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Our Staff

Freedom Thinkers Education believes that the quality and dedication of the educational team is of paramount importance to the success of EVERY child in our school. For those reasons, we staff our school with outstanding educators that continue to be learners themselves. 
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Sandra Cushway

As the founder and Principal educator of Freedom Thinkers Education school, I am passionate about education for all and constantly strive to improve learning opportunities for myself and others. One of the challenges I enjoy about teaching is changing reluctant learners into passionate learners.  


I grew up on a ranch in a small rural community about 100 miles North of Fort St. John called Pink Mountain (population approximately 30). My first years of schooling were shared between correspondence and a small one-room multi-age rural school that contained the grades K-8. This setting felt more like a family than a school and is one of the environmental factors that I am able to create in a multi-age setting. Moving into “town” and boarding with friends on a farm for the second semester of grade 11 and grade 12 provided me the opportunity to graduate from North Peace Secondary School. Following Grade 12, I registered in our local AHCOTE (Alaska Highway Consortium of Teacher Education) program in Fort St. John resulting in a Bachelor of Education from Simon Fraser University. Many years later, I took my Masters of Education in Curriculum Design from UNBC in Prince George. I was a classroom teacher for close to 25 years in Peace River North (School District #60) and started my teaching career in several small rural schools, eventually joining the Baldonnel staff where I taught for 18 years. I have had the opportunity to teach every grade from Kindergarten to Grade 10 over the years and with the exception of 2 of these years, the classes have all been multi-age classrooms. I believe in teaching and learning skills through projects and individual interests and love the “family feeling” of the multi-age classroom. I have completed math research, presented math topics in different places across Canada and co-written articles with my friend and colleague Carollee Norris. A passion and strength of mine includes building a safe and caring classroom setting. My dream is to teach all students in an environment where they feel safe to take risks and gain the necessary skills, knowledge, and passion for learning that I have. It is a rare occasion that I’m not taking some sort of course and can generally be found enjoying the outdoors, nature and gardening. I am a wife, a mother,  a dog trainer , and a strong advocate for educational change with a dedication to improving the educational system for all children.

Chris Cushway

My formal education ended and my working life started prior to the traditional Grade 12 graduation; however the experience of my early working life has brought me a personal wealth of knowledge and self assurance as I was engaged in learning the various aspects of a variety of jobs. These experiences included being a professional hunting guide, truck driver, crane operator, ticketed welder, wildlife contractor and construction worker. These positions ranged from labourer to foreman and were often seasonal work.

I have always had a deep love of art work, learning in general, and a curiosity about nature.  These things took up any leisure time I had.  My desire and willingness to pass this knowledge down to children brings me a personal sense of pleasure and joy on a daily basis as I interact and work with the students in our school.

I see Freedom Thinkers as a safe environment that gives all students a chance to succeed and build a belief that will allow them to continue on with whatever career path they may choose. The world is quickly changing which is why it’s imperative for children to gain confidence and a love of learning that will carry them through life to bring forward that “Can Do” spirit which is my personal goal in the work I do with children.

Marlene Miller

I  worked as an educator in School District #60 for 25 years. I am a mother to five daughters, grandmother to nine and a great grandmother to five. I love working with and watching children as they try new things and see their growth and accomplishments. It makes me proud to know I am part of this. I am looking forward to working with the team at Freedom Thinkers Education again this year.

Anathalie Wilson

Being part of the teaching profession for about 17 years has given me many opportunities to try various positions. My favorite was working as a learning assistance teacher, where I helped students strengthen their learning skills.

I moved here from Ottawa about 20 years ago. My husband and I have raised our three daughters here. We are a road tripping, dog loving, do life together kind of people. I am always looking for new and interesting things to learn and share. I am excited to be part of the Freedom Thinkers team again this year, and working with the students who attend.

Erica McNaughton

I grew up on the coast in the rainy (but beautiful) town of Prince Rupert, and have always loved school.  After high school, I spent a year abroad, and settled in Prince George for university, where I met my husband.  We moved to Fort St. John in 2006, and had our 3 children here. We initially came for only 5 years, but quickly fell in love with the community here.  When it was time for our children to start attending school, I realized an untapped passion for education, which inspired me in two ways: first, to home educate my own children, and second, to head back to university to get my teaching certificate and Degree in Education.  Now that I'm finished school (with a few years under my belt and all of my own children at Freedom Thinkers), I am so excited to join the staff in the truly great things they are doing for the lives of these lifelong learners.  I have seen the difference this model of education has made in my own children, and I am honoured to be part of it!

