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.

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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Chris Allen,
Board Member

Coming soon! ❤️

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Danielle Henn,
Educator,
Community Art & Nature Exchange

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.

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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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Genell Harewood,
Urban Farm Coordinator

Ms. Genell is ecstatic about teaching and growing along side the children, staff, community and plants at Verdi EcoSchool.

Her parents moved to New York City from Barbados to provide diverse opportunities for their growing family. As a first generation American growing up on Staten Island her culinary , outdoor and gardening interests were sparked by her mother and father . Her mother taught her how to cook and her father kept a garden outside the house she grew up in. Exploring her love of all things culinary, she obtained a degree in Culinary Arts from Trident Technical College in Charleston, SC.

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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.

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Sandra Walder,
Board Member

Sandra received her MBA from the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. Ms. Walder’s international experiences have led her to positions as a consultant, Executive Project Manager and partner at an international firm, UsersInnovate. She is an author and educational entrepreneur as the founder of Microschool, LLC.

Ms. Walder is one of the original “founding families” of Verdi EcoSchool and currently enjoys living on the Space Coast with her family as an AirBnB owner/operator

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Sara Russo,
Board Member

Sara is a curator, florist, and resident of Melbourne Beach. A native of the area, she returned to Brevard in 2006 to own/operate Thallo Floral Design Studio. In 2012, she began working as Curator of Eduction at the Renee Foosaner Education Center, Florida Institute of Technology. While in that position, she revitalized and renovated the community art and summer camp program, created exhibition-related educational programming, and developed community events including April in Paris. During her tenure Sara met Ayana and began working towards ways to integrate Verdi EcoSchool into the EGAD landscape.
 

Sara received a B.A. in Religious Studies from Eckerd College which sparked her love for learning and fostered an understanding of the value of empowering individuals to improve the world through mastery of self and a lifetime of learning, both inside the classroom and the community we live in.

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Simone Caroti
Board Member

Simone is a science fiction/fantasy author and an English Literature professor at Full Sail University. Simone holds a Ph.D in Comparative literature from Purdue University and has taught creative writing, composition and foreign language (Italian) at a high school and university level.

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Terra Hovan,
Educator

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. 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.