OUR TEAM

AYANA VERDI

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

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 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.

DENISE LIBERI

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.

SAVANNAH MCCAY

CORE EDUCATOR
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.
 

LORELEI BARNA

CORE EDUCATOR

JOURNEYS

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 LAVERNIA

EDUCATOR

UPPER SCHOOL

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.

KRIS REID

EDUCATOR
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.

NIKIA RICE

EDUCATOR

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.  

JENNA ALDERISO

ART EDUCATOR

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.

EDUCATOR

NATURE IMMERSION

MARTHA PORTER

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.

DANIELLE HENN

EDUCATOR/ADMINISTRATOR

Ms. Danielle is excited to join the Verdi Eco School family! She believes truly great learning is student-led, fun, and responsive to one’s community. Ms. Danielle loves project-based learning; building a beehive, growing bonsai, painting murals, and quilting are some of her favorite projects she and her students learn through.

Ms. Danielle holds a BA in Studio Art and an MA in Art Education. She is also a Doctoral Candidate of Art Education at Florida State University. Her research interests are place-based, civically engaged education and creative, make-do teaching and learning.
 

SHARON MCFADDEN

EDUCATOR
UPPER SCHOOL & HOMESCHOOL

Ms. Sharon grew up in San Diego, California, and spent her childhood hiking and exploring the mountains and deserts of Southern California.  She studied history and studio art at a private university in Los Angeles, California, and pursued her student teaching in high school history in San Diego.   Ms. Sharon enjoyed living in San Diego, CA,  Austin, TX, and Seattle, WA before finally moving to Florida in 2018.  She came to Verdi Eco School with 7 years of teaching experience in acrylic painting, ESL (English as a Second Language), and high social sciences (world history, government, and economics).   Her core belief as an educator is that empathy, curiosity, philanthropy, and creativity are the key principles for empowering students to surpass both our expectations and their own.

 

Ms. Sharon has always had a great love for creativity, the outdoors, and education.  As a historian, she is keenly aware of the impact that a child’s community and environment have on their learning.   Ms. Sharon believes that when educators and students explore together with a spirit of inquiry and open-mindedness, the door to learning possibilities is opened.  It is an exceptional privilege to guide students on their own unique educational journeys. When she is not working as an educator, Ms. Sharon enjoys hiking, camping, painting, cooking, reading, and spending time with her husband and dog.  Fun Fact about Ms. Sharon: Her favorite fields of historical study are Ancient and Neolithic art/culture.

ALICIA GARCIA

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. 

ETHAN TYLER

PHYSICAL 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. Coaching athletes of differing levels has allowed him to develop training programs that focus on the individual’s needs, not only for “strength” training but more importantly “weakness” training.  Strength and conditioning is a tool used to prepare students for overcoming obstacles throughout their life by applying the principles learned throughout training.

JENNA BUEHLER

EDUCATOR
VERDI ECO-HIGH

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.

MANNY FAWCETT

MUSIC EDUCATOR

The first time I picked up a musical instrument I was 7 years old. My mom had gotten me a piano for Christmas one year. After taking it to my room and playing around for 15 minutes, I remember becoming instantly hooked. 
The endless melodies, the chords, the progressions, the color and the expressions all drew me in. I haven’t stopped playing since. I’m 24 years old now and performing music is passion. Whether it’s touring with my original band, opening for national headliners, or playing your local venues, I’ve experienced it all. I’ve always had a passion for teaching and helping others learn the art of performing and writing music. I’m looking forward to sharing my knowledge with all these creative minds. 

MS. CHERIE

NATURE IMMERSION EDUCATOR

CONSCIOUS DISCIPLINE COACH

Cherie began a lifelong love of the Humanities and teaching in her childhood home of Upstate New York. She completed an Associates Degree in Applied Music then moved abroad while
finishing a bachelor’s degree in English, Education and Psychology.

 

Upon returning to the United States Cherie settled in Brevard County where she taught in the Brevard Public Schools, taught fencing to children and adults, became a nationally ranked competitive fencer with various titles in all three weapons, and volunteered working in and driving ambulances. When Cherie earned her master’s degree in counseling psychology, she found a new passion: working with families and children. Cherie did adoptions counseling and in-home family counseling until the birth of her first child. After her daughter was born, she discovered Lab School and Conscious Discipline, spending the next 20 years, including the birth of her son, sharing with families of children from infancy to elementary school then beyond as the Program Director.


Cherie also served in the community, as both a Girl Scout leader, Boy Scout leadership member, volunteer on boards that serve children, and school volunteer. Cherie’s passion remains helping parents find the path that benefits their family, teaching and learning from children of all ages, and living as a student of the amazing cultures, foods, arts, nature and science of this amazing
world.

MS. TERRA

NATURE IMMERSION ASSISTANT

Terra’s connection with nature began in her youth, growing up in rural Pennsylvania and exploring in her own backyard. Her small community also taught her the value of supporting her neighbors and working collaboratively. 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. Upon becoming a stay at home parent, Terra has had the opportunity to volunteer with several nonprofits including a city nature preserve, a community-based preschool, her church board, and in Brevard county K-3 classrooms. Terra raised her own children in nature, teaching and learning traditional skills such as gardening, raising small livestock and food preservation, all the while immersing them in our natural world through hiking, camping, and exploration. Terra is excited to continue sharing the natural world with another generation of young learners, and support their connection to our environment and community.