CO-FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Ayana is an educational leader and mother of two. 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. The school quickly grew to become the first K-8 urban farm school in the southeastern United States.
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.
Her educational and professional journey has included studies in both the United States and New Zealand as she pursued a degree in Veterinary Medicine while operating a canine wellness spa in New York City. 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.
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 the co-founder of the HeyBlue! initiative: an interactive approach to creating meaningful connections between police officers and the communities they serve. John is a mentor at the Momentum Student Incubator at the Florida Institute of Technology and serves as both a board member and security consultant for Verdi EcoSchool.
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.
DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION
Denise is an educator, artist, and resident of Eau Gallie. She studied Fine Arts and Graphic Design at Flagler College and completed her graduate degree in Art Education at Boston University. Denise has taught and held administrative roles within the museum, public school, gallery, and non-profit settings. She is a specialist in arts integration – an approach to teaching that integrates art as a primary pathway to understand concepts across multiple disciplines and content areas.
Denise is a patient and dedicated educator with over a decade of experience. She seeks to maintain an inquisitive, creative, kind, and safe learning environment. At the Verdi EcoSchool, Denise wears many hats as administrator, arts integration specialist, educator, and board member. When not at the Verdi EcoSchool, you can expect Denise to be exploring nature, cooking, gardening, renovating her house with her husband Matt, or snuggling her dogs.
UPPER SCHOOL, ECO-HIGH
Ms. Savannah is a passionate educator who believes in educating and nurturing the whole child. She holds degrees in Elementary Education and Exceptional Student Education with endorsements in Reading Education and ESOL. She joined the Verdi EcoSchool with the goal of teaching students in a more genuine way, that doesn't revolve around tests, algorithms and forced learning, but rather revolves around natural and organic learning.
At the Verdi EcoSchool Savannah is a part of the core educator team where she helps to design curriculum, create immersive educational experiences and works with community specialists to deliver innovative programming to students. When not teaching Savannah enjoys hiking, running, practicing yoga and reading.
Ms. Lorelei is a Brevard County native, educator, and literacy specialist. Prior to joining the Verdi EcoSchool, she served fifteen years with Brevard Public Schools in various roles as an afterschool program leader, early elementary educator and literacy specialist and instructional coach. She graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Elementary Education with endorsements in Reading and ESOL and has completed graduate-level courses in both Educational Leadership and Reading Education.
Lorelei is passionate about working with children to ensure that school is a safe, happy and engaging experience to learn and grow. With a student-centered approach to learning, she fosters a love of learning while incorporating a focus on growing in social and emotional skills. When not with her school family, she loves spending time with her husband and young son, reading and practicing yoga
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.
Angela and her family moved to Brevard County from Miami to get closer to nature and to provide a simpler way of life. Her family often takes advantage of the beach as a place to play and unwind. She loves spending time with her family and friends. She also enjoys surfing, writing, and photography.
UPPER SCHOOL, VERDI ECO-HIGH
Mr. Kris was born in England and raised in a loving home in Satellite Beach. An avid ballroom dancer and Renaissance man, Mr. Kris has helped to transform our school campus with his eye for detail, quality workmanship and love for our place. After receiving a degree in Economics from the University of North Florida, he experienced first-hand the best the world has to offer during his travels abroad.
Kris continued his studies and received a Masters of Science in Project Management from Florida Institute of Technology. As a lifelong learner he is passionate about connecting to students and sharing his joy of real world, hands-on learning with children.
UPPER SCHOOL, ECO-HIGH
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.
Ms. Lisa is a mom of 5 boys and has spent the last 18 years in early childhood education. She has attended many courses to further her studies in child development and psychology. Lisa has worked with children of various ages and abilities and believes every child needs the chance to learn at their own pace while feeling safe and loved.
She believes that children thrive and are happiest when learning in an authentic curiosity-driven environment where they are encouraged to explore the world around them. Ms. Lisa is happiest when surrounded by nature. She loves to spend my free time outdoors with her camera and also enjoys crafts, reading, camping and kayaking. Lisa is excited to be apart of a school that focuses on natural learning and growing as a community.
