• Michelle Bebout - Superpower: English/Language Arts

    Michelle's Pict

    Here's my story:

    I always enjoyed school but usually had no idea what I was learning or why I was learning it. I was that kid in English class asking the teacher “How do you REALLY KNOW if Shakespeare meant to include symbolism?  He’s dead right?” and in biology class I was busy collecting all the teeth from the cats we were dissecting because my fascination was with my own learning, not the dissection worksheet I needed to fill out. In college, I changed my major at least three times before I finally settled on English. I just couldn’t decide with all the options that were in front of me! Ultimately, I knew I loved to read and wanted to experience as much as I could in life even if it was only through the pages of a book. After becoming an English teacher, I often dreamt of “doing school differently”, so when Meraki came to life I was wildly excited about the possibility. I have always imagined school as place of activity and excitement, exploration and investigation. A place where EVERYONE can pursue his/her interests and be supported in their learning.

    I consider myself to be a searcher so being stoked about life has always varied. There have been times when I was stoked to be fishing.  I couldn’t get enough. I would head up to Kyburz right after work and fish till dusk. Then I was stoked about hiking and spent an entire summer hiking every trail I could near Tahoe. I’ve been stoked to kayak, garden, talk to great people, bike, run, read, remodel my house, learn the guitar, create art, go to great concerts, organize “stuff”.  It just ebbs and flows for me. If I had to choose one moment right now that fuels me, it’s when I am with my husband and my one-year-old daughter enjoying the sun, listening to the wind and looking at the Sierras.

    Freedom. For too long we have constructed fences and boxes and borders around students and teachers; I believe that we have to cut loose from those constraints. I can’t wait for a transformative experience that includes professional space that speaks to students, access to nature, an enthusiastic group of super teachers who have time to support students and the opportunity to support each other as we pursue our passions!

    I am a novice DIYer, so I have built a potting bench out of pallets and a rolling work table from an old railroad tie. I repainted my kitchen cabinets, installed tile, and retextured our bathroom. I’ve created my own journals, made a scrapbook for my daughter and finally, I am gearing up to replace my raised vegetable beds in the garden!

    Luckily, my mom and step-dad recently moved near me and my sister is planning to move up from Los Angeles soon; I have an amazing husband and very good friends who I share my life with AND now, I have the Meraki super teachers!!!      I’ve struggled with failure frequently, but what it does for me is make me think how I can “do things” better next time. I work hard to improve and change and failure provides that opportunity.

    David Levis - Superpower: Principal

     David Levis in Mexico

    Here's my Story:

    Going through my life has always been a story of adaptation. Growing up as a Navy brat and attending 5 different schools, 7 different homes, 5 different cities and 3 different states during grades k-6. Life finally settled down by middle school, attending Arcade middle and El Camino High School. While I was in high school I discovered my love for theatre it also began my story of having my educational experience work for me. To make room in my schedule I took zero period, tested out of classes, made sure some of my electives double counted for a core, took an adult ed class, took a class at AR, and summer school for some enrichment. I explored so many different jobs and careers from Military, Law Enforcement, balloon animal maker, telesales, Aramark laundry truck driver, garage door installer but nothing beats guiding young minds who want to explore life. I LOVE teaching!

    After high school life again became chaotic again I took some classes at AR but ended up joining the Navy. While I was in the Navy I found the love of my life and ended my time in the service as an E-4. Even while in the Navy I kept the focus and attitude of working the system to my advantage. Volunteering for jobs, I came out with some college credit and enough money to pay for my BA in Social Science, Credential and Masters in Education. While I was getting my degrees I was able to work in several aspects of our district from an Instructional Assistant at one of the Continuation Schools to working with Adult Disabled students to finally being a guest teacher for three different school districts. 

    I am at heart a Social Science Teacher, I have worked at 3 different high schools teaching Honors World/US History, AP US History, Econ, Gov, Sociology, Geography, EL, and Student Government. I transitioned to administration at the last high school I taught at, transferred to El Camino High School (my alma mater) and then had an amazing opportunity to join the Alternative Learning Center in 2019 as Principal. This first year has been an exciting journey learning about the very unique qualities that make up Meraki.

