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.
Esperanza Mora Cespedes, Kinder 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.
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.
Arleny 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.