Urban Prairie Waldorf School

Faculty & Staff

Hannah  Avellone

Class Teacher


Hannah Avellone (pronouns are she/her/hers) currently teaches the class of 2023. She received her BA from Bard College and her Waldorf teacher certificate from the Arcturus Rudolf Steiner Education Program. Hannah has long been a member of the Urban Prairie community as a lead kindergarten teacher at City Garden Waldorf School, through her work with the Urban Prairie Board, and as an adult educator. Outside of the classroom, you can find Hannah hiking, playing the cello, knitting, singing, and playing games.

Elizabeth Avila

Class Teacher


Liz Avila (pronouns are she/her) currently teaches the class of 2026. Liz joined the teaching team at UPWS after working in the Chicago Public Schools, both as a classroom teacher and a teacher coach and mentor with the Chicago New Teacher Center and the Erikson Early Math Collaborative. She most recently assisted in an early childhood classroom at City Garden Waldorf School. Liz has a BA in Sociology from Augustana College and a MEd in Early Childhood Education from University of Illinois at Chicago. She also earned her ESL/Multicultural Certificate at the Erikson Institute. Liz has begun her Waldorf teacher training at Arcturus. Liz was eager to return to teaching in the grades!

Sophie Baumgartner

Administrative Assistant


Sophie Baumgartner (pronouns are she/her/hers) attended the Chicago Waldorf School from kindergarten through 12th grade, graduating in 2005. She earned a BA in Political Science and Environmental Studies from Kalamazoo College in Michigan. Prior to starting at Urban Prairie she spent five years working at SmithBucklin as membership coordinator for a specialty nursing association. She is excited to bring her administrative skills to the Urban Prairie office and her true passion, Circus Arts, to the Urban Prairie students.

Megan  Cather

Class Teacher


Megan Cather (pronouns are she/her/hers) started at Urban Prairie in 2017 as the 4th grade class teacher and continues to teach the class of 2022. Megan received her BA in Spanish and Writing/Communications from Maryville College and her MS in Elementary Education from Northern Illinois University. She has a Professional Educator License from the State of Illinois with endorsements in Bilingual Education in Spanish and English as a Second Language. Before coming to Urban Prairie, she taught for 10 years in the Chicago Public Schools, teaching bilingual 2nd, 3rd, and 5th grades. She is delighted to be teaching at Urban Prairie, and is currently pursuing Waldorf certification. Megan finds joy in hiking, camping, playing the guitar, and reading.

Candace  Choma

Educational Support Coordinator


Candace Choma (pronouns are she/her/hers) received her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Washington University in St. Louis. Upon graduating, Candace became the founding early childhood teacher of Three Rivers School, a Waldorf initiative in LaCrosse, WI. Candace went on to teach early childhood / kindergarten at both Great Oaks School and Prairie Hill Waldorf School. Candace completed her Waldorf teacher training through Waldorf Teacher Development Association in Ann Arbor, MI. More recently, Candace completed her Master’s Degree in Special Education while teaching in a therapeutic day school setting. Candace is currently in the remedial training program offered through the Association for a Healing Education.

Glenda Ding

Mandarin Teacher


Xuefen (Glenda) Ding (pronouns are she/her/hers) is a native of Lanzhou, in northwest China. Ms. Ding was a college professor for ten years and taught foreign languages at a global education organization in Beijing for eight years. She holds a BA in literature and a master’s in economics. Ms. Ding joined UPWS in 2011. She is completing her Waldorf Teacher Training program at Arcturus Chicago.

Tolman  Flannery

Spanish Teacher


Tolman Flannery (pronouns are he/him/his) was a Waldorf student himself at the Chicago Waldorf School (CWS), where he was in the third class to graduate eighth grade. Mr. Flannery traveled to Mexico many times as a boy and studied Spanish throughout his schooling. He attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota and studied in Oaxaca, Mexico for a semester. Mr. Flannery taught ESL to adults for eight years. He then taught Spanish at CWS and North Park Elementary. He also taught in Bilingual Classrooms at Pilsen Community Academy, a Chicago public school. He is currently raising three bilingual children, two of whom attend Urban Prairie. He joined Urban Prairie in 2016.

Dan  Galat

Orchestra Teacher


Dan Galat (Pronouns he/him/his) started playing violin when he was 7 years old. 7 years later, he began teaching violin. 12 years and many thousands of hours of practice after that he graduated with a Master’s degree in violin performance from the Jacobs School of Music. While he was in music school, Dan taught music theory to undergraduate and graduate students as an Associate Instructor of Music Theory. Upon graduation, Dan performed with professional ensembles around Indiana and Kentucky, taught 5th grade orchestra, and directed and launched a nonprofit called Habitat4Music which provided free violin group classes to low income students. In 2016, Dan moved to Chicago to play with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and teach orchestra and violin at Urban Prairie. These days, you can find Dan performing around the city performing new music, playing in musicals, chamber groups, and with orchestras at venues from Symphony Center to Constellation. In his free time, Dan enjoys running, cooking, and spending time with his wife and their two cats.