    I was not new to Alternative Learning, my own children have been part of self-directed learning for their entire educational career. Allowing students to be able to follow their passions and providing time for students to create and develop their learning is fundamental to a strong educational foundation. Finding "my people" at Meraki has been one of the greatest joys! 

    Taken from Gabe Cooper (our Founder of what was UnSchoool and now lives as Meraki).

    "Meraki needs amazing students to help shape a culture of learning at Meraki. We need exceptional adults to support the learning and we need to believe in each other as we explore what is truly possible at Meraki. Meraki tries to hire teachers that deviate from the norm to allow for authentic learning to occur. I have found these educational deviants to be educational changemakers that discover original results with their students."

    As Cooper set forth, let us "Fail Forward" and continue to grow and learn!



    Glenda Cox - Superpower: Math

    Glenda's Picture  

    Here’s my story:

    I am a math educator who has experienced math struggle.  When I was in elementary school, math did not come easy for me nor did it make sense to me. In middle school, whether it was because I was older or I had an amazing teacher (or a combination of both), all of a sudden it all clicked and math became easy!  My success with mathematics continued through high school, propelling me through AP Calculus with ease. However, once I took my first math course in college, it became evident that all I had been truly great at achieving was memorizing structures without truly understanding the math behind those structures.  I was able to overcome these struggles, however it solidified my desire to teach math in a different way than I had learned myself. These experiences not only helped to shape my teaching, they allowed me to understand and relate to all students within my classroom, from the mathematically confident to those that have had limited success in their experience with mathematics. I am thrilled to be a part of Meraki where there is freedom to support students in their individual needs, and experience the many ways that math connects to the real world.

    I feel most stoked to be alive when I am spending time doing what I love for my heart or for my mind. For my heart, I am most stoked when I am spending time with my family doing something together such as attending a soccer game (go Sacramento Republic!!!), or hiking. For my mind, I am most stoked to be alive when I am around water (lake, ocean, or river), and can be perfectly still, observing what is around me, sitting with my own thoughts in total peace.

    The students and advisors at Meraki have the exciting opportunity to show the educational world that our most powerful learning comes from our passions, connections to the real world, mutual respect, and community support.

    I would love to see two types of spaces: creative, active space and a space for quiet reflection and work, with the ability to move back and forth between the two spaces as needed.

    I helped build three large garden boxes for my backyard! I plant vegetables each year, and I still get so excited when I see the first vegetables begin to grow. My husband is a maker and mechanically gifted! From building a Shelby Cobra replica, to fixing most anything in our house, I am always amazed at his ability to know how things work. I have two teenage sons who are also amazing makers who love robotics, planes, and are passionate about most anything technology-related. My family is so excited to see what creations and projects the students at Meraki develop!

    In order to truly learn, to truly live your life, risks must be taken and sometimes those risks do not result in success. It is what we do and learn from those failures that make the difference and propel us forward.

    Here is a quote I must remember when I fear failure: It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default. - J.K. Rowling



    Dan DeJager - Superpower: Physical Literacy & Wellness

    Dan DeJager

    Here’s my story:

    Growing up I was sick a lot with asthma which caused me to miss a lot of elementary school. I often felt like I didn’t know what was going on in class. I was also rarely able to be physically active. My movement skills were low and I didn’t have much confidence. I was pretty shy and other kids used to bully me quite a bit, especially in middle and high school. I was a skinny little guy, socially awkward, my clothes were smaller than me (we didn’t have much money) and I didn’t really stick up for myself. I was an outcast and a lot of kids were just plain mean.

    In middle school I switched asthma medications, and one day in PE we ran the mile and I got second place in the whole class. I felt like I was finally good at something. That moment gave me the confidence to try out for the high school cross country and track teams. It was on those teams that I felt successful and gained confidence. I learned that hard work paid off. I learned that participating in a physical activity allowed me to meet others and make lifelong friends. I learned that being physically fit had numerous benefits (my asthma got better, I was more productive and I felt like I could think more clearly).

    I enjoyed creative writing and started college as an English major, but after a couple of college level physical education classes I switched majors. I realized there was importance in both subject areas and that I could get my degree in Physical Education Teacher Education to help others find value in fitness and physical activity. I now have extensive experience in the world of physical education, have taught a variety of students, coached cross country and track and also teach a night class at Sac State in assessments for future physical educators and coaches. I am hoping all of that experience will help me to be the best teacher and advisor possible for Meraki, so that all students can learn the joy of being physically active and strive to be well for a lifetime.

