Middle School Mentors

Note: “LC” means “Learning Community.”

Kursten Mason

2021-2022 World Literature (live LC 1, LC 3, LC 5 and self-paced), English: Language Arts Companion (live LC 1, LC 3, LC 5 and self-paced), American and British Literature (self-paced), English: Focus on Language Arts (self-paced), French (all live and self-paced)

Kursten Mason has been an educator her entire life, from teaching ‘summer school’ to her siblings at a young age to teaching and mentoring in public, private, and homeschools. She attended the University of Utah, served a church mission in France, Paris and returned to finish her degree in French Teaching with a double minor in Psychology and Special Education from Brigham Young University. Years later, she was homeschooling her three children and helping to found Commonwealth Schools while teaching LEMI projects such as Key of Liberty and Sword of Freedom. She’s been a mentor at Paradigm Schools for the past eight years and is excited to join the staff of Ensign Peak Academy.

Her educational passions are languages and history with a special love for French culture and our Founding Fathers and mothers, especially George Washington, John and Abigail Adams. There is power and inspiration in learning about great men and women. She believes that the most rewarding experience is to share that passion with youth and to watch their eyes light up as they find something that excites and encourages them to learn and do hard things.

She lives in Herriman, Utah with her husband, their youngest son (leaving soon on a mission to Montreal Canada, French speaking), their cat and a flock of chickens. She enjoys time with family, babysitting their grand-puppy, walking, hiking, Yoga, reading, and playing games.

JBarr HeadshotJennifer Barr

2021-2022 World Literature (live LC 2, LC 4, LC 6), English: Language Arts Companion (live LC 2, LC 4, LC 6)

Jennifer Barr graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with her Bachelor’s in University Studies with an emphasis in Business Management and has an Associates in Environmental Economics. She has a broad knowledge of marketing, accounting, education, human resources, and project management, which she has used throughout her career as a small business owner, substitute teacher and most recently as Director of her local library. Additionally, she is an active volunteer in her community, serving on local government committees, and in organizations such as the local food pantry, American Legion, Boy Scouts of America, as a wildlife rehabilitator and more. Jennifer has also volunteered for 20 years as a reading tutor, substituted at her local schools, and helped as a homeschool teacher for her extended family. She has always loved reading, learning, and the written word and has helped to foster a love of these things in others, as well.

Jennifer resides in Middleton, Idaho and is happily surrounded by her family and pets. She has four children and two grandchildren (with one more on the way). When not working, Jennifer can be seen curling up with a good book, spending time with her family in the great outdoors, gardening, and actively volunteering in her church and community. She is excited to join the students of Ensign Peak Academy on their learning journey.

IMG_1406Jim Herlihy

2021-2022 Mentor and Co-Developer: Principles of Liberty Part 1 (all live and self-paced)

Jim has a passion for history in general and, more specifically, the founding era of these United States and the Providential hand that played such an important role in the birth our great nation. Jim’s casual reading collection includes biographies of Adams, Jefferson, Washington and others, as well as many volumes dealing with our American founding and its fascinating transformation from fledgling colonies to the most prosperous, free nation in the history of the world. Jim recognizes the importance of bringing to life these ideas and principles in young people and preserving our unique ‘American experiment’.

A graduate of Woodbury College (now Champlain College) in Montpelier Vermont, Jim worked nine years as a facility manager for mentally ill adults and, for the past 17 years, Jim has owned and operated a sales and marketing firm based in central New York State. Jim enjoys the natural beauty of upstate New York and can be found hiking in the Adirondack Mountains as often as time permits. At home, Jim is married to Sheri, and is busy with a blended family with six children at varying stages of life. He is also active in church, takes an occasional online class, and loves playing the guitar.

Marie Withers

2021-2022 Mentor: Middle School Art Appreciation (all live and self-paced)

Marie Withers is an artist and instructor. Her Education includes a Master of Arts (MA, 2019) in Art Education at Brigham Young University (BYU), a BFA Degree in Art Education from Utah State University (USU, 1988), and a BS Degree in Home Economics Education from the University of Idaho (UI, 1982). She teaches painting and drawing; and is also fluent in graphic design and photography.  From 1997 to 2017, she was a graphic designer and eventually a multi-media designer at BYU. Currently, she makes and sells fine art (mostly oil paintings) and prints, in galleries, shows and online. Her work is primarily with the landscape, but she has also created figure and portrait work. She taught high school art and home economics at South Fremont High School in Idaho for two years, prior to becoming a graphic designer.  During three different summers, she taught drawing and painting at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lake, Michigan. In 1996 she had the opportunity of being an artist-in-residence for Fox Hollow Elementary School in Idaho Falls. Born in upstate New York, she spent most of her formative years in Moscow, Idaho, eventually making her way to Southeast Idaho and Utah. She now resides in Rexburg, Idaho.