Darla Newth

I grew up on a farm in Rose Prairie, and have lived in this area my whole life. I have two sometimes amazing teenage children. I enjoy being active and playing sports, especially hockey. I have done a lot of coaching through school and in the community. I also love music, I have sang with my dad for many years and I am now just learning to play bass guitar. I worked at Upper Pine school for eight years. Working with young people is absolutely wonderful; it is rewarding to watch them grow, learn and build confidence. I am very excited to be part of the Freedom Thinkers team again this year.

Jill Stromsmoe

 I am a third generation resident of the Peace River area, a mother to two girls and a new grandmother. I have loved reading for as long as I can remember.  I believe reading opens not only our minds, but our hearts as well.  I am inspired by the power of the written word, and in awe of the ability a book has to transport the reader to a private place that is unique to each person’s imagination. I am thrilled to be joining the learning community at Freedom Thinkers Education for a third year and look forward to facilitating novel studies and learning with each and every student as they experience the wonderful world of books.  

Kiera Cushway

I am currently working through my fourth year of university, on my way to becoming a qualified teacher. Working here at Freedom Thinkers as an Educational Assistant has inspired a passion for teaching and provided a unique opportunity to learn and grow with a fantastic team of educators as guides.


I am passionate about reading, and drama, and can hardly wait for our theater productions each year. I am a huge fantasy fan, and an avid Dungeons and Dragons player. I love creative writing, and am inspired every day by the students and their never-ending creativity. I am looking forward to working with students for this year’s Science Fair, as well as their personal projects. I think that building a sense of curiosity is one of the most valuable things we can do as educators, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the Freedom Thinkers community!

Casey Willms

I am very excited to join the team at Freedom Thinkers as an educational assistant. I have an educational background as an Early Childhood Educator and Life Skill Coach. For the last three years, I worked supporting children in an online schooling environment. Fort St. John has been my home for 25 years and is where my husband and I raised our three children. My youngest child attended Freedom Thinkers for four years. In that time, I have seen the unique way this school has been an undeniably positive influence on children!

"You're off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way." - Dr. Suess


Cathy Cooper

grew up and then raised my own family in the Peace region.  I have been married for many years, have three children and am loving being a grandma. We are building a house in Comox which moves us closer to family. 

I enrolled in the first intake of the local AHCOTE program shortly after my first child was born, and then graduated a few months before my third child was born.  I have taught for 28 years at Baldonnel School, everything from Kindergarten to grade 6.  I have Reading Recovery training and have successfully combined this knowledge with my teaching experiences to develop an efficient reading program that provides a strong foundation for continued growth and development.  I have a strong passion for teaching literacy and am excited to bring this to Freedom Thinkers. 

Heidi Bueckert

I grew up on an acreage north of Fort St. John and have spent most of my life here.  I love the Peace River country with its wide open spaces and down to earth people.  I enjoy spending time camping and exploring with my family, working in my garden, and relaxing at home with my pets.   I graduated from the University of Alberta in 2005 with a Bachelor of Education, but have spent most of the years since then raising and homeschooling my three kids.  One by one I sent my children off to Freedom Thinkers and have seen first hand what an exceptional approach to education it offers. I was excited for the opportunity to join them this year teaching my favourite subject: Social Studies.  I look forward to sharing my fondness for history and learning in this new role.

Kelsey Stevens

I was born and raised in Fort St. John and am proud and grateful to call it my home. I come from a large family that has been in the area for four generations. My husband and I have been fortunate enough to have raised our four children here as well.

I am a child at heart and have a deep love for nature, animals, exploring and creating. Some of the activities that fill my days include painting, drawing, building lego, dirt biking, snowboarding, yoga, hiking, badminton, reading and spending time with family and friends.

I am an avid reader and devotee of lifelong learning. Some of my favourite topics of study are psychology, botany, biology and fine art.

I have been an artist since I could hold a crayon and have sold my paintings, drawings and digital artwork for about 23 years now. I have one published children’s book and have had the opportunity to spend time in the community speaking to children about the book and living a creative lifestyle. I have taught art classes to children as well as adults and have a passion for helping people discover their creative outlets.

I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to work at Freedom Thinkers and look forward to it wholeheartedly.

Melanie Foster

Fourteen years ago, Melanie entered the school system, marking the beginning of her enduring passion for education. Her journey began as an Educational Assistant and later as an Administrative Assistant at the ELC. Prior to this, she was actively involved in a literacy society program dedicated to helping adult learners attain their GED. Melanie's greatest joy stems from fostering a lifelong love of learning and doing her best to eliminate any learning-related stress for students and ensuring their educational path is a positive and enjoyable experience.

Currently, Melanie resides on the family farm, balancing her time among her adored three children and four grandchildren, engaging in renovation projects, working on the never ending but enjoyable upkeep of the farm, riding horses and exploring new destinations.

Melanie is thrilled to be part of the outstanding Freedom Thinkers team and looks forward to contributing positively to the students' educational journeys.

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