Biographies

Current Taproot Teachers (click the name to go directly to that teacher's bio)

Zac Wedemeyer

Michele Thompson

Jan McDonald

Laura Max

Barbara Schelar

Virginia Dreier

Nick Kleese

Kate Anstreicher

Kristin Bergman

Eli Shepherd

Merit Bickner

Brian Triplett 


Zac Wedemeyer

I am a life-long student and admirer of nature. I taught elementary school in Iowa City for six years before launching Taproot.  I have also taught at the University of Iowa Wildlife Camps and School of the Wild, and at Centaur Stables Pony Camp. I love exploring, prairie burning, hunting, fishing, shepherding, gardening, and being dad to my two daughters and son.


Michele Thompson


Humans have an innate connection with nature.  Each time we reignite that relationship, we thrive.  I am exceedingly grateful to be a part of Taproot, where I am immersed in nature daily alongside a loving community!

I like to start each of my weekdays by greeting the sunrise with a run, preferably in the woods or alongside a prairie. After my run, I enjoy a healthy breakfast and time with my husband, Aaron and our cats, Max and Lanolin.  I am then lucky enough to spend the bulk of my day playing outside and in different wonderful places throughout the week.

Day to day and season to season, the Taproot kids, teachers, and I watch the subtle rhythms of the earth as they transform.  We hear the first calls of the red-winged blackbird, the chorus of the spring peeper frogs, and witness the arrival of a shimmering flock of pelicans overhead.  We relish in the taste of fresh maple sap, morel mushrooms, and the earliest spring wild edibles.  In the summer, we hold prairie skinks, catch frogs, swim, and eat the bounty from the farms and gardens.  As it turns to fall, we discover the rubs and scrapes of the bucks, we enjoy the raw power of the wind, and watch the diversely colored leaves spiral to the ground.  We listen to the Canada geese honking in the rich sunsets and watch as the bald eagles congregate along the river, welcoming winter. We play in the snow and marvel at the beautiful ice and when it melts, we again greet the blackbird.  We find familiarity and newness in each of the patterns and are invigorated by the forces of nature both big and small.

At the end of each of my days outdoors, I feel great gratitude for having such a healthful and interesting experience and I owe a great deal of this gratitude to my strong relationship with nature and the kind children and adults that accompany me.

I am so pleased to have been working with Taproot since the spring of 2009. I went on a brief hiatus, living in Austin for nearly two years and teaching at Green Sprout Preschool.  While I was in Austin, I also obtained my Permaculture Design Certificate, which has served me well in my systems thinking and has guided my teaching. I returned to Taproot in the summer of 2012 and have been loving it full-time ever since.

During the school year, I teach the Sprouts in the morning and I also teach with the After School Program in the afternoon.  In the summer, I work and play with our Cambium Camp. 

I was born and raised in Williamsburg, Iowa and I feel deeply connected to my Iowan home.  I feel lucky that I have had the opportunity to develop a strong sense of place and with each of my days at Taproot, I feel more and more connected to our home, to nature, and to myself.         

In addition to running, I enjoy cooking and gardening.  I strongly believe that the path to a happy and healthy life includes, time in nature, exercise, eating real food, a feeling of purpose, mindfulness, and connection with your community.  I am lucky enough to have a job, home, family, and friends that help me to attain all of these goals.

Most of my family lives in Iowa and because Aaron and I both grew up in the area, we have family and lifelong friends that live nearby.  We also have family in Colorado.  It is great having a sister and in-laws who live in Denver and Durango, both of which are awesome places to visit for hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing! In the evenings and on the weekends, I am happiest to harvest food from the garden, run or play outdoors, cook, and then relax with a good book.  Time with family and friends is always a huge plus too!

Taproot provides an outlet for kids to be themselves, to connect with one another and play in the richest of settings, the outdoors.  As teachers, we find countless teachable moments among our fun, relaxing, and minimally structured days.  Through play, storytelling, and observing nature together, we are able to impart lessons about kindness, mindfulness, and the interconnectedness of nature.  Nature is truly the best teacher!   I am so pleased to learn, teach, and grow with Taproot.


Jan McDonald

When did you begin teaching with Taproot?  I used to see the Taproot van at many of my favorite hiking destinations and was very eager to join the experience in the fall of 2009 teaching Sprouts with Kristin.

