Faculty & Staff

Early Childhood Faculty

Melody Birdsong-Shubert (she/her)

Early Childhood Teacher, Hidden Hollow Classroom

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”  ― Maya Angelou                        

Melody joined River Valley Waldorf in 2015. She combines an anti-bias and anti-racist practice (ABAR) with Waldorf education to serve the early childhood and RVWS community where compassion and being an affirming and contributing community member is continually developed. Melody participated in a three-year long Waldorf Early Childhood Teacher Training with Sunbridge Institute in NY. It was during this time that she internalized that Waldorf educators must be committed to responding with great intentionality as they embrace the responsibility to present an atmosphere of opportunity and truth where children and community may thrive. Melody, her partner, and their child are residents and caretakers of unceded northeastern woodlands with Lenni Lenape and other indigenous peoples. They are privileged to reside in a home that sits upon farmland at the base of the Appalachian mountains now known as Northampton County, PA. This family of three enjoys spending time with extended family members for weekly dinners, game nights, pool time, and the occasional fish fry. With a passion for the outdoors, they frequent the rolling rivers via canoe and the vast array of terrain when backpacking through remote mountains. Melody loves to try new things and has most recently taken up playing the ukulele and learning snowboarding. 

Jerilyn Burke (she/her)

Early Childhood Teacher, Dandelion Classroom

“I am passionate about Waldorf education because of its focus on educating the whole child – not just their intellect, but their hearts and hands as well. I believe childhood should be honored as a valid time unto itself, where goodness, truth, and beauty can be explored with joy, interest, and wonder.” ~ Jerilyn Burke

Born in California, Jerilyn grew up in various places including Japan, Italy, South Texas, West Florida, and she continues to be an avid traveler. She feels lucky to have had many immersive experiences in a variety of cultures. Jerilyn received her B.A. in Interdisciplinary Humanities with concentrations in art history, communication arts, and music at the University of West Florida, completed her LifeWays Early Childhood training in Asheville, North Carolina, and received her Waldorf certification at Rudolf Steiner Centre in Toronto, Canada. She is also certified in Hand In Hand Parenting as well as Community Supported Postpartum. Jerilyn joined River Valley in 2019 and has published several articles and facilitated workshops and classes on the topics of parenting and child development. A mother of three, Jerilyn enjoys bike rides with her family and spending time in nature. Living along the Delaware Canal on Lenape native land, Jerilyn hopes to one day grow a beautiful garden full of flowers, honeybees, and butterflies.

Jacqueline Foley (she/her)

Early Childhood Teacher, Rosebud Classroom

“It’s amazing how each child blooms throughout the year. Watching the connection of mind, body, and soul blossom from the beginning of the school year until the last day is a remarkable experience for me.” ~ Jacqueline Foley

For Jacqueline, it’s the connection of spirit, soul, mind, and body of a Waldorf education that resonates with her. As part of the Early Childhood department, she focuses on honoring each child’s spirit by finding what ignites their curiosity and guiding them along the way. Jacqueline  received a B.F.A from Moore College of Art & Design and has been at River Valley Waldorf since 2016. Before River Valley, Jacqueline was a textile print designer for several companies including Fashion Bug, Lane Bryant, Graco Children’s Products, and Old Navy, designing the prints and patterns for fabrics as well as knit and woven. She also had her own business painting murals for children’s rooms. Born and raised outside Philadelphia, Jacqueline lives in Bucks County and is the mother of four daughters. In her spare time, she loves yoga, painting, reading, and riding her rusty old bike along the canal.

Layla Plaza (She/Her)

Early Childhood Teacher, Rosebud Classroom

“I love how a Waldorf school educates the whole child and instills a lifelong love of learning.” ~ Layla Plaza

Layla joined River Valley Waldorf in 2018 as an assistant kindergarten teacher and began co-teaching in 2021. She admires how the children at River Valley show so much passion in the work they do. Layla’s education background includes the hospitality industry, in hotel/restaurant management. After working in restaurants from farm-to-table to fine dining award winning restaurants in Austin, Texas, she relocated back to Pennsylvania with her husband and their baby. Shifting into the childcare profession, Layla worked at a daycare for two years before finding a home at River Valley Waldorf. She was born in Montreal and lives in Allentown, PA. When time allows, Layla enjoys playing the harp.

