jeffrey Middle School Humanities, Advisor for 7th & 8th Hess House

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Education: University of Washington, B.A. in English Literature; Seattle University, M.Ed. Adult Education and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)

Kristen Jeffrey fell in love with teaching while working with international students in Seattle. She taught ESL in intensive English programs for years before transitioning into adult basic education where she taught high school completion and college bridge classes. In 2018, she relocated to Bellingham to be near family. After teaching for a year at a community college, she joined The Franklin Academy where she enjoys using her experience preparing students to be successful college learners to similarly equip middle schoolers.

Kristen believes in teaching students how to be life-long learners. She sees her role in the classroom as a facilitator and co-collaborator and finds that given the right guidance, students can step into an active role in their own learning.

When she’s not in the classroom, Kristen loves reading, practicing yoga, spending time with her husband and two kids, and exploring Bellingham, her new home town.

A favorite saying: “What we know matters, but who we are matters more.” – Brené Brown

Emily Gillis Middle School Social Studies, Advisor for 7th & 8th Grade Kaiser House

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Education: Bachelor of Arts in History with a Spanish language concentration from Colorado State University; Alternative Teaching License from University of Colorado – Denver 

Emily Gillis grew up in Northern Colorado and attended Seattle Pacific University for two years before graduating from Colorado State University. After graduating college, Emily nannied for a few years before realizing her passions involved building connections with students and seeing them grow in academics and character. She worked at Turner Middle School in Berthoud, Colorado as the Family and Consumer Sciences teacher for a year before her husband got a job in beautiful Bellingham. She loves the middle school level and is inspired by their quirky humor and genuine curiosity about the world. She is so excited to share her passion for Social Studies with the students at The Franklin Academy.

She is also excited to be back in the northwest and all that it offers. When Emily is not working, she is most likely on a trail run with her husband, hiking, cooking, singing, playing guitar, snowboarding, or spoiling her dog, Winston. She is so grateful to be at The Franklin Academy!

A favorite saying: “Progress is rarely a straight line. There are always bumps in the road, but you can make the choice to keep looking ahead.” – Kara Goucher

Ole Hedahl Middle School Math and Coding

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Education: City University, M.A Curriculum and Instruction with and emphasis in Technology in the classroom; University of Washington, B.A. Mathematics Education

Ole Hedahl was born in Maryland to a military family and has lived in all parts of the country. When his father retired, they settled down in western Washington north of Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, where he earned a B.A. in Mathematics Education. Several years later, he completed his M.A. at City University in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Technology in the classroom.

The first twenty-five years of his teaching career were in Tahoma School District, southeast King County. Ole taught all levels of math in both the high school and middle school and served as department head of the math department. Ole then accepted a position in the Bellevue School District teaching computer technology classes, including AP Computer Science and business classes.

An opportunity arose to serve as a private school administrator of 450 students at his local church. When his wife found the “perfect job” in Wenatchee, he found a bilingual (Spanish/English) math position at the high school. His bilingual skills were then put to good use as an adjunct professor at the local college.

Recently, the Hedahls moved to the Bellingham area to be near relatives, including their grandchildren. Ole is very excited to work again in a private school setting where parents care for their children so much they are willing to commit time and resources for them. Ole enjoys hiking, biking and other outdoor activities.

A favorite saying:Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5,6

Linnea McDonnell Spanish Specialist for Preschool – 4th Grade

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Education: Western Washington University (WWU), B.A. in Psychology; WWU, B.A. in Communications; Teaching Certificate, Endorsement in K-8 Education

Linnea McDonnell began teaching at The Franklin Academy in 2006. She has spent time as a teacher in the Lower School, as well as the Middle School. Ms. McDonnell loves the school community! She loves the “family feel” and the warm and welcoming atmosphere at TFA.

Upon graduating from college, Linnea worked in the banking industry for 10 years, then decided that teaching was going to be her second and forever career! Back to school she went, knowing that she was embarking on a career that she would love!

Linnea enjoys many things about teaching, especially the “a-ha” moments that students receive when they realize something for the very first time! Read-alouds in all grade levels are another favorite of hers, as students listen with open ears, eager to discuss the stories with one another! The blessing of watching students learn and grow academically, as well as spiritually and emotionally, is a joy for Linnea.

