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.
Cassie 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.
Dan Eisler, 3rd/4th Grade Teacher: Dan 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 3rd and 4th grade Math and English teacher. 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.
Sophia Wiener-Light, Bilingual 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!
Toni Bushnell, 1st/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.
Robi 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.
Aviva 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.
Mónica 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Guadalupe Rojas, SSL Teacher for Primary School: Guadalupe the Spanish as a Second Language teacher for international students in grades 1-4 at the CFS. She is also licensed to teach at the primary level. 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.
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.
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!
Vivian Santos, Volunteer 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.
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.