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.  

We have been building the Birch School learning community since 2012.  In those years we have evolved and grown. We observe, ask questions of our learners, and we adapt.

The Covid Pandemic was the biggest challenge we had faced to that point: could we create 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? This reality was difficult to comprehend.

But our team is dedicated. We figured out how to have school online. We mastered the virtual environment- the teachers AND the kids, working together – and not only survived virtual school, but thrived in it.

Birch School Online was so successful that we have continued to offer virtual school as part of our offerings, alongside in-person school. And our online students- far-flung across the US and even in Europe – continue to value the personalized education Birch offers.

Our teachers are able to know each student in the learning community. We customize learning plans and lesson delivery, as well as support individual projects.  We enjoy getting to know students and guiding them on their learning path. 

Kate Fox

Founder, Director andTeacher

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 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.

He believes strongly that connection with 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  learning with joy.

Ed has participated in education conferences and institutes at the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Archives, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Geographic Society. He was recently a fellow at the George Washington Mount Vernon Association Institute on teaching slavery and the Founders.

Rita Epstein

Vice Principal

Rita has worked in both public and private education for over 50 years as a classroom teacher, and administrator. She has her Bachelors, Masters and pre Doctoral work in Education, Administration, Special and Gifted Education and is permanently NYS Certified as a public school teacher. She believes that our job as educators is to provide all children with the confidence and ability to build on their strengths and celebrate the unique qualities in themselves and each other.

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.

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.

Ronnie Yastion​

Biology Teacher

Ronnie Yastion is a biology teacher at the Birch School.   She believes in learning by doing, hands-on experimentation, interdisciplinary integration and the importance of making learning fun.  She hopes to inspire a love of the natural world and a wonder for all things biology.  Prior to teaching at the Birch school she taught sciences to grades 6-12 at private schools in NYS.  In her spare time, she enjoys teaching pottery lessons and making ceramics inspired by the natural world, running in the Mohonk Preserve and drumming with the Drumsong Orchestra.  She is an avid environmentalist and proponent of simple and sustainable living and calls a self built strawbale house in New Paltz home.

Ella Goodwin

Classroom Facilitator

Ella (she/they) provides student support and mentorship as the Classroom Facilitator at the Birch School. Ella has developed a passion for supporting student’s educational and creative exploration through 9 years of working with youth in schools, aftercare programs, and summer camps. Holding a BA in Sociology and Gender & Sexuality Studies, Ella believes deeply in the transformative power of community-oriented, student-led learning. Ella also teaches Fiber Arts, Guitar, Forest Exploration, Physical Education and Health classes at the Birch School.

Shannon Schoenherr

Administrative Assistant and Forest School Teacher

Shannon has been supporting The Birch School for ten years – as a school parent, as a teacher in our elementary, as a teacher in our Forest School, and as our Attendance Officer and Front Desk Attendant. Her management skills keep us running and allow us to maintain an emotionally aware campus. Her skill with kids makes our programs flow easily and stay safe.

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.