About Us

Qualia is a term used in philosophical discourse about the mind and the nature of reality. It refers to “what it feels like” when we apprehend stimuli or concepts. As our students have pointed out, it simultaneously captures:

  • The idea that we don’t really “know” something until we’ve had our own conscious experience of it — hence the importance of a hands-on/minds-on learning model;
  • The apprehension that my understanding of something might not precisely match yours — thus the need for deep discourse to bridge gaps among learners; and
  • The simple fact that our kids are attuned to the subtleties of knowing and understanding, and reject definitions of “smart” that still typically derive (sadly) from recitation of facts and bandying of definitions.

Jim Hahn

Founder / Head of School

An inveterate explorer of knowledge, ideas, contraptions and cultures, Jim has taught everything from philosophy to chemistry to Rube Goldberg Machines during his 32-year career in education. As the founder of Areté Preparatory Academy, a next-generation school in Los Angeles, Jim has worked with the gamut of brilliant, independent young minds, pushing them to think deeply, care deeply, and forge extraordinary paths.

Jon Cassie

Co-Founder / Co-Head of School

In a career spanning a period of immense change in global society, Jon has worked with young, creative student leaders in schools across the country teaching English, entrepreneurship, history, game design, Latin and philosophy. Jon has hired and helped develop the professional talents of highly talented educators who have gone on to develop innovative programs in their schools. His book on gamified instruction, Level Up Your Classroom, was published in 2016.​

Anne Butler-Swiech

Director 6-12 / English Teacher

Anne’s nearly two-decade career as an educator has spanned two coasts and taken many literal and figurative twists and turns. Initially a theatre artist and arts educator, she meandered through a dozen states in a rickety tour van to perform and teach in student-filled cafegymnatoria throughout the Eastern U.S. Following side trips into graduate studies and collegiate theatre teaching, she ultimately put an emerging educational philosophy of passionate, collaborative inquiry and creation into practice with her favorite student population of all: middle and high schoolers. During her half decade with Areté Preparatory Academy (now Qualia), Anne has taught 6th-12th grade English, arts, and humanities courses and also served as Middle School Director and Director of Grades 6-12. She is excited to continue her deep engagement with this most inspiring group of student learners!

Rose Chen

Mandarin Teacher

Rose Chen is a Chinese teacher from Taiwan. She majored in Japanese and minored in International Trade in college. After immigrating to the US and completing her graduate program in Retailing from Michigan State University in 2008, she started volunteering in Taiwanese and Chinese American communities to promote the heritage culture and language for the younger generations of Taiwanese and Chinese Americans. She has developed a passion for teaching and has been teaching Mandarin for 4 years in local communities. When she is not preparing for teaching, she is usually watching her two kids playing baseball and softball. She also enjoys making Taiwanese food and traveling with her family.

Brian Clark

Math / Science Teacher

Striving to innovate how students learn mathematics, Brian has seen the ins and outs of the current education experience. From starting at an uninspiring public high school himself to assisting at a progressive elementary school, tutoring students in online independent study programs and teaching at private high schools on the Westside, Brian has weaved in and out of the different areas of the educational fields, learning about how each approaches math and science education at each step. Using his unique experience with both public and private educational institutions, Brian incorporates what he finds works best as well as constantly innovating and refining his process.

Sydney Delaney

English / Great Ideas Teacher

In her fifteen years of writing, editing, publishing, and teaching literature, composition, and self-expression through language, Sydney has found a home in the Arete-to-Qualia space of supporting students as they challenge ideas of the status quo through creative persistence. A native of Los Angeles, public arts advocate, dancer, humanist, and home chef, Sydney is joyfully passionate about examining marginalized bodies and voices in literature, film, music and visual arts. She completed a BA in Art History and Italian Literature at Pitzer at Claremont University, followed by an MA in English Literature at LMU, focusing on 19th-20th century Americanist and African American Diaspora.

Ethan Dunleavy

Math / Science / Ceramics Teacher

A deep curiosity to understand the mechanisms that govern our universe led Ethan to complete his bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2018. His broad knowledge of natural sciences and mathematics is balanced by his passions for music and art, having years of experience working with ceramics. After almost a decade of working with children and young adults, Ethan is thrilled to bring his unique perspective to the classroom and beyond.

