Meet our teachers.
Sara Apgar’s passion is connecting children with the natural world. She has a BS in Biology with a minor in Psychology from Lycoming College in Williamsport, PA. She worked as a Naturalist and Outdoor Environmental Education Instructor in New Jersey, Michigan and in North Carolina where she was Assistant Director of an Educational Farm offering afterschool, summer camps, homeschool programs and horseback riding. Sara also worked at a private school leading afterschool programs and substituting for preK-3rd grade. Since moving to Tennessee seven years ago her efforts have been concentrated on motherhood and in co-creating the Chattanooga Green Moms, where she has been teaching and serving families in outdoor pursuits. In 2013 Sara also completed the TN Naturalist Program. In her spare time, she and her family enjoy spending time outdoors hiking and camping
Sarah was born in Huntsville, Alabama and studied at the Briarwood Ballet in Birmingham. As a teenager she attended the Houston Ballet, Ballet Magnificat and American Ballet Theatre’s Summer Intensives. Sarah opted to home school her senior year of high school in order to dance as a Soloist for the Alabama ballet and danced there for two years. Her principal roles have included Dew Drop and Sugar Plum in the Nutcracker. Soloist roles in Roger Van Flettern’s Tickling the Ivories, Wes Chapman’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Coppelia. Since 2000 she has performed as a Guest Artist nationally and internationally, trained and coached ballet dancers, as well as set numerous choreography projects on many local schools and companies including Ballet Tennessee, Chattanooga School of Creative Arts, and The Montessori School. Ms Cooper is a certified Pilates instructor and will be graduating from Chattanooga State this spring with her first degree!.
Melanie Ferguson is our head preschool teacher in charge of the full-day Forest Kindergarten Program. She holds a Master’s degree in Special Education, teacher certification K-12 in Special Education, and a Bachelor’s degree in American Literature. Melanie was born in Austin, TX, but spent most of her childhood exploring her home state of South Carolina and enjoyed traveling often with her parents and sister. She joyfully served for two years as a teacher at Grant Park Cooperative Preschool in Atlanta and two wonderful years as a teacher at Highland Plaza United Methodist Preschool in Chattanooga. At both schools, she worked with children through the Reggio Emilia Approach to learning. Melanie co-founded Balance Studios, a unique art and yoga studio for children in Chattanooga. She has completed children's yoga teacher training with Cheryl Crawford of Grounded Yoga in Atlanta and Jackie Morrison of Yoga Kids in Jacksonville, FL. She has also completed Yoga Alliance 200-hour RYT teacher training with Jessica Jollie at Yoga Landing in Chattanooga. Melanie's son Max is in high school at Baylor School and her daughter, Ruby, is at Normal Park Upper School. She lives in North Chattanooga with her husband, Kenny, the two children and Layla The Dog.
Brit is an artist and designer who received her BFA from The School of Art Institute of Chicago where she focused on fiber and material studies. While living in the city, she archived African and Haitian textiles and studied with a premier art historian. She also worked with mentors studying screen printing, dyeing, and weaving techniques.
When she isn’t working in her studio or traveling the southeast, she’s focused on reading, studying herbalism, and documenting southern culture. She plans to integrate her love of southern flora to teach classes on dyeing, using material sourced straight from the land. She is also planning instruction and workshops based on various printing and weaving techniques in nature.
Michelle Zegarra is an avid gardener whose family has deep connections to northwest Georgia. She is a native Spanish speaker, born in Peru.
Michelle worked at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga for 15 years as a Certified Nursing Assistant and Clerk in the critical care units. Her love of the outdoors and simple play in nature, along with multiple artistic talents, make Michelle a natural caregiver for children. Michelle is a trained Forest Kindergarten facilitator and is in her third year of inspiring children in mindfulness and creativity
Johnny Payne is driven by his desire to see individuals connect with, value, and eventually protect natural spaces. At Wauhatchie School Johnny serves both as Teacher and Development Coordinator. He holds a Bachelors degree in Special Education and Masters degree in Outdoor Education. He is passionate about bringing together these areas of experience to facilitate moments of specialized experiential learning.
Johnny began working in development and fundraising when he came to Chattanooga to establish new outdoor programming outlets for the faith-based community. He has worked alongside a number of local non-profits in fundraising and grant writing. If you spend enough time around Johnny, you will hear about his love for adventures and outdoor sports and time spent with his wife. Johnny’s favorite color is yellow. His favorite National Park is Yosemite National Park.
Rebecca Westbrook Toker
Rebecca is an Elementary and Special Education teacher. Equitation and Safety Instructor, Adult Literacy tutor, and Autism Classroom Instructor are all hats she has worn, and she loves teaching all types of students in all types of environments.
