John Muir, Mountaineer

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."

 

Achievements/Interests:

  • Proud mom to 2 boys, one born in 2015 and one born in 2017

  • Super Steward and Trail Maintainer, NYC Parks

  • Outdoor Teacher Retreat Participant, Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools

  • Health & Safety Training, NYS Office of Children and Family Services

  • Outdoor adventure seeker and traveler

  • Health and fitness enthusiast: Personal Trainer, Crunch Fitness; Group Fitness Instructor, Aerobics Fitness and Association of America

  • Project Management Professional

  • MBA

JESSICA HALSRUD

Founder and Director

As a girl growing up in suburban Taiwan, I loved to explore outdoors, often playing in the nearby trails and creeks.  I wandered those woods even in my dreams.  Later, some of those fields became construction sites where my sister and I would play for hours in the mud.  Looking back, this all seems like another world. 

 

Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically.  For the new generation, nature is more abstraction than reality, something to watch, to consume, to wear—to ignore and fear.  So often, I've observed kids looking at screens, oblivious to the landscape around them.  I've also heard the parks nearby viewed as dirty, dangerous and something to avoid.

 

Now that I have children of my own, I am even more aware of the increasing divide between the young and the natural world, and the environmental, social, psychological and spiritual implications of that change.  The accumulating research confirms the necessity of contact with nature for healthy child and adult development.  Our community, so close to Forest Park yet, lacks a nature early education option.  It is my hope that with our forest school, we’d be able to get our children in contact with nature and back on the trails. 

Our mothers were right when they told us, day after day, ‘Go out and play.’

 

Achievements/Interests:

  • Blessed with four children, twin boys and two girls

  • Involved in parents committee and volunteer at my children’s school

  • New York State Public School Teaching Assistant certified

  • Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) trained 

  • Trained for students with special needs

  • Firm believer in continuous learning

NAZEELA HAMID

Assistant Director and Teacher

Born in a country like Guyana that is mainly pristine rainforest, sugar cane plantation and rich rice fields, a child’s mind has so much to explore in the land of many waters.  Playing in the big green open fields, navigating the ground for beautiful and colorful insects or simply picking delicious fruits at your fingertips, such a relaxed and harmonizing environment truly makes you appreciate nature at its finest.  Guyana epitomizes the lifestyle of humbleness and oneness with nature.


Growing up in New York Queens, the feeling of nostalgia usually steps in because I felt restricted being indoors most of my school days and not being able to get my hands dirty with nature.  Always being told to color inside the lines tends to destroy a child creativity.  Now that I am a mother of four beautiful children, I have experienced different learning methods, the most effective one is learning through playing and exploring our environment.  There is something truly magnificent in watching my children playing in the rain and looking forward for the rainbow at the end of the storm. I am excited about imparting my passion of learning and organizing through play with the students at Kew Kids Forest school.

KATIE GEORGE

Lead Teacher 

Achievements/Interests:

  • Proud mom to 2 boys, one born in 2015 and one born in 2018

  • Chair, Sierra Club NYC Inspiring Connections Outdoors

  • Super Steward and Trail Maintainer, NYC Parks

  • Wilderness First Aid Certified

  • Outdoor Leadership Training leader Instructor since 2012

  • Child Abuse Recognition & Prevention certified

  • Participant of Free Forest School and Hike It Baby Queens

  • Hiking & Fitness enthusiast

  • Admin, Strong & Healthy moms facebook group

  • Committee, Adventure Film Festival NYC

As the daughter of a Navy serviceman, I grew up exploring the world and the seeds of my wanderlust were planted early.  It became evident at an early age that empathy and kindness could be found whenever someone takes an opportunity to challenge themselves and break a little out of the routine.

 

In my adulthood, this wanderlust led to international backpacking and ultimately to Peru, and in preparation for the 4-day hike on the Inca Trail, I fell in love with hiking and the woods.  Living in New York city, I was delighted to find that nearly 100 trails could be found within an hour or two of the city, and I set out to explore as many of them as I could find.

 

In 2012, I became Chair of the NYC group of Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors whose focus is to introduce urban youth to the great outdoors by bringing them out hiking, rafting, camping, ice skating, apple picking, kayaking, and more.  In our 100% volunteer-run setting, we are able to provide opportunities and access to these youth (grade school through high school) that they would not have had otherwise.  I have been able to see first hand the positive impact nature has had on these youth, breaking them out of their comfort zone, disconnecting from technology, overcoming new challenges, discovering new things, and forming new relationships.  

