“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder… he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”

-Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

Meet The Team

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Chelsea Eerkes
Program Founder and Director
 

Ms. Chelsea is home-schooling momma to her five daughters: Mackenzie (18), Bella (10), Autumn (8), Ruby (6) and Luna (3), and now another on the way! Chelsea loves to be outside with her girls every day, exploring and learning alongside them. Among her favorite things are exploring in woods and creek, gardening, foraging for wild foods, and reading great books with her girls by the fire. Chelsea is a certified Forest School Teacher through the Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools (ERAFANS). She has 10 years’ experience as a science and phys ed teacher. Chelsea is bubbling over with excitement for more adventures this year with Discovery Wilderness School!

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Jen Judson
Teambuilding Coordinator
Teen Mentor Teacher

Ms. Jen has been an outdoor educator for over ten years. She is lucky to be homeschool mom to Judson (14) and Michaela (12) and loves kayaking, paddle boarding, the beach, the woods, sunsets and adventuring! She is a happy MSU grad (go green!), certified STEM and Environmental Educator, Vernal Pool Monitor, and creator of STEM and Branch Academy. Jen spends every day appreciating the world around her. She works hard in finding joy in everyday life and lives to see students’ lightbulbs flash with brilliant discoveries! We are so grateful for the passion Jen brings to our students every day as the Team Building Coordinator.

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Amy Nowack
Willows Teacher
Office Administrator

Ms. Amy grew up as a city girl in Grand Rapids.  Her love of nature came from two people, her grandfather who walked her to school every day and taught her how to find and appreciate the small patches of wilderness all around her, and her mother who instilled in her a passion for gardening.  Although she enjoys traveling around the world with her husband, Amy hopes to inspire students to look closely and discover the wilderness right outside their door.  Amy is a certified Arborist and owns a native plant landscaping company with her daughter, Indigo Creek Native Plantscapes 

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Laura Dykstra
Maples Teacher

Ms. Loo’s work at DWS allows her to hear the creative expression of our students and help them to slow down and listen to the world around them. She sees her role at DWS as not just to educate young minds and facilitate connections with the natural world, but to also validate their ideas, bravery, and autonomy. Laura has been tutoring at Grand Rapids Community College for five years, working with college students to harness their voices. Ms. Loo invests in the lives of her six nieces and nephews, and enjoys walking through the woods, discovering new places, swimming at the beach until the sun goes down, and swing dancing. 

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Cyndi Ambrose
Willows Teacher

Ms. Cyndi is a wife, mother and grandmother with over a decade of experience working as an outdoor educator at Nature Centers while learning about the wonders of creation alongside her students! Her work and life experience with children and in brain rehab therapy have strengthened Cyndi's ability to recognize the many ways that being in nature can enrich our lives. Cyndi travels with a set of binoculars, a hand lens, zebra stripe rubber boots and makes emergency rescue stops for road-crossing turtles. 

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Sarah Dault
Sprouts Teacher

Ms. Sarah’s gentle spirit and love for children make her a wonderful leader for our smallest explorers. Ms. Sarah leads students in yoga to start their day in class, and connects with students in a special way. She loves adventuring with her 3 children: Alexia (15), Ethan (13), and Elias (12) and enjoys gardening, biking, yoga, coffee, traveling, and exploring outdoors. Before joining Discovery Wilderness School, Ms. Sarah worked with children in various settings including licensed in-home daycare, school volunteer work, and as the children's director at church.

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Jeanne Garletts
Sprouts Teacher

Ms. Jeanne has a passion for teaching and learning alongside preschool and early elementary students and has taught in four different states (New York, Florida, Alaska and Michigan.) Her favorite recent outdoor discoveries include making tea and cordage with plants. Other than enjoying the outdoors with her husband and four kids, her hobbies include running, swimming, biking and reading. She’s currently reading the book The Lost Art of Reading Nature's Signs by Tristan Gooley and reading aloud the book One Crazy Summer Rita Williams-Garcia

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Dean Harrier
Cedars Teacher

Mr. Dean is our program's entomologist and his love for creepy crawlies inspires students and draws them in to look close and discover! Dean is an expert at asking questions to make kids think deeply, problem-solve and draw their own conclusions. He has been a Cannonsburg ski instructor for ten years. He is a passionate educator and outdoor enthusiast. Dean loves to camp, hike, and share his love and awe of nature with everyone around him. Dean is joining us for his third year teaching with Discovery Wilderness. 