    I feel most stoked to be alive when I do what I think I’m here to do. A friend recently told me that a calling is when someone’s needs can be met by your blessings. I love helping others be physically fit and learn how to be physically educated. I love developing and designing programs and products. My current favorite hobby is playing, and designing board games. I love helping people reach their dreams whatever they are. When I see a student I’ve taught, work hard and be successful I am so incredibly proud of them and what they have done. Oh yeah and of course I love being physically active and having fun while doing it.

    Most folks don’t grow up and work on assembly lines anymore…so why are we teaching them like they do? Students should have to meet basic competencies, but they should also be given the opportunity to follow their dreams, and be given the time to be passionate and learn about what they are interested in.

    I want everyone to be healthy and well and physically active for life. There are lots of ways for that to happen and I believe students should have choices for how they are physically active and how they are physically educated and learn about health and wellness.

    I think we should get students out of desks and give them the opportunity to move and explore. This will not only help them with their fitness, but with thinking and problem solving as well. In John Medina’s book “Brain Rules” he discusses exercise as the number one way to boost brain power.

    For Meraki to be successful we all need to work together. I am incredibly blessed to be joining such an amazing team of advisors. We need to be able to work collaboratively and listen to student voice as we develop competencies and plans for students to meet those competencies. Also Meraki needs motivated students that are willing to put in work. Students have to be willing to set goals and work toward reaching those goals. Most of all we all need to be willing to try something new, reflect and adjust if we fail.

    Growing up we had a small farm with several animals. The animals themselves were a project along with everything that went into them…building fences and barns. Every weekend we were working. I still own goats and chickens today. It’s always a project…

    I have written and published a book on a whole new lesson format that is being used in physical education “Adventure Racing Activities for Fun and Fitness” by Human Kinetics.  I wrote an entire middle school physical education curriculum with a writing team that is now used around the world (SPARK physical education). I recently had a board game published “Greedy Dragons” by Evil Hat Productions and have another game design currently in production. Really in some ways I think of myself as a project as well. I’ve trained for and completed several different physical challenges: extreme wheelbarrow races, running 100 kilometers, adventure races and fitness challenges. No matter what the project, there is one thing I have learned: if you want to be successful you have to put in hard work, lots of time, learn what you can, lean on those that support you and don’t give up until you are done and have a completed product.

    My supports are my family: my wonderful wife, Kristen, 5 year old Hunter and new baby Henry. I also have several teacher friends and other close friends that have supported me in my endeavors.

    If you want to be successful you must accept the possibility of failure. When you fail you must see it as a “First Attempt In Learning”, change what you’re doing and get back to it. Don’t give up, never give in. When you have hope and you have grit, you give yourself the best chance to be successful.


    Scott Evans - Superpower: College and Career Readiness

    Scott's Pict

    Here's My Story:

    I have wanted to be a part of something like Meraki for the last ten years.  As a teacher, coach and counselor I have seen the limitations of school structure on student learning. The brain is an amazing organ, but I do not feel we have truly connected our understanding of how it grows (aka learning) with how we train our youth (aka education). We have failed to address the engagement and motivation of our students in the schooling system. This is why Meraki is such a great opportunity for all of us.

    I am most stoked to be alive when I am outdoors viewing wild animals in their natural environment.  The beauty and peacefulness of nature inspires me, and the behavior of animals fascinates me. I can watch them for hours seeing how they interact with each other and the world around them.  The balance of empathy for individual suffering and understanding of the harsh reality of predator and prey is always on my mind and in my heart.

    Growing up I did not have any passions, just things I enjoyed doing like basketball, photography, maintaining tropical fish tanks, camping, and more. It was not until my third year of college when I became a Resident Advisor in the dorms that I realized how much I liked working with young people and supporting their learning.  After teaching in a biology classroom for 10 years the frustration of being stuck between four walls for a specified amount of time became too much and I made the move from teacher to counselor. I have now truly found what I am passionate about doing, and with Meraki the perfect place to do it.


