Meet Our Teachers

hConnect works with families who provide home-based instruction to support them in the education of their children.  Parents remain the primary teacher in their child's education, but hConnect is here to be supportive with resources, strategies, and classes that are more difficult to provide at home.

Karina Champion Multi-Grade /Science / MAST 7-8  

Karina Champion

 I grew up in Olympia and attended Roosevelt Elementary, Reeves Middle, and Olympia High schools. I attended college at SPSCC for Running Start, the University of Washington and The Evergreen State College for my undergrad, and earned my Master in Teaching from The Evergreen State College.

 I came to ORLA after teaching at another alternative school with a parent partnership, Sky Valley Education Center (SVEC) in Monroe, Washington. At SVEC, I taught in the Parent Partnership Program (similar to ORLA’s hConnect) and in the Environmental Science School, which is a full day, three day a week integrated program in which students grades 7-10 performed field and lab science supported with language arts, social studies, and visual arts. Students spent a significant amount of time designing and performing their own scientific investigations, and ran a program in the spring to share their learning with the upper elementary Montessori program. I loved teaching in an environment where classes are learning communities and families of students are so involved in the school and classroom. I feel so fortunate to be at ORLA so that I can continue to work in a dynamic environment that has a structure that provides opportunities to include the whole family in the education of each child.

This year at ORLA I will be teaching in the MAST 7 (Math Art Science and Technology) series of classes that creates meaningful integration of mathematics, fine visual and performing arts, social studies, English language arts, lab and field science, and technology. Students choosing this grouping of classes also select some hConnect courses. I will also have the honor of teaching Science-High School Prep, high school level Heath, and Designing Tomorrow!

My husband, son, dog, and I are so excited to be settled back in Olympia among family and friends! In the spring of 2016 we’ll be adding some ducks to our family!

Rachel Erickson  Multi-Grade Science

Beth Farrar  Multi-Grade/Multi Subject K - 5

Beth FarrarBorn and raised in California, at the age of 5 years old, my family spent one year operating a hospital in Africa where they taught basic hygiene and nutrition. I was inspired to learn about nursing, hygiene, and community health classes. This led me to pursue a BS degree in nursing. Afterwards, I was able to teach short term hygiene and community health in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, and Swaziland.  In my most recent trip to Africa, I worked with women teaching them parenting and self-empowerment and preservation skills. Through out my life, I have always gravitated towards the teaching situation.  I taught swimming lessons,  Sunday school classes, was a camp counsellor, tutored neighbors who spoke little English, and taught basic piano lessons. While volunteering in my children’s elementary school, the staff encouraged me to complete my graduate teaching degree at Rider University in New Jersey. After moving to Olympia, I taught in a private school and substituted in the area schools.  I am very excited to have found a teaching home at ORLA! While I enjoy all subjects, Social Studies and Science are my favorite subjects to teach. I enjoy teaching math as well because I used to struggle in math and I love helping students understand the concepts. When I am not teaching, I enjoy hiking and picnicking in the Mount Rainier National Park or in the Columbia River Gorge, digging in a small vegetable garden, reading my kindle, and visiting my three children at their various colleges.

Hazel Gilley  Spanish Language

Joined ORLA in September 2015. Teaching Spanish for 4th - 12th grade classes.  


Annie Hankins  hConnect Multi-Grade/Math, Science/MAST 7-8

I was born and raised in Seattle and attended college in Minnesota. Upon graduation, I completed an internship in environmental education, and worked as a seasonal naturalist at Olympic Park Institute and in Florida. During this period, I decided on teaching as my path and completed my Masters in Teaching at The Evergreen State College in 1993.

I enjoyed five years on the sunny side of our state in Yakima teaching 7th grade Life Science and Math before the birth of my daughter and moving back to Olympia. I changed course and taught Pre-K at the Eastside Cooperative Preschool for five years, and more recently grades 3-5 for the OSD in their PATS program before joining the hConnect staff at ORLA in 2015.