 

As a mom to toddlers, I have been delighted to watch them interact with nature, whether through discovering a new plant or hiking through the woods with friends.  The 3 ½ year old especially has developed confidence, strength and stability through interacting with the forest, and it is something I look forward to imparting to the students at Kew Kids.

MADISON KELTS

I grew up in the suburbs outside of Boston, MA, and spent my summers hiking, camping, swimming, and playing outside. During a gap year after high school, I followed an interest in sustainable food systems, and worked on small organic farms in Ireland and Belgium, where my love for working in the dirt with wondrous plants and creatures took root.

 

During my undergraduate studies, I worked at PS 20, The Anna Silver School in Lower East Side through NYU’s America Reads/Counts work-study program. There, I worked as an assistant for two years in a dual-language Mandarin-English kindergarten classroom, and then as an assistant in the K-5 art classroom in my third year. The beautiful community and work at PS 20 inspired me to become a teacher.

 

I think children are brilliant, and so much fun to work and learn with, especially in environments that inspire them and engage their senses. I've worked for the past two summers at The Hive, an arts summer camp based out of a 30-acre sculpture park in Lincoln, MA, where I had the chance to think with kids about our relationships with the natural world, about what elements of plant and animal life can creatively inspire us, and how to care for each other and our shared environment.

 

I studied Art Education, History, and Critical Theory at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, and explored my interests through work in creative writing, photography, and sculpture. I believe in learning grounded in community, open-ended exploration, imagination, and creativity. After some of my favorite thinkers, Paulo Freire, bell hooks, and John Dewey, I also believe in non-traditional educational methods as means to bring about political and social change. 

Achievements/Interests:

  • Loving older sibling of 8 year old triplets

  • Disability pedagogy and emergent curriculum design

  • Drawing, painting, creative writing, fiber arts, and film

  • Working with flowers, vegetables, and plants of all kinds

  • Assistant director for the Hive summer camp, based at the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA

  • ‘Family + Neighborhood History Zine-making for kids’ lesson design

  • Co-created a performance based on the South Asian epic ‘The Ramayana’ with AP English students at Brooklyn Preparatory High School

  • Student teacher in advanced creative writing class at the University Settlement Society

Lead Teacher

Achievements/Interests:

  • Proud mom to 2 boys, one born in 2015 and one born in 2018

  • Chair, Sierra Club NYC Inspiring Connections Outdoors

  • Super Steward and Trail Maintainer, NYC Parks

  • Wilderness First Aid Certified

  • Outdoor Leadership Training leader Instructor since 2012

  • Child Abuse Recognition & Prevention certified

  • Participant of Free Forest School and Hike It Baby Queens

  • Hiking & Fitness enthusiast

  • Admin, Strong & Healthy moms facebook group

  • Committee, Adventure Film Festival NYC

KATIE GEORGE

Lead Teacher 

As the daughter of a Navy serviceman, I grew up exploring the world and the seeds of my wanderlust were planted early.  It became evident at an early age that empathy and kindness could be found whenever someone takes an opportunity to challenge themselves and break a little out of the routine.

 

In my adulthood, this wanderlust led to international backpacking and ultimately to Peru, and in preparation for the 4-day hike on the Inca Trail, I fell in love with hiking and the woods.  Living in New York city, I was delighted to find that nearly 100 trails could be found within an hour or two of the city, and I set out to explore as many of them as I could find.

 

In 2012, I became Chair of the NYC group of Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors whose focus is to introduce urban youth to the great outdoors by bringing them out hiking, rafting, camping, ice skating, apple picking, kayaking, and more.  In our 100% volunteer-run setting, we are able to provide opportunities and access to these youth (grade school through high school) that they would not have had otherwise.  I have been able to see first hand the positive impact nature has had on these youth, breaking them out of their comfort zone, disconnecting from technology, overcoming new challenges, discovering new things, and forming new relationships.  

 

As a mom to toddlers, I have been delighted to watch them interact with nature, whether through discovering a new plant or hiking through the woods with friends.  My older child has developed confidence, strength and stability through interacting with the forest, and it is something I look forward to imparting to the students at Kew Kids.

Achievements/Interests:

  • Lifelong artist

  • BA in Illustration, SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology

  • Seven years teaching experience, Pre-K to 8

  • Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) trained

  • Nature, conservation, zoology enthusiast

  • Bicycle commuting and recreation  

A famous artist said, to paraphrase, that every child is an artist, however not every artist stays one once they grow up.  I am glad to have evolved as a creative person into adulthood, and along with the unique people I have learned from, nature has been an amazing teacher!

