Speaker Bios & Sessions

Penny Gardner

Sessions: Highlights of a Charlotte Mason Homeschool, Charlotte Mason Approach to Education, Nature Studies and Art Appreciation, Italic Handwriting, 

Penny Gardner is mother of six children (ages 18-34). She has over 20 years of experience as a homeschool mom and started using Charlotte Mason’s approach in 1994 when her oldest child was in fifth grade. Her next adventure will be homeschooling one of her 9 grandchildren.

Penny has degrees and experience in Elementary Education and Music Education. She is a fellow of the Central Utah Writing Project (2011) and teaches elementary writing camps every summer since then focused on nature journaling and on art appreciation. Penny is author of Charlotte Mason Study Guide; Italics, Beautiful Handwriting for Children; Chime Time: Music for the Primary Classroom; The Nine-Note Recorder Method; and several other recorder music books. She has presented multi-media seminars on Charlotte Mason Homeschool all over the US and in Canada and is a guest speaker at homeschool conferences.

Alison Meuth

Sessions: Family Solfa with “Mrs. M”

Soprano Alison Meuth has spent the last fifteen years singing opera at the professional level.  Some of her favorite roles include Liu in Turandot, Tosca, Suor Angelica, The Mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors,  Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, Sarah Good in The Crucible, Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana and Soprano Soloist in Verdi’s Requiem to name a few. Alison has had the privilege of working with Sarasota Opera, Utah Festival Opera,  Annapolis Opera, Galesburg Community Chorus, Saint Martin Chamber Players, Bradley University New Music Faculty Ensemble and Opera Illinois. Alison is married to her ever supportive husband Jeremy. Together they homeschool their three children.  Alison is passionate about The Charlotte Mason Method. She uses the method as she teaches her own children and her college students at Knox College. At Knox Alison teaches private lessons and Vocal Pedagogy as well as directs their opera program.  Alison also conducts The Peoria Cooperative Academy’s Homeschool Choir, Madrigal Singers and Musical Theater Troupe. Alison loves to use her gifts to glorify God. She also directs The Chancel Choir for The First Presbyterian Church Of Galesburg Illinois.  

Kelli Rummel

Sessions: The Curwin Music Method

I have taught piano lessons to children for over ten years, but with some encouragement from a good friend, I recently pursued the piano teaching method set forth by John Curwen’s daughter in law. I have since learned to love teaching children even more than I ever thought. I have also witnessed immense change in the way my students learn and progress.

My husband, Peter, and I live in Dunlap, IL with three young boys. We plan on spending lots of time outside this summer camping across Illinois and Indiana in our tiny camper. If we aren’t outside, you will likely find me reading books to my boys, researching Curwen’s philosophy of music, or sewing patchwork.

Vanessa Burhorn

Sessions: Citizenship & Everyday Morals

Vanessa and her husband, Jeff, have four children. They live in central Illinois with their three teenagers and have always home educated them. Their oldest son was also homeschooled and is a 5th grade teacher in a nearby town. Vanessa is learning more about Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy each year. She has been involved with Peoria’s CM study group from its inception, she is actively involved with AmblesideOnline, and facilitates a study group with the Charlotte Mason Institute. When she isn’t lesson planning or teaching her students she enjoys reading historical fiction and mysteries, gardening, and listening to local musicians with friends.

Susan Unsicker

Sessions: Folk Dancing

Though homeschooling since 2000, Susan Unsicker began educating Mason style ten years ago. She has worked in public, private, cooperative, and home school settings. Susan and her husband, Chip,  farm together growing corn, beans, cattle, and a ‘few’ chickens. The fun currently continues with high schooler, Jenessa, and toddler, Gena. Their older children, Elizabeth and Luke, are in the workplace.  Susan enjoys gardening, game night, reading, and hiking in their pasture.

Kelli Christenberry

Sessions: Beginner’s Track Immersion, Introduction to Charlotte Mason,

Kelli has been involved in the Charlotte Mason Community for over 15 years. She currently facilitates the Peoria area Charlotte Mason Study Group and enjoys studying and discussing those vitalizing ideas on education and life.  She is also privileged to be involved in a few Charlotte Mason Institute projects and is excited about all the research, development, training and support that CMI brings to our communities! She has a passion for sharing the beauty and breadth of ideas in a Mason educational approach with others through speaking, mentoring, consulting, and supporting educators.  Through God’s abundant grace, her children were home educated through high school graduation and are currently university undergraduate or graduate students. In her studies over the last few years, she has been encouraged and challenged to consider the magnitude of this relational education, ‘a liberal education for all’, that Mason aims to place before children with ‘minds astonishingly alert’.

