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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.
Elena Baba (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) graduated from the London School of Eurythmy and has been teaching Eurythmy to children and adults since 1989. She has taught Eurythmy at the Rudolf Steiner College, Arcturus Teacher Training in Chicago, and the Foundations Study Program on the East Coast. Elena returned to Chicago in 2017. She is happy to be working with students at Urban Prairie, performing with Midwest Eurythmy Group and being involved with the Rudolf Steiner branch.
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. Her favorite book in the 4th grade was Island of the Blue Dolphins.
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. In 2014 she enrolled at 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.
Karen Hartz (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) is the 5th grade class teacher. She joined UPWS as Pedagogical Director in the summer of 2015 and became the faculty representative on the Board. With degrees in English and secondary education, Karen has worked in a variety of public and private high schools in Illinois and Wisconsin. She has taught all levels of high school English, from remedial to AP, and has coached forensics and directed theater. After the birth of her son, a friend encouraged her to read an article on educating the “heart, head, and hands.” Finding a philosophy of education that resonated with her own, Karen joined several Steiner study groups before enrolling in Waldorf teacher training and serving as a full-time second grade aid to a master Waldorf teacher. A year later she had the opportunity to take up her own class. Karen has since led four middle school classes, at Prairie Hill Waldorf School in Pewaukee, WI, and the Chicago Waldorf School. In addition, Karen served as full-time faculty chair and was a board member at Prairie Hill.
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.
Ashley Ingold (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) is the 2nd grade co-teacher. Previously, she worked as Administrative Assistant at UPWS. She has a BS degree in Art Education from Southern Illinois University. She is enrolled at Waldorf Teacher Training at the West Coast Institute for Anthroposophy.
Bailey Johns (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) is the 2nd grade co-teacher. She completed Foundation Studies at Arcturus while also working at UPWS as an aftercare, recess, and classroom assistant. Bailey attended Antioch University to complete her teacher training and MEd. During her time on the east coast, she interned and worked at the Lake Champlain Waldorf School. She is a co-teacher for the second grade with Ms. Ingold.
Angela Kiefer (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) is a support teacher for the 8th, 4th, and 1st grade. Ms. Kiefer was also our 1st class teacher, completing her first eight year teaching cycle last year. 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.
Emma Kolsky (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) graduated from the Erikson Institute with a Master’s degree in Child Development and a specialization in Children with Special Needs. She spent two years doing Autism research at the University of North Carolina, and has extensive experience doing school and home-based therapy with children on the Autism Spectrum and their families. This is Emma’s first year at Urban Prairie, and she is excited to join the team and learn more about Waldorf education.
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!
Handwork and Practical Arts Teacher
Shabath Leidy(preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) attended Chicago Waldorf School from early childhood through 12th grade. After attending college, she received her Waldorf training at the Arcturus teacher training Center. Ms. Leidy was formerly an assistant at City Garden Early Childhood Center and joined UPWS in 2010.
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.
8th Grade Class 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.
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. Nelson 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. Nelson 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 6th 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.
Chelsea Weidner (preferred pronouns are she/her/hers) graduated in May 2017 with her BA in Psychology from Northwestern College in Iowa. Chelsea has recently moved to Chicago to attend Erikson Institute’s Master program for Child Development. She has past experience working with children in a variety of settings including summer camps, child care centers, and home settings. Chelsea is adding to experience by leading our aftercare team.