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Faculty & Staff
Hannah Avellone (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) currently teaches 3rd grade. She received her BA from Bard College and her Waldorf teacher certificate from the Arcturus Rudolf Steiner Education Program. A class teacher, 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.
Director of Community Development
Heather Berhalter (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) has been a member of the Board of Trustees since 2009 and is currently responsible for marketing, admissions, enrollment, parent education, and development efforts for the school. Before moving to Chicago, she served in the State Department Foreign Service in several overseas posts and in Washington, D.C. as a Special Assistant to Secretary Madeleine Albright. She is also a La Leche League Leader. She and her husband, Jay, have three sons who attend Urban Prairie.
Megan Cather (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) started at the Urban Prairie Waldorf School in 2017 as the 4th grade class teacher. 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.
Educational Support Coordinator
Candace Choma (preferred 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 Healing Education.
Xuefen (Glenda) Ding (preferred 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 (preferred 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 CPS School. He is currently raising three bilingual children, two of whom have joined him at Urban Prairie. He joined Urban Prairie in 2016.
In addition to serving as the Music Director, Miguel Garcia (preferred pronouns are he/him/his) teaches chorus and orchestra. He graduated with honors from from Boston College (B.A., Music) and the Chicago College of Performing Arts (M.M., Violin Performance). Mr. Garcia has performed as a soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral violinist across the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia for over 15 years. He was the two-time winner of the Boston College Concerto Competition, resulting in his solo performances of the Brahms and Bruch violin concertos. Mr. Garcia has received fellowships from Boston College, the Aspen Music Festival, and the International Music Academy. His 2016 performance schedule includes concerts with the Illinois Symphony, Third Eye Opera Company, Peoria Symphony, Chicago Summer Opera, and Main Street Opera. He has performed with a number of diverse artists and ensembles, including Gil Shaham, David Robertson, Brinton Smith, Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, and the Trans Siberian Orchestra. A graduate of the Washington Waldorf School, Mr. Garcia has undergone Waldorf Music training with Par Albom, Christiaan Boele, Elizabeth English, and Monika Sutherland. He currently performs on a violin made in 1897 by Maurice Mermillot. Mr. Garcia joined UPWS in 2014.
Sophie Huckabay (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) attended the Chicago Waldorf School from kindergarten through twelfth 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.
Mentor and Garden Coordinator
Angela Kiefer (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) was our 1st class teacher, completing her first eight year teaching cycle in 2017. This year, she is contributing significantly to our school by not only mentoring some other 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 comedienne 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.
Games and Movement Teacher
Adriana Kondrat (preferred 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.
Mr. Kress (preferred pronouns are he/him/his) began his professional acting and musical career at the age of 16, while attending Curie H.S. 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 his 1st 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!
Director of Operations and Finance
Prior to being hired as Director of Operations and Finance, Peggy (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) served as the 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.
Lucia Mancini (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) oversees Urban Prairie's Aftercare Program.
Handwork & Practical Arts Teacher
Meredith Merchant (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in New Media and Sculpture from Ringling College of Art and Design. Upon graduating, Meredith spent her time living broadly over the United States. She also spent one year serving the community she grew up in via AmeriCorps. The calling to be a Waldorf educator came while Meredith was working for an artist in Colorado. She holds a class teacher certificate from Antioch University, and is an M.Ed candidate. Meredith spent her practicum working as the Land Stewardship Assistant at The Hartsbrook School in Hadley, MA. There she decided educational and student support was her path. Meredith is currently in the remedial training program offered through the Association for Healing Education.
Handwork & Practical Arts Teacher
Jillian Miller (preferred pronouns are they/their/theirs) is one of the Handwork/Practical Arts teachers as well as the Chair of the Social Inclusion Committee. They come to us with vast experience from the Housatonic Valley Waldorf School in Connecticutt where they served as a class teacher, faculty co-chair, and ombudsman. In addition to their Waldorf teacher training, Jillian also has holds a Masters Degree of Social Work and is a licensed clinical social worker with extensive experience working with at-risk youth.
Ms. Pearl is an experienced Waldorf teacher with an extensive background in science and math, as well as music, performance, and writing. She has worked at Miami Waldorf School and Prairie Hill Waldorf School 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 7 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 (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) is the 1st grade class teacher. 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 second-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 second, third, and fourth grades. Inspired by the Waldorf philosophy, she began her Waldorf training that summer. Amanda graduated from Northwestern in June 2016.
Mathew Riendeau (preferred pronouns are he/him/his) is currently teaching 7th grade. 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. He holds a B.A. in Chinese from Middlebury College.