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Robert Frost

“When I see birches bend to left and right...I like to think some boy's been swinging them.”

Our Team: Quote

Achievements/Interests:

  • Proud mom to 2 boys, seven and four years old

  • 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

  • Project Management Professional

  • MBA

JESSICA HALSRUDD

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 education option for our little ones.  It is my hope that with our forest school, we’d be able to get our children in direct contact with nature and back on the trails. 

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

Our Team: TeamMember
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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 

  • Certified in infant, child, and adult CPR + First Aid

  • Trained for students with special needs

  • Firm believer in continuous learning

NAZEELA HAMID

Assistant Director and Lead 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 frequently seeps 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.  As 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 

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Achievements/Interests:

  • Proud mother of two beautiful daughters

  • DOE Spanish teacher for 7 years

  • Child abuse recognition and prevention trained         

  • Love to read the Bible and cook and spend time with family and friends

  • Certified in infant, child, and adult CPR + First Aid 

GERMANIA ARANA

Lead Teacher

I was born in a small town in Ecuador, a spectacular setting for a beautiful childhood and growing one with nature.  My grandparent's house was in front of a river where all my friends, brothers and I used to swim.  We never needed swimming lessons because our river was our coach.  In winter it rained  a lot and the streets were not made of cement so mud-pool would form.  We took advantage of that and made mud houses.  My father had a large farm, full of cows, chicken and rice crops.  We spent the every weekend at the farm playing and talk for hours on end.

 

I came to the US to study and received a degree in Spanish education.  When I had my first child, my daughter Jessica, I took pains to protect her from getting dirty or going outside when it was too cold.  I remember vividly when she was one year old she caught pneumonia and was very sick a long time. Scared, I took her back to Ecuador to see a family doctor who laughed and told me that my little princess needed to be more in contact with the nature to develop antibodies.  All she needed was to be outside!  This made so much sense then and even more now.  Since then, both of my daughters have had an amazing childhood just like mine--getting dirty and messy is ok. We are now all healthy and strong thanks for nature as a physician and a healer.

There is something magical about being in nature.  You feel it deep within – it touches your spirit.  Just a few minutes of being in nature makes us feel healed and restored.  Nature gives us strength, drains away all negative energy and fills us to the brim with positive energy.  Let us spread that wealth in our community of youngest learners.

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ANNA SANTOLERI 

Lead Teacher 

Achievements/Interests:

  • Travel enthusiast, rock climbing, reading, trail running, backpacking, cooking, writing, gardening, yoga, cooperative living

  • Backpacking Course Leader and Winter Instructor with NOLS

  • Fulbright Malaysia Grant Recipient teaching ESL

  • Youth Crew Leader with Montana Conservation Corps, Americorps

  • Taught backpacking courses to high school students

  • Student teacher for middle school English

  • Licensed CA and MA 5-12 grade English and History (clear), Wilderness First Responder, CPR.

  • Fluent in conversational French, conversational Bahasa Melayu, beginner Spanish

Born and raised in New York City, I never realized the importance of my childhood connections with nature until college, when I joined my university’s outdoor program. I did not consider myself to be an “outdoors person” like many of the members–my experiences outside included roaming around Central Park, going to a nearby lake in the summer, playing soccer, and exploring Coney Island. However, something clicked for me in participating in, then leading trips for this college program. I felt a deep sense of calm and connection to the places I explored and the people I was with. The lessons I learned about observation, self-care, communication, and interconnectedness stuck with me, often more than those I learned in lecture halls and seminar rooms. I wanted to spend more time outside.

 

Simultaneously, I was also developing a deep interest in education. The other hallmark of my college experience was working with young students through an arts-based afterschool program. It was one of the most difficult things I had done, but the joy of seeing their joy and pride in their learning, the challenge of working with them as they overcame frustration, anger, or disappointment–these experiences felt real, much more real than any work I could do in front of a screen. I wanted to spend more time not just outside, but exploring how education could take place in the outdoors. 

 

 

Ten years later, I am still learning about the potential for outdoor spaces to be deeply transformative places of learning. Having worked as a wilderness instructor and youth conservation crew leader in Yosemite, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Washington, as well as a classroom teacher in Boston, San Diego, and Malaysia, it feels fitting to bring my passions for working with young people and learning outdoors to my home city. It is exciting to look beyond the city’s built exterior to see its potential for outdoor education, and to share this potential with its youngest residents.