Having had the opportunity of teaching early-morning Seminary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints one year,  she appreciates how art and Gospel beliefs are so intertwined. Some of her artwork depicts events in Church history. She is passionate about both art and teaching and finds great pleasure in helping students discover things about our  world through art.

IMG_4278Von Hansen

2021-2022 Mentor: World History (LC 3, LC 4, LC 5 and self-paced), US History (self-paced)

Hearing Elder Neal A. Maxwell speak during the bicentennial celebrations of the Constitution in 1987 kindled a fire in Von’s heart for learning and sharing about the hand of God in history. That led to a bachelor’s degree in History from Brigham Young University in 1999, where some of Von’s favorite classes included History and Philosophy of Science, Constitutional History, and Religion and Thought in East Asia (although his all-time favorite was probably a Shakespeare class!). In 2007, Von was inspired to quit his job as he dove into the master’s program in Political Economy at George Wythe University, where he relished the most intense year-long learning experience of his life.

Von finally crossed the “T”s and dotted the “I”s on that experience and and graduated in 2016 — a long journey from hearing Elder Maxwell speak, but well worth the trip.
In 2007, Von also began designing and teaching a series of four courses on Providential
History. Since then, he has held classes for homeschool students ages 11-17 and adults all
across the Wasatch Front from Huntsville to Santaquin. His favorite comment from that
experience came from a new student who said that a friend had told her about “this
wicked-awesome history class” that she just had to come and try out. She ended up staying for three semesters.

Von has been a serious student of constitutional forms for more than twenty years — not just THE Constitution, but all societal forms (as in, “What form does our government, economy, education, media, family, religion, etc. take?”). He worked for four years as a team lead at US Synthetic, a world-renowned leader in “lean manufacturing,” where he gained an in-depth understanding of that important and growing business form. Von also has recently written an essay on the nuclear family form and its amazingly important influence on the other societal forms over the last 500 years.

Von is married to the talented and beautiful Amy Hansen (nee Hawkins), and together they have seven children and five grandchildren, for whom they both beam with pride and joy. One of Von’s most cherished activities is to discuss the topics of the day, movies, books, etc. with his family and to learn from his children and sons-in-law as they become men and women of sound understanding themselves. Von served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Republic of Korea, and he thinks that Korean food must be what the Greek myths talk about when they describe ambrosia, the food of the gods.

Benjamin Muhlestein

2021-2022 World History (LC 1, LC 2, LC 6)

Benjamin S. Muhlestein resides in Overton, Nevada and is a husband and father of a beautiful wife and six wonderful children. He served a Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Hawaii Honolulu Mission. He received his Bachelor’s of Paralegal Studies from Utah Valley University in 2002, and earned his Master’s Degree in Classical Liberal Arts from George Wythe University in 2016. He has mentored youth and adults nationally and internationally for many years. He taught Seminary for an entire school year as a student teacher.  He is the Founder of Illuminating the Light Within, Restoringthefounders.com, The Quintilian School of Oratory, and The George Washington Character Curricula. Benjamin has a deep passion for learning and teaching principles of liberty and freedom, and has great faith in the rising generation of youth to rise to the full potential of who God needs them to become.

Meredith BeardMeredith Beard

2021-2022 Mentor: World Geography (all live and self-paced), US Geography (self-paced)

Meredith is the mother of three homeschooled children. She has a great love of learning and enjoys studying a wide variety of subjects, including the gospel of Jesus Christ. She is currently living in Utah, after a recent move from Hawaii. She has loved living in many places, including Michigan, California, Nevada, Indiana, Idaho, Hawaii, and Utah. Each place increased her love for the geography of the United States.

Her hobbies are spending time with her family, knitting, and traveling. After nearly finishing a bachelor’s degree as a young woman, she returned to her college studies a few years ago, and completed a BS degree from BYU-Hawaii in Elementary Education with minors in Science and History.

Meredith loves serving in the gospel of Jesus Christ especially among the youth of the
church. She served a mission in California. Her favorite teaching opportunities have included teaching early morning seminary and serving in the Primary.

