Founder & Director

Laura Fokkena has over a decade of experience working as an education director and literacy consultant in K-12 out-of-school programs in the greater Boston area. She has a master's degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Ph.D. in Education from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is also an adjunct professor in Lesley's Global Studies department.

Laura homeschooled her daughter, Rakaya, in elementary school, but once Rakaya passed the entrance exam to Boston Latin School, an academically rigorous public high school, they both assumed that would be the end of that chapter in their lives. But at 16, in the middle of her sophomore year, Rakaya decided to leave BLS and return to homeschooling. Within three weeks, Laura received calls and e-mails from twelve of Rakaya's high school friends, wanting to know how they could do the same. Stunned by the desperate tone from some of these high-performing students -- students who loved to read and loved to learn, but hated going to school -- Laura founded Rise Out in 2012 as a resource for teenagers who were unhappy in high school and searching for alternatives. Since then, the organization has expanded its programming to include students from veteran homeschooling families seeking greater challenges in their teen years.



Laura Fokkena (see above) teaches an eclectic group of classes in history and current events, usually ones with a social justice bent. Past courses include Gender and the Media, To Kill a Mockingbird, German Language and History, Immigration in America, and Science Fiction and Social Issues. Laura also runs the Independent Education Project each year, and facilitates college prep groups.

Tirzah Maroun coordinates Rise Out's STEAM Club. Tirzah is currently studying Fine Arts at Lesley University's College of Art & Design (LUCAD) with a focus in Ceramics. Tirzah has previously volunteered with Cradles to Crayons, The Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House, The St. Bernard's Project in New Orleans, and at Camp Tel Yehudah in Washington, D.C., where she helped advocate for the rights LGBTQI+ students being bullied in school. Tirzah was also a mentor at LUCAD's Young Artist Residency Pre-College Summer Program. Passionate about art, education, and people, Tirzah greatly enjoys her current role as danger!awesome's Education & Communications Coordinator because her job combines all three of those passions. 

Heidi Sandler teaches Rise Out's online writing classes. Heidi is a technical writing consultant with over 20 years of experience in writing, training, public speaking, and meeting facilitation. She has also been a college composition instructor, a Toastmaster, a youth leader, and a copy editor in the academic, entrepreneurial, and non-profit sectors. She collaborated on the writing and editing of Wanderlust, a family memoir, and most recently edited Steamscapes: North America, an alternative history/steampunk game-setting book. Heidi has a BA in German and an MA in English Linguistics/ESL from Northern Illinois University, and is a doctoral candidate (Ed.D.) in Leadership in Curriculum and Instruction at Aurora University.

Rebecca Wnuk is a professional photographer working in the fields of fashion, portraiture, and lifestyle photography. She has worked as a class instructor at Voyagers, Inc., been featured in magazines such as Original Living, and been commissioned to shoot many projects such as weddings, senior and family portraits, album covers, and on-set film production stills. Her photography has been hung on the walls of the Fitchburg Art Museum and the Concord Museum. She is just as passionate about teaching as she is about photography.


Board of Directors

Michael Mayo. After graduating from Harvard and a year as a journalist in Washington, D.C., Mike moved to Bowdoin Street and began his teaching career at Nativity Prep in Roxbury, a free middle school for boys from families below the poverty line. Six years later, he worked with his Uphams Corner neighbors to open a charter school to serve the local community. After seven years as the school's principal and director, Mike moved to the UK to get his PhD in English literature. He teaches undergraduates at Oxford University, and looks forward to the day when he comes back home to Uphams Corner.

Arlene Dallalfar. Arlene divides her time between Cambridge and Tehran. She is a professor of sociology at Lesley University, where she teaches courses in media literacy, globalization, and gender studies. She is also a filmmaker and is currently working on a documentary about the Iranian diaspora. She has a BA from Tufts University and an MA and Ph.D. from UCLA. She is interested in youth advocacy, transnational feminism, and issues of social justice.

Janee Ronca. Janee was Rise Out's first student and joined the Board at age 19. She lives in South Boston and has plans to become a teacher.


Advisory Board

Jennifer Dines is a musician, a writer, and a teacher of English Language Learners and students with Language-Based Learning Disabilities at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School, a Boston Public School located in Dorchester, MA. She recently completed her Certificate of Advanced Study in Reading at the MGH Institute of Health Professions as well as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards program in English as a New Language. Jennifer loves publishing her students’ written work and celebrating their achievement with publishing parties. She is the author of the internationally-read blog, and she was instrumental to piloting the Mariposa DR Foundation’s Girls Summer Leadership Program in Cabarete, Dominican Republic. Jennifer was previously the lead singer in the bands Anti-Love Project and Hot Pink, and she has played keyboards in various Boston bands. Jennifer has also written for the Weekly Dig's music section.

Krystina Friedlander is a childbirth doula and writer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Krystina's writing has been published on CNN, The Huffington Post, and on various childbirth, food, and religion websites and magazines. She holds a BA in Anthropology and Middle East Studies and an MA in Cultural Anthropology from Tulane University in New Orleans, where she explored religious experience in virtual reality. Krystina is a contributor to the Harvard Divinity School's Religious Literacy Project, and also co-founded Beyond Halal, an online project on Islamic ethics, industrial agriculture and meat consumption. She loves to travel, eat new foods, and to think outside the box about her daughter's education.

Anna Mudd has been an educator in a variety of contexts, often working on intersections between global studies, religion, culture, and the arts. A former middle school classroom teacher, she is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. She has spent the past five years working in educator outreach from Harvard's centers for Middle Eastern studies and Russian and Eurasian studies, as well as online educational outlets through Harvard's Division of Continuing Education and HarvardX. She is a librarian at Papercut Zine Library and co-editor of Muqtatafat, the first anthology of comics from Arabic-speaking countries to be published in the U.S.



Photo credit: Laura Fokkena