Faculty and Staff

 2017- 2018 Faculty and Staff The Cloud Forest School currently employs 41 faculty and staff members. Of those 41 employees, 22 are teaching staff. While many of our local teachers and administrators are long-term, local employees, we also have a tradition of hiring international teachers and staff who typically commit to 2-3 years of employment at the Cloud Forest School before returning home. Our staff is roughly half Costa Rican and half North American, providing a dynamic and diverse mix of cultures and languages. If you are interested in joining the Cloud Forest School team, please see Employment.

Primary School

IMG_9895Cassie Alicea, English Kinder Teacher: Cassie was born and raised in New York City, taking a break from her hometown to complete her undergraduate degree at Boston University. After receiving her B.A. in International Relations with a focus on Environmental Sustainability and Development in Latin America, she returned to New York to pursue a career in the field. But eleven years ago, her plan was thwarted when she walked into a daycare center to apply for a temporary chef position and walked out with a full time teaching job. Since then, she has worked with children ages 3 months to 8 years old, but the preschool classroom is where she fell in love and has spent the majority of her teaching career. She also went on to receive her M.A. in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College. And and now here she is, teaching at the CEC!  Cassie has a passion for exploring nature, science and the arts with children, and feels very lucky to be in the perfect place to continue this work.

Esperanza Mora CespedesKinder Teacher and Art Teacher (Grades 1 – 4): Esperanza grew up in San Jerardo (part of the Arenal Conservation Area) where she learned to love the forest and where she and her family went on adventures together. She attended school in Santa Elena and afterward spent about three years in San Jose and also in Corcovado. She returned to Monteverde after her time away and dedicated herself to being a mother. In 1998, Esperanza began to work at the Cloud Forest School and she has continued to work at the school because she believes this to be the best place to work to help form global citizens. In Esperanza’s free time she enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, reading and walking or camping in the forest.

Sonia Ovares, Spanish Teacher (Prepa): Sonia has lived in Monteverde her whole life. She works at the Cloud Forest School because it has a marvelous forest where the students can enjoy school activities and interact with the environment. It is here that the school’s mission and vision are achieved in a clear and dynamic way. Sonia has worked at the Cloud Forest School for 13 years. In her free time she loves to walk to enjoy the beautiful views Monteverde has to offer.

Valerie Lockhart, Kindergarten (Prepa) English Teacher: Valerie was born and raised near the beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida.  After college and a brief year in Spain, she moved to Brooklyn, New York in 2007.  She worked in a youth hostel, a music venue, a bowling alley, and a bookstore before finding a real and passionate connection to early childhood education.  She taught in a kindergarten classroom in Brooklyn for over two years, during which time she also completed her master’s degree at the Bank Street College of Education, co-founded a nature-based summer camp (the Cattail Nature Collective), and became a serious advocate for outdoor play.  Valerie believes that social and emotional growth is the foundation for all learning, and that connecting kids with nature is integral to their health, happiness, and whole being.  She is very excited to be in Costa Rica, and for the opportunity to build relationships and explore the cloud forest with the children in Prepa at the CFS.

_DSC2689_1Toni Bushnell1st/2nd Grade Teacher:     Toni is from Pennsylvania. She has been a teacher for over 20 years. Toni taught in public school for 16 years.  She taught at a Friends school designed for children with learning differences for 11 years, where she also served as Director of Summer School and Lead Middle School Teacher.  She is trained in Orton-Gillingham, Take Flight, and the DuBard School Association Method reading programs. She owns a private tutoring business. She is a Quaker who is very excited and enthusiastic to have the opportunity to live in the community of Monteverde and to teach at the Creativa. Toni is the mother of 3 children, 29, 25, and 19, and is a new grandmother to 2 month old Henry. She is very happy to be in Costa Rica.

Guadalupe Rojas1st/2nd Grade Teacher: Guadalupe is a licensed primary school teacher who will be teaching integrated materials to students in 1st and 2nd grade, in Spanish. She is excited to spend time with our students and learn alongside them. Guadalupe is from Monteverde, married, and has a baby who is 14 months old.

Arlene Bio PicArleny González,  3rd/4th Grade Teacher:  Arleny was born and raised in Monteverde.  She is working as the special education teacher from first through eleventh grade. Her priority is to give equal opportunities in learning to students with special educational needs, so that the school can achieve a fair inclusion of all students within our educational system. Arleny feels fortunate to be part of the work team at the CFS.