Outside of school, Ms. McDonnell spends her time with family and friends. She can often be found visiting with loved ones over a cup of coffee, taking her nieces and nephew to the donut shop and scooter riding at the skate park, or walking at the beautiful Bellingham parks. If not there, she’s probably at the local bookstore finding that next great book, or playing “fetch” with her cat – yes, her cat plays fetch!

A favorite saying: “Live well, laugh often, love much.” – Author Unknown
Lesley Smith Spanish Specialist for 5th – 8th Grade, Advisor for 7th & 8th Grade Ershig House

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Education: Seattle University, B.A. Spanish; Western Washington University, M.Ed

Lesley Smith joined The Franklin Academy in 2015. She was born in San Diego, California.  For the first 18 years of her life, she lived with a native Spanish speaker.  This was the starting point of her teaching career.  She graduated from Seattle University with a degree in Spanish, later moving to Bellingham to complete a Master’s degree in Education.  She has taught at the Franklin Academy for the last eight years and is very excited to be part of the community once again. She finds the energy here contagious and hopes to inspire her students to love the Spanish language and culture.  Also, she wants to inspire students to travel abroad. She is a dedicated wife and mother.  In her free time, Lesley enjoys spending time outdoors.

A favorite saying: “Fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds of distance run.” – Rudyard Kipling

Stephanie Fox Physical Education Specialist - Kindergarten through 8th Grade, Athletic Director

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Education: Trinity Western University, B.A. in Physical Education; Central Washington University, B.S. in Physical Education and Health, Teaching Certificate, Endorsement in K-12 PE

Stephanie Fox grew up in Abbotsford, B.C. on a raspberry farm where she learned the value of hard work and the power of working together. From a very young age, she was involved with sports and athletics and it became something she found joy in.  She attended a private high school in B.C and went on to Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C. for her college education where she was a part of the Women’s Basketball Program. It was on a sports ministry trip to Kenya, that she discovered her love for working with children and decided to pursue a career in teaching.  Following my time at TWU, she moved to Washington State and attended Central Washington University where she completed my teaching certification.

It was while attending CWU that she met my husband and we moved to Chewelah, WA where we spent ten years in youth ministry.  We had two of our children there and she spent time teaching in the local school district and coaching Volleyball, Basketball and Tennis. She moved back to Whatcom County in 2012 to be near family.

The 2019-20 academic year was her first year at The Franklin Academy and she enjoys the community here. When she is not teaching, she loves a good cup of coffee and hanging out with her husband, who is a pastor in Ferndale, and her three amazing children.

A favorite saying: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

Tania Grumbles Art Specialist - Kindergarten through 5th Grade

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Education: Utah Valley State College, Associates Degree in Music

Tania Grumbles was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and met her Texan husband while attending the University of Lethbridge. They moved quite a bit while constructing power plants throughout the Western US and eventually settled in Ferndale. She is a mother of four beautiful gingers and two gorgeous dogs. Her talents include all aspects of music, teaching piano, and playing the organ for her church. In her spare time, she loves kayaking, cross stitching, crafts, drawing, painting, attending live theater performances, and traveling as a family. She also enjoys watching her kids play sports, including swimming, volleyball, orchestra, band, cross country, dance, and track meets. Watching kids learn and develop their talents brings her much joy in life.

A favorite saying: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”- C.S. Lewis

Jennifer Snyder Music specialist - Preschool through 5th Grade

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Education:Western Washington University, B.A. in Music Education

Mrs. Snyder has been a part of the school community since 2003. She teaches preschool and elementary music, as well as middle school band and choir electives. 

She has always loved music.  Starting at age six, she took private lessons on the electric organ.  In 5th grade she joined band, playing trombone,  and she began taking piano lessons in high school.

Mrs. Snyder received her BA in music education and her Professional Certification from Western Washington University.  At Western, she studied advanced trombone, piano and piano accompanying, and played in several groups including wind ensemble, trombone choir, and a brass quintet.

Some of the many things Mrs. Snyder loves about being a music teacher is hearing the children’s beautiful voices and watching their faces light up with excitement as they explore playing instruments, singing, dancing and creating.  Music can be enjoyed in so many ways and her goal is to help students find joy in music.

Outside of school, Mrs. Snyder enjoys spending time with her husband, son, and cats. She is a self-proclaimed crazy cat person, as many of her students are aware!

A favorite saying: “Every great musician was once a beginner.”