My summers are spent in the great outdoors with husband Roy (also a teacher) and daughter Jasmine (19) and son Reed (9), and our pets Tara the tarantula and kitty "Dandelion". Hiking and camping is our usual pursuit, and this year we enjoyed exploring waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge.  I love all kinds of sports (my latest favorite is floor hockey in the ORLA gym), and ride my bike whenever I can.

I am thrilled to be a part of the ORLA community where there are so many things to like: multi-age classrooms, interdisciplinary studies, engaged students and supportive parents and staff to name a few.  I'm looking forward to returning to ORLA this fall and working with both hConnect and MAST 7 programs!


Cristy Havens   hConnect and Montessori Music, ASB Advisor, Activities Coordinator

Cristy HavensOlympia has always been my hometown, although after attending 3rd through 12th grades, I did spend a little time away.  In 1987, I went away for college to warm and sunny Tucson, Arizona, and received my Bachelors in Fine Arts with an endorsement in Music Performance.  I spent the next couple of years traveling and singing in a band and when I decided that was not the life for me, I realized that where I really wanted to be sharing my love of music was in the classroom!  I attended Seattle University and received my Masters in Teaching and was also lucky enough to have met my husband, Michael.  We have shared the wonders of teaching and education for 15 years together.  We have 2 amazing daughters who keep us on our toes and laughing through life. I have always loved teaching, but I love teaching at ORLA most of all. 

Laura Herman  Multi-Grade/Language Arts, Social Studies MAST 7-8

Laura HermanI was born in Longview, Washington and resided in our state until the age of 10.  When I was in 5th grade my family moved to Columbus, Mississippi because of my dad's job with Weyerhaeuser.  I lived in the "deep South" until I was 20 years old and then moved back to Washington to be closer to my family.  In the meantime, I spent more than two years at the University of Mississippi and then finished my studies at Washington State University.  I have taught all grades 4th-12th and specialize in teaching language arts, social studies, and various writing classes.  I am married and have a 10-year-old daughter named Ava and three-year-old twin girls named Zoe and Maya.  My hobbies include gardening, reading, volunteer work, spending time with my family, and cooking.

Lorana Hoopes  

Multi-Grade/Multi Subject MAST 7-8

Lorana HoopesAll the world's a stage and we are merely players.

 I never made it to Hollywood so the classroom became my stage, but I didn't start out wanting to teach. I grew up in a small town in Texas. I know, I don't have an accent; my drama teacher told me if I wanted to be on stage, then I couldn't sound sooooo Texan. In Texas, we have a league where students can compete in theater, debate, radio announcing and more. I competed all four years of high school, making it to state three years in debate. After high school, I went to college to major in communications and theater. I wanted to be an actress, but my dad said my morals were too high to ever make it in Hollywood, so I decided to be a lawyer. And then I worked for a lawyer and decided I wanted to be something else. I ended up being a disc jockey for 4 years before meeting my husband and moving to Washington state. Once here, I was a little far away from most radio stations and so I became a salesperson. I sold everything from slippers to insurance to weight loss plans for awhile before getting burned out on 60+ hour work weeks. Then I found teaching and remembered how much I loved school. I have been teaching for 8 years, all in Yelm before coming here to ORLA. My passion is drama and I like to bring my acting skills into my classroom. When I am not teaching, I am either kickboxing, reading, cross stitching, or hanging out with my family. I have two sons, Spenser and Jackson, who are the light of my world and so while I never made it to Hollywood, I wouldn't change the path my life took.

Lea Mitchell  Multi-Grade/ Visual Communications /MAST 7-8

Lea Mitchell

I grew up on an island in Maine where my family ran an Inn, a restaurant, and a small marina. I learned how to paint, organize things, welcome customers, and count change. I consider this my first home school experience. We lived in the Inn and it was drafty and freezing cold in the winter. Instead of all going our separate ways after dinner, we would often gather in the living room by the fireplace. My dad would carve birds and my mother and grandmothers would sew, knit,and do needlepoint. I think this is where I learned to love art and to believe that everybody, in their own way, is an artist. Most of my life I taught and created art but it was always as a volunteer and often at the end of the day after I had completed my "real" work. I had a successful career working on environmental protection and related public policies but something was missing. I realized that my "real work" was teaching and creating art. I returned to school and received my teaching certification from Pacific Lutheran University. My husband Jim and I have lived in Olympia for over twenty five years and we both share a love of nature, hiking, and our local community. I am honored to be part of the ORLA community and to have the opportunity to help build ORLA's Visual Arts program. 