Scout MacKay, 3rd and 4th grade English Teacher: Scout MacKay first fell in love with teaching in 2006 when she was an intern at the Cloud Forest School.  Eleven years later, she is returning from Seattle, WA to teach 3rd/ 4th grade.  In the years in between, she studied music composition and performance at the University of Maine in Augusta, the University of Washington, and Cornish College of the Arts and taught students of all ages piano, guitar, voice, and music theory, always offering classes to low income families, and students who would otherwise not have a musical education.  In addition to teaching in the United States and Costa Rica, she taught English, art, environmental sustainability and music in Colombia and Guatemala, and traveled throughout Latin America preforming music.  Now overjoyed to call Monteverde home again, Scout spends her free time composing, seeking out horseback adventures, and teaching children who are eager to bring their own musical ideas to life.

Sirleny Perez, 5th and 6th grade & Social Studies & Spanish Teacher: Sirleny has lived her whole life in the region of Monteverde. She was educated in Monteverde, and left the area for a brief time to attend university in Canas (Guanacaste province). Sirleny has worked at the Cloud Forest School / Centro Educacion Creativa since 2000 and is very content to continue working at the school, as it is the job of her dreams. Sirleny lives in nearby San Rafael with her three-year-old daughter who will surely become a Cloud Forest School student as soon as she is old enough to attend. She is excited to be taking on new responsibilities at the school next year as she will begin teaching civics to 7th grades.

Lindsay Kervan, 5th/6th/7th grade Math and Science teacher: Lindsay  grew up in Indiana and moved to Colorado to teach and live in the mountains. She loves hiking and being outdoors. Things she has done once and will never do again include skydiving and running a marathon. She met her husband in Colorado, and they enjoy skiing and camping together. She recently obtained her Masters in Education, Curriculum and Instruction, at the University of Colorado. After teaching for eight years, she googled “teaching abroad in Costa Rica”, and found CEC. The beautiful scenery and focus on environmentalism drew her in, and she is looking forward to getting to know the students, families and staff of CEC.

Eric Newcomer, 5th and 6th grade English Teacher: Eric Newcomer grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 2001, he graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio with a major in theology and minors in French and peace studies. After college graduation, Eric joined Teach For America and taught high school French in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for three years. Over the next seven years, Eric taught middle school English in three different cities in Texas: Donna, Austin, and Houston. During that time, he also earned a master’s degree in the teaching of English from Teachers College in New York City. From 2012 until 2017, Eric served as the school director at YES Prep Southwest in Houston. Eric is lucky to be married to an incredible woman named Brittney, who was a school psychologist at YES Prep for nearly a decade and now works remotely for Summit Public Schools’ curriculum and assessment department. They have two children, two-year-old Rosie and four-year-old Lee, who is a kinder student at CEC. Eric passionately loves sports–particularly basketball, baseball, and tennis–and in his 38 years, he has never been bored.

Secondary School
Gloria Santamaria, High School Civics/Social Studies: Gloria is originally from southern Costa Rica. She attended Universidad Nacional and Instituto Loyola UACA where she studied Social Studies and Education. She began working in Costa Rican public high schools in 1994 and started working at the CFS in January of 2011. She now lives in Guacimal with her family and dedicates her spare time to her local evangelical church, playing sports, and the Monteverde Civics Committee. Working at the CFS is her first experience with private education and she loves the calm atmosphere, the harmony and integration of nature, and the dedication to high quality curriculum that students and personnel have at the CFS.

_DSC2693_1Aviva Theen, High School Science Teacher: Aviva has lived in the Chicagoland area for most of her life. She obtained her Bachelors of Science in Chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2002. Immediately after finishing her degree, she spent a summer teaching an enrichment program for gifted middle school students. By the end of the first week of the program, she knew she needed to teach for the rest of her life. She returned to school and obtained a Masters of Education in Teaching Physical Science. For the last 12 years Aviva has been doing what she loves: teaching Biology and Chemistry in various high schools across Chicago. She has been trying to integrate environmental awareness into her classroom but has felt like she could be doing more.  Aviva is excited to be at the beautiful CFS so she can fully integrate her love of teaching with her love of nature. She is looking forward to being a part of supportive educational community, living amidst biodiversity, deepening her yoga practice, learning Spanish and being able to hike all year long.

Rick Van De Graaff, High School English Teacher: Rick is originally from Chicago, Illinois. He moved west after serving in the US Peace Corps in the Republic of Kiribati,in the Central Pacific area), graduated from the University of Utah with a Masters Degree in Linguistics in 1991 and has taught ESL courses for nearly 30 years in The U.S., Kiribati, Mali, (West Africa), Mexico, and Nepal. He taught in the English Language Institute at the University of Utah from 2002 until December 2016. He loves to travel, and has visited almost 90 countries. He also loves to SCUBA dive, skydive, kayak, hike, and ride horses. Rick loves the Monteverde area, the wildlife, the food, and the people here, and is looking forward to working with the students at the Cloud Forest School this year.