Where are you from?  I am originally from Ottumwa, Iowa but have been exploring Iowa City's wild terrain since the early 80's. I have a Bachelor of General Studies degree from the University of Iowa and Master Conservationist certification from Iowa State and the Johnson County Conservation Department. I'm also certified in wild mushroom identification.

What formative nature experiences did you have as a child?  I have enjoyed the woods and other natural settings since my childhood, first hunting morels with my father, and I continue this ritual every spring with my husband Steve, my friends, and on Taproot forays.

What other cool things do you have going on in your life?  I work part time at the Iowa City Animal Shelter as a kennel assistant. Helping take care of the animals is a rewarding experience and I feel blessed to get to work with animals as well as children.

What is a favorite thing about Taproot?  Connecting children with nature as a routine adventure, sharing a passion for our natural resources, and nurturing a respect for them and each other are my favorite things about Taproot.


Laura Max

 

What brought you to working with children?  During summer breaks, I worked at a couple of summer camps--Camp Courageous and the MacBride Wildlife Camps. I always enjoyed being around kids. I love the way every child has their own unique personality that makes them special.

When did you begin teaching with Taproot? Fall of 2010

Where are you from?
Hickory, North Carolina

Tell about your family: Husband Todd, Kids Quenton (14) and Parker (11), Dog Echo

What other cool things do you have going on in your life?
My dog, Echo, is a therapy dog. I enjoy taking her on visits and just watching her make people smile. I also spend a lot of time with my kids. And I love to go mountain biking, cross country skiing, and trail running every chance I can.

Why is Taproot important in our community? Children today, especially those who live in cities, don't get enough unstructured time outside. Taproot gives kids the opportunity to play in nature and develop their own connection and appreciation for the natural world.

What formative nature experiences did you have as a child? I grew up with a creek and woods in my backyard that was my favorite place to play. I never realized how lucky I was to have these Taproot-like experiences so readily available. My dad was a nature-lover too and took us hiking, rock hunting, sledding, and blackberry picking among other activities.

What is a favorite thing about Taproot?
I love the way every day and every experience in nature is different. You never know what you are going to find when you are outside exploring.

What is a favorite Taproot moment or memory? We just happened to be at Scattergood Farm when a cow was giving birth to a calf. That was a very memorable moment!

What is a favorite thing you've learned at Taproot? I have learned how to ice fish, tag monarch butterflies, and tap maple trees--all of which I did for the first time during Taproot.


Barbara Schelar

When did you begin teaching with Taproot?  Summer 2010

What experience do you have in teaching children? I studied elementary education and psychology at the University of Iowa, and received a Masters in Education from the University of North Dakota. I taught for 30 years at Willowwind School in Iowa City, where I built much of the curriculum around nature studies encouraging children to become adept observers, questioners, theory-makers and testers about their world.

Where are you from?  I grew up on the edge of Davenport near a creek with miles of woods and farmland beyond it.

Tell us about your family: I have a husband, Russell, two grown daughters, and a cat.

What other cool things do you have going on in your life? I love making music with friends, gardening, practicing Shiatsu and Healing Touch, tutoring children, and exploring the Meaning of Life.

What formative nature experiences did you have as a child?  Many hours of my childhood were spent exploring: watching the muskrats, catching crawdads, picking berries, and climbing trees. My family vacations were always camping trips involving hiking woods and mountains throughout the west. As an adult, I lived and raised my children in the country near Solon.   


 Virginia Dreier

What brought you to working with children?  In short: children love to play; I love to play! In depth, besides being great teachers, children are the future and I like the possibility I may be able to influence the direction their lives may take them. As one of my favorite sayings goes: "we don't inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children."

When did you begin teaching with Taproot?  The moment I discovered Taproot I called to volunteer with them- starting in the Winter/Spring of 2011, and then became a teacher during the following summers 2011, 2012 and 2014. Now I currently am back to teaching during ASP and will be teaching in the summer as well.

Where are you from? I am a native of Iowa City.

Tell us about your family:  My family is a "University family". My mother works as an RN in labor and delivery at the UIHC and my dad is a full time faculty teacher in the Jazz Department. I have two older brothers; one is on the journey of a classical percussionist in Chicago, and the other is the communications and volunteer coordinator for the Planetary Society, he lives now in Bellingham, WA. My roots in Iowa go back 5 generations on my Dad's side, though now many family members have passed or moved away. But in general we are a close family, we celebrate with music, and I am grateful for them.


