Patrick Emery: Patrick grew up in Denver and is a graduate of East High School. While at East, he participated in an alternative education semester known as Senior Seminar. It was that semester that first stimulated Patrick’s interest in education outside the traditional classroom. So strong was that appeal that it took him a long time to zero in on any sort of college course of studies, moving from Prescott College, to CU Boulder, to Colorado Mountain College, and finally to Metropolitan State College (University) where he graduated with a degree in Outdoor Recreation and a minor in Geology. While a student at Metro, Patrick did an internship at Balarat and, as is said, the rest is history. Soon after graduation he took a job as a paraprofessional at Balarat, worked to obtain a Secondary Science teaching license, worked as a Balarat teacher, received a MA and Principal’s License through coursework at UCD, and continues to work as the Balarat administrator. Patrick appreciates the wonderfully interactive “classroom” that Balarat is and he revels in the moments of “unveiling” that happen at Balarat with students of all ages. Patrick is married and has two daughters who have vaulted into the teaching profession. He likes virtually any cause to be outdoors enjoying the wonders of the world.
Erik Hurst: Erik grew up in Denver and served as a Balarat leader and Eco-Intern in high school. He is a graduate of CU Boulder and CU Denver with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Master’s Degrees in Education Curriculum, Instruction, and School Counseling. Erik has a professional teaching license for the State of Colorado. He worked as a 4th and 5th grade teacher prior to Balarat and wrote science curriculum and educational guides for Aurora Public Schools and Bluff Lake Education Center. Erik enjoys working at Balarat because of the positive changes in the students who come to Balarat excursions, saying “Each day is a great day because I get to share this amazing place with students of Denver Public Schools and students really love learning about the outdoors, and I share their enthusiasm”. He also has a passion for traveling to different places and seeing natural wonders in other parts of the country and world. Erik loves to hike, ski and bike.
John Hite: John grew up in Denver and is a graduate of DPS East High School. He is a graduate of Colorado College with a Bachelor’s degree in English and a thematic emphasis in Sports Science. John received a Master’s degree at UCD in Curriculum and Instruction. John has a professional teaching license in the state of Colorado. Prior to working at Balarat he worked for the US Forest Service for 7 years as a backcountry ranger and trail crew foreman in the Rawah Wilderness Area. Upon receiving his teaching license, John taught middle school at Dora Moore. John enjoys working at Balarat because it couples the two things that he loves: teaching and being outdoors. John says, “I enjoy being with kids in a natural environment and believe firmly in hands-on experiential education. As a benefit, I get to have lunch in a pretty place every day”. He enjoys hiking, fishing, trail running, backcountry skiing, and mountain biking. John enjoys coaching a youth soccer team, and exposing his two daughters to outdoor activities.
Rebecca Heide Russman: Becky was born and raised in Shawnee, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. She spent her childhood exploring the woodlands and creeks right outside the backdoor of her childhood home. Becky’s wonderment of nature was also inspired by camping with Girl Scouts, annual family trips out West, canoeing Missouri rivers with church groups and friends, and an Environmental Education class in high school. Unable to resist any sort of nature trail or path, in 2001 Becky spent five months backpacking the Appalachian Trail. She graduated from Avila University with a degree in Elementary Education, and held teaching licenses in both Kansas and Missouri. While working with students with special needs during an overnight at a Rotary camp, Becky had an “a ha” moment when she realized how powerful and meaningful nature based learning can be for all students. In 2007 Becky moved to the Denver area, and soon after was hired as a paraprofessional at Balarat. After three semesters, she took on the role of Balarat teacher. Becky has a professional teaching license in the state of Colorado. She feels so fortunate to work at Balarat because, “The students make Balarat such a special place. Watching them grow and learn in the natural world is very rewarding. They inspire me with their enthusiasm, determination, and curiosity. There are no bad days at Balarat!” When not working at Balarat, Becky enjoys the Colorado life – hiking, camping, skiing, live music, and exploring with her husband Jamie, their 5-year-old son Silas, and dog Libby.
Luke Johnson: Luke grew up in Indianapolis and is a graduate of Indiana University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and minor in Outdoor Education. Luke has a professional teaching license for the state of Colorado. Prior to Balarat, Luke worked as a Wilderness Therapy Counselor, Camp Coordinator, Parks & Recreation Community Center Leader, School Substitute, and Outdoor Adventure Guide. Luke enjoys working at Balarat because students are in an impactful learning space, saying “I love watching the classroom teachers be surprised at their students’ excitement and interest in topics that are explored at Balarat”. He enjoys trail running, mountain biking, surfing, traveling, visiting family in Indiana, and sharing the outdoors with others.
Erica Simpson: Erica hales from Oakland, California and moved out to Colorado to attend Colorado College. She fell in love with Colorado and decided to make it her new home. Before working at Balarat, Erica was a camp counselor, a guide in Alaska, an Outward Bound Instructor in Maine, a ski instructor in Crested Butte, CO, and worked in the Office of Community Engagement in Denver Public Schools. Erica enjoys working at Balarat because she loves being in a classroom with no walls where students can explore and become immersed in the world around them. In her free time she likes hiking, biking, skiing, reading, gardening, and continuing to explore new places.
Samuel Haselden: Sam grew up in Tallahassee, Florida and followed his sister’s family out to Colorado after he graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology. Growing up, Sam attended multiple summer camps across the southeast where he developed a passion for the outdoors and experiential education. With experience as a Summer Camp Counselor, Environmental Educator, Outdoor Recreation Specialist, Rock Climbing Instructor, High Ropes Supervisor, Backpacking Guide, and Neighborhood Center Program Specialist with Denver Public Schools’ Department of Extended Learning, Sam is excited to join the Balarat staff this year in continuing to provide high quality outdoor programming for 5th graders across Denver. In his free time you can find him doing many of the same activities we engage ourselves in at Balarat, which is why he loves working here!
Melissa Acker: Melissa was born and raised in Denver, CO. As a Denver Public School kid, Melissa, attended Balarat in the 5th grade, as a high school leader, and finally as an Eco Intern. After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School, she went on to study Journalism and Technical Communications at Colorado State University. While in college Melissa was a camp counselor in North Carolina and knew she was supposed to teach kids outside from then on out. After graduating, Melissa moved back to Denver and snagged a job with Balarat as an outdoor education instructor and has loved every minute since. When Melissa isn’t teaching kids outside she is out mountain biking, hiking and just enjoying all the beauty the outdoors has to offer.
Andrew Henry: Andrew grew up on the beaches of North Carolina where he then attended East Carolina University. He graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Geography and Business Administration. Andrew has worked in outdoor education since the age of 16 with his local Boy Scout camp and continues to work summers at Avid4 Adventure as a climbing instructor and guide. Andrew enjoys teaching at Balarat because of his lifelong passion for the outdoors and the opportunity to foster a new generation of environmental stewards and outdoor enthusiasts. When Andrew is not teaching at Balarat, you can usually find him camping with his dog, rock climbing, and snowboarding.
Elaine VanDeWege: Elaine grew up in Denver and is a graduate of Lincoln High School. Denver Public Schools has continued to be a great place to work. With twenty eight plus years of experience working for the school district as a Secretary with the past sixteen years at Balarat. Her leisure time is spent with family and friends, with favorite activities of camping, boating and learning new techniques for outdoor cooking.