María Fernanda, High School Castellano and Literature: Maria Fernanda graduated from the University of Costa Rica. She is originally from the area of Santos, a small town located in the southern-central part of Costa Rica. She has now relocated to Monteverde to form part of the team at the Cloud Forest School. She is a Spanish language and literature teacher at the high school level. The nature, the peace of the mountains and the incredible environment to develop a teaching-learning dynamic has allowed her to fall in love with the institution each day more.


Milton Brenes MendezLand Steward & Environmental Education Teacher: Milton began at the Cloud Forest School in 2000. He takes great pride in his work and enjoys instilling interest in and teaching others to respect our natural environment. Milton believes that through the education of our children we can help promote conservation and a relationship of mutual respect between humans beings and their surroundings. He appreciates the CFS’s international exchange programming because it allows outsiders to familiarize themselves with the grand significance of such a small country. Milton has three children and he hopes all will graduate from CFS to spread the school’s  mission.
  _DSC2685_1Dan Eisler, Music TeacherDan comes to Monteverde from Ocean Springs Mississippi, where he grew up with his parents and one sister. Dan graduated from Swarthmore College with a bachelors in Educational and Environmental Studies. During his time at Swarthmore he studied abroad at the Cloud Forest School, and served as an intern in the high school working with the science classes. Following his study abroad experience, Dan took one year off from his studies to stay at the CEC serving as the music teacher. Following that year, Dan returned to finish his degree, and is now back to act as the Music teacher for the entire school. Dan loves being outdoors, but not necessarily strenuous activity. Fishing, flying kites, picnics and other sedentary outdoor pastimes are some of his favorites. Dan is also a passionate musician, and can be seen playing at various local restaurants on the weekends.
 Emily Judd Calder, Art Teacher (5th-11th): Emily was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She moved to Utah after high school to attend Brigham Young University. She combined her creative passions and excitement for teaching to pursue a degree in Art Education. Growing up with a Mexican mother, Emily has always loved the Spanish language and Latino culture. She spent several months in Mexico teaching English and in the Dominican Republic doing humanitarian work.  She recently got married to her sweetheart Logan and they love spending time composting and taking care of the Earth. Working as the art teacher at the CEC is a dream come true for both her and husband. She could not imagine a more beautiful place to teach and inspire kids to explore their creative sides!
Hugo Pérez Picado, Physical Education Teacher: Hugo lives with his partner Gilmara Romero and is father to Brithanny (6 years old) and to Randall (9 years old) who was recently adopted. They are his world. He is a very active person who loves sports; he is also a soccer trainer by profession. He has dedicated most of his life to educating and forming individuals through sports, which he considers an integral discipline for life. He loves what he does and always puts the utmost passion into his activities. Hugo grew up in the countryside with animals and farming life so he loves nature and being outdoors. Walking in the forest and spending time with his family are his two favorite activities.
Support Team
Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 1.56.11 PMElsa Cristina Gonzalez Ramirez, Academic Support Staff: Elsa is originally from Santa Elena and is 1 of 8 siblings. She studied at the technical professional high school of Santa Elena, where she received a certificate in education and tourism. From there, Elsa studied in Castro Carazo University, where she completed a Bachelor’s in Tourism Administration. Elsa also holds a certification in occupational health from the National Institute of Learning. Previously, Elsa taught at the technical professional high school of Santa Elena, teaching environmental education, tourism, accounting, and taught Spanish as a second language at CPI in Monteverde. She feels that working at the CEC has become similar to a second home, as we are a family that continually supports each other. Elsa appreciates that she is always learning from the students, and always trying to improve in order to better serve their needs.
_DSC2681_1Sophia Wiener-Light, School Counselor: Sophia was born and raised in the Bay Area of California with her parents and her younger brother. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in psychology, and then she spent two years living in Santiago, Chile, teaching English and evaluating the teaching methods of a social enterprise that aimed to democratize education. She has also worked as a camp counselor and the Camper Care Coordinator for a day camp in Berkeley, California. She is so excited to put her background of psychology and education into action, providing social support to the students and families involved in a school with such a great mission!
Nabil García, School Counselor: Nabil was born in San Jose, Costa Rica but grew up on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. Later on Nabil returned to Costa Rica to finish high school and enroll in the University of Costa Rica where he obtained a degree in Social Work. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with friends, exercising, swimming at the beach or walking in the mountains. For Nabil, the CFS represents the opportunity to guarantee the right of education for children and adolescents in the Monteverde community. Further, he is very satisfied to be part of a project that protects the environment and each day creating meaning in education.
Spanish as a Second Language
Eva Bio PicEva Hernández García, SSL teacher for Middle and High School: Eva grew up in Las Juntas de Abangares, she moved to Monteverde 16 years ago.  She worked for seven years as a Spanish as a Second Language teacher and seven more years as the assistant to the academic coordinator en a local language school.  Eva enjoys reading and spending time with her family, especially her daughter.  She lives with her grandmother and her mother. She loves nature and the land.  For Eva, it is very important that her students have fun while learning.

