On-Site Instructors/ Professionals
Robyn Smith, a University of Washington Graduate, with a Bachelors of Science degree in Nursing. As a Registered Nurse and Chief Safety and Health Officer of Equine Life Solutions, she oversees the classes and courses, adding more knowledge and depth to the science curriculum and activities at Holly Farms.
Michelle Wedig, PhD began her studies in psychology at Tufts University in Medford, MA. She then worked at Massachusetts General Hospital for two years before returning for her masters and doctoral degrees at Harvard University. While in school she worked with adults and children of all ages, with a wide variety of struggles including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. She completed a year-long clinical internship at Brown University at the end of her degree program. She finally completed a postdoctoral fellowship at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA in borderline personality disorder working with adolescents and adults. Upon moving to the greater Seattle area, she began specializing in work with eating disorders and has been the program director of a 24-hour residential treatment facility for adult women with eating disorders for two and a half years.
Sheryl Ramm is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Child Development and a Washington State Teaching Certificate for grades k-8. She taught 6th grade in the Edmonds School District for 15 years. Though she taught all subjects her passion falls in teaching science and environmental studies. She spent a school week every year with her students at outdoor school, and now serves as the education coordinator for OSPREY Camp during their Spring outdoor school seasons. Sheryl is excited about all of the science that surrounds us at ELS.
Matthew Erwin is the owner/operator of Matts’ Urban Farming LLC, specializing in edible urban landscape design and installation. Services include everything from vegetable garden installation and fruit tree pruning to building chicken coops for your feathered friends. Matt’s ambition in life, both professionally and personally, is to help others in his community and beyond find a connection with nature. Matt’s love and passion for nature can be seen in the quality of his work and desire to educate anyone interested. He has recently collaborated with Keep It Simple Farms on a series of do-it-yourself culinary mushroom cultivation classes. For more information, contact Matt directly at email@example.com or look up Matts Urban Farming on facebook.
Jennifer Johnson grew up in Oregon, and some of her favorite activities were camping and being out in the wilderness. It took her 6 years and 3 colleges to figure out a major, but she graduated from the University of Washington in 1995 with a BS in Conservation of Wildland Resources, a general Forest Ecology degree. After she graduated, she worked for several years for different companies as an administrative assistant. Eventually she stumbled on an Environmental Education job with the City of Edmonds, and discovered a gift I didn’t know she had: teaching children about nature.
When she realized her son was was unhappy in a traditional educational setting, it became clear that he needed a more personalized approach. Thus began her adventures in homeschooling. She is now entering her 8th year of this alternative education program, and both of her kids are thriving with the freedom to create their own educational journey. Jennifer has gained experience in choosing curricula and teaching children one-on-one and in small groups. She has also developed multiple unit studies and done a lot of research to be able to manage learning for both children. She has also taught very small co-ops, where she developed an entire course of study following interests of her students. She especially enjoys teaching the sciences.
Olga Surmacheva is your Holly Farm Art Director. Born in Russia, Olga completed her art education in St Petersburg. In 2006, Olga graduated from St. Petersburg State University of Aerospace and Instrumentation with Engineer’s degree in Quality Control. While living in Norway for one year, she continued her studies and moved to United States in 2011 to Snohomish County with her husband and 2 young kids.
“As an artist I get my inspiration from the horses. As a horse trainer I get my confidence from the horsemanship knowledge. These two aspects of my work complement and enrich each other, connecting into a single art piece.”
Advisors / Mentors/ Professionals
Miharu Yamauchi grew up in Tokyo, Japan. Growing up with a family heavily involved in education, she was raised to believe in the transformative power of academia. Following in their footsteps, she recently received her M.Ed. in Educational Policy from the University of Washington. Her degree project focused on alternative education, helping her to determine that students who are able to choose their style of education honors their individual uniqueness. Doing so allows students to maximize the potential of their future careers in academia and elsewhere.
When not working, Miharu’s hobbies include singing, long-boarding, and hanging out with her animal-friends. While she is relatively new to the world of horses, she feels right at home in the giving community of Equine Life Solutions.
Joslin Starkey, a graduate of Central Washington University, attained a Bachelor of Arts and Science in Elementary Education with a minor in Science Education. While her day-to-day job consists of managing a Customer Satisfaction and Communications team for an investment brokerage, she taps into her true passion, working with children and animals, by teaching Pony Partner Club on Saturdays.
Emily Nagel was born in San Francisco to photographers John and Rosemary Nagel. When she was a child her family moved to a farm in Iowa, then later to St. Louis. She graduated with a BFA in drawing from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. After college she met her husband and they embarked together on a cross country bicycle trip to Seattle where they fell in love with the mountains and the Puget Sound.
After having 2 children, she realized how inspiring children are and returned to school to obtain her Master’s in Teaching with a Washington State Teaching Certificate from the University of Seattle. While working in the Seattle Public Schools for 5 years, she discovered the Montessori Method of education and returned for more schooling to receive her Early Childhood Certification from the Montessori Education Institute of the Pacific Northwest (MEIPN).
Her son brought her to Equine Life Solutions when they decided to use his love of animals to build confidence that he was struggling to find at school. Emily applies the concepts she and her son learn at ELS to her everyday interactions with students, coworkers, parents, and loved ones. She firmly believes that horses have made her a better human!
Stephanie Hoffman graduated from the Masters of Occupational Therapy Program at the University of Washington in 2008. She has worked exclusively as a pediatric occupational therapist with children ages 2-16 years with developmental delays, genetic disorders, Down Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, fine motor delay, SPD, ADHD, anxiety, depression and behavioral disorders. Her treatment specialties include fine motor skills, handwriting, sensory processing, feeding therapy, social skills, self/emotional-regulation and behavioral challenges. When needed, Stephanie enjoys integrating the Zones of Regulation and Social Thinking curricula throughout her treatment sessions to empower children. Stephanie has previously worked at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center. There she was experienced with a Sensory Integration and Neurodevelopmental Treatment approach to hippotherapy, with an emphasis on balance, strength, core engagement and self-regulation while partnering with the equine to achieve therapy goals.
Stephanie’s hobbies include: Spending time with family (especially her niece and nephew) and friends, reading, games, music, anything outdoors, and horseback riding. She is passionate about her profession and feels blessed to be able to be a part of the lives and stories of all the families and kids she meets.
Gina Frank is a Clinical Social Worker who holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work and has nearly 10 years of experience working primarily as a youth therapist in the addictions field treating co-occurring disorders (both mental health / addiction). Additionally, she has completed a certificate in trauma. She has worked in the foster care system, juvenile detention centers, school based services and outpatient clinics as well as volunteered with homeless youth here in Seattle. She has individual, group and family therapy experience and has trained community organizations on addictions and held workshops for parents. Working with the adolescent population is her passion and she is excited about the opportunity to be a consultant at (ELS/education center).
Chrissie Chang has her Master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy from the University of Washington. She has been an educator, a trainer, a supervisor, and an advisor in a variety of disciplines and enjoys nothing more than helping people discover how they learn.
As a lifelong learner herself, she finds great joy in the lessons she gets at ELS. Her most patient teacher to date is her horse, Moose.