Lilly Richards (Preschool Lead Teacher) received her Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and has worked in preschool and elementary classroom settings for over two years. She has extensive experience gardening and farming with children of all ages and strongly believes that the connection to one’s place and culture is critical to a child’s feeling of being supported and understood. Lilly strives to integrate place-based learning into her teaching and enjoys spending time igniting her creativity through art and time spent outdoors.
Julie Duran (Preschool Assistant) worked in the field of education in Los Angeles, California for nearly ten years before moving to Maui. She has a multitude of experiences as an education specialist, focusing on the early elementary years. Julie started as a substitute teacher at Roots School, but quickly became a regular in our classrooms, as she intuitively shared the values of our school. She loves to travel, but also enjoys living on Maui and being able to spend the day at Roots and the evenings and weekends with her dog.
Alysha Asue (K-1 Lead Teacher) received her degree from the University of Hawaii, Maui College in Early Childhood Education. She has worked in the independent school environment for 16 years. She has had the privilege of working both in school administration and in the classroom as an Assistant Teacher as well as a Lead Teacher. Alysha believes in our school mission and looks forward to gifting our students the opportunity to become happy and healthy individuals.
Lauren Gutierrez (2-3 Lead Teacher) received her Bachelor of Education, Summa Cum Laude, from Hamline University in Minnesota and has taught in the classroom for over nine years. She believes that the unique and creative space that is a classroom is where she feels most at home. Before moving to Maui in 2021, Lauren taught academics and dance internationally. From Thailand to Austria, to Colombia, she is grateful to have experienced some of the rich cultural diversity our world offers, and promises to bring her adventurous spirit, her artistic nature, and her zest for life to Roots every day. When not teaching in the classroom, Lauren enjoys her role as a dance instructor at several studios across the island.
Heather Grossman (2nd-3rd Grade Assistant) was born and raised in California and moved to Maui in 2003. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother. Heather has worked in the customer service industry for over thirty years and has been a frequent volunteer in the community, including at Haiku Elementary School. When she is not working, free time is spent with her family, creating art, making jewelry, or stained glass. Heather is excited to be a part of this special school!
Heather Benton (Cultural Connections Teacher) was born raised on Maui in Lahaina and Ha’iku. Although she is not native Hawaiian, she has been rooted in this culture from childhood. She received her Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Hawaii, and after having worked at Roots from 2011-2015, Heather taught at Pomaika’i Elementary with an emphasis in Arts Integration teaching and learning strategies and Hawaiian Studies. Through her work as a hula dancer, with Kumu Cliff Ahue, her hula group shared and practiced many aspects of the culture, including chanting, farming, and lei making. Heather seeks to activate a passion to connect to the land for each child who is growing here. She also hopes the keiki will feel the kuleana to care for each other and their place.
Kendra Bitzig (4-6 Lead Teacher) received her BA in Children’s Studies from Eastern Washington University and her MA in Education with a focus on coaching and mentoring in early education from Goddard College. After working in Early Education for over 20 years, Kendra is excited to join the 4-6 grade on their educational journey. In her free time, Kendra likes to spend time with her family and pets, adventure in nature, and create art.
Cathy Jamison (4-6 Grade Assistant) was born and raised in Massachusetts and moved to Maui in 2020. She received her BS in Psychology with a minor in Business Administration from Northeastern University. After spending time traveling and learning about the joys of leaving one’s comfort zone, she is ready to bring that joy of learning and growth to the students here at Roots. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her kitties, running, and playing around in the garden!
Genie Hokulani Calagna
Genie Hokulani Calagna (Performing Arts Specialist) was born and raised in Hawaii. She has a passion for the arts and for sharing them with children of all ages. With a Bachelor's degree in Performance Arts from UH Hilo and a Master's degree in Theatre Education from Emerson College in Boston, she has been teaching and directing with an emphasis on arts integration and social emotional awareness for over 18 years. Her goal is always to foster self-awareness, confidence and resilience while building community through performance to benefit the whole child. When she’s not teaching, she loves to travel, do yoga and play in nature. She is delighted to be a part of the Roots family and to be a positive influence for our keiki.
Akari Ueoka (Japanese Teacher) finds great pleasure in being a bridge between languages, cultures, and people. She is a native Japanese speaker and spent her adulthood living in the U.S. since 2001. Her professional experience includes translation and interpretation work, in addition to extensive experience as an educator. She earned a Bachelor’s in Elementary & Early Childhood Education from the University of Hawaii and has taught in public and private elementary schools in the U.S. since 2008. She is the founder of Akari Translations providing services in language instruction, tutoring, and study abroad program coordination.
Melita Charan (Head of School) received her Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from Southern Oregon University. She has taught in rural Alaska, internationally in Indonesia, and in the progressive public school district of Ashland, Oregon. As the founder of Roots School, Melita is dedicated to providing exceptional educational opportunities through our arts-integrated, project-based approach. When she is not working, she enjoys playing with her daughter, traveling, and hiking.
Lisa Varde, CFRE (Development Director) was born in Seattle, and grew up in Kihei, Maui. She graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a BA in Public Relations. She has worked in nonprofit fundraising for over 25 years, including at the Hawaii Foodbank, Maui Arts & Cultural Center, and Maui Memorial Medical Center Foundation. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her daughter and husband. She also enjoys traveling and visiting family in the Pacific Northwest.
Cait Mates (Director of Admissions & Administration) first found Roots as a parent of a preschool student, then joined our Board of Directors, before becoming a staff member. She has worked as a teacher and administrator in independent schools in Hawai’i for over ten years and holds Master's Degrees in both Early Childhood & Elementary Education from Antioch University. Cait is excited to support the school in continuing its work in progressive education. She enjoys spending time outdoors with her family and being a part of the Haiku community.