Achievements/Interests:

  • Proud dad to a grown son

  • Orton-Gillingham Associate in training.

  • Certified Forest Therapy Guide and experienced Outdoor Nature Teacher

  • Forest Therapy (Forest Bathing) Guide for adults in the New York Botanical Garden

  • Waldorf Elementary School teacher (Sunbridge Institute)

  • Masters in Library Science at St. John's University

  • Masters in Educational Theater at NYU

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Born in Long Island I spend much of my time outdoors, mostly playing games with other kids in the neighborhood.  My family also spent many summers camping.  I have continued the tradition, getting my son involved with Scouting. My favorite place to be outdoors is in my vacation home in Vermont.

Last year I retired as a NYC High School Librarian with over 25 years of experience.  I am a certified Forest Therapy Guide and experienced Outdoor Nature Teacher trained as a Waldorf  Elementary School teacher.  I was drawn to Waldorf education because it combined a lot of interests I had: drama, art, the outdoors and had elements of yoga/eastern philosophy.  One of my favorite classes is Biodynamic farming.  I returned to the school after graduating to take a year long Biodynamic farming class. I used some of the methods in a small garden (raised bed)I have in Queens. 

 

I think the most valuable thing for Waldorf is the idea that the teacher should help lead the student toward their mission in life.  Also, that each child has a unique temperament.  I feel that the most valuable thing I can do as a teacher is to offer opportunities for imaginative play.  I learned that play, music, art and mindfulness are the best ways to teach meditation to children in the busy hectic world we live in.

As an outdoor educator, I have worked in spectacular settings like Central Park as well as Battery Park near the ferry to the Statue of Liberty with ages ranging from 4 years to 10 years old.  The most memorable moment for me was at a camp when volunteers who were working with the bee hive offered us a taste of honey.  It was delicious! 

I like to do yoga and also like to write, mostly poetry.  Some of my poems have been published.  I also won an award for a poem that I wrote.  Here is a link to a poem that is currently published in The Field Guide magazine.

feel drawn to Kew Kids and the Waldorf education philosophy it espouses and look forward to amazing discoveries outdoors.

Lead Teacher

MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM

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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  

ASTRA LIUCIJA

Art Teacher

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.  

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Achievements/Interests:

  • Education student at Brooklyn College

  • Native Spanish speaker

  • Enjoys reading and creative writing

  • Loves taking long walks with family and friends

  • Loving sister

  • Proud dog mom

DANIELA LLERENA

Teacher

I was born and raised in Ecuador during the time “internet” wasn’t essential.  Surrounded by beautiful nature and agriculture, I grew with love and longing towards Earth and its natural beauty.  Overprotected as the first child, I was never able to stand on dirt or get my hands dirty.  I watched with envy my younger sister do what I couldn’t and grow stronger everyday. The older I got, the more curious I was, ready to discover what I missed out as a child.

During the beginning of my high school years, I found fervor for the idea of teaching and working with kids.  I welcomed many opportunities to grow my skills with children of different ages.  I was an intern at the Hall of Science in Queens, where I worked with kids during their afterschool program. That was my confirmation that I had found my future career.

I am currently an undergraduate student at Brooklyn College pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Education.

Spending time with kids has always been a blast especially watching their faces light up as they discover something new.  I am a teacher for my church service, and I have learned there that no matter how young they are, I can learn from them as much as they from me.

As technology becomes increasingly prevalent and addicting, I find it refreshing stepping into nature to remind myself where I come from.  I am more than excited to be able to experience it everyday with the children of Kew Kids.

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JASON GLOVER

Teacher

Achievements/Interests:

  • Student at LaGuardia Community College 

  • Self taught flute player

  • Self taught Mandarin Chinese

Through meditation, guidance at a young age, and high levels of discipline, I've obtained a very high level of patience and happiness that will aid me in my role towards the future development of the children here at Kew Kids Forest School.

 

From a young age, I started helping my mom around her dance studio, which included helping to teach children how to dance, going on recitals and performing outside of the dance studio, etc. I have been dancing, singing, acting, or any form of expression through the arts for around a decade. I am currently going to college for Theater (although I am thinking about switching to music) and I graduated from high school with advanced diploma for the arts. I hope that in my time here, I can help them to express themselves through more means than words alone.

