Get to Know Our Hardworking and Compassionate Team

Staff Bios

Headshot image of Toni Fuller Merfeld

Toni Fuller Merfeld, M.S.Ed

is the President and founder of Metro West Learning Center. She has extensive experience working with students on the autism spectrum with learning and behavior challenges both in the classroom and as a consultant in the public and private sectors. She has been trained in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and structuring classrooms for students with Autism and challenging behavior. Her experience in ABA teaching strategies provide students with the individualization of instruction necessary to create a meaningful learning experiences at school, home and community. In addition to her work at Metro West Learning Center, she is a board member of the Autism Society of Iowa, past Executive Board Secretary for the International Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities (DADD), past President, Iowa Council for Exceptional Children; and was the Children’s Mental Health Consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. She is a member of CEC’s Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities and the Division on International Special Education, The Association of Positive Behavior Supports, National Autism Society and the Iowa Autism Society. She also sits on the Regional Autism Program (RAP) Advisory Committee and RAP Expert Panel.

Candice Fedeler

Candice Fedeler, MA ED.

Vice President, holds a master's degree in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Northern Iowa and a Post-master's certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis from the Chicago School of Psychology. She worked for Des Moines Public Schools as an Early Childhood Special Education Teacher and a Behavior Interventionist for grades K-5. Candice has been trained in ABA, Verbal Behavior, Lindamood-Bell Visualizing Verbalizing and Seeing Stars, TEACCH, Picture Exchange Communication Systems, and other communication devices. She is well-versed in Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) and has given several trainings to staff and families on how to implement with fidelity. Candice is a Certified Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI) Trainer and a Certified Safety-Care, QPS Trainer. She is a member of Iowa ABA and Iowa AEYC. She is also a board member of the Autism Society of Iowa.

Office Staff

Megan Christensen2

Megan Christensen

Director, Human Resources, holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from The University of Iowa, along with two minors; Business Administration and Human Relations. She has worked in the insurance industry and brings a wealth of knowledge to Metro West. As a designated Fellow, Academy for Healthcare Management (FAHM), she stays up-to-date on healthcare management and insurance industry standards. She is also a green belt with Lean Six Sigma, utilizing the six sigma methodology to improve operational efficiencies. Along with her business background, her professional experience includes four years as a Teacher’s Assistant, providing specialized care for diverse youth. She also worked for Camp Adventure® (a partner with the United States Department of Defense) spending time overseas in Germany on the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center base.

Headshot image of Natalie Ramirez

Natalie Ramirez

Purchasing/Operations Manager, has education in both Early Childhood Special Education and Pre-Medical/Pre-Professional Health from The University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University. She is also designated a Professional, Academy for Healthcare Management (PAHM) which proves her knowledge of healthcare management and the insurance industry landscape. Natalie has many years of experience working in non-profit organizations with Adult Intellectual Disability and Mental Health waiver services. She is a member of the National Associations for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and is a coach for the Special Olympics and a NAMI volunteer.

Lottie Montgomery

Lottie Montgomery

Administrative Assistant/Registered Behavior Technician, graduated from Altamonte Spring City College with a degree in Medical Billing and Coding as well as Medical Assisting. She has extensive experience working with medical insurance and coding. She also has many years of experience working in early childhood education with diverse youth. Some of her past experience includes working with kids on the autism spectrum as a Behavior Technician at Blue Sprig autism centers. 

Speech Language Pathologists

Molly Warner

Molly Warner, M.S., CCC-SLP

Therapy Team Lead, holds a master’s degree from Rockhurst University. Molly has experience working with children in a variety of settings including: schools, home-based early intervention, and outpatient rehabilitation.
She strives to support the academic success and future endeavors of her students. Molly is passionate about helping children of all ages and abilities succeed. Molly is a member of the American Speech-Hearing Association and has advanced training in the Lindamood-Bell Programs, Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) approach to feeding, with an emphasis in autism.

Jeri Fyock

Jeri Fyock, M.A., CCC-SLP

holds a master’s degree from the University of South Dakota. She has over 25 years of experience working in school settings with children of all ages with a variety of communication disabilities. Jeri is passionate about helping every individual develop and utilize their communication skills. She believes in building individualized therapy plans and providing evidence-based and engaging intervention while partnering with families to reach communication goals. Jeri is a member of the American Speech-Hearing Association.

Emily Hart

Emily Hart, M.A., CCC-SLP

received her master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Northern Iowa. She has experience working with a variety of children with various disabilities, with the pediatric population being her passion. She loves watching kids progress in their communication skills and seeing the confidence in their abilities grow. Emily enjoys working in the outpatient setting because she believes in order for the child to grow in his/her communication skills, collaboration with parents is crucial. She is a member of the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA).

Alishea Henze (1)

Alishea Henze, M.A., CCC-SLP

Social Group Lead, holds a master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Northern Iowa, a bachelor's degree from Iowa State University, and an Associate's Degree from Cottey College, in Nevada, MO. In addition to her work consulting and leading social language groups at Metro West Learning Center, she has worked in public schools for more than 15 years. She has extensive experience working with children and families with a variety of communication disorders, with a specialization in social language and Autism. Alishea has training and experience with Alternative and Augmentative Communication, including Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and Language Acquisition through Language Planning (LAMP). She is a member of the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA).

