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Specialty Core Teachers

Our program is dedicated to broadening each child’s learning experience through authentic exposure by offering a variety of specialty classes at each grade level. These classes include Art, Dance, Library, Music, P.E., Science & Technology, Spanish, and Storytelling.

Rooted in a commitment to Renaissance learning, specialty classes provide an opportunity for depth in content and for relationships with our experienced specialist faculty. We believe a student’s insight into their own personhood is enhanced through this education — as are language acquisition, cognitive development, critical thinking ability, and social skills.

A Specialty Teacher serves as a role model in their field of expertise, embodying what it means for students to live their passion. Capitalizing on the unique opportunity to engage with students throughout their entire developmental trajectory at Walden, specialty classrooms offer a safe exploration of the various disciplines, resulting in an integrated and sequenced program specifically designed to meet the needs of students from Pre-K to 6th grade.

Over time, specialty classes often become a home or “hub” for Walden students. This continuity of content and relationship nurtures creativity and risk-taking, and allows students to gain a sense of their place in the world and what they offer to it.

Click here to watch the Back-to-School Night video from the Specialty Core.

Specialty Teachers

Art: Portia Hein

This is my eighth year as an Art Specialist Instructor at Walden. This year I also have the honor to serve as Interim Director of Studies. This means that — in addition to my role as a classroom teacher — I will be helping, from a macro-perspective, students and faculty plan and achieve the high academic standards and personal growth central to the Walden educational experience.

A few words about art-making, which directly impacts the ways in which one sees and engages the world: art is not only an end in itself but also a means by which children explore big ideas, develop their fine motor skills, and build the sort of self-directed and purposeful personal narratives that are so meaningful to them. I am thrilled to spend my time working with children, helping them develop meaningful art experiences that will resonate with them for the rest of their lives.

I have taught at the college level in numerous institutions including the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Chapman University, California State University Los Angeles, and Pasadena City College (PCC). I received a BA from UC Santa Cruz in Fine Art and an MFA in Paining and Drawing from the University of Texas, Austin. I have exhibited my own artwork nationally and internationally. My paintings and drawings are included in numerous public and private collections, both in the United States and abroad.

Art Associate: Ben Boquist

I am thrilled to be stepping into the role of Art and Communications Associate at Walden! This year, I will be joining Portia in the art studio and will lead art classes several days a week. When I learned that the Art Associate position was open, I jumped at the opportunity for several reasons. Growing up, Art was always my favorite class. I love working with my hands and being creative. Moreover, since I first stepped into Walden's art studio, it has been my favorite room on campus. I love the vibe, and I love Portia's (and the school's) philosophy of giving students creative freedom to explore at their own pace.

In many ways, this feels like something I've been preparing for for years. My undergraduate degree is in art. I've also worked on a number of film and TV projects as a production designer. In the off hours, I'm often painting, whittling, or doing something creative. Art has been my passion for as long as I can remember. More importantly, though, I'm passionate about empowering students to own their creativity. I want them to have fun, to share, and to be proud of their work. In the last several years at Walden summer camp, I've had the opportunity to do this by leading collaborative art projects with kids. This year, leading art projects with kids will be my day job!

I will also be continuing my work as Communications Associate, managing the school's social media presence and contributing to the Walden Blog. In this capacity, I get to foster online community with Walden families. I also get to tell people outside our community about the great things that happen here. The combination of these roles feels like a perfect fit for me, and it is with tremendous gratitude that I look forward to this school year.

Dance (Lower/Middle Cores): Daphne Trager

I have the most fun job in the school: bringing the joy of dance and movement to the Lower and Middle Cores. I am fortunate to be the first dance teacher at Walden School, starting here in the Spring of 2000. My background as a lifelong dancer and performer studying many forms of dance, combined with my extensive background in classical music and a degree in Art History from Wellesley College are used every day at Walden.

In addition, I have received extensive training from national and local chapters of the American Orff Schulwerk Association, the National Dance Educators Organization, the Music Center of Los Angeles County, the Creative Dance Center in Seattle, and numerous folk, modern, and creative movement teachers. I see dance at Walden as an opportunity for students to integrate their minds and bodies. They learn how to control their muscles, develop confidence and creativity, learn sequences and patterns, recognize the beat, and respond to the impulse of music. In addition, students learn courteous behavior, how to regulate and keep each other safe, and how to be part of a dancing community.

