Robert Frost

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

 

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 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.’

 
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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:

  • Bachelors Candidate in Computer Science and Technology Information at Borough of
    Manhattan Community College

  • Proud mom to an extremely spoiled two-year-old toy poodle!

  • Deeply dedicated to reading, arts and crafts, and baking.

TRISA BALGOBIN

Lead Teacher

I was born and raised in Queens.  As a child I’d often find myself staring at clouds attempting to distinguish the shapes and images as the clouds slowly passed by.  Vividly remembering the crunchy ombre leaves as they transformed throughout autumn, I was always excited for a new season, whether autumn or spring, allowing every individual to adjust to all the great changes soon to come.  I knew one day I’d explore the world and all it has to offer in nature.  I would crave the adventures as I learn to spread my wings.


As a student currently pursuing a degree in technology field, I’ve come to realize the technological advances the world has developed have become alienating exacerbating a loss of connection to the environment around us.  Like many in my generation, I often found myself distracted by phones, tablets, computers, etc. Upon finding Kew Kids Forest School, I began to realize the nurturing, imaginative, and compassionate experience nature holds in our daily life lessons.  I am greatly appreciative for this opportunity to reconnect with my childhood and continuously grow alongside our ever curious explorers as we participate in the world’s adventures together.

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Achievements/Interests:

  • Currently studying Secondary Education for History at Borough of Manhattan Community College of the City University of New York

  • Lead teacher at Brooklyn Nature Days

  • Volunteer at the Jackson Heights Urban Nature Club

  • Fitness enthusiast 

  • Enjoys reading

  • Animal lover

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

  • Fluent in Spanish 

JESS CHUQUI-VILLA

Lead Teacher 

I am a first generation Mexican/Ecuadorian-American, and a proud Latina. Born and raised in New York City, I would escape the hustle and bustle of the city by going to Queens Zoo, Central Park Zoo, and Flushing Meadow Park. They were my sanctuary.

 

I have worked with children since I was 16 and I find it so rewarding when their eyes light up as they explore new ideas and accomplish their goals. I truly believe that we can learn so much from young children.  Working at Brooklyn Nature Days, a forest school in Brooklyn, I have been lucky to be able to see nature through a child’s eyes. A dirt patch isn’t just that! It can be train tracks, a village or an arena! I am endlessly inspired by children's creative spirit. 

 

I am so excited and honored to be able to provide children with the opportunity to step outside of city life and fully immerse in the beauty of nature. I hope to express my genuine love for nature and help students at Kew Kids develop that deeper connection with the natural world and wildlife in their community.

 

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

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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.

Lead Teacher

KATIE GEORGE

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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:

  • Currently pursuing bachelors at Queens College 

  • Associate degree in Early Childhood Education 

  • Enjoys reading, sleeping, trying different foods 

  • Adventure seeker and hiker

  • Fluent in Spanish (reading, writing, speaking)

  • Proud dog dad

LUIS VASQUEZ ALVARADO

Teacher

I was born in Queens, and raised throughout Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Long Island. Somehow I find myself back here, in Queens. 

 

Growing up my mother always made sure that my sister and I played outside as much as we could. We often adventure out to neighborhood parks and walks on the beach, always letting our imagination run wild in our play. I remember Van Cortlandt Park fondly for the immensity and diversity it housed with the lake in the middle of the park. It was a favorite gathering place with grandmother and cousins running afield almost every weekend and throughout the summer.

As I got older and our families got bigger, I helped to guide younger cousins.  Learning about nature at an early age helps to develop a holistic sense of knowledge that extends to many aspects of life. Each season provides us with many lessons to learn, and something new to discover and in nature, one can develop practical skills, math and problem solving, as well as inspire many forms of art.

 

I am currently pursuing a degree in early childhood education and I am grateful for the opportunity to climb trees with children,  find natural treasures and foster connection with nature that will last a lifetime.

 

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IZABELA HAJDER

Teacher

Achievements/Interests:

  • Education/Biology student at Queens College

  • Rock climber

  • Bassist

  • Proud aunt and sister

I was born in Queens and grew up in Ridgewood-Bushwick.  My family comes from rural Poland where they were surrounded by forest and farmland.  Moving to the city was a big change for them so they would find little escapes over the weekend.  Whether it was just going to the local park or driving Upstate, or Pennsylvania for a hike, my family always encouraged me to explore the outdoors. They taught me what they knew about the flora and fauna and encouraged an interest in the arts.  They would always try new activities.  Thanks to their encouragement I never held back from exploring and trying new things and that is something I wish to pass on to the next generation.