Occupational Therapist

McKenna Novak

Dr. McKenna Novak, OTD, OTR/L

McKenna Novak, OTD, OTR/L, Occupational therapist, holds a doctorate degree in occupational therapy from Drake University and received her Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology from the University of Iowa. As a student, McKenna worked with children of various ages and diagnoses in schools, early intervention, and outpatient settings. McKenna has past experience working with children with Autism and has completed courses for kids’ yoga, infant massage, and mindfulness. McKenna has a special interest in working with children with feeding difficulties. She has completed the Beckman Oral Motor course and will continue to expand her knowledge in this practice area through research and conferences including attending Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) approach to feeding. McKenna is also a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). She is passionate about helping children through play and is excited to collaborate with families.

Therapy Classroom Staff

Rudy Pithan

Rudy Pithan

Therapy Classroom Supervisor, Justin “Rudy” Pithan graduated from Morningside College with a degree in elementary education and endorsements in special education, middle school, reading and coaching and a master’s degree in administration from Grand Canyon University. He has teaching and administration experience in both  Arizona and Iowa. He was also a high school baseball coach for 14 years.

Headshot image of Amanda Olson

Amanda Olson

Lead RBT and Classroom Support, holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Iowa. She has experience working with children on the autism spectrum in a clinical setting and working with children with behavior disorders in an elementary school setting.

Amanda Jennings

Amanda Jennings

RBT and Classroom Support, holds a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education from Iowa State University. She is passionate about helping students learn and explore new ideas, while bringing a wealth of experience working with children of all ages and behaviors. 

Traetin Marsh

Traetin Marsh

RBT and Classroom Support, holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Iowa State University. He is dedicated to helping students to succeed socially, emotionally, and academically. He has experience giving direct care support and supervision to children and young adults diagnosed with behavioral disorders in both school and live-in settings.

Chuck Krueger (1)

Chuck Krueger

Classroom Teacher, grew up in Newton, Iowa. After graduation, he went to Iowa State University and graduated with a  Bachelor of Science ( double major: Physics and Psychology ). He taught for several years in Iowa and Kansas at High School and Junior College level. Chuck finished a Masters in Special Education with an emphasis in talented and gifted, from Wichita State University. He has taught from Kindergarten to Junior College, usually math and science.

Jake Dalasta

Jake Dalasta

RBT and Classroom Support, received his B.A. in Psychology from The University of Northern Iowa. He worked as a Mental Health Technician in the behavioral health unit at Mercy One in Des Moines, IA and also has experience as a Direct Support Professional and Assistant Manager working with people who have ASD and others with traumatic brain injuries in St. Louis, MO. 

ABA Staff

Katie Bunting

Katie Bunting, M.A., BCBA, LBA

holds a master's degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Brandman University and received her bachelor's degree in Psychology from William Penn University. Katie has several years of experience working in the school, in-home, and clinical setting with a variety of diagnoses and ages. She is motivated by her work and driven to utilize the principles of ABA to teach and improve the overall quality of life for the families that she works with.

Headshot image of Gracie Benton

Gracie Benton, M.A., BCBA, LBA

graduated with her master's degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Ball State University and received her bachelor’s degree in Ecology at Baker University. She has worked at Woodward Academy, House of Mercy, and Balance Autism. Gracie has worked with many individuals with autism and other genetic disorders while in Kansas, giving rise to her increased interest in developing skills among those with special needs.

Headshot image of Mikayla Whitmer

Mikayla Whitmer

RBT, has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Health from Graceland University. She has experience working with both children and adults diagnosed with a variety of special needs through volunteering at nonprofit organizations.

Tori Swanson

Tori Swanson

RBT, graduated from Iowa State University with a B.S in Child, Adult, and Family Services, with a program focus on child development, birth through age eight. Tori has five years of experience working with children and implementing behavioral treatment plans within a classroom setting.

Maggie Ferrel

Maggie Ferrel

RBT, graduated from Grand View University and holds a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Health Promotion. She has a special interest in helping kids with their fitness and nutrition. She has over three years of experience with kids and adults with special needs.

Kate Braland

Kate Braland

RBT, has a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Certificate in Circus Arts from the New England Center for Circus Arts. She also has extensive experience working with children with Autism and at risk-youth, with much of that time providing services in the home setting.

Tiffany Estes

Tiffany Estes

BT, comes from a background in early childhood education and has over six years of experience working with children with a variety of needs, including Autism Spectrum Disorder. During her time as an Assistant Director of a child care center, she coached other staff as well as obtained her Certificate in Early Childhood Education. Tiffany also has a passion for advocacy. She is the Media Engagement and Public Education Advocate for a local non-profit. 

Headshot image of Hannah Alberts

Hannah Alberts

RBT, at age 11, Hannah started volunteering as a counselor at Camp Jubilee (now based in Indianola, IA), a week-long summer program for individuals with disabilities. She continued to do that each year while attending school and graduated from University of Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. Post graduation, Hannah started working as a paraeducator in a K-2 modified classroom for children with autism in Iowa City. She became even more passionate about teaching and creating profound relationships with students, while also providing behavioral support and supporting students’ independence. As an educator, she believes that every learner deserves genuine compassion, patience, and understanding. The thing she enjoys most about being an RBT is the fun she can have with clients and feeling rewarded and proud in seeing their progress.

Diagnostics

Our Diagnostic Team is pleased to partner with our colleagues at the University of Iowa Center For Disabilities and Development and Kavalier and Associates.

Marketing and Communications

Elyssa Appleton

Elyssa Appleton

Communications Consultant, is in charge of Metro West’s social and digital sites. She holds a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Iowa. She has more than half a dozen years in writing, editing, copy writing, public relations and content management. She is the former director of VSA Iowa, a nonprofit that provides free arts programming for kids with disabilities.