Nicholas Clark (he/him/they/them)

Early Childhood Support Teacher

A board certified music therapist with a dual Masters degree in Music Therapy & Counseling from Drexel University, Nicholas Clark brings an extensive background to his position of EC support at River Valley Waldorf. Prior to joining RVWS, Nicholas worked as a mental health counselor and music therapist with children and young adults at Family and Community Service Center in Delaware County, PA. For a combination of eight years at two different schools in Oregon and Philadelphia, he taught piano, guitar, ukulele, and songwriting to children, adolescents, and adults. Nicholas has worked in hospice as a music therapist, and also co-facilitated COVID-19 grief support groups and weekly music and mindfulness experiences for the staff. Nicholas has worked in camp environments, facilitating music therapy groups with children and adolescents with ADHD, autism, behavioral diagnoses, and learning differences. Additionally, he has been a caregiver, early childhood educator, and music program coordinator in private schools and was an instructor at a community-based violence prevention program for 5th-8th grade boys in Portland, OR.

Grade School Faculty

Gabrielle Nembhard (she/her)

Grades 1 & 2 Class Teacher

“I love how Waldorf education is health-giving. It supports and maximizes children’s growth and development physically, emotionally, and mentally. Waldorf education supports children in unfolding their full potential, discovering who they are, and developing the skills and capacities they need to be successful at whatever they set their minds to.”   ~ Gabrielle Nembhard

Gabrielle’s passion for Waldorf education lies in how it supports children in discovering who they are as individuals, and reaching their full potential so they can find their unique paths through life. She loves how Waldorf education helps develop the capacities for freedom of thinking, strength of will, and warmth and openness for connection with others. She resonates most with the principles of independence in education, accessibility, and diversity at River Valley Waldorf School. A Waldorf graduate herself, Gabrielle received her B.S. in Education with Special Ed, and a Concentration in Math from SUNY Geneseo. She completed her Waldorf teacher training at Sunbridge Institute in 2019. Prior to teaching at River Valley, Gabrielle taught in grades K-8 at the Three Cedars Waldorf School in Seattle, WA, as well as at the Summer Camp at the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs. Gabrielle became a class teacher at River Valley Waldorf School in 2017 and began serving on the Board of Trustees in 2019. She lives in the Lehigh Valley and loves reading, knitting, practicing Iyengar yoga, spending time with her family, and going on adventures in nature.

Bridget Brier (she/her)

Grades 3 & 4 Class Teacher

“I love the richness and arts-based methods of this pedagogy. I love that our students are comfortable in so many practical arts.” ~ Bridget Brier 

Bridget has been a community member and parent at the school since 2007, joining as a teacher in 2017. She first attended a parent/child class with her child who is now a River Valley alum. Bridget received her undergraduate degree from Fordham University in New York, and did her Waldorf training at Sunbridge Institute. Prior to joining River Valley, Bridget worked at Morning Glory Children from 2007-2012, which was a Waldrof preschool and kindergarten in Doylestown that River Valley absorbed. Earlier in her career, Bridget was a yoga teacher, a writer and editor for a local weekly newspaper, and she taught writing classes in college. As a steward of unceded Leni Lenape land, Bridget seeks to bring the Waldorf value of sustainability into her actions and lives by the credo – “how can she live in reciprocity in all that she does?” Bridget grew up in Bucks County and still calls it home. Outside of the classroom she can be found knitting, writing, reading, and cooking with her family.

Molly Watson (she/her)

Grades 5 & 6 Class Teacher

“I love how Waldorf education looks at each student as an individual on their own unique journey.” ~ Molly Watson

Molly resonates with the importance of being in a community like River Valley Waldorf that values relationships and healthy communication. She loves the freedom in teaching that Waldorf teachers have, and appreciates how wonderful it is to be able to learn and grow alongside other community members. Molly has been part of the River Valley Waldorf community since 2005, beginning when her daughters were in the River Valley Garden Gate class. Molly holds a B.A. in French, a B.S. in Elementary Education, and a MEd. in TESOL from La Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico. She went to Penn State for her teacher training and has also participated in Waldorf trainings at Antioch and Sunbridge Institute. After living in New Zealand for four years, and a decade of public school experience, plus leadership roles in both private and charter schools, Molly began teaching at River Valley Waldorf in 2019. In addition, she has also served on the Board of Trustees and was Board President from July 2011 – February 2015. Molly grew up in Williams Township (Easton) and currently lives in Erwinna. She loves horses, yoga, and reading.