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Monique Kinney
Redbuds Teacher

Ms. Monique enjoys adventuring with her family. She homeschools her three children, Moselle (9), Shua (8), and Ariah (7), and teaches classes at fiber festivals around the Midwest. Monique enjoys foraging, winter hiking, camping, and gardening. Together their entire family completed the Hike 100-mile challenge on the North Country Trail in 2020, and have continued to explore trails around West Michigan. Monique is a certified master herbalist and enjoys teaching children and adults about the plants around them.

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Mary Meals
Redbuds Teacher

Ms. Mary is excited to join Discovery Wilderness School this year in the Explorers Classroom! Her daughter, Ava (6), also attends DWS and loves every moment of it. Mary’s love and passion for nature was reawakened when she became a mother. Her family loves spending time in their woods creating trails, making natural play areas, and doing family projects together. She loves teaching children and learning beside them. Mary comes to us with years of experience as a young fives teacher with a Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction.  She is so passionate about learning alongside children in Nature and we're proud to have her as the lead explorers teacher this year!

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Jess Spencer
Maples Teacher

Ms. Jess grew up in West Virginia surrounded by mountains and spending every weekend camping with her grandparents. As an adult she rekindled her love of camping and all things outdoors. Discovering and sharing facts about nature brings her joy. She believes you never stop being a student of the Earth, and though she is excited to share her passion with students, she’s even more excited to learn and grow with them. When Jess isn’t reading a book surrounded by her cats she can usually be found hiking, swimming or most recently kayaking. Ms. Jess has a deep passion for connecting children with the earth. She is a wonderful leader for our Adventures students.

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Alison Miles
Maples Teacher

Ms. Alison unschools her two daughters, Amelia (13) and Josette (10). She, her husband, and their two daughters spend many hours in the woods, foraging, camping, kayaking, hiking, and "survival training". She has a passion for all plants and animals. Alison loves to read, and books are a big part of the families daily lives. She spent ten years teaching in an early childhood setting, has taught home school art classes, and currently is an assistant Sensei at Cascade Village Karate. She is so pleased to be able to help your children find curiosity and happiness in nature. 

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Kathy Kurtz
Art and Music Coordinator

Ms. Kathy is an artist, poet and musician. As an artist she always looks for the incredible details of nature. She sees poetry in all the beauty of the plants and animals in the great Michigan outdoors. As a musician she loves the sound of winds, waves and birds in all seasons. Kathy is home at the beach along any of the Great Lakes- her favorite place to swim, play, and create. She's married and has three daughters, one of whom has passed through this life and on to a new and better place. She is very very excited to work alongside children, loving and exploring the wonders of nature!

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Sara Vander Velde 
Cedars Teacher

Sara is an active boy-mom of two who loves to hike and learn from nature's creativity and diversity. She has been a proponent of outdoor education for over a decade and has taught on four continents: Africa, Asia, South America, and North America. She is has multiple certifications including: AMI Montessori license, project WILD, Growing up Wild, Project Learning Tree, and a degree in Psychology. She cannot wait to help make DW a place where kids learn to be themselves in the great outdoors. 

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Beth Burgett 
Willows Teacher

Ms. Beth is mom of two young boys. She grew up in Michigan and spent many hours playing and exploring the outdoors where she developed a love for nature and science. After graduating from college with a degree in education, she moved to Bangkok, Thailand to teach at an International School. From her time there, she has 7 years of teaching experience in middle school science. As a teacher, she desires to see students explore their unique passions and interests, to have ownership in their learning experience and to see the value in understanding other perspectives and cultures. 

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Rachel Crowther
Mindful Hiking and Yoga: Ladies Rewilding Series Fall 2022

Rachel has always been a seeker- seeking love, knowledge and adventure through her love of music, hiking, yoga and Roller Derby. She is a mama of two (Teagan-12 and Aspen-8), and a yoga instructor certified with Yoga alliance as well as a Children's Yoga Instructor. She is a trainer and instructor for Kidding Around Yoga. In the last year, Rachel has shifted her focus to healing trauma through yoga and leads yoga classes designed to facilitate that healing journey. Rachel along with her business partner opened Aptitude Fitness + Yoga in January of 2021, located in downtown Rockford. Rachel is excited to collaborate on Ladies Rewilding Hiking and Yoga this Fall- building a community of wild women who desire a deeper connection with nature and themselves.