OUR TEAM

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Angela Lavernia
Educator

Angela is passionate about education and has more than 14 years teaching experience. She studied and received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida State University in Literature. She then went on to earn a Master of Science degree in Library and Information Studies. At the heart of her academic pursuits was the desire to learn and to share her passion for learning with others. She feels that each student has individual needs and that creating connections with her students is the foundation of meeting those needs. Being an educator has allowed her to become a facilitator of self-discovery, using a child’s natural wonder to expand their knowledge. 

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Ayana Verdi 
Founder

In 2016, Ayana and her husband John established the Verdi EcoSchool to provide hands-on educational experiences for children in the historic Eau Gallie Arts District of Melbourne, Florida. 

In 2019, Ayana was accepted as a Drexel Fund Fellow in support of her work in building a new high school model that incorporates hands-on, immersive learning through practical real-world internships.

Inspired by the nature-based school her son attended while she lived and studied in New Zealand, Ayana is committed to cultivating community-based and environmentally aware educational options for children.

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Brooke Crawford
Educator

Brooke is thrilled to be a part of the Verdi Eco School family! Growing up, Brooke always knew they wanted to be an educator. Brooke made this dream come true at The University of South Florida where they studied Secondary Social Science Education with a concentration in Women & Gender Studies. Brooke's teaching philosophy is centered in diversity, equity and inclusion. After 2 years of teaching World History, Brooke began teaching as an Americorps Member with Teach For America in Jackson, Mississippi. It was there that Brooke taught World Geography and was the head coach for the volleyball team at their school. Brooke enjoys combining their love for the outdoors and athletics by playing in the “A” division of the Association of Volleyball Professionals. Brooke is committed to providing a safe and effective learning environment for all students! 

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Ethan Tyler,
Educator

Ethan graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education from Saint Joseph’s College and then moved on to Indiana State University where he earned a Master’s in Exercise Science. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist who believes that self- awareness is the foundation for all training practices.  With over 14 years of experience in coaching student-athletes, high-school and collegiate, Ethan has been able to help them make significant strides and improvements in their athletic performance, and general health by constantly researching and looking for new methods to help them maximize effort and get better every day.

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John Verdi,
Co-Founder

John Verdi is a retired law enforcement officer and 9/11 First Responder. John received a degree in Criminal Justice from St. John’s University in New York City and is co-founder of the HeyBlue! initiative: an interactive approach to creating meaningful connections between police officers and the communities they serve. 

John enjoys leading a free weekly story-time for children at a local recreation center and coffee shop and is an Eau Gallie Arts District resident.

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Nikia Rice,
Educator

Ms. Nikia is a marine biologist with over decade of research experience working with marine turtles, coastal conservation, and performing coastal field work. She has a Master’s degree in Biological Sciences with specializations in neurobiology and ecophysiology of marine turtles.

Nikia taught for several years at Florida Tech in labs for Ecology, Biometry, Biochemistry, and Marine Biology to undergraduate students during her graduate studies. She has have over a decade of experience teaching marine science to various demographics through non-profit organizations around Florida and several other countries. Ms. Nikia designed and implemented the Sea Turtle Preservation Society’s Education Center and served as their Education Director for 5 years to build up their programs.  

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Phoenix Pliskin,
Educator 

Phoenix is excited for her first year at Verdi EcoSchool! While earning her Master’s degree in School Counseling from New York University, she became passionate about non-traditional education.  She has run social-emotional and play support groups with pre-kindergarten students and believes that deep, sustained play is foundational to learning.  Phoenix loves to be in nature and knew that she wanted to incorporate nature into her career in counseling and education. Last year, she took a position with the Conservation Corps working on hiking trails as a steward in the Hudson Valley and Catskills in New York.  She is grateful to have found a like-minded community that allows her to expand on her interests and skill sets.

TERRA HOVAN

Terra’s connection with nature began in her youth, growing up in rural Pennsylvania and exploring in her own backyard. It took a degree in business from Penn State and a decade of work in the luxury retail world to realize that her talents, instead, could be used to make positive change for her community.Terra is excited to continue sharing the natural world with young learners, supporting their connection to our environment and community. 

See my favorite projects!