Saturday, May 16, 2020 from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM EDT
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The Hitchcock Center for the Environment 
845 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002

Driving Directions 


Peg Smeltz 
Antioch University New England 

Morning Workshops

Programming through the Grades - Building a School-wide Scope and Sequence 
Eliza Minnucci and Meg Teachout, ForestKinder, Tunbridge, VT. Eliza is also an Adjunct Faculty at Antioch University New England, Keene, NH

We Dig Nature: Learning through Exploring Underground
Cindi Rapoza, Director, Little Peeps Montessori Naturskola, Little Compton, RI

The Wander as a Pedagogical Tool
Neill Bovaird, Director/Founder El, Wolf Tree Programs, Montague, MA

Becoming Beavers: What We Can Learn from Nature’s Greatest Engineer and Community Builder
Ruthie Ireland, Preschool Teacher & Director, Arcadia Nature Preschool, Easthampton, MA

Equipping Teachers & Students for Outdoor Learning
Julie Bisson, Elementary Classroom Teacher, Sant Bani School, Sanbornton, NH

Wheat Your Appetite For Food Justice/Little Red Hen Re-imagined
Kate Holdsworth, Director, Rainbow Garden Preschool at Gan Keshet, Northampton, MA

Conference Brochure
Workshop Descriptions

Please read through the workshop descriptions to determine how you would like to spend your day. You will select your workshops during the registration check-in time on the morning of the conference.

Afternoon Workshops

Storytelling and Puppetry in the Forest Kindergarten
Rachel Kennedy, Forest Kindergarten Teacher,
The Hartsbrook School, Hadley, MA

Developing a Discovery Yard
Colleen Kelley, Education Director, Hitchcock Center, Amherst, MA 

The Magic of Story Stones
Mary Glabach, Preschool Teacher, Erving Elementary School, Erving, MA 

What Do You Do at Nature Play Afterschool?
Katie Koerten, educator, Hitchcock Center for the Environment, Amherst MA

Life Cycles Throughout the School Year
Janice Henderson, Smith College Campus School, Northampton, MA

Joy and Wonder through Nature Immersion
Ayana Verdi,  Founder/Director,  Verdi Ecoschool,   Melbourne, FL

Saturday, May 16, 2020
9:00 am - 4:00 pm

at the
Hitchcock Center for the Environment
845 West Street, Amherst, MA

Morning Keynote

Cultivating Connection:  Using the Community-as-Campus to Build Immersive Learning Experiences for Young Children

Ayana Verdi, Founder, Director, Verdi Ecoschool, Melbourne, FL

The Verdi EcoSchool is the first Urban Farm School in the southeastern United States and the only school of its kind in the state of Florida. Serving children from 3–15 years of age, EcoSchool students learn to view themselves as the single most powerful resource within their community. Ayana, founder and director of the school, will lead you on an exciting exploration of a day in the life of a student at this place and project-based community school.

In 2016, Ayana Verdi established Verdi EcoSchool to provide hands-on educational experiences for children in the historic Eau Gallie Arts District in Melbourne, Fla. It is the first K-8 urban farm school in the southeastern United States. As part of the educational program, the classroom extends to unique settings: exploring the waters of the local Indian River Lagoon, learning about restorative agriculture on a community garden and creating replicas of ancient First Nations tools in ceramics classes at the Foosaner Art Museum and Education Center. Ayana was awarded the prestigious Drexel Fund Fellowship in 2019 and is extending the successful K-8 program by founding a new high school model which incorporates hands-on, immersive learning through practical, real-world internships.

 Ayana’s 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.

Afternoon Principals Panel:  Turning School Inside Out 


  • Sarah Madden, Principal, RK Finn Ryan Road School, Northampton, MA
  • William Knittle,  Principal, Rowe Elementary, Rowe, MA
  • Conor Driscoll,  Principal,  Gill Elementary School,  Gill, MA
  • Panel Facilitator : David Sobel, Professor Emeritus, Antioch New England

Three Western Massachusetts principals will discuss their experiences with implementing innovative outdoors practices in their preschool, kindergarten and early elementary grades in their schools. They’ll describe some of their programs, and discuss how they’ve supported and encouraged teachers to move some of the curriculum into the natural world. We’ll also discuss benefits to children and the response of parents and community members to these innovations.


Working Professional                     $125
Group Rate                                     $100

(3 or more from same organization)
AUNE Alumni/Co-Sponsor staff       $75
Student                                            $50