Melanie Niemczura (she/her)

Grade 8 Class Teacher & Pedagogical Chair

“I love learning and sharing the joys of learning.  The world is infinitely interesting and we will never run out of questions to ask.” ~ Melanie Niemczura

In addition to her position as 8th grade teacher, Melanie has been named Pedagogical Chair at River Valley Waldorf. In this added role, she will dedicate time to support the work of the faculty. Beyond her own early school years locally in Quakertown, PA, she went to Penn State, receiving a B.S. in Landscape Architecture and on to Antioch New England Graduate School, where she received her Waldorf Certificate. Melanie has been a Waldorf parent since 2003 at the Malamalama Waldorf School in Pahoa, HI, parent and teacher at both the Monadnock Waldorf School in Keene, New Hampshire and the Northern Lights School in Lake Placid, NY. She joined River Valley Waldorf in 2010 with her two children, now both River Valley alums that she is “so ridiculously proud of” – her sons, who went on to study electromechanical technology and computer engineering in college. Her professional background includes permaculture training and organic farming, working on farms in Hawaii, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Melanie is passionate about the pillar of sustainability at River Valley Waldorf. Weaving a path from Landscape Architecture into permaculture into the good care of the young child in Waldorf education, her garden continues to grow and now some of her students are taller than her! Some of Melanie’s many interests include growing/cooking whole local foods, dancing, cycling, walking in nature, and continually learning about science.

Molly MacDonald (she/her)

Grade 7 Class Teacher

“I love how each teacher strives to meet the children in front of them. Each class and group of children has its own personality, energy, and needs, and the freedom that Waldorf Education gives us to meet that uniqueness is precious.” ~ Molly MacDonald 

Molly began her formal teaching while working with young children with significant disabilities in 1992 and continued that work for eight years. A graduate of Kutztown University, she earned her masters degree at Lehigh University, and received her Waldorf early-childhood training at Sophia’s Hearth in Keene, NH. She joined River Valley Waldorf in 2014. Molly embraces the deep understanding of individual child development that a Waldorf education provides through anthroposophical study. Recognizing each individual as a striving, spiritual being, she cites how this view gives the teachers rich support as they consider what to bring to their students and how to make it most meaningful for them in their journey through life. Molly grew up in New Jersey, and resides in Quakertown, PA. She loves to play with fibers of all sorts and in all different ways, and she also loves gardening, reading, and spending time with friends and family.

Lynn Vazquez (she/her)

Educational Support Teacher

“Diversity is a value that I incorporate into my work because each of us is differently abled. I try to honor the uniqueness of each child.” ~ Lynn Vazquez

Lynn’s passion for Waldorf education centers on how it nurtures the unique spirit of each child, allowing each child to discover their unique gifts and talents. She received her B.A. in history and math from Binghamton University and went to Sunbridge College for Waldorf Teacher Education in the remedial education and masters program. Lynn has been at River Valley Waldorf since 2005. Prior to River Valley, Lynn taught at schools in New York, Connecticut, and North Vancouver, Canada. Lynn grew up in Monroe, New York and currently lives in Doylestown, PA. She loves knitting, reading, and music – Lynn plays the piano and has a certificate in piano pedagogy.

Elizabeth Drew (she/her)

Math Skills Teacher

“For mathematics, independence in education allows us to create a safe environment where all children can successfully engage in meaningful mathematics. The challenge is balancing high academic standards, while honoring the diversity of skills and creating a passion for learning mathematics.” ~ Elizabeth Drew

Elizabeth is a seasoned educator with over twenty-five years experience. She has taught in private, public, and charter school settings serving in a broad spectrum of communities both nationally and internationally. As a result, Elizabeth has a deep understanding of how to differentiate curriculum so that all students show progress in a given lesson. Elizabeth graduated from Mount Holyoke College, received a masters degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and joined River Valley in 2018. Her passion is making math fun and accessible to all students. Elizabeth is from Rhode Island, currently resides along the Musconetcong River in  New Jersey, and has lived in Washington DC, England, Switzerland, Massachusetts, and South Africa where she served in the Peace Corps. Off-campus, Elizabeth enjoys traveling, playing tennis, kayaking, swimming, and hiking.

