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. Other times, aspects of the program, like a particular schedule or class choice, don’t work as well. 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

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.

Kate earned her MA at NYU, her thesis focusing on teaching techniques that promote complex thinking skills. Understanding interconnections, complex webs of association, and thinking in systems are essential skills in a changing world. Her research showed that collaborative real-life work, allowing for trial & error and discovery, contributes to students’ development of complex thinking skills. 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, 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.

Ed Helbig – Co-Founder and Principal 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.

Lily Paradise, Elementary Lead Teacher

Lily joined The Birch School in 2019 as Head Teacher for the Elementary Program. She completed the Sarah Lawrence College Art of of Teaching Program for a Master’s of Science in Education in Early and Elementary Education, including NYS certification in 2019, and sought out The Birch School, recognizing it offers a unique approach towards learning that she could embrace. Lily believes that education should take a whole-child approach; seeing multiple facets of a child rather than solely test grades and labels. She understands that every child learns differently, meaning differentiation in the classroom is crucial to the success of all learners. In addition to experience in several public and private school classrooms, Lily has many years experience as a Summer Camp Counselor. Lily is a strong advocate for students being actively involved in creating their own meaning, and believes that by doing so students will be able to create a deeper, more personal connection and passion for their education.

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.

Dianne Holzhammer, Arts & Sustainability Teacher

Dianne has been part of The Birch School since the beginning programs of Watershed Learning Center. A gifted musician Dianne and her husband perform locally as “Talking Machine”. Dianne teaches art to Birch students, and is a patient and kind mentor. She works hard to encourage all students to find their artistic side, in whatever fashion that takes. Dianne also teaches classes on Green Living, Sustainability, and Eco-consciousness, supporting The Birch School in efforts to promote less impactful lifestyles. She is the mom to 4 boys from preschool to high school and has homeschooled for many years. Birch students look forward to her art classes and she supports many students in their independent art endeavors.

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.