Aaron Walters Chaplain & Lunch/Recess Aide

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Education: B.A. (History, Secondary Education), University of Northern Colorado, 2001; M.Div., Trinity Western University, 2007

Aaron was born and raised in Colorado Springs; his mother was a career elementary teacher and his father a Jazz musician. Aaron met his wife Kate at university at Campus Crusade for Christ. After graduation, they spent a year in China teaching English. It was there that they discerned the path toward vocational ministry. This brought them to the Pacific Northwest and Trinity Western University, where Aaron received a Master’s of Divinity and was ordained in the Christian Reformed Church.

Aaron and Kate and a team of others started The Table church in 2010, serving the south side of Bellingham. Aaron continues to serve as pastor of The Table, as well as serving at Mosaic church in Bellingham. Along the way, Kate and Aaron had their three children – Montana, Amos, and Silas.

Aaron began serving as Chaplain at Franklin Academy in fall of 2019. His hope is to bring his love of Jesus and his desire to develop critical thinkers into chapel services at Franklin Academy. Aaron enjoys dialoguing about faith and different spiritual practices, with a variety of people and perspectives. He sees his role as chaplain at Franklin Academy as another aspect of his call to serve Bellingham.

He loves trail running, laughing, and listening to his family’s stories while eating Jalapeno chips by his wood stove. He loves hearing the ideas and creations of the students at Franklin.

A favorite saying: “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!” – Dr. Seuss

Charanjit Toor Lunch/Recess Aide

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Along with working at the Franklin Academy, Charanjit has also been an employee at St. Joseph PeaceHealth Medical Center for the past 19 years. She is the mom of a student at The Franklin Academy. Charanjit loves spending time with family and enjoys talking with students as a part of Franklin Academy.

Lexi Miller Lunch/Recess Aide

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Education: Post Falls high school graduate; Carrington College dental degree

Lexi is a mother to one, avid animal lover (has 5 pets), and enjoys anything to do with being out in nature. She enjoys taking her daughter on any new adventure she can. Lexi also loves to bake tasty treats and try all things new and exciting in the kitchen!

Javin Volz Lunch/Recess and After School Aid

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Education: Bachelor of the Arts, Western Washington University, Major in Business and Recreation Program Management, minor in Business Administration, expected completion 202

Javin Volz joined the Franklin Academy in 2023 after discovering his passion for childhood recreation and leadership development during his studies at Western Washington University. Javin has previously worked in recreation programs for a wide range of ages, and is excited to bring this experience to the students of the Franklin Academy. 

Javin is a dual citizen, and is a member of the St’át’imc First Nation, specifically the Tsal’álh tribe located near Seton Lake in British Columbia, CAN. Javin is an avid basketball fan, and has been working towards his goal of visiting every NBA stadium for a game (3 so far!). When he is not out shooting hoops, Javin is petting any cat that crosses his path or taking his friend’s puppy for a walk. 

A favorite saying: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – Wayne Gretzky 

Abi Wanager Lunch/Recess and After School Aide

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Education: Bachelors in Political Science from Western Washington University, Minor in Communication Sciences and Disorders; AA from Tacoma Community College

Abi grew up in the beautiful PNW, and was raised in Tacoma, Washington. She has been working with children for the majority of her life, specifically in outdoor education centered settings and arts/dance based programs. Her favorite thing about working with kids is the optimism, creativity, and humor they bring to everyday life. Abi spent her youth dancing ballet, and still regularly expresses her passion for the art form. She also spent most of her childhood days in nature and exploring the outdoors, and being in nature is still her favorite thing to do. Besides enjoying the outdoors, Abi enjoys reading and is an avid bookworm, animal lover, and hiker, and she enjoys practicing yoga and baking.

A favorite saying:  “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou 

Lee Hendricks Lunch/Recess and After School Aid

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Education: Lee Hendricks grew up in Everett where they competed varsity level in soccer and wrestling. Beginning their sophomore year in high school, they attended Everett community college. Last year they moved to Bellingham to attend WWU as a French major to eventually teach at the middle and high school level.

In 2019 Lee started their career in childcare with the YMCA where they have gone on to run summer camps and build various curriculum. It is here that they discovered their passion for working with youth.

In their spare time Lee is a loving cat dad to their two kittens Marvin and Lilith alongside their partner. They’re also a part of the Bellingham Roller Betties’ Cog Blockers, and Board of Directors. They enjoy being active, but also cozying up to crochet or read a book.

A favorite saying: “You have to go the way your blood beats. If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all.” – James Baldwin