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.
Riva Garcia- Full Spectrum Street Outreach Youth Worker, founding member of Board/Council, Staff
Riva Garcia has been living the philosophy of unschooling and Democratic education since 2006, when they dropped out of public high school during their sophomore year and by a wonderful twist of fate found Second Foundation School shortly after. As a queer, neurodivergent and indigenous youth Riva had struggled in public school their whole life and had almost given up on education completely until attending SFS and seeing that learning didn’t always have to be coercive, negative and even abusive. Being allowed to follow their interests and expand their natural talents gave Riva a sense of self and confidence that they had rarely experienced before and the knowledge they gained about what it means to be a part of a community, to grow and support each other, to honor everyone’s contributions despite age, experience or differences in ability has done more for them than anything learned in public school institutions. The encouragement and support that Riva received from staff, community members and other students helped sustain Riva through many personal struggles such as poverty and homelessness. It is for all these reasons that Riva has remained an active member of the community, helping found Gaia Democratic School in 2013 and now bringing the values of Democratic education and communities to homeless youth services with Gaia’s Full Spectrum outreach program. Riva has also worked in Youth outreach at Ain Dah Yung Center and the Streetworks Collaborative and is currently a member of the culinary team at the Indigenous Food Lab.
Angela Richards, Full Spectrum Founder
Angela Richards is an Indigenous person from Pine Ridge South Dakota who walks with lived/shared experiences as their clients and focuses on youth empowerment but also harm reduction approaches/strategies for the populations they serve. Minnesota has become a home away from home for Angela and they enjoy creating art and having critical conversations about colonialism and on-going healing ways to survive capitalism.
Khnani Townsend, Full Spectrum Outreach Youth Worker
Knahni graduated from Gaia in 2018 and has worked as a youth outreach worker for Streetworks Collaborative. Knahni is also the J-Fashion class coordinator and a multi talented artist.
Kyra Curry- Wynne, Staff Assistant and Organizer
Kyra graduated from Gaia’s class of 2020, going on to receive an Herbal Studies certificate from Minneapolis College. She has practical experience in herbal medicine, ethnobotanical history, plant identification and herbal preparations. Growing up, Kyra used music and poetry to express difficult inner-conflicts in her adolescence, leading her to participate in community theater, dance, vocal and instrumental ensembles. In high school, Kyra participated in Project Opera’s 2018-19 season as a cast member in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers”, gaining hands-on experience with directors at the Minnesota Opera. Kyra is continuing her undergraduate studies at Minneapolis College, where she plays guitar in the Jazz Ensemble. She hopes to later earn a B.M. in music therapy, and is especially interested in exploring the relationship between music therapy and de-escalation in adolescent mental health settings.
Seren is a 2019 alum of Gaia who has been with the community for nearly ten years, having also attended Second Foundation School. Seren has been a Family Tree Clinic certified peer sex educator since 2015 through their KISS program and has also trained in peer support and education at RECLAIM via Project CLEAR, both of which gave them the necessary skills to assist in facillitating discussions of sexual health and mental wellness among students. Their other passions for art, writing, philosophy, media analysis, and social change are all happily shared with the community, and welcomed from others in turn. They hope to be here for many years yet.
Dr. Anne Ness- Health and Wellness Consultant, Gaia Founder, Council member
Anne has been a long time Gaia mom, since SFS days! She has a Doctorate of Nursing degree and MA in Holistic Health Studies from St. Catherine University. Anne is an artist, activist, aromatherapist and medic, among other things.
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.
Jesse Boom, Artist
I live on a hobby farm and love animals! I raise sheep, goats, chickens and ducks. I was a stay at home unschooling mom for the first part of my daughter's life, but as she got older and grew in her independence, it also gave me an opportunity to branch out myself. I dabble in a lot of different hobbies. I played roller derby before covid. With that on pause during the pandemic, I followed a different passion and started fostering dogs. I also sew and do a lot of crafts. I love to learn, so I’m always reading or researching new topics and skills to expand my knowledge. Joining the Gaia community has been an amazing opportunity to not only give my daughter the space to continue to grow in a supportive environment, but it’s also allowed me to delve deeper into some topics I’ve always been curious about and expand my own knowledge even more. I’m always open to try new things or learn something new, and it’s allowed me to have many amazing experiences and meet a lot of great people along the way!
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
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
Maurine 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
Frank Yellow- Writing and Wellness consultant, Storyteller, Life Coach (heh)
Richard LaFortune- Consultant, Anti-fa Baking Class, Yupik Two-Spirit Elder
Hani Jamas specializes in psychology, psychiatric care and mental health support. Hani is also a certified nursing assistant and academic tutor who is fluent in Somali language and has been involved with the Gaia community since 2008.
Drake Powe- consultant, stress reduction
Modern life has more than its share of stressors and challenges. From a young age, chronic stress in my life led me to search for knowledge and solutions. I began to study spiritual masters at age 11. Meditation became a tool I used regularly from my early teen years. Yoga plays a vital role in mitigating pain from sports-related injuries and remains a vital component of my relationship to wholeness.
I became a certified yoga instructor in 1999. Blending stress-reduction and meditation techniques with my unique approach to Kripalu yoga, I help myself and clients cope with adverse effects of injury, aging, and uncertainty with more equanimity.
The invitation to genius has been a lifelong, overarching theme. When leading individuals or groups in techniques for calming, grounding, and manifestation space is created for greater inspiration and genius. A gradual awakening can pave the way for great leaps into personal empowerment and more joy in life. We are more powerful than we realize. This is an opportunity to wield that power for the benefit of ourselves and the world. It is my passion to encourage you to realize your own genius. More info at www.DrakePowe.com
Knahni Townsend, Full Spectrum Street Outreach , JFashion facilitator
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.
Kyra, Junior Staff, Organizer
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Gaia Democratic school
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.