Get to Know Our Hardworking and Compassionate Team

Staff Bios

Headshot image of Toni Fuller Merfeld

Toni Fuller Merfeld, M.S.Ed

President/Founder

Toni 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.

Office Staff

Megan Christensen2

Megan Christensen

Director of Human Resources

Megan 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

Natalie 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 and Registered Behavior Technician

Lottie 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

Molly 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

Jeri 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

Emily 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

Alishea 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.

Maddi Ranney New Photo

Maddi Ranney OTR/L

Maddison holds a master’s degree in occupational therapy from American International College and received her Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology and Health from Iowa State University with a minor in Psychology. She is also a Registered Behavior Technician. Maddison gained experience working with children of varying disabilities/diagnoses in a variety of settings including the school system, home-based early intervention, supported community living, recreational facilities, and home-based applied behavior analysis. She is passionate about helping children meet their goals using a play-based and creative approach. Maddison is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and plans to continue expanding her knowledgebase to provide best practices to the pediatric population. 

Therapy Classroom Staff

Candice Fedeler

Candice Fedeler, MA ED.

Classroom Consultant

Candice 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.

Amanda Jennings

Amanda Jennings

Education Teacher

Amanda 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. 

Headshot image of Amanda Olson

Amanda Olson, M.A., BCBA, LBA

Amanda holds a master’s degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Iowa and a Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis from Ball State University. She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Iowa State University. Amanda has extensive experience working with children on the autism spectrum in a clinical setting and working with children with behavior disorders in an elementary, junior high, and senior high school settings.

Chuck Krueger (1)

Chuck Krueger

Classroom Teacher

Chuck 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.

Rudy Pithan

Rudy Pithan

Behavior Technician and Classroom Support

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.

Gabby Martinez

Gabby Martinez

Registered Behavior Technician and Classroom Support

Gabby attended Morningside College for two years as a student-athlete on their softball team. She is currently finishing her Bachelor's Degree at Bellevue University in their Professional Psychology Program, with an emphasis in Counseling Psychology. She has years of experience working at in-home settings with adults as a Direct Support Professional, as well as working in the classroom setting as a Paraeducator. She has a passion for helping students reach their highest potential! 

Traetin Marsh

Traetin Marsh

Registered Behavior Technician and Classroom Support

Traetin 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.

Jake Dalasta

Jake Dalasta

Registered Behavior Technician and Classroom Support

Jake 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

Katie 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

Gracie 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

Registered Behavior Technician

Mikayla 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 Rude

Registered Behavior Technician

Tori 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.

Headshot image of Hannah Alberts

Hannah Alberts

Registered Behavior Technician

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.

Kate Braland

Kate Braland

Registered Behavior Technician

Kate 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.

Kallie Hall

Kallie Hall

Registered Behavior Technician

Kallie earned her bachelor's degree in Psychology from Iowa State University. She specializes in criminal justice studies and has experience counseling at-risk youth. Kallie also have over four years experience working with children and individuals with special needs in personal and professional settings. 

Hailie Conard

Hailie Conard

Behavior Technician

Hailie earned her bachelor's degree in Psychology and Law, Politics & Society, with a minor in Sociology from Drake University in Des Moines, IA. She has great experience working with children with special needs in both personal and professional settings.

Addison Smith

Addison Smith

Behavior Technician

Addison is a neuropsychology student and will be working towards her degree in biopsychology at Morningside University. She has been volunteering with a crisis line for nearly two years with a focus on working with people who have neurodevelopmental conditions. Addison also has wonderful experience in ABA research from Des Moines Area Community College. 

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.