What other cool things do you have going on in your life?  I've chosen recently to develop my lifestyle and focus on wholistic health. My mantra is: "Peace begins with me." I want to live the life I dream about. Therefore I've become a massage therapist (Renew Massage in Iowa City!) to afford me that lifestyle and seriously practice Vipassana meditation as well. I also enjoy fiddle music and play for dances in Iowa City every so often with the Jenny Nettles String Band. In addition I work part time for PEACE Iowa as their online communications and volunteer coordinator. We do lots of work with other organizations to promote peace, diversity and social justice in and around Eastern Iowa. We always need help!!

Why is Taproot important in our community?  In my opinion Taproot provides space for an experience of our world (and our nature) that is silently, perhaps unwittingly, disappearing for today's children. Somehow we've found ourselves without time to be outside. I even find that I don't go outside if I don't work for Taproot! It is a vital part of my health and for children and really for everyone. We all deserve the opportunity to play in beautiful, 'wild' places where creativity, inspiration, exploration, and self-confidence are developed, or simply just because.

What formative nature experiences did you have as a child?  I've always been drawn to love the animals and the earth, but in my opinion all children are (you have to be taught not to). My strongest connection though, was to a pine tree in a park near my house; it was my place, my tree. I still viscerally remember being in the highest branches swaying in the wind with the view of the setting sun and the feeling of sap and needles. I never knew what kind of pine until later, but I knew it in a much deeper way. I'd go to it when I needed comfort and we grew together. Luckily it has not been cut down yet! I still visit it.

What other experiences do you have in working with children?  I worked for four summers at Farm and Wilderness Camps in Vermont, for a semester at the Outdoor School in Texas, did a six-month internship at Hawk Circle in upstate New York studying outdoor and wilderness living skills. I also worked as a Montessori Pre-K teacher in Montana and then at Willowwind School in Iowa City for three years.

What is a favorite thing you've learned at Taproot?  I learn constantly from the other teachers, the children, and the earth. I suppose in all, Taproot makes me hopeful for the future: that these children will go on to protect the earth because of the connections they made when they were young at Taproot.


Nick Kleese

Hello! My name is Nick Kleese, a brand new English graduate and licensed high school teacher from the University of Iowa. After graduation--as I caught my breath and considered my next steps--I realized it’d be in my heart’s best interest to cease all attempts in becoming an adult. I’d spent a lot of time during my undergraduate career striving to be a very stern, very serious, and very somber young adult, and devoted many hours of study in the stale air of old, prestigious buildings. In doing so, however, I felt a sense of loss of physical play and exploration, of unpredictability and the excitement of the outdoors, of the quiet rewards of the farm and garden, of doing something for its own sake and not for the result: the pleasures of childhood.

The desire to resurrect these childish tendencies in myself led me to teaching; the desire to reconnect with the outdoors led me to Taproot. While my career in outdoor education and with Taproot is just beginning, the principles this field upholds are similar to my own childhood on my family’s farm. One such principle is spontaneity. I was fortunate to have performed with Paperback Rhino, Iowa City’s longest running improv comedy troupe, for three years while in college, and to serve as its captain for one. The play broke the tedium and vigor of academia. It stuck with me. Now, I do my best to live and teach with the playfulness and joviality of an improviser.

Play on the stage, play on the page: writing is, for me, a daily writing practice. I write to play with words, the sounds of words, and ideas, and hope to use this practice as a compliment and advocate for the beauty of the outdoors. My artist’s residency at Public Space One, a local non-profit who has supported my ambition to promote the stories of the farm and nature, keeps me focused in this attempt.

My childhood experiences on my family’s farm seem to percolate into all facets of my life. They informed my academic study as an undergrad (giving me cause to attend conferences across the United States, and spend a summer making goat cheese on the northern coast of France) and emerge in my writing. I remember working with my father and grandfather to fill planter boxes, repair fences, and witness the beginning of the Kleese farm’s transition from outdoors to the confinements that now dominate agriculture. I saw hogs on grass and concrete, seeds planted in rows and scattered by hand. One does not need to have had these memories, however, to know the change in American farming has been drastic.

Thus the necessity of programs like Taproot: they reinstill in us (in me especially) the importance of treading softly on the land. They serve to remind us of the need for play in a culture that doesn’t allow wasted time. They help us to value lived experience and seek answers from scraped knees, birdsong, and trees.