Myra Kalaw

Aftercare Assistant


Myra Kalaw (pronouns she/her/hers) spent two years teaching EFL to grade-school students in Taiwan. Prior to this, she has also worked as a Math, English & Biology tutor for Chicago City Colleges & Chicago Public Schools. She received her formal education at Columbia College Chicago where she took extensive classes in Poetry, Papermaking, Bookbinding & Letterpress Printing. In her free time, she enjoys being in the great outdoors and doing restoration work for the local forest preserves.

Angela Kiefer

Mentor and Garden Coordinator


Angela Kiefer (pronouns are she/her/hers) was our first class teacher, completing her first eight-year teaching cycle in 2017. This year, she is contributing significantly to our school by not only mentoring many of our class teachers but also envisioning, researching, and bringing to life our permaculture garden, edible forest, and outdoor gardening plan. She received her Waldorf training at the Great Lakes Teacher Training program, Milwaukee, WI. Prior to joining Urban Prairie, Ms. Kiefer taught the kindergarten summer program at Singing Winds Waldorf School in Riverside, IL. She is a former improv comedian and an accomplished horsewoman. Ms. Kiefer holds a B.A. in French and Theatre from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and has completed coursework for her M.A. in education, Mount Mary College.

Adriana Kondrat

Games and Movement Teacher


Adriana Kondrat (pronouns are she/her/hers) is a Chicago Waldorf School graduate and studied at Arcturus. She was the Assistant Director and Co-Founder of the CWS Summer Camp. She is a BAVX (Bal-A-Vis-X) trainer and is currently studying in spacial dynamics on the west coast. She also has a degree in General Education and joined UPWS in 2012.

Gyasi  Kress

Aftercare Teacher


Mr. Kress (pronouns are he/him/his) began his professional acting and musical career at the age of 16, while attending Curie Metro High School in Chicago. Highly influenced by his mother's success as the lead singer and guitarist of her own band (Kanika Kress and the Blues Express), Gyasi has continued to pursue poetry and music as a personal passion long after his mother's death. During his college years at University of the Arts in Philadelphia, he started a youth-oriented open mic which expanded to Chicago as the OpenMind OpenMic at the Bridgeport Arts center under HumanThread. An alumnus of TeenStreet Theater, he has worked as a teaching artist and/or mentor with Afterschool Matters, Alvin Ailey Camp Chicago, The Boys & Girls Club and the Victory Over Violence campaign. Gyasi is very excited to join the Urban Prairie team!

Heather La Riviere

Handwork Teacher


Heather (pronouns she/her/hers) is a native of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania and grew up in an Army family. She earned a BA/MA from the University of Chicago with general and special honors in Romance Languages. She has worked as the Director of Adult and Youth Programs at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and as the Director of the Shoreland Language Commons at the University of Chicago. A self-taught fiber artist and seamstress, Heather has made clothing, costumes, quilts, and many, many knitted projects. She also enjoys abstract painting, playing the piano, performing in community dance and theater, and open-water swimming. She lives in Hyde Park with her family.

Peggy Lofgren

Director of Operations and Finance


Prior to being hired as Director of Operations and Finance, Peggy (pronouns are she/her/hers) served as our School Administrator, Chair of the Urban Prairie Board Finance Committee and Treasurer. She joined UPWS with a wealth of expertise in administration and finance in the luxury hospitality and wellness industry. She has managed P&Ls for the last 15 years from $2M to $20M in revenue. She has local and international experience in the luxury spa business and has led key corporate initiatives using strategic planning and analytical skills. She has launched multiple new properties and collaborated with corporate leadership in marketing, human resources, design and construction, training, and finance. A UPWS parent, she is committed to Waldorf education and is passionate about Urban Prairie.

Erica Moriarty

Parent-Child Lead and Early Childhood Assistant


Erica Moriarty (pronoun are she/her/hers) is a Parent-Child and Early Childhood teacher at UPWS and has the goal of offering families an introduction to Waldorf education in a warm, creative space for parents/caregivers and their children. Erica has a BS in Psychology with a minor in Art from Northern Illinois University. She also has a Waldorf Foundations Certification from the Center for Anthroposophy and an Early Childhood Certification from LifeWays North America . She and her husband have three children, and together manage the Dainty Warrior Project, a charity to support families with children fighting cancer. Outside of the classroom, Erica enjoys teaching group fitness classes, painting, and making crafts with her children.

Dessislava Nenova

Cello Extra Lesson Teacher


Dessi (pronouns she/her/hers) is originally from Plovdiv, Bulgaria, holds an MM and DMA in Cello Performance from Michigan State University. She has performed as a soloist with the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra, the University of Central Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the Michigan State Wind Symphony, Michigan State Women’s Chamber Ensemble, common pulse, and mirabai. A passionate educator, Dr. Nenova currently teaches at NVHS-District 204 in Naperville, the British International School and Urban Prairie Waldorf School in Chicago. She has also been on the faculty at Michigan State University while working on her degrees (teaching assistant), Albion College, MI and Carthage College, WI. She can be heard on National Public Radio with the Grammy Award winning MSU Children’s Choir and mirabai.

