Birch School staff embody the ideal combination of educational expertise and diverse experience needed to create our individualized program for each student in the learning community.
The Birch School model of child centered nature based education requires exceptional flexibility and creativity to accomplish on a daily basis. Our staff bring experience in public and private elementary, middle and high schools; in School-Based, YMCA and Boys and Girls Club enrichment and social service programs, and in environmental education, experimental archeology, nature awareness, Youth development and outdoor education. Many of our staff have attained degrees in education, constantly pursue professional development activities and work hard to ensure they are informed and conversant in the latest developments in environmental and democratic education, child-led learning, connected learning and the 21st century learning environment. We rely on the current common core standards as developed by NYSED and professional disciplinary organizations such as the Modern Language Association and the National Association of History Education, and are engaged as well in the contemporary debates on education reform and alternative education.
Kate Fox, Co-Founder and Director
Kate has 30 years experience working with children, at all management levels from staff to director, in out-of-school settings, afterschool programs, nature education programs and summer camps. Her work experience has taken her to urban and rural districts, in school grades K – 12, with responsibilities ranging from regulatory compliance and licensing to curriculum development, implementation, staff supervision and training, and teaching.
In 2011 Kate earned her MA at NYU, and wrote her thesis focusing on teaching techniques that promote and develop complex thinking skills. Interconnections, complexities, webs of associations, and thinking in systems are difficult but essential skills and concepts in a changing world. Her research showed that collaborative real-life work, using models and simulations, and allowing for trial & error and discovery, contributes to students’ development of complex thinking skills and understanding. She did research for the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, where she worked on the Changing Hudson Project, creating and testing curriculum focused on climate change using animated simulations. She is an experienced homeschooler, having supervised several students (her own and tutored students) through the process of applying for and being accepted at colleges of their choice. Kate believes strongly in the power of play, in the process of discovery, and in students’ strong participation in defining their own learning plan and goals. She is well-informed in the areas of use of technological learning tools, current research into cognitive development and science of the brain, and the new vision of 21st Century learning.
Ed Helbig, Co-Founder, Social Studies History Math and Special Science topics instructor.
Ed teaches middle and high school level history, civics, geography and social studies. He loves maps and shares his enthusiasm for the stories that make up history with everyone. He holds a MAT in Teaching, as well as a Bachelors in Fine Arts in Music Composition. He is skilled with building and creating things in the real world, having been a craftsman and carpenter for many years before earning his Permanent Teaching Certification while teaching for 10 years in public school. He believes strongly that kids learn better outdoors and he works to create opportunities for hands-on experiential learning for students.
Gaye Sable, Co-Founder, crafts, math and science instructor & School Registrar
Gaye has a background in science, math and technical writing. She became involved in teaching through the many hand-craft organizations she participates in, sharing her expertise in the finest details of quilt craft and the complex computer-aided technology of the 21st century sewing machine. She has been a pioneer in the emergent movement of do it yourself makers whose ecological commitment extends to re-using, re-purposing, and artistically reimagining every sort of source material. Gaye has also been a key member of the Management team at Free Spirit Nature Camp. Gaye oversees Upper Level students’ math plans, and facilitate and tutor individuals and small groups in math. She also teaches science class and helps facilitate and supervise students’ independent learning in the Sciences. Gaye also leads our students in crafts, experiments and activities.
Rebecca Carter, Elementary Teacher, Physical Education Coordinator, and Medical Coordinator
Bex comes to us with sixteen years of experience in children’s programming, outdoor education, coaching, nature and wilderness camp management, sports refereeing, games and character education, earned in school district, youth development and public and private social service programs in New York and Arizona. Her particular expertise is outdoor adventure, character Ed and team building programming, as well as experimental archeology, survival and wilderness first aid. She is a former EMT and highly experienced lifeguard. Rebecca will teach Physical Education and Character Education skills to Birch students. She is currently earning her Masters Degree in Special Education with a focus on primary grades.
Max Gaydos, Woodcarving, Art and Handcraft Instructor
Max is inspired by the SLOYD theory of education and handcraft, he believes that making things with your hands makes you smarter. He inspires young people to take risks, and think in 3 dimensions. A graduate of Pine Bush High School he has attended SUNY Purchase and studied Forestry and Sustainability at Sterling College in VT. He has been an instructor at Free Spirit Nature Camp as well as Milkweed in Sugar Loaf and other local venues. Max teaches several levels of wood carving, drawing classes, working with graphic novels.
Joann Diguilio, Piano & Music Teacher & Italian Instructor
Long fascinated with precisely how music is learned and taught, Joann particularly enjoyed studying piano pedagogy in a class she took under Paul Sheftel. Sheftel is known for his creativity in teaching children to play piano. Her work with Paul Sheftel took place during her undergraduate years at the Manhattan School of Music, where she also studied the art of classical piano with Peter Vinograde. Joann followed up her undergraduate work by pursuing a master’s degree in musicology at Hunter College of the City University of New York (CUNY). Joann dove into subjects like music theory, history, and ethnomusicology among others. This makes Joann a well-rounded musician with an understanding of music theory that goes well beyond the basics. With a keen sense for the best practices and creative methods in developing her students, Joann passes on just that background knowledge that will ensure her students really ‘get it.’ And this, of course, fosters motivated learning and a love of playing the piano. Something her students truly appreciate.
Joann is also a fluent speaker of Italian, and teaches a weekly Italian Study Group for upper level students.
Harry Sweet, Technology and Programming Teacher
Harry teachers computer programming in Python, electronics, building and circuits, and supports students in electronic and programming projects. He is an Open Source expert and oversees the management and development of the Birch School’s Student Information Management Systems and Networks. He taught technology and industrial arts for many years before retiring from the Goshen School District. He has helped students build a weather station at The Birch School, and supports the First Tech Challenge Team.
Dianne Holzhammer-Holub, Art Teacher
Dianne is a professional musician and artist who enjoys sharing her admiration for creative efforts. She teaches a weekly art class that exposes students to a variety of artistic styles, mediums, and artists. Student art is displayed each quarter at the Student Showcase. Dianne performs regularly with her husband in their band Talking Machine.
Eilleen Arteaga-Gagliano, Spanish Instructor and Operations Administrator