Specialty Subjects Faculty

Joe Wagner (he/him)

Music Teacher

“The River Valley principle that most resonates with me is the principle of independence in education. This encourages critical thinking and creativity in students, which are valuable traits for any path in life.” ~ Joe Wagner 

Joe grew up in the heart of Pennsylvania’s coal region, in Shamokin. He spent many years playing music and touring in bands based out of Philadelphia, PA and Asheville, NC. Joe has a Bachelor of Music in composition from Moravian College in Bethlehem, and a Master of Music in jazz studies from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He did his Waldorf training with Jeff Spade of the Rudolph Steiner School in New York City. Joe’s favorite part of Waldorf education is how music plays a key role in the overall curriculum. Joe joined River Valley Waldorf in 2021 bringing a well-rounded background to his role of Director of Music at River Valley Waldorf. He has decades of live performance across multiple musical genres, experience in sound design, recording technology, music for film, and creation of historically accurate music and soundscapes for museum exhibits and installations. Joe resides with his wife in Bethlehem, PA. When away from school, he enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, playing guitar, collecting musical instruments and records, electronics modification, growing heirloom tomatoes, mountain biking, and kayaking and fishing on the bay in Maryland.

Josh Laker (he/him)

Movement & Games Teacher

“I try to make everything I bring to the students both fun and accessible. Whether it is a new game, techniques for a sport, or history lessons, children give so much more when they enjoy what they are doing and see that their teacher enjoys it as well.” ~ Josh Laker 

Josh grew up in Kimberton, PA and lived in North Carolina for his college years plus his first five years of teaching. Josh graduated from Kimberton Waldorf School and earned degrees in history and secondary education from Guilford College. Joining River Valley Waldorf in 2010, Josh started out in the after school program, added substitute teaching, and on to games/movement, and blocks. Outside of school, Josh loves playing board games, card games, and outdoor activities including hiking and camping.

Shannon O'Connell (she/her)

Fine Arts Teacher

“I love the idea and practice of nurturing the individual spirit of each student. It is so important for children to be seen for who they are as individuals.” ~ Shannon O’Connell

Shannon loves the joy of sharing her passion for art with children. She graduated summa cum laude from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University with a B.F.A. with a concentration in printmaking, and a minor in psychology. After graduating, she began working with children in the arts within home-school co-ops. Shannon started at River Valley Waldorf in 2018, first as a substitute, and continuing on to work in early childhood and to teach art within the middle school. Prior to River Valley, Shannon worked at the Schmidtberger Fine Art Gallery for four years and during her time there she ran a graphic narrative summer camp for children. Shannon resides in Frenchtown, NJ and in her spare time enjoys making art and comics. In her own words, Shannon loves the joy of sharing her passion for art with the children. “Art is so intertwined with the students’ curriculum throughout the years so when they enter Fine Arts they already have a deep love and respect for art. I am in the incredible position of nurturing that creativity and introducing them to new kinds of art. Seeing the children excited about new artistic techniques and materials is equally exciting for me as their teacher.”

Susan Elmore (she/her)

Eurythmy Guest Teacher

“I try to choose materials that lead toward open-mindedness, empathy, and respect, both culturally and within the group, using eurythmy to become aware of oneself as an individual contributing to and receiving from the group, and guiding the students into paying attention to subtle experiences and realities.” ~ Susan Elmore

Susan joined River Valley Waldorf in the fall of 2021 and brings an extensive background in eurythmy to the school. Her studies include The London School of Eurythmy, Peredur Centre for the Arts in Sussex, UK, and Waldorf Institute Detroit (Sunbridge College). She has been teaching eurythmy for decades in the northeast, on the west coast, and in Canada, and still ponders its mysteries and body/mind effects. Susan loves to combine eurythmy, drama, and song in large-scale whole-school performances. She grew up in northwestern Connecticut and lives in Chatham, NY. In her spare time, Susan loves spending time outdoors, keeping fit by moving through beautiful spaces: hill-walking, rail-trail biking, (formerly windsurfing and rock-climbing). She loves reading, and is fascinated and challenged by Rudolf Steiner’s integrative spiritual views on the evolution of consciousness and individuality.

Ivone Martinez (she/her)

Spanish Teacher

“River Valley is a caring community, embracing independence in education allowing more dynamic and flexible learning and teaching. Faculty and Staff work as a hive and everyone has an important role in the structure.” ~ Ivone Martinez

Ivone is passionate about how a Waldorf education embraces multiple disciplines that nurture children artistically, emotionally, and naturally – leading them to become independent and empathetic thinkers ready to brighten the world. Ivone graduated from the University of Barcelona and began teaching at River Valley Waldorf in 2019. Additional studies have included the Waldorf Spanish Teachers Association conferences, Curriculum Workshop for Waldorf Spanish Teachers, and The Art of Teaching Spanish – Sound Circle Center. Prior to joining River Valley Waldorf, Ivone taught Spanish at Buckingham Elementary School through Bucks County World Language Academy. Born in Barcelona Spain, Ivone lives in Doylestown, PA. She became a United States citizen in the summer of 2021. When away from school, Ivone loves traveling , hiking, dancing, theater, and cooking.