I also like to cook, bake, read, and run. My favorite book is The Old Man and the Sea. The fact that most kindergarteners are better poets than me makes me jealous, but also joyous. I am a morning person. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Kimya Dawson (“oh, no one is nice all the time/ and, oh, no one is mean all the time/ think about what someone’s going through/ that’s making them be mean to you”) and eating more beans. Soon, I’ll make the switch to spring veggies and be all the merrier for it. I like to walk along the Iowa and climb steep hills. My favorite childhood story (told by my mom) is when I ate a spider but not all of the way so that the long legs stuck out of my teeth and I laughed and laughed as my mom chased me around the kitchen, hollering for me to spit it out. I no longer eat meat, but I do love a good chase.


Kate Anstreicher

 

Nature brought me to working with children. In my opinion, the natural world is a fundamental aspect of physical, emotional and social development. I was fortunate enough to have woods for my backyard; however, I realize that not all kids have such a ready escape from the modern world. Taproot Summer Camp is the immersive, imaginative adventure every child needs after a year of inside learning. Since my younger self was given such a bounty of nature and I have wanted to share it with children ever since,Taproot was the perfect fit.

I began working with Taproot in Summer 2014. The first half of the summer, I worked with Sprouts and Seedlings at the Taproot Fairchild Garden; I was a Sapling counselor the last four weeks of camp.

I was born and raised in Iowa City. I graduated from West High in 2014.

I come from a family of four. My older brother, Garrett, is 21; he is a senior at Williams College and is applying to graduate schools. His dream is to be a professor of economics. My parents, Kurt Anstreicher and Jane Van Voorhis, work for the University of Iowa Business School and the U of I Foundation, respectively. Although Garrett and I are away from home more often than not, we are a tight-knit family unit and stay in good touch. We are also all enamored with our dog, Dexter.

I am a freshman at Yale University.  I am planning to be an Environmental Studies major. I have taken some great sustainability-focused classes, and am also involved with the Student Environmental Coalition, the Yale Farm and Fossil Free Yale, a group of students advocating for divestment from fossil fuels. When I am not focusing on the environment, I am either singing with my a Capella group (an all-women jazz and swing ensemble), running, doing French homework or having lunch with friends.

Taproot is important because it allows toddlers, children and adolescents alike to explore nature, make new friends and learn about themselves. Unlike a classroom setting, the Taproot destinations allow for completely organic learning; the obtainment of new knowledge is therefore engaging and often subconscious. Children of today are increasingly programmed, whether with sports and instruments at a young age or with hyper-accelerated classes. Some such activities are beneficial and eventually lead to exciting leadership and higher education opportunities. However, it is easy to forget that kids still have to be kids. Our community is lucky enough to have Taproot. By making play time in nature its priority, Taproot unites children of all types and allows them to take a breather from our ever-quickening world.

My favorite Taproot destination is the Taproot Farm. I love making pizzas, kayaking with the kids, going on mulberry hikes, finding new reptiles and amphibians each time and sleeping under the stars. It's a truly joyful end to the summer camp week.


Kristin Bergman

Growing up in Iowa, my most vivid childhood memories are either working in a garden or adventuring in Nature with my family.

I have been called to working with babies and children as long as I can remember. I was a babysitter, swim instructor and performance teacher through high school. I studied theater at UI for my undergrad and found it was searching for authenticity that was my passion.
Working in outdoor retail management and practicing skills learned in an amazing NOLS Outdoor Educator course, I thrived in mountaineering endeavors in New England, India and the Four Corners Area of the SW. I returned home to Iowa to share my two toddlers with family and began my practice as a massage therapist.
I followed my children's involvement in Taproot after longingly watching them drive away in the van! I guess Zac noticed and that began our discussion of starting the Sprouts Program.
I have loved bringing my attention to the needs and education of the youngest Taproot students on through to the Leadership Campers who practice empowered communication and model experiential learning.
Taproot gets me outdoors no matter the weather, wrapped in Nature's arms, regarding my fellow teachers, the students and all the living beings reminds me to bring systems thinking to my social community.
Experiencing Nature through Taproot programs grounds me in feelings of peace, harmony and what is essential.
I work as a massage therapist, doula and empowered birth educator and I find my Taproot time informs my relationships with my work and my family.
I have been organizing the annual Conscious Birth Summit since 2004 which seeks to transform maternal health care in the US through educating about evidence based practice and advocacy of informed choice. I also work to support legislation in Iowa that would facilitate access to the midwifery model of care in our state.
I am currently beginning the Nursing Program at Kirkwood Community College and have realized a new calling to offer hospice care.
My own children have been deeply nourished through their adventures with Zac and all of the wonderful teachers that participate in Taproot. We are grateful for all the lessons and fun that have shaped our characters. My daughter leaves for college in the fall but takes with her certain plans to continue being a camp counselor as long as she can. My son is very proud of his "primitive" fishing skills and has learned to be an amazing conflict mediator.
I plan to continue my studies of wild edibles and never stop improving my campfire cooking skills.
I think my favorite Taproot memories revolve around the campfires, sharing warmth, delicious food worked hard for and stories. This ritual is profoundly human and fulfills an important modern need.
We thank you for the opportunity to share Nature with your family.