Dinia SuarezSpanish as a Second Language Coordinator: Dinia has lived in Monteverde all her life. She is currently studying education to teach English at the Universidad Nacional Estatal a Distancia de Costa Rica. Before coming to teach at the Cloud Forest School she was a Spanish as a second language teacher at the Centro Panamericano de Idiomas. She is very passionate about education and teaching. In her free time Dinia enjoys drawing and painting as well as listening to music and taking walks in the forest. She is sure this year at the Cloud Forest School will be wonderful because the school is full of smiles and extraordinary people.
Maintenance Team
 Mau Bio PicMauricio Ledezma VasquezMaintenance and Cleaning Staff: Mauricio, know as Mau, is originally from Esparza and has been living in Monteverde for 18 years. He married a woman from the area and  they have an 8 year old son. Mauricio worked at Sky Trek company for 16 years, building towers, trails, and zip lines. He is very happy to have the opportunity of working at CFS.
 Classroom Assistants
_DSC2736Mónica Mata Suárez, Student and Support Staff: Mónica was born and raised in Monteverde. She is studying education at Universidad Hispanoamericana in order to teach English. She learned English at the Cloud Forest School when she was in primary school, so it is an honor for her to return here as support staff. Mónica feels that the school is her second home, and thinks this is an excellent opportunity to learn from the best teachers. She loves music, animals, nature and the children’s smiles.
Vivian Santos, 1st and 2nd grade Assistant and Portuguese Teacher: Vivian was born raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She graduated from the Fundaçao Getulio Vargas, Sao Paulo with an MBA in Business Administration and Marketing. She has been working in Operations and Marketing for the last 17 years. At the Creative School she will be volunteering with the grade 2 students and the marketing team, and will be teaching Portuguese classes to interested students and teachers. Vivian has traveled throughout all of South America and Europe. She loves to travel and experience new cultures, hike, make handicrafts and movies. She lived in Salt Lake City, Utah and completed the advanced ESL course at the University of Utah. She then decided to have a new experience and move to Costa Rica because the country is completely involved with environmental responsibility. She has had the opportunity to get to know Monteverde and is enchanted with the splendid nature and beauty here.
Beatriz Bello, 3rd and 4th grade assistant: Beatriz was born and grew up in Monteverde. She obtained a degree in Preschool Education from the Universidad Hispanoamérica de Costa Rica and is close to receiving her advanced degree in Preschool Education at the Universidad Latina. Last year she worked in San José in a preschool with children from ages 1 to 3. She is very satisfied to have returned to Monteverde and even more happy to work with boys and girls at the Cloud Forest School where she volunteered a couple years back. She likes to run, dance and enjoy the beautiful nature and sunsets that Monteverde offers.
Kira Tharp, 3rd/4th Grade Assistant Teacher: Kira grew up in both Austin, Texas and Sewanee, Tennessee. She graduated from Sewanee: The University of the South with a B.A. in English, focusing on historical and contemporary fiction. She also studied Classical Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Religious Studies. In Sewanee, she worked at a restaurant for four years, eventually becoming a manager. During the summer, she worked at a communications firm that advocated for pedestrians and bike riders in Winter Park, Florida. While there, she redesigned a website and helped create and maintain client documents. In her free time, she enjoys listening to music, spending time outside, reading, and writing. In her third year at Sewanee, Kira traveled to Monteverde to work as a volunteer at the CEC with a group of classmates. She immediately knew that she wanted to return to work at the CEC. Kira hopes to become completely fluent in Spanish while in the beautiful mountains of Monteverde.  She enjoys spending time with children and feels very lucky to be part of the CEC community.
Dorcas Tang, 5th/6th Grade Assistant Teacher: Sharing a birthplace with the notoriously stinky durian fruit, Dorcas has been transplanted to various countries such as China, Australia, and the United States. She is currently studying at Swarthmore College, a small liberal arts school that no-one’s heard of. Dorcas is passionate about art education as a tool for empowerment and social change as well as equal access to education. Her chosen majors are Art and Education with a minor in Spanish which makes CFS the perfect place to spend the semester. However, as a city girl with a great fear of heights, she knows that her experience here will not be without challenges but she hopes it will be a fruitful time. In Dorcas’s spare time, she likes to read, eat and sleep, which is to say she is a bit like a nerdy sloth.