Joy Shannon

Sessions: An Outward Focus, A Mason Education in the Upper Years – A Round Table Discussion

When I set out on the endeavor to homeschool my children, I had no idea how profoundly changed I would be by a somewhat obscure known woman called Charlotte Mason. Over the years she has become like a dear friend, and I have found I am simply not the same. Ten years later and the first of three graduated, my husband, Wes, and I have found our children are indeed getting a rich and full education, but what is more, we are all learning to really live.  What a delight! This year I am partaking of a rich CM feast alongside my sons, ages eighteen and thirteen. I enjoy quiet moments with a book or close friends, making entries in my nature diary, and chocolate.

Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time. School Education, p. 170

Shannon Whiteside

Sessions: Narration and How to Use It, Mason’s Influences & Current Research and Practices

Shannon Whiteside discovered the life-giving principles of Charlotte Mason almost nine years ago after searching on the internet for a better way to homeschool her children rather than the never-ending cycle of teach, review, test, repeat. She lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband, Mark, and their 3 children.  She was an elementary teacher and board member at two different classical Christian schools for a total of ten years. She graduated from Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton Graduate School and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2015, she began Charlotte Mason Chicagoland, a bimonthly co-op, as well as a monthly book club that is reading through Mason’s volumes.

Steve Mattern

Sessions: The Great Recognition, Living the Liturgical Year

Steve Mattern lives in rural Brimfield, Illinois with his wife Marcia, and their six children.

Steve has served in health care in direct clinical, operational, educational and leadership roles for approximately twenty six years, currently serving as Senior VP for Mission Services for a Catholic Health Care Ministry -OSF Healthcare in Peoria Illinois. This organization consists of thirteen hospitals, two colleges, ambulatory and many other sites of care in two states.  He entered the healthcare profession in 1989. He holds an Occupational Therapy Assistant certificate since 1991, a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy (St. Mary’s University-Winona, Minnesota 1993), and Masters degrees in Human Development Counseling (Bradley University-Peoria, Illinois, 2001) and Theological Studies (St. Meinrad School of Theology-Indiana, 2011).

Charlotte Mason’s vision set fire to Marcia and Steve’s approach to homeschooling when they ordered the Six Volume Original Homeschooling Series thirteen years ago. Since then, they have become more and more involved in Charlotte Mason programs, studies, activities, conference presentations and initiatives.  Steve volunteers on the Charlotte Mason Institute Board.

They attend St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Brimfield. Their family enjoys the outdoors, bird study, keeping bees and other farm animals and (always) working on their country home together. Steve likes to drink coffee black and roast his own beans!

Marcia Mattern

Sessions: Brush Drawing

I am grateful for the other moms in A Continuing Conversation, the Peoria Illinois book group, who keep reading Charlotte’s volumes with me!  Each year adds another layer of understanding and implementation to our Charlotte Mason approach of learning. Our family enjoys shared learning with other families at our Sursum Corda days.  My husband, Steve, and I live on 12 acres with a pony, goats, chickens, bees, cats and dogs as well as plenty of undomesticated animals. I worked as a Dietitian in the local hospital before staying home with our six kids. Our first child graduated from our homeschool in 2017.  Our five formal learners this fall will be ages 6, 8, 11, 14, and 16. I have been blessed to run an Atrium with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd since 2001. I facilitate a Natural History Club in my area as well as a monthly Math games group. I moonlight as a doula providing pregnancy and labor support to mothers.  My free moments are spent searching for and rescuing the best books to use in our home learning.

Monica Watson

Sessions: Poetry

Monica, and her husband, Jesse, and their four kiddos, live in central Illinois on a small homestead where they nurture an ever-changing variety of animals & bees. You’ll often find Monica tending life & the land as she continues learning and practicing permaculture, appreciating the gift of soil and ecology, the naturalist in her; or, she might be focused other passions, such as photography and writing.  Though, she’s also frequently feasting on a helping of mother culture – engrossed in my stack of books, working on a handicraft, or out being a part of community. She participates in our local CM Study Group (A Continuing Conversation),  our CM Natural History club, a vibrant and supportive CM Learning Community (Sursum Corda), and helps facilitate the local CM Conference.  They step forward, every day, living out their Charlotte Mason, equipping life in the splendor of relational learning that will build and last a lifetime,  holding on tight to the peace of life-giving rhythm and atmosphere, and making progress in becoming the whole persons they were made to be.

Aaron Amstutz

Sessions: Leading Down Winding Trails

Aaron is a homeschooling dad of four children (three having graduated) who has become passionate about life-long learning and exploring beauty in the sciences.  He is the Chief Technical Officer directing research of a start-up company, Natural Fiber Welding. He and his wife Mycah have been appropriating Charlotte Mason ideas for about 12 years.