Rachel Shurdha

2021-2022 Mentor: Middle School Science – Cells and Classification of Living Things, Genetics and Heredity (all live and self-paced), Chemistry and Ecology (self-paced), Geology and Astronomy (self-paced)

Rachel went to Calgary, Canada, for her first dino-dig in middle school. From that moment on, she had a love for the Earth and a burning drive to understand the variety of rocks found worldwide. Her amazing middle school science teachers inspired her to instill a love of science and learning for the next generation of scientists.

Rachel started undergrad at Idaho State University as a Special Education major where she met her husband, Endrit Shurdha, who was studying Chemistry. They both transferred to the University of Utah where she dual-majored in Geology and Secondary Earth Science Education. Her favorite class was igneous petrology, specifically learning about granite formation.

Rachel is the mother of 2 children. Her favorite hobbies include reading, crochet, stargazing, and gardening. She prides herself on alerting family, friends, and strangers alike to upcoming celestial events like comets, planets getting close together in the sky, a beautiful full moon, etc.

Rachel is always ready to share random science knowledge in everyday life. She loves sharing her knowledge through real life examples; especially through nerdy jokes and book references.

Laura WaiteLaura Waite

K-12 Language Arts Specialist

Laura Waite grew up in California, earned an Associate Degree from Ricks College (Brigham Young University-Idaho), married a very handsome and talented man, and raised six children (all girls except five!) After 20 years, she went back to college at Grand Canyon University online and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English Education. She has also earned endorsements in business and marketing and gifted and talented education.

Laura lives in Fredonia, Arizona where she is adjusting to an empty nest. She loves being a new grandma and watching her children as they continue to grow and learn. She loves walking on the beach, hiking to waterfalls, and paddling her kayak. Her favorite activities include writing, traveling, reading, watching movies, and playing games with her family. She also loves to learn and teach and is excited to do it every day!

Jennifer Wheeler

Co-Developer: World Literature, American and British Literature, English: Focus on Language Arts, English: Language Arts Companion

Jennifer Wheeler is an avid book reader and lover of all things literature, writing, and music.  As an English Education Major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Jen added a love of teaching to her love of literature. After receiving a B.S. in English Education from IUP, Jen taught for several years in the Fairfax County Public School System where she instructed 10th and 11th grade students in English and Language Arts.  During that time, she also served as a curriculum developer and testing coordinator for her team.

Jen and her husband John married in 2006 and were blessed a year later with a beautiful daughter. They have been homeschooling their four children since their oldest, Katie, entered Kindergarten in 2011. Jen is interested in various homeschooling philosophies and methods and was blessed to serve as the president of the East Coast Conference Team of Latter-day Saint Home Educators for three years.  As a life-long learner, she is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Online Education and Technology for Instructional Design at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.

In her “spare time,” Jen loves to read, knit, spin, make music, and go on adventures. She is affectionately named “The Energizer Bunny” by those who are closest to her because she never stops going, and truly finds joy in learning and adventuring wherever the Lord leads her


Leah Ellis

Self-Paced Program Mentor: Middle School Music Appreciation

Developer: Middle School Music Appreciation

She currently resides in Kaysville, Ut where she runs Ellis Music Studio. She graduated from BYU Idaho, with a BA in music, string emphasis, and a minor in Marriage and Family Studies. Leah enjoyed 19 years of private violin lessons, including eight years under the instruction of Emily Day-Shumway, former member of the Utah Symphony and Concert Mistress of the Utah Chamber Orchestra. Leah performed in the Utah Youth Philharmonic for six years, and in the BYU-Idaho Symphony Orchestra and ensembles for four years, along with multiple community orchestral and choral events. Leah also performed with her family bluegrass band “The Wildflowers” as a fiddler and vocalist for eight years. While violin is Leah’s main instrument, she also enjoys playing the piano, viola, cello, guitar, and singing in home activities and numerous events. Leah has two years’ experience as a private tutor in elementary level reading, literature, art and music theory, and has 10+ years’ experience teaching private violin lessons to students of all ages. She has taught two previous online Music Appreciation courses. Leah served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission, Portuguese speaking. Along with music, Leah also enjoys drawing, painting with watercolors, reading, and being with her friends, family, her husband Spencer Ellis and her son Caleb.

Connie VossConnie Voss

Co-Developer: US History, World History, Principles of Liberty – Parts 1 and 2

Connie Voss graduated from Brigham Young University and New England College. Her Master’s degree is in Public Policy, with a 4.0 GPA and a perfect score on her thesis. She has many years of teaching experience, including early morning seminary. She also served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New Mexico and Colorado. In addition, she keeps active in local elections and state political issues.  A native Californian, Connie successfully homeschooled five children. She lives in Gridley, California with her dog Odie.