Cristina CastroReceptionist: Cristina was born in San Luis, a short distance from Monteverde. She’s the 5th of 11 children. She obtained a degree is small business administration in El Paso, Texas. Cristina has been married for 23 years and has three children, two boys and a girl. Her eldest son and daughter graduated from CEC and her younger son is in the 7th grade. She lives in Santa Elena and has worked at the Cloud Forest School as a receptionist for 8 years. She loves the Cloud Forest School and feels as though it is her second home.
 Saskia Cruz, Human Talent Coordinator: As child Saskia spent three years living in Monteverde, however has spent the rest of her life in the city. In 2017 she decided to return to Monteverde so that her son could have the experience of living and studying in on the of the beautiful places in Costa Rica. Saskia has a degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Human Resources and is also accredited to teach. She feels very fortunate and blessed to live and work in Monteverde. Her favorite activity is to walk on trails in the forest and spend time with her son.
Hellen Bio PicHellen Soto Segura, Admissions, Financial Aid & Finance Coordinator: Hellen is native to Santa Elena de Monteverde, she has always lived in this beautiful place and piece of paradise.  She attended elementary and high school in Santa Elena and she did not have the opportunity in those times to study in a private school and learn a second language.  Now, she works at the CFS and she loves her job and all that she does as the financial aid coordinator.  It is important to Hellen that as many children as possible attend CFS and that parents see the importance of studying.  In her personal life, she comes from a family of five, she has two younger brothers and is the only girl.  Hellen has been married for 8 years and she and her husband have a precious two year old daughter.  She considers herself a calm, accessible person and she gives thanks to God for the privilege and pride of being apart of the Cloud Forest School family.
Kathia Corrales, Volunteer & Intern Coordinator: Kathia is from Monteverde – she is Costa Rican through and through. She comes to CFS with 19 years of experience working in hotels throughout the Monteverde zone, directly in client relations, sales and merchandising. For two years, she worked as a guide throughout all of Costa Rica and last year worked at Selvatura. She is the mother of 3 children, one is a current student at CFS,  and two have graduated from CFS. Kathia loves the school and its philosophy. Her goal is to make stronger links between the Santa Elena/Monteverde community and the school. In this way, she hopes to work for national recognition of the school and its model. She loves animals and loves to ride her horses!
 _DSC2702_1Robi Jaffrey, International Programs Manager: Robi grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey where he has lived most of his life. He received a B.A. in Environmental Economics at Bates College. He brings experience working for non-profit organizations in both Ecuador and Guatemala where he was able to utilize and foster his Spanish language skills. More recently he spent time working for start-up companies in NYC where he was able to delve into the world of finance and marketing. He hopes to draw connections between these distinct experiences to help expand and create various programs within the External Relations Department. When he is not working Robi enjoys updating his photography website, cooking/trying new foods, biking, playing basketball and learning to play the guitar. He is also enamored by the landscape of Monteverde and wants to take advantage of all the amazing trails.
 Isaura Ortiz, Academic CoordinatorIsaura was born and raised in Monteverde. This is her sixth year at the Cloud Forest School; previously, Isaura worked teaching Spanish as a second language. This experience inspired her to study primary education, as she discovered she loved teaching. Presently, Isaura coordinates the academic plans for the school system. She feels very fortunate to work in the community of love that is the Cloud Forest school, surrounded by the forest, the songs of birds, and the laughter of children.
Orlando PachecoHead of School System: After taking an early retirement in the U.S., Profe. Pacheco has returned to his home country, Costa Rica to continue working.  Orlando possesses vast experience in leading educational programs and working as an international consultant on education management and accreditation. He collaborated with the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned a Graduate Diploma in Latin American Studies and is currently pursing his Ph.D. on International & Comparative Policy Analysis in Education. His academic master degree in Political Sciences is from the University of Louisville. In the U.S., Orlando also worked at Troy and Clayton State University, and taught online at Drexel. Profe. Pacheco is fully bilingual and has lived and worked in over seven countries.

Exploring the world, from the ground up | Explorando el mundo, hoja por hoja.

Translate »