Core Faculty

Starri Hedges, MA  
Executive Director, Staff/Lead Teacher, Founding member of Board/Council               
Starri graduated from democratic school Second Foundation in 1989 and went on to earn: a Women’s Studies Certificate from Minneapolis (Community and Technical) College, a B.A. in Holistic Education (with a minor in Intermedia Arts) from Metropolitan State University, and a Masters of Arts in Human Development and Educational Psychology from St. Marys University. During undergraduate studies, Starri was a Kopp Scholar, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and won several awards including the GLSEN Teacher of the Year award and first place in the Fuschian Student Association Literary Contest.

In addition to academic achievements, Starri has completed in-depth studies of expressive art therapies, martial arts, and several holistic healing techniques including Reiki, Qigong, Yoga and Ifa. 
Starri served as a Teacher's Aide, Lead Teacher, Board Member and Co-Director at Second Foundation School from 1988-2013. During this time, Starri developed multi-disciplined curriculum, managed testing, state reporting, and various grants including United Arts, Waste Reduction, Youth Employment, Community Mural, Art, Drama, Job Training and Nature Awareness programs. 
Starri has also worked at a Montessori childcare center, the Edina Art Center, as an Education Advocate and HIV Coordinator at District 202 (a GLBTQ youth drop in center), as a Youth Housing Advocate for YouthLink, as a baker, community organizer, and a founding member of the collectively-run Hard Times Cafe. Starri also enjoys time as a Teaching Artist for the City of St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department and the nonprofit East Side Arts Council. Starri enjoys speaking on the subject of democratic education and sexual health education to college classes and other groups. 
Starri is an artist, writer, and performer, working with local and national arts organizations since 1992. Starri adores nature and time with family, including daughter and circus performer, Jazmin LeFae (who was unschooled), and grandpuppies, Olive and Figaro.

Kai Joy, Staff​  is an educator, writer, performer and multimedia artist originally from Chicagoland and based here in Minneapolis. Kai went to public school in and around Chicago for the entirety of her K-12 education. As a young budding trans girl, confused about identity and mental health, the public school model of standardization was very difficult for her to navigate. However, she was incredibly lucky to have access to several supportive extra-curricular spaces and opportunities. During high school she participated in the largest youth spoken word poetry competition in the world, Louder Than a Bomb. Kai continued writing and performing through her undergraduate education, receiving a BA in creative writing from Oberlin College. During her time at Oberlin, Kai worked as a poetry TA, an accessibiliy coordinator in a queer BIPOC dining co-operative and was awarded the President's Public Service Fellowship. Her fellowship entailed planning and co-teaching history themed Summer Camps at the local history museum, the Oberlin Heritage Center. For the past few years, Kai has bounced back and forth between Minnesota and Illinois. She worked as an educator at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary in Northern, Minnesota, interned at the Walker Art Center here in Minneapolis and performed in Pears, an experimental play at the Fogstand Gallery in St. Paul. In Chicago, Kai worked as a creative writing tutor and outreach fellow for 826CHI, a youth creative-writing non-profit. Kai is humbled and privileged to be a part of a community as truly magical as Gaia. 

​Diego Juarez- Staff

After attending Second Foundation school in 2010, Diego Juarez went on to graduate from Pease Academy in 2017. One year after high school graduation, Diego earned his Associates Degree in Philosophy and Sociology from Minneapolis College. Ever since his introduction to the Democratic model of schooling, Diego has pursued learning and knowledge in an empowering way. Today, after years of in-depth studies of topics ranging from Mystic Psychology to Quantum Mechanics, Diego has dedicated his future to the sharing the information he has learned. Currently in Mexico, Diego is sharing his learning and adventures with the Gaia community.

Riva Garcia- Founding member of Board/Council, Staff
Riva has been living the philosophy of unschooling and democratic education since 2007. They love to facilitate discussions and projects on things like Racism, Gender Studies, radical education, anti-oppression, and land stewardship. Riva works for Ain Dah Yung, a Native American youth shelter and with Streetworks collaborative as a Trainer for outreach workers. They also share skills such as cooking, fermentation, theater, music, and gardening. Riva also has experience as an activist and cooked with Open Arms MN.​​​

Gaia Democratic School employs people and admits students: of any race, color, religion, gender, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, national and ethnic origin and affords every student to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available  at the school. GDS does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, economic status, national or ethnic origin or any other reason.

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Diego (with melon)

Mike Harris



About the Faculty and Staff at Gaia Democratic School
Gaia offers students competent, caring faculty who are committed to consent, open education, learning in freedom, independent thinking, and group problem solving. We encourage active learning through movement, experimentation, and real-world projects rather than trying to force learning through coercion, conformity, or consequences. We strive to respond to individual student needs while nurturing one’s natural desire to learn. Our faculty members are experienced teachers, mentors, and are able to guide students of all ages and backgrounds with respect and insight.
Our core faculty are supported by community faculty members who include parents, college students, alumni, and other members of our community who are interested in participating with the learning life of our students. We also have partnerships with local artists and arts and educational organizations. Everyone at Gaia is a teacher, so we use the term "Staff" to designate people who are there to help, if needed.


