Our Team

Our dedicated team of educators has been creating learning experiences for kids for decades.  We combine this depth of experience with implementation of the latest research about how kids learn best in our 21st century environment.  

Since 2012 we have created and experimented with the Birch School learning community. In those years we have observed many tendencies that persist in each iteration of the school year and yield positive growth. We observe, ask questions of our learners, and we adapt.

This experience has prepared us for the biggest challenge we have faced so far: creating an authentic and effective plan to teach and mentor learners in a pandemic, when being together in a classroom could be dangerous to our health, or the health of others. This reality is difficult to comprehend. But despite the constraints of the situation, our team is dedicated to providing a rich and thorough learning experience for all members of our learning community.

Our teaching team is flexible and extremely caring. They are able to know each student in the learning community. This allows for customization of learning plans and lesson delivery, as well as support for individual projects, either school originated or student chosen.  We enjoy getting to know students and guiding them on their learning path. 

Kate Fox – Founder and Director/Teacher

Kate has 30 years of experience working with children at all management levels in urban and rural school districts, in grades K – 12. Her expertise extends from teaching and curriculum development to regulatory compliance, licensing, staff supervision and training. After receiving an LRNG/John D. Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation grant in 2015 for Birch’s Maker Rings project, Kate became involved with the LRNG/National Writing Project’s teacher network. From 2018 – 2020 she worked with Workspace Education/100Roads and Microschool Revolution to deliver Microschool Founders’ Trainings for their Incubator. She completed Education Reimagined’s Learning Lab for practitioners in June 2019, and participated in their ILX, learning exchange in November 2019, focusing on student-centered elementary school programs.

She has a BA in English and earned her MA in Environmental Conservation Education at NYU. Her thesis focused on teaching techniques that promote understanding interconnections, complex webs of association, and thinking in systems. She strongly believes these are essential skills in a changing world. She did research for the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies creating and testing curriculum focused on climate change using animated simulations. She is an experienced homeschooler. 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.

Kate currently teaches English to several learning levels, offers consultations for homeschoolers, and coaches High School Seniors for their Capstone Projects.

Ed Helbig – Co-Founder and Teacher

Ed teaches history, civics, geography, social studies and math. He shares his enthusiasm for the stories that make up history, helping students see that “the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past”, and how history impacts upon their lives today.

Ed holds an MAT in History and Geography, and a BFA in Music. He earned NYSED Permanent Certification and the NYSED rating “Highly Qualified Teacher”. Ed has taught at all grade levels from pre-school to college. He taught for 10 years in public school before concluding that a new approach was necessary if we are going to prepare students for the challenges they will face. He believes strongly that connection and immersion in nature is essential for learning. Kids learn better outdoors. They are happier when they can run free and play. Ed works to create learning experiences of all kinds for students that keep them moving forward, in their zone of proximal development, learning with joy.

Gaye Sable – Co-Founder, Math and Science Instructor

Gaye teaches Upper Level algebra, geometry, and calculus. She plans, facilitates and tutors individuals and small groups in all levels of math. Gaye facilitates and supervises the Birch School science program, teaching and directing students’ independent learning in science. Gaye also leads our students in crafts, experiments and activities

Gaye has a degree from Rutgers University in science and math and worked as a technical writer. She has been a pioneer in the emergent movement of DIY “makers” whose ecological commitment extends to re-using, re-purposing, and artistically reimagining every sort of source material. She has taught at many hand-craft organizations, sharing her expertise in the fine details of quilt craft using 21st century computer-aided sewing machines. Gaye is also a key member of the Free Spirit Nature Camp management team.

Eilleen Arteaga-Gagliano – Administrator, Guidance Counselor, Spanish Teacher

Eilleen keeps track of everyone and everything at The Birch School. She is the office administrator and records coordinator, handling all student recordkeeping and transcripts. She teaches Spanish at several levels, and Spanish is often mentioned as one of the kids’ favorite classes. Eilleen is also a caring mentor, and helps students manage future goals, is a sympathetic and patient ear when students need support, and is always thinking of ways to enhance each students’ learning experience. In her personal time Eilleen is an elected member of a local school board, with a sincere dedication to equal opportunities for all students. She is an unrelenting advocate for the arts, and is proud of her two sons, who are both musicians, and her husband who has a career supporting artists, actors and musicians.

Harry Sweet, Technology Teacher/Mentor

Harry supports students in technology and computer programming. Harry is retired from public school teaching, where he was the technology and shop teacher in a local high school. He holds an MS in Instructional Communication. and a BS in Industrial Arts. He is an advocate of Open Source technology and teaches it to students when possible. Harry teaches drafting, electronics, CAD design and 3D printing, Python programming, and how to build things using the Arduino and Raspberry Pi platforms. He is also skilled at building and woodworking. In addition, Harry plays the fiddle with his band Madárka, a Gypsy, Balkan, Klezmer band. He also manages the network.

Joe Blevis, Nature Awareness and Outdoors Skills Instructor

Joe has been working with students at The Birch School for the past several years. His Outdoors Skills course is very popular with students who meet with Joe once a week. Joe a mentor, naturalist, survivalist, and tracker, and is a certified Wilderness First Responder (WFR). For the last 5 years, he has been working with children, adults, and families helping them reconnect with the natural world. Originally from New Jersey, Joe discovered his passion for earth living skills while living in Montana, and eventually pursued that passion by becoming a student of Tom Brown Jr. and the Tracker School in 2009. After finishing a full-time internship at the Tracker School, he began to work with other primitive skills programs across the country, such as Twin Eagles Wilderness School, The Children of the Earth Foundation, and the Whidbey Institute.  As a teacher, his goal is to pass down these ancient skills, accompanied by a sense of wonder, curiosity, reverence, and connection to the Earth. Joe is co-founder of Earth Living Skills.

Joann Diguilio,Piano, Music and Italian Teacher

Not everyone is born or even wants to be a concert pianist, and this fact underlies Joann’s whole approach to teaching piano. With the aim of meeting her students’ goals one student at a time, Joann teaches her students to play the music that delights them personally, and she has a wide-ranging repertoire to accommodate a full range of styles and interests. Joann believes that learning to play the piano should be fun and never cumbersome, and her students bear the results of her creative, focused tutelage.

In fact, greatness is something Joann rouses naturally. Many of her students have chosen, of their own accord, to participate in the New York School of Music Association’s annual festival of musical achievement. A remarkable number have received top honors for “outstanding” performances. 

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.

A bilingual speaker of Italian descent, Joann also enjoys teaching students to understand and speak Italian.