My family moved around a bit before settling back in Queens, NYC in the late eighties, where I have lived since.  As a toddler to about five years old I was taken on walks through New Hampshire’s woods, observing animals, plants, trees, fungi, and natural waters. Invertebrates like bees, ants, pill bugs, and spiders were favorite sightings--I am a fan and often advocate for them to this day!  I appreciate the beauty of nature as well as its alien-like qualities.  On paper I sketched what I saw in front of me, subjects I remembered, and invented new species and fantasy creatures.

 

While going to college and after, I freelanced and worked as a face-painter at events.  My skills and abilities later helped me start as a teacher of computer art to middle-schoolers, eventually expanding to teaching art to levels from Preschool to 8th grade.  For seven years I have been part of many children’s weekly lives and always encouraged them to make art that was true to themselves.  My hope is that they get enrichment and  enjoyment from our classes together. Even if they do not remain artists, positive memories with art can shape and heal people.  I also believe that being outside as well as active is important for everyone. The time I have had around children of all ages has shown me that many of them need to move and learn by experiencing the physical world. 
 

In art I have experimented with varied media and crafted with materials of all kinds.  At times it is challenging to find a moment to sketch in this busy world, but I manage a few sketchbook entries when I can.  Often I draw animals.  I have loved them dearly since childhood and now take care of a cat and a rabbit.  I also got my first bike at a young age and still am an avid near-daily, all-weather rider, with four bicycles in the stable!  Safety is paramount to me and I will enthusiastically impart my city cycling knowledge to kids and adults alike.  I aim to be a good role model both on the road and off, and encourage more people to commute by e-bike and bicycle. 

 

I have ridden the drives and hiked the trails of Forest Park countless times.  It is quite a special place to me and makes for a wondrous ever-changing classroom.  I am excited to be part of Kew Kids and look forward to learning more about the students as well as helping them learn about the world.  

Lead Teacher

ASTRA LIUCIJA

Achievements/Interests:

  • Experienced childcare provider 

  • Fluent in Spanish

  • Currently studying to become a global history teacher at Borough of Manhattan Community College

  • Greenpeace US volunteer and plastic usage data collector

  • Nature immersion coach for High School for Law and Public Service 

  • NYC-based Sean Casey Animal Rescue volunteer

  • Proud aunt to a 5 year old little boy and to a 3 year old little girl

KEYLA CRUZ

Teacher

Born and raised in the skirts of the highest peak in the Caribbean (Pico Duarte), I had a childhood filled with the wondrous elements that formed part of my natural education.  If I got hungry, I could just pluck ripe mangoes and other fruits from the trees.  If I wanted to swim, I could simply walk 10 minutes to a river where I could spend hours enjoying the fresh water.  If I wanted to go for a hike, there was a plethora of hiking trails just waiting for my small feet to explore.  Growing up in this type of setting where nature was all around me and later moving to NYC where it seldom is has made me realize just how fortunate I am to have grown up playing in the dirt, climbing trees, and interacting with wild animals on a daily basis. 

 

It is my firm belief that the wholesomeness of my background is the reason why today I am a happy adult, which is one of the reasons why I encourage parents everywhere to take their children out to play.  The other reason is that being outdoors is not only good for for the psychological shaping of a person, but it also helps develop a healthy microbiome: no one I grew up with has any allergies. 

 

Programs like Kew Kids Forest School educate children to protect nature and its biodiversity.  I have a niece and nephew with whom I try to spend as much time as possible and I do my best to turn their attention from their iPads to the world outside.  There’s something truly wonderful about watching a child joyfully jump up and down in a mud puddle knowing that you’re doing what’s best for them and the planet, which after all will be our most important legacy.

Achievements/Interests:

  • Teachers Aid experience at All Angels Learning Center in Virginia

  • Lead teacher experience at The Primron in Maryland

  • Completed a Child Growth and Development, along with a Core knowledge on special needs course at Howard Community College

  • Currently learning Spanish

  • Animal and wilderness lover

  • Loves to cook and eat healthy

CHRISTINE WILLIAMS

Teacher

I was raised in New Jersey by a strong, independent and loving single mother, and two doting grandmas. It was in high school that I was first ever introduced to the idea of working with children when I took a course that broadened my mind when it came to a child and their growing minds. My first venture raising a child came soon after, when my sister had to be deployed soon after giving birth. This journey took me to Virginia and Maryland where I got into child care at a professional level.

