Faculty & Staff

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Early Childhood Faculty

Melody Birdsong-Shubert | Pronouns: she/her

Mixed-Age Kindergarten Teacher

Melody has enjoyed partnering with the local community and working with young children since 2007 when the 10 year journey of operating a grassroots organic produce farm began. The family farm, with partner and child, served a 100 member Community Supported Agriculture program and managed many volunteers that included their young children wanting to lend a helping hand. The farming background and the community connection that naturally developed through this field granted the opportunity to become acquainted with a local non-profit organization. They were a regular recipient of the farm’s produce samples and seedlings as part of a Healthy Choices program, where Melody often volunteered as a public speaker to enlighten children to farming joys and realities. Melody then became part of the non-profit team that taught elementary school students the significance of sustainability, how to care for a produce garden and how to make healthy lifestyle choices concerning nutrition, physical activity and screen time.

The time and efforts devoted to the farm led to a childcare need and Melody discovered Waldorf pedagogy as presented in a home care program. It appeared to nurture the family’s deeply felt connection to nature’s rhythms. Their child was enrolled in the Waldorf inspired home care program and later joined the River Valley Waldorf School (RVWS) kindergarten and grades community.

It was during that initial year with RVWS that Melody pursued a three year Waldorf teacher training with Sunbridge Institute, NY, in 2015. There, it was 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 may thrive. Melody combines an anti-bias and anti-racist practice (ABAR) with Waldorf education to serve the children and parent body in the early childhood community where compassion and being an affirming and contributing community member is continually developed.

Jerilyn Burke

Nursery Teacher

Jerilyn Burke holds a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Humanities with concentrations in art history, communication arts, and music. She is a mother of three and a world traveler. In 2008, Jerilyn encountered Waldorf education and discovered that this approach encompassed so much of what she loved — the beauty and humanity evident in art history, care of community through studies in communication, the joy of singing and the creative arts, the wonderment of nature experienced through her extensive travels, and the call to nurture others, particularly the developing child. She is trained in Hand In Hand Parenting methods, is a LifeWays graduate and mentor, and received her Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America certification through the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto. She has published several articles on the topics of parenting, teaching, and early childhood development. 

Grade School Faculty

Gabrielle Nembhard

Class of 2028

Gabrielle received her BS in Education with Special Education, Concentration in Math from SUNY Geneseo, which included student teaching in New York and abroad in Ghana. A Waldorf graduate herself, she spent four consecutive Summers as the assistant teacher in a Waldorf Summer Camp program for early childhood. Prior to teaching at RVWS, Gabrielle lived in Seattle, WA for several years, where she taught in grades K-8 at the Three Cedars Waldorf School. Gabrielle completed her Waldorf Teacher Training at the Sunbridge Institute. In her spare time, she loves to learn or try something new and spend time with her husband. Gabrielle has a special love for Jamaica, her husband’s home country.

Bridget Brier

Class of 2026 and 2027

Molly Watson

Class of 2024 and 2025

Molly found Waldorf education when her two daughters were very small and as an educator herself, was instantly attracted to the intentional, developmental approach.  Her daughters both began in the River Valley Garden Gate class and one is now a graduate and the other about to graduate! Molly has been part of the community as a parent, but also served on the Board of Trustees, including three years as Board President. In this role, Molly attended several summer training weeks with Torin Finser on Healthy Waldorf Administration.

After spending four years living in New Zealand, Molly returned to the States, and to River Valley as a class teacher.  She comes to the classroom with 10 year of public school experience, including certification in Reading Recovery, as well as leadership roles in both private and charter schools. She holds a B.A. in French and a B.S. in Elementary Education and a MEd. in TESOL from La Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico. It is a true joy for her to be back in the classroom as part of the faculty here at River Valley.

Melanie Niemczura

Class of 2022

In the summer of 2009, Melanie, along with her two sons, arrived at River Valley Waldorf School to become one of our kindergarten lead teachers. Prior to joining the faculty at RVWS, Melanie taught for three years at Northern Lights, a Waldorf-initiative school in Lake Placid, NY. Melanie completed her Waldorf teacher training in Waldorf elementary and early childhood education at Antioch New England Graduate School in 2006 and also holds a BS from Pennsylvania State University.   

Rachel Howard

Class of 2021

Rachel comes to Waldorf education through her discovery and study of Waldorf since the birth of her son in 2012. A determined and passionate learner, Rachel has studied anthropology, linguistics, and is fluent in Spanish. Rachel received her BA in Linguistics from the University of Texas, teaching certificate from Pacific Oaks College Northwest, and MA in TESOL from La Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico. She has dedicated herself to the study of Steiner teachings and philosophy.  

Lynn Vazquez

Educational Support Teacher

Lynn began teaching at RVWS in September of 2005. Prior to that she taught at a Waldorf initiative in Wilton, CT and served as a class teacher at the Vancouver Waldorf School in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Before receiving her certification in Waldorf Education, Lynn taught mathematics to seventh and eighth grade students in an inner city public school in New York State. She received her Bachelor of Arts in History and Mathematics from Binghamton University and her Master of Science in Remedial Education from Sunbridge College. Lynn has been teaching for the past 21 years and delights in learning. Recently she became certified as an Orton-Gillingham reading specialist and has taken several courses in preparation for HANDLE screener certification. 

Specialty Subject Faculty

Jessica Alfaro

Music Teacher

Molly MacDonald

Handwork Teacher

Molly began her formal teaching working with young children with significant disabilities in 1992 and continued that work for eight years.  It was at this time that she was introduced to Waldorf education. In search of Waldorf for her own young children, she started a parent child class.  She then taught Handwork for a year and found herself pulled to River Valley Waldorf School. Molly received her Waldorf early-childhood training at Sophia’s Hearth in Keene, NH. 

Shannon O'Connell

Fine Arts Teacher

Shannon O’Connell graduated summa cum laude from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in May of 2012 with Bachelors in Fine Arts, a concentration in printmaking, and a minor in psychology. After graduating, she began working with children in the arts within homeschool co-ops. Shannon began working at River Valley in February 2017. She first started at River Valley as a substitute and quickly found herself at home within the school, continuing on to work in early childhood and to teach art within the middle school.

Ellyn Siftar

Woodworking Teacher

Ellyn Siftar studied philosophy, art, and biology as an undergraduate student but has been working with children for the past three decades: first as a babysitter, then assisting in early childhood classrooms, and later mentoring youth and young adults in religious institutions. She first heard about Waldorf education when she was pregnant with her first child.  After attending an open house at the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf school when she lived in the Hudson River Valley, she began to read more about Waldorf education and anthroposophy.  

When her family moved back to the Lehigh Valley she was ecstatic to find that a little Waldorf kindergarten had bloomed in Quakertown.  She began to attend a parent-child class in 1997 and her daughter joined the mixed age kindergarten the very next year.  

Since that time she has had many roles in the school and is currently teaching woodworking, stone carving, gardening, and skills classes for second grade.  Ellyn appreciates that River Valley Waldorf School educates all students to use their own heart, heads, and hands in crafting practical and beautiful objects.

Josh Laker

Sports & Games and After-school program


Erica Nichols

Admissions and Outreach Coordinator

Erica began her career in admissions and outreach by opening a martial arts school with her husband in 2006 after graduation from Rutgers University with a degree in Psychology. She came to River Valley first as a parent, drawn to Waldorf education out of a deep recognition that it is what her child needed. 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.

Patrick Janssen

Buildings and Grounds Coordinator

River Valley Waldorf School
1395 Bridgeton Hill Rd
Upper Black Eddy, PA 18972
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