Administration & Staff

 

Jennifer Sherman (she/her)

Head of School

“I am passionate about Waldorf education because its foundation is the developing human being. Decisions about every aspect of the educational experience are guided by the needs of the growing child and the result is a human, living, breathing, and inspiring education.”

 ~ Jennifer Sherman

Jennifer has loved River Valley Waldorf for many years and is excited to officially be part of the community, joining as Head of School in the summer of 2021. A graduate of Moravian College in Bethlehem with a B.A. in music/vocal performance and a certification in Elementary Education, Jennifer continued her music studies in opera performance at Longy College Conservatory of Bard College. She attained professional development in Waldorf education through studies at the Sunbridge Institute, Gradalis, and Kentahten. Jennifer brings wide-ranging experience in education and leadership to her role as head of school. She has taught at multiple independent schools and public schools, and spent seven years at Circle of Seasons Charter School as Pedagogical Lead and later Assistant Principal, as well as class teacher. 

Jennifer grew up in Tunkhannock in northeastern Pennsylvania. She currently lives in Bethlehem and enjoys creative endeavors, especially singing, making music, baking, gardening, learning, hiking, as well as spending time with family and friends. Jennifer is thrilled to be part of River Valley’s striving to be a more diverse and accessible school to the families in the area. She is committed to identifying instances of inequality and interrupting those instances to build new systems that support the accessibility and sustainability of an independent Waldorf education for any family that chooses it for their child.   

Patrick Janssen (he/him)

Director of Operations

On sustainability: “Since I was appointed as Operations Administrator in January 2021, I have been part of a team that has worked to build sustainability into our administrative practices and daily operations, which will allow River Valley Waldorf to provide an excellent education for students for years to come.” ~ Patrick Janssen

Patrick has been part of the fabric of the River Valley Waldorf community since 2010 as a parent, and since 2018 as an employee. Patrick received his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Colorado State University (BS and MS degrees), and his PhD at University of Wisconsin. Patrick’s specific interest in Waldorf education focuses on the holistic approach to learning; as in the integration of arts in all subjects. He especially cites the focus on the social and ethical development of the child, via developmentally appropriate instruction and how Waldorf students learn organically, gradually, and naturally. Patrick grew up in Illinois, and lives in Bloomsbury, NJ. In his spare time, he enjoys a variety of outdoor activities including jogging, fishing, and yard work.

Erica Nichols (she/her)

Admissions and Outreach Coordinator

“My passion for Waldorf learning began with my daughter finding a love for it in first grade at River Valley Waldorf. From that moment, I wanted to tell more people about Waldorf education and all the positive aspects it brings to the school journey.” ~ Erica Nichols

Erica began her career in admissions and outreach by opening a martial arts school with her husband in 2006 after graduating from Rutgers University with a degree in psychology and also attending the University of Massachusetts. She came to River Valley first as a parent, drawn to Waldorf education out of a deep recognition that it was what her child needed. Erica is especially drawn to the social life and community of the school. After being involved in many aspects of school life, festivals, auctions, and parent council, she joined the staff as Admissions and Outreach Coordinator in 2019. Erica is a lifelong Hunterdon County resident, and when away from campus, she enjoys crocheting, running, and cooking.

Gail Capuano (she/her)

Business Administrator

Daphne Pavlinsky (she/her)

Business Assistant

Jessica Harper (she/her)

Reception

Reinier Clabbers (he/him)

School Chef

Chef Reinier first came to River Valley when his step-daughter joined the first graduating class. His Opa was a restaurateur and ran his own cafeteria, leading to Chef Reinier’s interest in food beginning at a young age. He wrote his first recipe in 3rd grade and learned to cook at home and in cub scouts. Reinier’s career and past experience has included everything from being the Easton, PA “cheesemonger” to being a Rock-n-Roll caterer. His favorite foods to cook in the RVWS kitchen are milkshakes and french fries (all homemade), though he says that mac and cheese is the most popular dish. His son’s (an RVWS 2020 graduate) favorite meal is Banh Mi and it is now on the RVWS menu. Chef Reinier enjoys cooking different Asian recipes. His favorite meal he ever made at River Valley was the mythical sushi day in which he cooked an entire sushi meal for the school only to have school cancelled due to snow.

River Valley Waldorf School
1395 Bridgeton Hill Rd
Upper Black Eddy, PA 18972
610-982-5606
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