Amy Feidler

Sessions: Handicrafts: A Beckoning Doorway

The day I was introduced to Charlotte Mason was the day I knew that the life of our family was about to change.  Since that day in 2012, my husband and I have been intentionally pointing our family in a new direction, making small adjustments along the way as we both continue to study Mason’s philosophy.  Jason and I have been married for seventeen years and share the responsibility of home educating our four children (ages 10 and under). Jason also pastors Water City Church here in our local community of Oshkosh, WI and its ministry is a very big part of our family life.  Beyond the walls of our homeschool, Charlotte Mason has seeped into several other areas of my personal life; I lead a local Charlotte Mason co-op (Arbor Guild) as well as a monthly book study. Most recently, I’ve had the privilege of developing and writing curriculum to supply a local missions foundation for their Christian elementary schools (currently in Myanmar and Tanzania). My joy (and challenge) has been working Mason’s philosophy into the curriculum, in the hopes that it will impact children in other cultures as profoundly as it has impacted my own family.

LeAnn Burkholder 

Sessions: Beginner’s Track Immersion, Introduction to Charlotte Mason

LeAnn lives in a little cottage on a quiet country lane just outside the capital of South Carolina with her husband and children, ages 7 to 16.  She is the COO of Burkholder Management, LLC, though her favorite position is that of educational mentor/facilitator to her own children and the CM Community Group that meets in greater Columbia area.  LeAnn first discovered the writings of Charlotte Mason 12 years ago, after a challenge from a friend. Since that day, Mason’s philosophy of education has breathed life into her personal life and overflowed into the lives of her children, homeschool group and surrounding community. LeAnn hopes to share her passion for learning with you and inspire you on your own journey.

Teri Ann Myers

Sessions: Mother Culture

I am living out my “strenuous happiness” as a wife and mother of 5 children ranging in age from 12 down to 2. We prefer to be out adventuring but call a pretty, little 100 year old house and garden in Wisconsin home.  

I earned my Bachelor’s in Biology and Chemistry and have always had a love for science and nature. This encouraged an interest in Charlotte Mason as I was already spending most of my time hiking with and reading to my very young children when the idea of homeschooling first presented itself. Our 9th year of homeschooling is now well underway as we continually embrace more and more aspects of a Charlotte Mason family atmosphere.  I am incredibly blessed with the opportunity to facilitate a local Natural History Community and participate in a reading group to discuss the volumes of Charlotte Mason’s Original Home Education Series. I am passionate about encouraging mothers as they build confidence in their ability to educate their children and themselves.

Jessica Feliciano

Sessions: The Role of Environment

Jessica lives in the southwest suburbs of Chicago with her husband of 23 years and five of their six children.  She homeschooled her oldest and only child for 7 years before becoming a foster parent and eventually adopting five of the children placed in their home.  After choosing to bring her adopted children home to school, Jessica was drawn to the Charlotte Mason Method because of the beautiful way in which Charlotte viewed children.  She has spent the past few years learning all she can about the method and continues to make her way through the volumes. Jessica leads and online study group of mom’s working their way through Volume 1, and has been featured on the Charlotte Mason Soirée Blog and on Episode 118 of A Delectable Education.

Catherine Mattern

Sessions: Brush Drawing

I’ve been homeschooled for my whole life using a Charlotte Mason approach.  I will be in Form 5 this fall (that’s a junior to all the American kids!). I enjoy being outside and making pottery.  I enjoy keeping a nature journal and am happy with a paintbrush in my hand. I like to innovate and create with the piano and viola as well.  For two summers I have organized and taught a kids day camp which incorporates nature and art. I’m looking forward to sharing my love of brush drawing with you!  

Rachel Fitch

Sessions: Charlotte Mason in Children’s Ministries

As a little girl, I loved pretending to be a teacher and a mom.  I met my future husband in kindergarten, and we married when we were 20 years old.  Following my childhood dreams, I graduated from college with degrees in early childhood and elementary education, then a year later had my first of three daughters.

When I came across Charlotte Mason’s writings about 5 years ago, what I found immediately resonated with me.  As a teacher, her ideas were in line with many of my practices when I had a classroom of my own, practices that were always going “against the grain,” but seemed to be consistent with how children really learned.  She has helped me put into words so many truths about education, human nature, and what we were made for.

Now I stay at home with my girls, and we spend our days learning together following the Charlotte Mason philosophy and method to the best of our ability.  I love the CM community in Central Illinois and enjoy learning alongside other mothers in our reading group and through weekly nature walks. Education is truly a life, and this way of living has added so much joy and purpose to mine.