Kara Peterson  Multi-Grade/Multi Subject/MAST 7-8

Re-joined ORLA in September 2015. Teaching Social Studies for 6th - 12th grade classes.  


Taryn Veloni  Multi-Grade / Media & Computer Technology Teacher / MAST 7-8

Taryn VeloniI grew up in Hoquiam, Washington, and graduated from Hoquiam High School. We lived out in the woods and the woods were our playground. My brother and I spent our youth exploring nature and exploring our imaginations. Through high school I was very active in sports, clubs and community service.

I pursued the traditional college route after graduating, but it never quite fit. I could not find fulfillment or purpose. I went on to take a leap into industry. I have been active in learning the ins and outs of the food and beverage industry, entrepreneurship and personal finance. Along the way I also took the opportunity to live and work in our National Parks.

Last year was my first year teaching and it was spent at Morton School District working with 7th-12th graders in computer applications, entrepreneurship and design. It was a very rewarding year, but I am so excited to embark on this new journey at ORLA. ORLA represents everything I believe in, in education. I am so excited to guide our students into new exciting learning, and see where they can take it. I can’t wait to meet all of you.

Michelle Whittaker  Arts Alive Theater

Michelle Whittaker

Like the first line and title of our State song - Washington My Home I am a native Washingtonian. I was born and raised in the Spokane valley. When I graduated from high school I moved to Seattle and attended Seattle Pacific University where I double majored in Biology and Chemistry. Nerds rule! and I’ve always been one. My favorite subjects in high school were science, music and theatre. I continued living the nerd dream with my college studies and participating in community theatre. After graduating with my BS degree I worked in research labs at Swedish and UW Hospitals for several years before returning to SPU to get my teaching credentials. I loved science so much I wanted to get kids just as excited and interested in it as I am.

I moved to Olympia around 25 years ago and took a 15 year break from teaching. I worked for Thurston County Solid Waste department putting in place all the recycling programs that still exist today, including writing and producing a school assembly program with Captain Waste-not who taught children about reducing, reusing and recycling.

I came back to teaching 15 years ago and have taught at Northwest Christian High School, Tumwater High School and ORLA where I have promoted nerdom in teaching science and theatre. I am so very happy to be back at ORLA. The community of families and staff is the best place in the world to spend my day. Along the way I have gathered additional teaching certificates in Career and Technical Education as well as becoming a National Board Certified Teacher. I now teach part-time at ORLA and run a business in Shelton where I live with my wonderful husband.

Steve Youngs  Multi-Grade Math/Science/ MAST 7-8

Steve Youngs

I was born in Seattle and grew up in the suburb of Burien.  I always loved the out of doors, music, and theater, so it was difficult to decide upon a career path.  My first major in college was theatrical stage lighting and audio engineering at Eastern Washington University.  After two years of study and somewhat discouraged by the unpredictability of employment, I changed my major to environmental science and transferred to The Evergreen State College.  I loved this area of study.  It allowed me to work in a variety of ecosystems, from the open ocean to the inland forests.  I worked in the dangerous and exciting Bering Sea on crab boats and fishing trawlers, hiked across the open tundra of the North Slope of Alaska, spent time in the subtropical waters around Hawaii, and worked in the forests of the west coast.  Lots of adventuring, but then I decided it was time to put down roots.  I had always had summer jobs in high school working with children at the YMCA, so it seemed logical that teaching would be my next career choice.  So, back to school I went.  After teaching in a private school as well as a public alternative school for struggling youth, I am very happy to have found a home here at ORLA.