Dance (Upper Core): Thalia Thomas

Born and raised in Sydney Australia, I began teaching dance at the age of 14 and later choreographing for Australia’s ABC children’s television network. I performed nationally throughout my teenage years, earning my dance roles in Sydney’s production of “42nd St” and“Aida.” While teaching dance at my Performing Arts High School, I began a teaching apprenticeship program in The Pilates Method at the age of 16 making me the youngest Pilates teacher in the country.


I moved to America to attend California State University, Long Beach where I earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance and a certification both in The Pilates Method and Massage Therapy. In my senior year, I was commissioned to set up and direct Pilates programs in three major chiropractic offices in Orange County, and I also taught Pilates at Orange Coast College, Long Beach City College, and Golden West College. I have also taught Pilates to members of the US Olympic team, and professional athletes of the NFL and NBA.

During my years in college, I was selected to perform for choreographers of the Limon Dance Company, Merce Cunningham Company, and Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre. Upon graduating college in 1996, I moved to Los Angeles and acquired yet another Pilates certification from Romana Kryanowska (one of Joseph Pilates students). For the next nine years, I directed numerous Pilates programs in Los Angeles and later became an examiner for the proper New York Pilates certification course.

I have taught Pilates and injury prevention programs to the Broadway cast of Wicked, Chicago, Guys and Dolls, The Lion King and River Dance. I've also worked with Alvin Ailey, Complexions, Joffrey Ballet, The Dance Theatre of Harlem and Hubbard Street Dance. I have also taught Pilates courses at UCLA and Physical Therapy Departments across Los Angeles. Recently, I was commissioned to train the Physical Therapists of Cedar Sinai and USC on dance injuries for their dance medicine program.

Beyond Walden, I am also the artistic director of The DancAlots – a musical theater children's performing company and am the owner of Studio Soma. I also direct the Performing Arts Summer Programs for Kids Klub Child Development Centre in Pasadena.

I have to say my biggest accomplishments are my two children who teach me every day that focus, perseverance, and laughter drive you forward and upwards no matter how far the distance.

Library: Carolyn Hancock

I have worked in the Walden library for 20 years, reading to children and helping them find great books and pertinent information. It all began when a position opened to automate the school’s library catalog, so with a computer science degree from UC Santa Barbara, experience as a software engineer, and a fresh master’s degree in education from Cal State Los Angeles, I stepped right in. I have since spent the last 2 decades making it my work to invite our students to discover the joy of stories and to help them build the research skills they need to follow their curiosity to reach for the stars and discover new worlds.

It is my great pleasure to share high quality material on a wide range of topics with students on a daily basis. I structure the classes to include time for students to pursue their own literary and research interests and to interact with one another, allowing them to build ability and confidence as they share recommendations and navigate the collection together. Their excitement and passion fill my heart and spur me on to find the best resources for them that I can. I have seen the collection grow from 900 volumes in tiny quarters in the staff lounge to the present dedicated library space with over 9,000 items. The hardest part of my job is limiting my selections to those resources that fit into the constraints of time, space and budget. But it is wonderful work indeed. I strive to develop a nimble library that balances developmentally appropriate practices, the Walden mission, and 21st century resources

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Math Support: Sophia Hamilton

This is my 18th year at Walden. While I have worked in many capacities at the school over the years, I currently work with students individually and in groups who require support with math. During my time at Walden, I have attended seminars, workshops, and professional development training in Singapore Math, the program used across the curriculum.

Before coming to Walden, I studied Screenwriting at Shih Hsin School of Journalism in Taipei and trained at the National Taiwan Normal University's Department of Chinese as a Second Language. Before I moved to the States, I worked in Hua Yu Publishing Company as a Event Planning Supervisor for the publication, “This Month In Taiwan.”

I am also a dance instructor and devote my spare time to Chinese classical and folk dance.

Music: Alejandro Lazo

I am the music teacher and music director at Walden School. I have been teaching music for 20 years, nine of them at Walden. I hold a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in guitar performance with a minor in composition from the University of Arizona, and I am a Certified Level III Orff Teacher. Music is my passion, and I have an energetic performance career playing classical guitar throughout the world, with performances in Mexico, South America, Europe, and the United States.

One of my inspirations is to interact and connect with the students and colleagues at Walden. I have a passion for knowledge, and I believe that music enriches our lives and has a strong impact in our community. I love to spend time with my wife and daughter, travel, and attend concerts and cultural events.