Growing up traipsing around the woods and waterways of Ohio, Martha developed a love for nature at an early age. An enthusiastic educator and learner, she earned her degree in Early Childhood Education from Wright State University. She has over four years of teaching experience, specializing in nature immersion and play-based learning. Martha began her path towards nature-based teaching as a naturalist at Glen Helen Outdoor Education Center in Yellow Springs, Ohio. For the past two years she has worked at TinyTrees Preschool, a nature immersion preschool in Seattle, WA.
Martha believes in the value of cultivating a connection to the natural world and the lasting impact of this connection on children’s growth, development, and emotional resilience. She recognizes that a safe and loving environment is vital for learning and is dedicated to creating this
for all children. Martha approaches teaching with playfulness and loves making mudpies, jumping in puddles, and rolling in the grass with her students.
FARM & NUTRITION EDUCATOR
Ms. Mikael is a permaculture designer and consultant based out of Melbourne, Florida. She earned her permaculture design course certificate in 2017 and is co-operator of YIELD- Your Intelligent Edible Land Design where she establishes and maintains sustainable food growing systems using permaculture design techniques.
Mikael obtained an interdisciplinary BS degree in environmental studies with a focus in botany from UCF. She started an urban micro gardening initiative called “growing EGAD” and helped to start the EGAD community garden. Currently, Mikael lives on and helps coordinate, build, and maintain a 4+ acre Permaculture community in the heart of Melbourne called Crescent Grove. She works on YIELD projects throughout Brevard County and is also a farm educator at the Verdi Eco School, Heritage high school and AMI kids.
Jenna Alderiso is an artist, educator, and founder of Anti-Authoritarian Clay Collective. She is an advocate for the DIY community and the unconventional modes of learning found within it. The concepts of process and play are at the core of her teaching values; she encourages her students to explore their curiosities and take risks.
Jenna has worked with students elementary to adult. Her involvement in local communities has led her outside the traditional art realm, developing projects with doctors in residence, patients in clinical research studies, after-school programs, and artist-run music venues. She received her Bachelor's in Fine Arts from the University of South Florida and her Master’s from the Craft & Material Studies Department at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Learning is about more than developing technical skills, it is about finding’s one voice through self-expression. When Ms. Jenna not at the Verdi EcoSchool, you can find her teaching art classes at the Renee Foosaner Art Education Center.
FARM & NUTRITION EDUCATOR
Ms. Alicia has always had a love affair with food and nature. She grew up in South Florida with a large Caribbean family and a childhood that included a lot of time soaking up the sun and gatherings with good food.
She was awarded a scholarship to the Culinary Arts program at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami. Through her journey into motherhood, she became more conscious of clean eating and for responsibly sourcing her family’s food consumption. This naturally became a focus in her catering career and the school lunch programs she managed. Her company was one of the first to bring farm-to-table lunch offerings into private schools in Metro Atlanta.
In 2016 Ms. Alicia moved her family to an organic farm for the summer, while managing a farmer’s market for a non-profit affiliated with The University of Georgia’s agriculture department. Her experiences there inspired her to get certified for Plant-Based Nutrition through Cornell University’s eCornell and shapes much of the work she does today.
Through her company Project Flourish, Ms. Alicia develops nutrition and wellness curriculum and cooking classes for homeschool cooperatives.
Jenna works with entrepreneurs in the U.S. and E.U. to get to attract their ideal target market and secure early-stage capital.
In 2015, Jenna launched a high tech incubator called Groundswell (501c3) and helped to raise $1M benefiting startup founders in Central Florida. As co-founder and CEO of Groundswell, Jenna worked with the most active early-stage investors in the southeastern United States to help more than a dozen companies secure early-stage funding. She is passionate about helping people get access to the resources they need to enter the market, scale fast, and make the world a better place. Jenna hosts a startup immersion program for first-time founders each fall.
In addition to her work with startups, Jenna has supported communications initiatives at Knight Foundation and the White House. She is co-producer of the 2019 Amazon Prime documentary 50/50 Lunar Legends, a film that celebrates 50 years since landing on the moon and the people on Earth who made it possible.
Jenna has a BA in Journalism and Information Technology from DePauw University. She seeks to connect with people who have a fire in their belly to solve big problems.
Coach 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.