 

My first experience in the field was as a teacher's aid working with multiple children ranging from 1 to 4 years old. I learned a lot about balance, teamwork and communication. Moving to Maryland gave me the opportunity to advance as I took a more challenging position as a lead teacher. Though it meant more responsibilities, it became a passionate role to wake up to. Different settings and roles with children have helped me connect with the educational process which is unique in every child.

 

Moving back north now starting a new life in New York where life seems faster, I notice how critical it is for children to slow down and connect with the nature around them and play at their pace. The way Kew Kids tries to foster a relationship with nature in a child growing up in this busy city really inspires me to find more innovative ways to nourish each little mind. I strongly believe every child shapes the future, and it is important that our future is filled with more love for nature and our Earth.

VAL DANIELS

Teacher

I was born, raised and educated between Queens and the Bronx where I forged a genuine interest in forming a more interactive learning environment for city kids. After turning 30 this past spring, I decided to fully step into my purpose as both a mentor and teacher. My undergrad years in Washington, DC at Georgetown University afforded me an opportunity to work with underprivileged youth from grades 1-6 throughout the district. It was this very experience that revealed a natural ability to both lead and inspire.

After obtaining a Bachelor Degree in English and Studio Art, I moved from DC back to NYC where I began working for a marketing firm in Midtown Manhattan before deciding to accept an opportunity to work with Alzheimer's patients at the New York Memory Center located in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I was given the title of Activity Coordinator where I facilitated several programs including painting, dancing and even yoga sessions. The position was pivotal in cementing my compassion for the more vulnerable souls of this world.

I also managed to build a small clientele for a life coaching business, providing advice through the study of astrology and the esoteric arts. My goal is to be able participate in a healthy physical, mental and spiritual experience for Kew Kids as they continue to learn and grow with us. 

Achievements/Interests:

  • English and Studio Art degree from Georgetown University

  • Animal lover and ferret father 

  • Film enthusiast/Independent actor

  • Self-proclaimed chef

  • ​Learning the piano

  • Proud uncle, brother and son of six 

  • Elementary public school teaching experience at Randle Highlands Elementary School and St. Thomas More Academy in Washington, DC

Achievements/Interests:

  • Proud mom to a curious girl born in 2014

  • Studied art at the Art Students League of New York and New York Studio School of drawing painting and sculpture

  • Experienced childcare provider

JEANNETTE CARACHI

Art Teacher

I was born in Santiago, Chile during Pinochet dictatorship and later moved with my family to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Not too long after, we immigrated to Israel now home to my parents.  My personal journey continued to the United States to fulfill a dream as an Artist.

In Santiago, I was raised in a farm and as a child that was my greatest memories.  My art reveals those childhood memories and a great reflection with delicate lines creating vibrant patterns woven into vivid images of flowers, leaves, and seeds.  My art often celebrates the tangible with a glimmer of otherworldly in nature.  I look forward to sharing and inspiring creative expression through art with young children in and out of the forest.  My growing portfolio is housed here: jeannettekart.com

I have worked as a childcare provider for over ten years working with children from 6 months to 8 years old and I am a mom to a vivacious four year old girl.

In addition to English, I am fluent in Spanish and Hebrew.

Teacher

RITA SIMAKOVA

I was born in Rostov on Don in Russia in a big house with a big yard that had a fruit garden where all the children helped my grandmother grew vegetables.  Later, my family moved to Uzbekistan.  It was there I learned about nature in Central Asia.  I saw many mountains and experienced how they changed through the seasons.  With specialized training in art and music, I frequently expressed my joy through these mediums.

 

I moved to New York with my children and my husband and started working with children after we settled in Kew Gardens.  I especially enjoy working with children from 12 months to 2.5 years old.  

Children are natural explorers and I see it as my role to offer ways for children to safely explore their curiosity and present opportunities to practice new skills, including behavior and social skills.

 

My daughter is now 15 and my son is 7 and we enjoy our time outdoors.  I am grateful to be part of Kew Kids Forest School in our neighborhood.

Achievements/Interests:

  • Proud mom to a curious teenage girl and an active son

  • Experienced childcare provider

  • Trained in Infant Brain Development, Early Intervention, Managing Challenging Behavior Birth to 36mo, Infection Control and Barrier Precautions

  • Involved in parents committee and a volunteer at my children’s school

Achievements/Interests:

  • Biology, psychology, and pre-vet student

  • A second mom to my little brother (10 years difference)

  • Experienced children educator at a Montessori pre-k school

  • Event organizer and outreach specialist for an animal advocacy non-profit organization

  • Translator and interpreter in Spanish and English

  • Completed various seminars on wildlife rehabilitation at South Florida Wildlife Center

  • Volunteer at Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary

VICTORIA M. LAGARDERA

Teacher

As an honor student majoring in biology, psychology, and pre-vet medicine, one could make a good guess and say I enjoy science.  But most people don’t ask how, or where, my passion for learning began.  The answer is nature.  I don’t really remember the first time that I was lost immersed in admiration by its wonders, because to me, it seems they were always there.