Andi Pearl

Class Teacher


Ms. Pearl (pronouns are she/her/hers) is an experienced Waldorf teacher with an extensive background in science and math, as well as music, performance, and writing. Andi teaches the class of 2021. She has worked at Miami Waldorf School and Prairie Hill Waldorf School in Wisconsin, where she taught grades 1-8 with a focus on the middle school years. She also served as Faculty Chair at Prairie Hill. For the last seven years, she has worked for NASA and other international space agencies as a professional development specialist and science education specialist for K-12 teachers in space and sun science. She most recently served as Director of Education for a not-for-profit agency focused on nutrition education and urban organic farming initiatives. There, she oversaw curriculum development, program implementation, and training program development for both school educators and apprentice organic farmers in an effort to address nutrition and food accessibility needs in diverse communities. Ms. Pearl holds a B.S. in Elementary Education with a concentration in Math and Science from Iowa State University and trained at Antioch University in Waldorf education and at Great Lakes Teacher Training.

Amanda  Poll

Class Teacher


Amanda Poll (pronouns are she/her/hers) teaches the class of 2025. She grew up in New Albany, Ohio, where she first discovered her love of working with children while coaching swimming and rowing. She attended Ohio State University to study Early Childhood Development. She was also on the varsity rowing team that won the NCAA Championship in 2013. Following her graduation, she earned her master's in Child Development & Education at Oxford University. Her dissertation investigated the impact of reading role models on socially disadvantaged second-graders. After graduation, Ms. Poll moved to Chicago to teach Junior Kindergarten at Chicago Jewish Day School. To further advance her career, she enrolled in the elementary education licensure program at Northwestern University. She student-taught in a 2nd grade classroom in Chicago Public Schools. During her time at Northwestern, Amanda became the main substitute teacher at Chicago Waldorf School, where she frequently worked in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades. Inspired by the Waldorf philosophy, she began her Waldorf training that summer. Amanda graduated from Northwestern in June 2016.

Kelly Quesada

Orchestra Cello Teacher


Kelly (pronouns she/her/hers) is a cellist and educator based in Chicago. Active as both an orchestral and chamber musician, she has been playing in professional ensembles for over 10 years. In addition to performing with the Eugene, Huntsville and Tuscaloosa Symphonies, she was also the founding cellist of the Delgani String Quartet based in Eugene, Oregon. Kelly recently completed her tenure as principal cellist of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, where she had the pleasure of sharing the stage with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Riccardo Muti, and the future leaders of the music world. Kelly is equally dedicated to teaching the next generation of musicians, currently teaching cello at South Side Suzuki and Urban Prairie Waldorf School, and chamber music for Hyde Park Youth Symphony.

Mat Riendeau

Class Teacher


Mathew Riendeau (pronouns are he/him/his) is the class teacher for the class of 2020. He trained at Arcturus Waldorf teacher training program in Chicago. Before coming to Urban Prairie in 2010, Mat taught at Water’s Edge Waldorf School in Wauconda, IL. Prior to realizing his calling as a Waldorf teacher, he completed two tours of service with the United States Peace Corps. He taught English for two years in Sichuan Province, China, and spent two years working at a rural health clinic in Burkina Faso in West Africa. Mat holds a B.A. in Chinese from Middlebury College.

Megan Rotko

Class Teacher


Megan Rotko (pronouns are she/her/hers) teaches the class of 2025. Megan began teaching English as a Second Language while living in Chiapas, Mexico between 1995-1999. She returned to the US and earned her degree in Political Science and Spanish while living in An Arbor, MI. After moving to Chicago she taught yoga, meditation, and Spanish to children kindergarten through third grade while completing her Waldorf Teachers Certificate. Before coming to Urban Prairie, she taught at the Chicago Waldorf School, taking a class from 1st through 5th grade. Megan is the President and Dharma Coordinator of the Chicago chapter of Jewel Heart Tibetan Buddhist Studies Center, where she facilitates weekly classes.

Jennifer Zielinski

Director of Enrollment and Admissions


Jenn uses she/her pronouns, she comes to us with over 10 years experience working in Enrollment Management at the Chicago Waldorf School. She and her husband currently reside in Rogers Park with their 3 boys and Chi-Weenie named Mimi. Her deep commitment to Waldorf education is reflected in her professional development, having completed the Foundation Year at Arcturus Rudolf Steiner Program, as well as having spent a year studying Educational Support with experts at the Association for Healing Education. In July of 2014, she attended the National S.E.E.D. (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Project training to become a S.E.E.D. facilitator and has been leading sessions ever since. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago and is excited to be back in the neighborhood.