    Jon Leister - Superpower: Social Science, Media Arts

    Jon's Picture

    Here's my story:

    I'm excited to be a part of the creation of Meraki. I've been in public education for 22 years and over that time I've explored many different styles and methods of teaching and learning. Meraki is the culmination of that experience. I'm credentialed in social science, computer applications, and I have a CTE credential in Media Arts and Entertainment. That means I can teach video and audio production, technical theater, and photography/graphic arts. I've worked professionally in film and video, photography, and audio. I'm sole proprietor of a (very) small hand-crafted jewelry business, and possess a slow burning love for robotics. I'm also a not-quite-half-way-decent-looking-to-get-better guitarist.

    I’m a maker, so for me life begins at the question, "wonder if I can build that?" Learning and making something go hand in hand and my preferred way of learning is through the process of creation. We live in a wonderful age. Without fail, I've been able to find the answers to all of my questions through this wonderful exchange of information called the internet. I've learned everything from how a capacitor works to how to play the solo from "Hotel California" from places like Youtube. We have as much content as we need at our fingertips. The true art then is learning how to synthesize that information into new areas of understanding, build from our past mistakes, and add to the ever-growing body of knowledge.

    For a very long time I've said that in order to change education we need to blow up space and time. We've been able to do that at Meraki. Now that we've removed barriers, what will we do with our new found freedom?


    Chris Watson - Superpower: Science

    Chris' Picture  

    Here’s my story:

    Much of who I am today and what I believe, I attribute to my close relationship with my grandfather. My grandfather lived through the Great Depression, fought in World War II and was in the first graduating class of engineers from UC Berkley. He is who I wanted to become. I spent countless hours with him in his workshop building everything from go-carts to terrariums and even a solar heater for the pool, long before solar heaters became popular. My grandfather was not afraid to learn something new and never backed down from a challenge. He modeled perseverance and he would always tell me, “Christopher, I don’t care what you do. If you are going to dig ditches, be the best ditch digger you can be.” Through my relationship with my grandfather, I recognize my skills and knowledge, about anything and everything, I have learned through jumping in with both feet and getting my hands dirty. With that in mind, I developed a natural affinity for science because of the endless opportunities to get my hands dirty! I am also that person that is always asking, why? Science has been the vehicle for answering many of my questions. I have been a science educator for over twenty years. I believe that to learn science, you must experience science. I am thrilled to be at Meraki where students will not only experience science, but to discover how science connects and can be applied to their passion.

    One of the places I am most stoked to be alive is when I am in, on or near water! I begin each day in a pool, swimming a few thousand yards with a group of good friends. Every summer I look forward to participating in the Trans-Tahoe open water race across the lake. And I take every opportunity I can to paddle out into the line-up with a couple of life-long buddies. When I can’t be in the water, I am stoked to be alive when I complete a task or project that stretched my knowledge and skills. The more challenging the task, the more stoked I am when I reach success. Here are my ideas on transforming the education system: At no direct fault of anyone, schools have operated as a delivery system. We often say or hear the phrase, “where did you receive (get) your education?” Traditionally, students sit in classrooms “receiving” an education. I believe the first step in changing the education system is create environments where students are given the opportunity to direct their own learning and be empowered to take more responsibility in making decisions about their learning. “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” Alexander Den Heijer.

    For Meraki to succeed, we (students, staff, parents) will first need to create a culture of trust and respect for each other and the learning environment. We will also need to build a community of learners that have a healthy understanding of what failure is and how to turn failure into a learning opportunity.

    I have worked on multiple construction projects from designing and building furniture/cabinets to remodeling kitchens and bathrooms to re-piping my house. The project I am most proud of is adding a second story to my house that required an unbelievable amount of retrofitting on the existing house to support a second floor.

    There is very little, if any, learning that occurs in the absence of taking risks and making mistakes. Amazing things happen when we use mistakes to inform our learning.To give an example, Meraki staff recently went to a conference in San Diego. For time and convenience, we traveled by plane. One of the conversations during the flight was about the design of the wing and the physics of flight. When I think about flight, it is nearly impossibly to not think about all the risks taken and all the failures of the Wright brothers. They encountered one setback after another and yet, they never gave up. As a result, amazing things happen when we use mistakes to inform our learning.