Joy (center)

Gaia Graduation 2016






(with monkey)



1219 University Ave. SE Minneapolis, MN 55414

​​​Gaia Democratic school

Frank (left)



Gaia Staff and Consultant Photos: 

-Community Faculty 

Dr. Anne Ness- Health and Wellness Consultant, Gaia Founder, Council member

​Autumn Cunningham- original Founder

​Autumn is a Birth & Postpartum Doula and owner of Mama Luna's Care. She was fortunate to train under Pam England, author and creator of Birthing From Within and is a Certified Birthing From Within Mentor.  Autumn has worked for the Hennepin County Medical Center Doula Program, enabling her to work with families of many backgrounds and cultures. When she is not immersed in birth, Autumn is studying social work at Metro State University and discovering new ways of healing. 

Elaine Avery- original Founder 

DJ, activist, artist, mom.

​​Joy Durish-Strand- Ethics committee Chair, Council, Staff 

Joy has been the owner and operator of Joy of Pets, a professional pet sitting service, since 2007.  She passionately studied Marine Biology while living in Monterey, California and left a bit of her heart and soul there with the Pacific Ocean. She is a former EMT, Family Support Group Leader with the US Army, Bread Baker at Lakewinds Coop, and Dog groomer. She holds in highest regard, her most important calling of all, parenting and homeschooling two daughters (all grown up now!), and a wonderful teenaged son who has attended Gaia since 2013! Joy's interests include; finding her way back to the ocean every chance she gets, reading, pets, science, nature, crafts, finding new and old places to eat delicious food with family and friends, and lots of music.

Liz VanDerlofske- Finance Committee Chair, Treasurer, founding member of Board/Council, Staff

Lizhas an MBA from Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, a BA in Economics from University of Rochester and is a CPA (license on inactive status). Liz is a founding member, Steering Committee member and Treasurer of the Southside Star Community Garden in Minneapolis. Liz has worked in public accounting, in the private sector and in education at a community college. She enjoys skiing (downhill and cross-country), swimming, gardening and reading. Liz has had two children who attend Gaia, one has graduated and is off to college! 

Maurine Stenwick- Secretary, founding member of Board/ Council, Staff

earned a Biology degree from St. Olaf College and an independent study, interdisciplinary degree from the Paracollege on Implications of Endangered Species Management. She is interested in many aspects of this world and how they are interrelated. Some of Maurine’s favorite topics include: Biology, Chemistry, Medicine, Ecology, Geology, Engineering, World History, Anthropology, Geography, Education, Comparative Religion and World Mythology. 

Mike Harris Evenson- Finance Committee, Founding Staff

Mike is a mathematics whiz who can be found accounting at The Hub Bicycle Collective, vending at local sports arenas, and occasionally showing off at local theaters. Harris tutors and teaches math, physics and other fun at Gaia and serves on committees.

Nate Dvorak- Board, Council, Staff​​

​Nate has a BA degree in History or something like that but doesn't really think much of it. At Gaia, Nate can often be found rocking out in the kitchen. Nate is a professional baker and shares bread and other delights with the Gaia community. He also plays hackysac, Soccer, Magic and many other games including bananatag.

Tonya Skorich- Council member 

Gaia Consultants and support Staff:

​Adam Arnold, Consultant 
Adamis a licensed psychotherapist practicing in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Adam holds a Master of Arts in Counseling & Psychotherapy from Adler Graduate School, and an Addiction Studies Certificate from the University of Minnesota. He has worked as a counselor in several residential treatment centers, a group psychotherapist in the addiction and domestic violence fields, and a family therapist in private practice. Adam is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor, and is a member of the LGBT Therapists Network, the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy as well as the Minnesota Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. Adam serves on the board of Interfaith Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN). He also serves as Executive Artistic Director for blank slate theatre, a personal growth-oriented theatre for youth, and was awarded “Outstanding Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist” by the Minnesota Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.

​Amoke Kubat, M.Ed.- Consultant
Amoke is a writer, artist, community elder, and Life Coach. She is also a Minnesota Special Education teacher holding licenses in Learning Disabilities, Cognitive Developmental Delays, Emotional Behavior Disorders, and Early Childhood Special Education. Amoke earned undergraduate degrees in Feminist Studies and Creative Writing, and a Masters in Special Education. She has taught for the Los Angeles, Pasadena Unified, and Minneapolis School Districts. She loved working for middle and high school students with learning and physical disabilities. She also holds a Specialist Credential for Early Childhood Special Education from California State College. Amoke has written for the Association for the Education of Young Children’s publication, NEWS, and Recovering the Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing. She published her first novel, Missing Mama: My Story of Loss, Sorrow and Healing in 2012 and is currently performing her second play after touring her first play all over Minnesota.

Amy Salloway- Tutor, Writing Teacher, Consultant 

Amy is a multi talented performer and educator who specializing in creative memoir and the art of storytelling.

Billy Navarro Jr.- Consultant

Frank Yellow- Writing and Wellness consultant, Storyteller, Life Coach (heh)

Richard LaFortune- Consultant, Anti-fa Baking Class, Yupik Two-Spirit Elder