MAHPARA ELAHI

Teacher

Born and raised in Bangladesh, Srimongol, I have developed a very deep connection with nature. Bangladesh is a land of enormous beauty and is surrounded by evergreen hills and rain forests. Being raised in this type of environment for the first few years of my life has left an indelible  nature and its surroundings and be grateful for the life around me.


I have always loved children and their very energetic selves and have always wanted to go into the field of education. I believe a child’s first teachers are the people who can instill a love for lifelong learning.  Being an educator allows us to make a difference in the future of children and develop such crucial skills. I am currently finishing my Bachelor in Arts in English and continuing my education to get my Dual Masters in General and Special Education.


It is more than an honor to be able to work with great young minds and make a difference in our younger generations. Kew Kids’ goals really inspire me to go beyond traditional education to understand the importance of nature in a child’s development. I am very excited to explore nature’s beauty with the children and help guide children to value kindness, respect all living things, and most importantly let their imagination run. 

Achievements/Interests:

  • Coming soon

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Teacher

JADE DEFREITAS

Achievements/Interests:

  • Coming soon

During my childhood I grew up in Guyana for 3 years. If you know Guyana you would know the wildlife it has to offer.  Mainly rural, I had access to nature like no other. The different species of plants and other wildlife really connected me to nature.  The memories I made there will always be special to me.


When I moved to New York I could not understand why kids my age made a big fuss over touching dirt.  I was confused because their connection with wildlife was completely different from the one I had.  In my elementary years it was difficult for me to connect.  So as I grew up I would ask my parents about buying me the latest Apple product because it seemed cool.  I assimilated so much to the culture here that I fell out of touch with my connection with nature.


As I realized that this part of my life was fading I attempted to rebuild my connection with nature.  I went for bike rides and walks outside more often just to enjoy nature.  I joined clubs at school such as the Green Team to participate in the aid of our world.  Kew Kids ultimately helps me rebuild my personal connection with nature. I want to teach kids to enjoy their time with nature now.

Gardener and Teacher

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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

JOANNA LACEY

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Achievements/Interests:

  • Bachelor of Arts degree 

  • Professional and experienced teacher for over 22 years in Bangladesh

  • Loving mother of two girls (16 and 19 years old)

  • Employee at JFK airport

  • Loves spending time with family and friends, gardening and sewing

  • Nature and bird lover

KAMRUN DAIZY

Teacher

Born and raised in a small beautiful village surrounded by nature in Bangladesh, I fell in love with nature as soon as I laid eyes on her.  I spent most of my childhood swimming in the river, climbing trees, gardening, and catching fishes with my friends.  Growing
up so close to nature really made me feel a part of it.

As I grew up I came to discover another love of mine, children.  While I was a college student, my sister became a mother and spending time with my nephew made me feel as though I had become a mother too as I took care of him while my sister would be busy with her job.  She soon had my niece whom I felt the exact way for.  Later I became a mother myself to two beautiful girls.  This time I was ready to be a doting mother alongside a growing extended family.


I became a school teacher in 1994 and over the years I have taught kids ranging 5-10 year olds.  In 2016, I I moved out of my country to New York with my family and ever since then I have missed working with kids so much that passing by a school would make me long to return to be a teacher again.  I feel so fortunate to be given another opportunity to work with such curious and imaginative children at Kew Kids.  Everyday I am helping to make memories while reliving mine.  

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PEGGY LEUNG

Teacher

Achievements/Interests:

  • Coming soon

Born in Queens, I did not explore nature as much because my immigrant parents were busy making money to provide for me and my older sister.  Thus, I was attached to my iPad and would
watch Youtube videos for hours a day.  However, entering high school I took a climate solutions class and discovered my passion for the environment and everything it had to offer.  I would find myself joining the Green Team where I got involved in numerous presentations to educate students in my school, one of which was a student-led teach-in about the importance of taking action in order to fight against climate change.


I started to spend more time outdoors when I became a horticulture intern at Queens Botanical Garden. To smell the crisp air and see the various shades of green in the garden made me
realize how much I would’ve loved exploring nature as a young kid.  This opportunity at Kew Kids allows me to help kids build a relationship with nature and enjoy the benefits of
nature that I never had as a child.

 

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