 

Having born in Uruguay, a very small country by the Atlantic Ocean, way to the south in South America, I had the opportunity to be raised exploring and experiencing nature’s marvels every day while still immersed in the capital city of the country.  My childhood memories are my most precious treasures, from the long walks after a storm that my mom took us on, searching for and rescuing baby birds that had fallen from their nests; to playing in the mud with my rescued wild boar, Inos; or jumping between rocks at the beach and observing how anemones close when you touch them. 

I was taught to respect all life, and even save jellyfish who were stuck in the sand at the beach.  I learned to connect with animals as individuals, to understand them in their own ways, and to rescue and rehabilitate them.  I learned to sail boats, climb trees, and developed a deep curiosity for the world around me and how things work.  I learned how intertwined science, art, and even empathy are with the natural world, and how important it is for humans to have a deep connection with our planet.  But the greatest lesson is the immense respect and compassion that I developed for our planet and its inhabitants; as well as the awareness that our actions as free willed individuals may and do affect this wonderful world and all of us living in it.  I feel very deeply within me that it is imperative that in today’s world, where parents have to work long hours and may be tired and busy when they get home, kids can get their brains out of the screens and are able to experience nature in their daily lives first hand: touching, smelling, feeling, talking, painting, exploring, interacting, and laughing.

I’m convinced that spending time in nature, especially when we are young, is the way that new generations will be able to develop the love, respect and compassion that the world needs.  Because otherwise, how could we love something that we don’t know?  I really believe that this time has an immense impact in our respect for the planet and fellow earthlings; as well as in fostering our creativity, curiosity, and our physical and mental health.

Teacher

JOANNA LACEY

My brand is "Joanna the Green Maven." To be a Maven you must really be passionate about something whether it's food, fashion, or in my case, nature and the environment.  I have been writing nature articles, tips and blogs for over 30 years, volunteering and leading nature projects, and working in the community gardens. That is my happy place.

 

As a Woodlands Crew Leader at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, my job was to direct teams of volunteers and school groups in projects designed to help restore the park to its native, eastern woodlands state.  Projects such as clean-up, planting and mulching were my specialty.  As a Head Explainer at the New York Hall of Science, I worked with young children to explain and demonstrate exhibits and lead workshops that taught science concepts like mirrors, prisms, kaleidoscopes and light, shadows, and sound as themes.  I remember fondly a video microscope demonstration which projected the view from the scope onto a screen. The subject of our observations was microscopic pond life.

Growing up in the era before technology took over gives me a unique insight on how to connect children with the world around them.  There was no science camp or scheduled play dates for us and no internet.  We were told to go out and play, and that was all year round.  We played with piles of leaves, we made snowmen, we caught fireflies and we drew games like hopscotch in chalk on the sidewalk.  I would love to see today’s kids do those things again.

Achievements/Interests:

  • Trained geologist

  • Avid gardener

Achievements/Interests:

  • Preschool teacher in Nepal

  • A mother of a  beautiful ambitious daughter.

  • Professional childcare provider. 

  • Math Tutor and Professor's assistant at Hostos  Community college. 

  • Currently studying CDA at Borough of Manhattan  Community College

  • Volunteered at All Star dance studio

AMBIKA RANA

Substitute Teacher

I was born in Nepal and and grew up spending my childhood playing outside in the nature. I always believed nature nourishes human life and soul. I am fond of walking barefoot as much as I can, getting wet in rain, collecting stones,leaves, hugging trees . It is a an amazing gift to be given an opportunity to grow up around nature and, now at Kew Kids, to be able to relive those memories and connect children with nature everyday.

I have worked as a preschool teacher for seven years in Nepal.  In America, I have been a professional childcare provider for close to a decade and was a math tutor for 3 semesters at Hostos Community College. I am currently pursuing Child Development Associate at Borough of Manhattan Community College.  

 

I am a mother of teenager daughter and an observer who finds happiness in the smile of children.

646-450-6672

82-96 116th Street, Kew Gardens, NY 11418

©2018 by Kew Kids