Eli Shepherd


What brought you to working with children? Well, I honestly still am a kid. What's more, children are a lot smarter than adults and college kids like me in a lot of ways: they'll let you know how they're feeling, they never stop asking questions, and they're so full of unabashed emotion and energy it's exhilarating. I'm here to work, to get to know the kids, and to have fun, but I'm also here to learn.

Where are you from? Iowa City, Iowa. Born and raised.

Tell about your family: My mom, Mary, is a physical therapist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and an avid parent volunteer at City High. My dad, Nathan, is office manager at the Iowa Policy Project, a technician at Iowa Doppler Products, and a bike-lover and volunteer at the Iowa City Bike Library. My sister, Molly, is a senior varsity cross-country and track runner at City High and will be continuing with both at Washington University in St. Louis in the fall.

What other cool things do you have going on in your life? I am a first-year student at Grinnell College (just an hour down the road halfway between Iowa City and Des Moines). I'm studying a little bit of everything right now but I'm especially interested in all things social, environmental, and food justice. I am an active ally and 2015 part-time summer intern at the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa. In the past I have worked at Friendly Farm, the Iowa City New Pioneer Food Co-op, and Iowa City Summer of Solutions. I also love skateboarding.

Why is Taproot important in our community? We all need to get outdoors and learn from each other and the world around us, and that is exactly what Taproot is about.

What formative nature experiences did you have as a child? Climbing trees at home and hiking and camping with my family and our dog, Arlo.

What other experiences do you have in working with children? Babysitting kids during member meetings at the Center for Worker Justice and working with several youth summer camps during Iowa City Summer of Solutions' Sustainable Art Project.

What is a favorite local natural spot? Hickory Hill Park--it's been my backyard since I was two years old.


Merit Bickner

What brought you to working with children? Growing up as a very different learner, I could always tell the difference between teachers who were just doing their job and empassioned, curious educators who managed to create a learning environment where children were allowed to pursue their innate interests. I started working with children in hopes of being able to foster a sense of autonomy and responsibility through aspects of child-lead education.

Where are you from? I was born and live on the North Side of Iowa City; I was lucky enough to go to Willowind and then Shimek as a young child, and graduated from City High in 2006.

Tell about your family: When I was young, my mother was traveling to do field work for her PhD; the artifacts and stories she brought home encouraged a natural curiosity in me that left me wanting to explore and adventure, just like my mom. My parents' views on child-direction were very affected by growing up in small rural towns, and they let me explore natural areas around my house without interruption.

What other cool things do you have going on in your life? In 2014, I co-founded and directed Girls Rock! Iowa City, a non-profit call that seeks to empower girls 8-16 through music education and performance. The community's response has been amazing, and we're excited to grow our programming in 2015!

Why is Taproot important in our community? As we move forward technologically in the 21st century, kids are increasingly bombarded with screens and advertising that seek to shape the way they think and feel-- necessitating outdoor experiences where kids can pursue their interests and ambitions in an unaffected environment. Outdoor play fosters imagination and independence in a way that can't be replicated by technology.

What other experiences do you have in working with children? I've done just about everything! I worked at Lemme for 6 years, and in the preschool at Horace Mann for two years. I spent two awesome years at The Kirkwood School for Kids (Tim's House) and am now enjoying being a nanny-- I can let my toddler direct her day and experiences around town, and it is so awesome to watch someone grow up!

What is a favorite local natural spot? The ravines by Shimek School hold a very special place in my heart; I owe most the scrapes, scars, and bumps I've acquired in my life to many wonderful days spent down there as a kid. Palisades-Kepler State Park is a near second.

What is a favorite thing you've learned from time in nature, particularly with children? As adults, we explain a lot of things to ourselves based on assumptions without bothering to question-- really, why is the sky blue? How does a bird make an egg? Often, it takes a child's question to realize you need to look at something in a new way to figure out what it's really all about.