 

My mother always said I'd be a teacher and no matter how much I wanted to disagree she was right.  I enjoy spending time with kids and trying to look at the world from their point of view.  Their imaginations run wild and their creativity is endless.  It's refreshing.  Although in reality, I’m a college student doing her best, when I’m playing with children we are dino fury power rangers or florists who only sell blue flowers.  There doesn't need to be logic to their thoughts, it's all just for fun.  They always brighten up my day.

 

I am currently an undergraduate student pursuing a bachelor's degree at CUNY Queens College in Education and Biology.  My goal is to be an understanding teacher that can communicate with her students and I hope that they are excited to come to school and learn.  One thing that I appreciate my school teaching me is working together and building my social skills.  That is something I wish to teach to my students.

 

I am excited to be working with the team and students at Kew Kids Forest School.

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

KATHRYN BRYCE

Achievements/Interests:

  • Travel enthusiast

  • Farmer

  • Avid gardener

  • Psychology Major

  • Goat herder

  • Enjoy drawing, painting, and creative writing 

  • Hydroponics agriculture certification 1 & 2

  • Junior Tour guide of Trinidad and Tobago

  • Knowledge of Herbalism

  • Guitarist

  • Tutor 

Born in Queens, New York I would spend most of my time with my mother in her garden, taking strolls on the beach, and through the numerous parks New York has to offer. I was lucky to have the opportunity to experience Trinidad and Tobago where my extended family lives since I was 3 months old and it has greatly influenced my life. From hiking, to bird watching, star gazing, catching butterflies and moths, finding insects and bringing them home I have developed an affinity for nature. The abundance of fresh fruit trees, wild flowers, and interaction with the wild life has helped me to develop a deep connection and appreciate for the world around me.

 

Nature has taught me to be compassionate towards all life, which became my purpose for pursuing a career in psychology. Working as a caretaker at a pet store helped to enrich my knowledge of various types of animals, fish, and insects. I have become more comfortable and confident around them since I wasn't always so open before. This transition has allowed me to guide other children through their journey of new interactions with unfamiliar things and animals.

 

Spending time in my mother's garden as well as traveling through Trinidad's multicultural neighborhoods peaked my interest in learning about botany and the many different branches of agriculture so much so that I'd volunteer to help with my family's agricultural fields. This propelled me to take courses in hydroponics. Through the seasons harvest, from figs, mangos, peppers, and or plums I would volunteer to help distribute goods to local homes and churches. While tutoring at my local church as my first job I was able to connect the dots for children using my insight from nature. Whether it pertained to math, science, art, and or history nature was always a good reference point from the simple ways it would use numbers, shapes and colors. Nature embodies a world of knowledge waiting to be explored. I've learned in psychology nature can nurture and expand the minds of the youth. It helps with creativity, critical thinking, curiosity as well as helps to expand ones interest far beyond one's environment.

 

I am thankful to have shared my knowledge and skills pertaining to nature with many children throughout the years. It makes me happy to see how it has shaped the lives of children for the better as it has done for me. There is always something new to learn and explore in nature everyday because it so fresh and filled with abundance of knowledge and great treasure. I am thrilled o be able to experience nature and its wonders with the children of Kew Kids.

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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VICTORIA M. LAGARDERA

Teacher

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

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.

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.

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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

Teacher

RITA SIMAKOVA

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Achievements/Interests:

  • MBA and human resource management

  • Proud mother of an amazing 9-year old boy

  • Strong passion and interest in cooking/baking, fashion and gardening

NASRIN RUMA

Teacher

Growing up in Bangladesh, I was surrounded by the tranquility of vast trees and rivers.  You would always find me exploring the fertile land by climbing high trees, swimming in the river and jump roping.  I was spoiled by the beauty of the world
around me.  As I grew older, I began to discover the elegance of life beyond the graceful nature of my motherland--starting with a nurturing relationship with my oldest sister and becoming a kindergarten teacher in Kushtia, a small village in Bangladesh.  I taught the children to read, write, sketch the nature scenes and walked them through early milestones.

 

In 2018, I came to New York City with my husband and my 9-year old son and settled in a new lifestyle.  The first few years of city life were incredibly difficult and I often found myself overwhelmed and hopeless.  I landed a job at a restaurant and found joy in reading and spending time with my family.   

Still I longed to connect with the next generation in a school setting.  This dream came true and I am more grateful and more ready than ever to impart a delightful learning journey with the children at Kew Kids Forest School.