Physical Education: Billy Christian

As the physical education teacher and director of Walden’s after school program, I believe that play is a natural state of being for most children. Play is not only the pursuit of joy, but a vehicle for all sorts of physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and creative growth. It is my job to create a rich environment for children to face challenges and grow.

In PE class, I try to instill a zest for lifelong healthy habits and encourage students to try their hand at a variety of games and activities. I think creating safe spaces for children to push past their comfort zones is essential. Gross motor skill building is important, but equally vital is the social and emotional development of each child. Much time is taken to problem solve, experience empathy, and restore unity after a competitive moment. Intentional PE play becomes the laboratory for students to practice becoming capable and caring human beings.

Science and Outdoor Education: Xana Hermosillo

Encouraging a child’s sense of wonder and amazement of the natural world around them is my goal. I try to follow Kolb’s (1984) experiential education model whenever possible: experience -> reflect -> connect -> apply. My classroom is arranged to foster a child’s innate curiosity for nature. Collections of rocks, specimens, feathers, and plants are on display and accessible to be touched and investigated. As a marine scientist, I guide students in the understanding of the scientific process. The tools of a scientist are readily accessible at all times: microscopes, magnifying glasses, and binoculars.

As a teacher, I strive to enrich the learning of all my students through passion, humor, and the ability to relate topics to their everyday lives. Being an active listener helps me be engaging and flexible to multiple cognitive learning styles. Instead of saying something is weird or gross, I encourage students to say “hmm…that’s interesting” to change their perception of an object or topic.

As an outdoor enthusiast, I model what it means to be a steward of the earth while exploring its beauty. I help instill confidence, responsibility, and teamwork through experiences in the outdoors. The seemingly simple acts of setting up a tent or following a packing list help students grow and foster their commitment to community.

Finally, not only am I a teacher, but I am also a learner. I will constantly be learning from my students and requesting their feedback on my teaching and the trajectory of the curriculum.

Spanish: Jose Salguero

I am a proud native Angelino of Guatemalan heritage. Walden has been my home for the past 10 years, and I’ve been an educator for a total of 16 years. My journey at Walden began as an Associate Teacher for 2 years, and for the past 8 years, I have been the school-wide Spanish teacher. I take great pride in being bi-lingual, and it is my hope to impart my passion for the Spanish speaking diaspora to the Walden community. I am a proud graduate of Loyola High School and earned my Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from Loyola Marymount University. I am a member of the California Language Teachers Association and have received training in TPRS (Total Physical Response and Storytelling), as well as training in Responsive Classroom practices. My goal for each student is to help them find their own comfortable voice in Spanish, as well as expanding their historical and cultural awareness and appreciation.

I reside in the East Hollywood area with my wife, Raeanna, and am an avid learner of Los Angeles history. I am constantly searching for new restaurants and gastropubs throughout Southern California and enjoy taking road trips, both planned and spontaneous. I have also been active within the Los Angeles music community for the past 23 years as an internationally recognized and respected DJ.

Storyteller-in-Residence: Stephanie Townes

I began my time at Walden in August 1984! Yes, 1984. Little did I know that Walden would become my second home.

As a member of the Walden faculty, I began teaching in Pre-K classrooms in the basement of a church. I have been fortunate to be a part of the journey from the church basement to our first building and then to our expansion to the north building.

I have also followed my own Walden journey. I began teaching Pre-K, then moved up to K/1 and now I am the Storyteller-in-Residence and Reading Support teacher.

Walden has nurtured me as we do our students. I have grown as a teacher, a faculty member, and a member of this community.

As the Reading Support teacher, I travel to the K/1 and 2/3 classrooms. I offer support to children who need someone to spend time helping them strengthen the skills that they need to become better, stronger readers.

Being the Storyteller-in-Residence blends all of my years of experience as a teacher, a mother, a daughter, a co-worker, and more. I am now on the path to sharing my stories was well as world tales, folktales, fairy tales, and fables.

Professional Development
2014
"The Spice of Life," Susan Klein
Workshop intensive on memoir writing and storytelling

2013
Growing Educators
Summer Institute on the Teaching of Reading and Balanced Literacy

2012
Frostig Center
Reading Workshop in Differentiated Instruction

2011
Columbia University - Teacher's College
Reading and Writing Project

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