Wednesday Hobson

English / Great Ideas Teacher

Having spent the last five years teaching at Areté, Wednesday brings her joy for literature and critical theory to every honors English and philosophy class she teaches. Attuned to the unique needs of her students, Wednesday empowers her students to find a sense of agency in acquiring and creating new knowledge for themselves. A perennial student herself, Wednesday is currently pursuing a doctorate in Cultural Studies from Claremont Graduate University.

Mio Honke Hahn

Japanese Teacher

In the field of international education, primarily in Japan, Mio has worked as an executive for 15 years at an entrepreneurial consulting company specializing in government and corporate-sponsored educational projects. In the course of the Intel® Education project, Mio had designed and implemented professional development programs aimed at supporting Japanese teachers adopt new teaching strategies (i.e. project-based approach and EdTech) that help students acquire creative thinking skills and technical skills for innovation.

Joyce Ireland

Bookkeeper

Helping creative organizations stay on track with solid back office data and practices, Joyce has honed accounting and HR skills while working as full charge bookkeeper for various local nonprofits, including the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles. This later-in-life career came as a natural progression after serving as volunteer, board member and officer for several school-based nonprofits, from co-op nursery school to high school booster group, and The Children’s Nature Institute.

Robert Johnson

Math / Science Teacher

Embracing the values of connection, creativity and curiosity, Robert is a veteran educator with decades of tutoring and teaching experience spanning subjects as diverse as chemistry, music theory and English composition. Robert has also authored educational materials, designed curricula used by LAUSD and trained dozens of teachers. A lifelong active learner, Robert is also a painter, a professionally trained sushi chef, one half of a musical duo and the co-author of an upcoming graphic novel.

Peter McNamara

French Teacher

A multilingual globe trotter who has spent his undergraduate and graduate years in France, Italy, and Japan, Peter has experience in developing and implementing individualized French curriculum designed around student interest. Having taught all levels of French to students spanning middle school, high school, as well as college, Peter’s educational philosophy is a combination of studies based in language acquisition alongside multiculturalism in order to provide an innovative and exciting language learning environment for all his students.

Michelle Ratliff Willett

French / History Teacher, Campus Engagement

Michelle has spent over a decade teaching in three different countries, ranging from English to French to History. She’s constantly keeping her students active and learning, both inside the classroom and out. She organizes educational and just-for-fun trips, activities, and shenanigans for the whole school.

Carlos Steinkamp Calandria

Spanish / Great Ideas / DJ & Music Composition Teacher

Being an Areté alumni and having designed his own major at Hampshire College, Carlos’ first-hand experience with individualized, project-based learning spans almost a decade. As the architect of our music program, Carlos exposes students to cutting-edge producing and sound design techniques, as well as the art of DJ-ing, arranging, composing and multi-track mixing.  In his language curriculum, Carlos utilizes interactive media, gamified education, and immersive methodologies to provide students with a deeper and more intuitive understanding of the language. 

Maggie Storm

Director of Admissions and Enrollment

When not trying to entertain the entire Qualia campus, Maggie can be found juggling admissions, enrollment, operations, memes, and general merriment in an effort to make sure that everyone on-site feels safe, welcome, and ready for playful learning. Maggie’s passion for education began with her focus on special education, creating and leading the peer leadership program early in High School and pursuing a degree in Specialized Elementary Education throughout college. After nearly a two decades in education, location-based entertainment, and parenting her 16-year-old twins, she finds herself at home at Qualia, embracing everything thrown at her each day by staff and students, and sharing as much laughter as possible.

JC Wright

History / Great Ideas / Music Teacher

As an experienced teacher, facilitator, and game master, JC has developed a pedagogy centered around gamification and experiential learning that has inspired thoughtful, philosophical discussion amongst curious students of all ages in Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and London. Outside of the classroom JC has arranged and performed music for thousands of audience members with Grammy award winning artists, and has volunteered hundreds of hours to make the performing arts accessible to students of all abilities. Every day JC shares his passion for creativity and critical thinking with his students so that they have the skills and motivation necessary to accomplish their most ambitious goals.