7-8 Year Old Team

Marja Bearda

7/8 Teacher

E: marja.bearda@dmschools.org


Hello, my name is Marja Bearda. I am delighted to join the 7/8 team and feel grateful to become a part of the Downtown School family.

I taught elementary in Wisconsin for twelve years prior to moving here in 2015.  I received my two undergraduate degrees from UW-Madison and studied insects and elementary education and later obtained my Master's from Viterbo. I love teaching students about the world, science and art. I would like to be known as the "bug lady."

I am originally from The Netherlands and am most passionate about my family.  My Chilean husband and I have a daughter in 4 yr. old kindergarten and our son attends the Downtown School. We enjoy visiting family abroad, traveling, swimming, camping and working on our 102 year-old home.

It is my mission to teach children to be kind to one another, care for our Earth, and to travel and see the world because, "Travel opens your mind as few other things do!

Mollie Erpelding

7/8 Teacher

E: mollie.erpelding@dmschools.org

Rachelle Gerstel

7/8 Year Old Teacher

E: rachelle.gerstel@dmschools.org


Hello! My name is Rachelle Gerstel and I welcome you to my 7/8 year old classroom! I have been with the Downtown School since 2010. Before coming here, I taught first, second, and third grades for the San Bernardino City Unified School District in San Bernardino, CA for eight years. We then moved back to the Des Moines area where I had the opportunity to teach at the Downtown School. I attended Upper Iowa University and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education with endorsements in Reading and English Language Arts.

I am passionate about my family, always trying to keep them happy and organized. I have a wonderful husband and two boys who have attended the Downtown School with me. I enjoy watching my kids grow and try new things as they begin to mature in life. When I get a chance I like to work outside in our flower garden, read a good book, and bake for my family. School is another passion of mine. I have realized throughout the years that students learn more when they feel supported, and comfortable in their environment. I like to create an inviting environment for students, parents, and other community members that may visit our school.

Bruce Miller

7/8 Year Old Teacher

E: Bruce.Miller01@dmschools.org


Hello!  I am excited to be a part of the Downtown School!  I love the philosophy here and can’t wait to start our next project!  I moved to Iowa in August, 2012 from Virginia Beach, Virginia with my wife, Morgan, to be closer to family in Fairfield, Iowa. This is my 7th year teaching elementary school.  I graduated from Old Dominion University in 2006 with my Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education.  It is truly awesome to watch a child learn, grow and be in control of their learning.

Melanie Schroeder

7/8 Year Old Teacher

E: melanie.schroeder@dmschools.org

Class Description



Hello! Welcome to our 7 & 8 year old classroom!

I grew up in Western Iowa, in the small town of Pisgah. My elementary and early childhood education degrees are from the University of Iowa -- Go Hawkeyes! In addition, I am a trained Reading Recovery Teacher and have my Master’s Degree as a K-12 Reading Specialist from Viterbo University. I have taught in Des Moines for over 20 years. My husband Kris and I have three teenagers; Evan at Iowa State, Sarah at Drake and Quinn at Waukee High School. Our family loves the Iowa and Chicago Cubs, my husband’s cooking, and reading. I am excited to join the Downtown School and am looking forward to a wonderful school year!