Rebecca graduated Cum Laude as an Honors program graduate with a B.A. in Elementary Education with a minor in Spanish Language from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. She served as a Youth Development Volunteer with Peace Corps Honduras. She is certified in the National GLOBE educational science program. She received Adult Literacy Tutor training from the Durant Literacy Council. She holds current First Aid and CPR certification and a Tennessee teaching license for Special Education.
Kimberly Hays,Special Educational Consultant
Kim holds a B.S. from George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University and a Masters of Science from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
She has been an Educational Consultant, specializing in behavioral interactions since 2010. Prior to that she taught in Georgia, at Siskin Preschool, and Hamilton County Department of Education for 30+ years. She has devoted her career to her passion as an advocate for children and families. She is a certified to administer standardized test.
Jennifer Murphree, Middle School Administrator and Assistant Teacher
Jennifer has a bachelors degree in American Studies from Hollins College in Virginia. In addition, she is a registered nurse who has spent many years in critical care nursing. She has spent the last three years homeschooling her sons, Will and Evan. She also has a daughter who attends Baylor School. She has spent countless hours volunteering with children. She is extremely excited to help develop the homeschool program for middle school students, it has been a dream of hers for years.
Rick Rushing III, Music Educator
Rick graduated from Chattanooga State in 2003 with his Associates Degree with a focus on music and in 2004 he graduated from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with his Bachelors Degree in Psychology. From 2013-2015, he taught at the Folk School of Chattanooga and was President of their board. Rick also taught ukulele to students at Balance Yoga Studio. He is an active educator within the community through teaching music exploration for YMCA summer camps as well as guitar, voice, bass guitar, and ukulele lessons based out of his studio at Chattanooga Workspace.
Board of Directors
Richard received an Associate of Science Degree in Forestry and Recreation and Wildlife Management. He has a BS in Business and Organizational Management and a Master’s Degree in Outdoor Teacher Education. He has served as president of the Maine Arborists Association and was a member of the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council. He was Executive Director of the Chattanooga Audubon Society and taught science several years at Chattanooga School of Liberal Arts. Richard is also the author of three books: Natural Pattern Forms, Natural Stonescapes and Landscaping Makes Sense.Richard’s other pursuits include designing Japanese Gardens and consulting for Green Industry.
Vicky is a consultant and designer for her company, PLAYceMaker, LLC, working with child care programs, schools, zoos, museums, and nature centers to design playable landscapes and learning spaces that are “educational, playable, intentional, natural and INSPIRING!” She is passionate about providing children with daily, nature-based opportunities.
Vicky holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and has served in a variety of roles in early childhood education for 37 years, most recently having been the director of Highland Plaza United Methodist Preschool (1991-2015). In her 24 years there she transformed the preschool into a progressive model of early education based on discovery and inquiry practices with children. She has served in many ways as a volunteer for or on behalf of young children. She has been on the planning committees of several conferences and has been a presenter at local, state and regional conferences. Vicky successfully formatted an annual conference for colleagues who wanted to learn more about the educational approach at Highland Plaza United Methodist Preschool, a sell-out every year since its inception in 2011.
Vicky has been married to David Flessner, business editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, since 1980. They have three grown children, a daughter and twin sons and 6 grandchildren, 3 girls and 3 boys, among them a set of twins—they have twin children and twin grandchildren!
Meghan is an accountant working for a family office in Chattanooga. She moved from West Virginia 14 years ago to finish her degree and raise her daughter. Meghan is now Jean Lomino’s daughter-in-law and has a son, Cian, who will soon be three years old. Another son is due in August. Meghan enrolled Cian at Lookout Learning Center as an infant because she was impressed with Diana’s focus on providing a natural childcare setting that was hard to find elsewhere. Meghan says, “I am so looking forward to the expansion of those ideas at our new Wauhatchie School and all of the opportunities it brings to my family and to Chattanooga!”
Jean has been an educator for over 30 years and holds a Ph.D. in Leadership with an emphasis in Environmental Education. She was the Director of Education for the Chattanooga Nature Center, 2002-2005 and from 2005-2013 Executive Director. During her last two years in that position she managed the merger of Reflection Riding and the Chattanooga Nature Center, Jean received training from the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo and also attended Harvard Business School’s Executive Education program. She was a founding member of the board of directors for Ivy Academy, the first outdoor charter school in Hamilton County. Since 2000 Jean has been an adjunct professor for the graduate program in Outdoor Teacher Education at Southern Adventist University.
Eric is a licensed therapist in private practice at the Tamarisk Center in Hixson, TN. He has a B.A in psychology (UT Knoxville 2000), an M.S. in Counseling (Western Carolina University 2009). He integrates outdoor time and wilderness survival skills training with some of his clients.
Sharing experiences outdoors has been a central theme of Eric’s life. Growing up in a Nashville suburb, he spent much of his youth exploring the woods, fields, and the local lake with friends. In high school he became an avid cave explorer; while at the University of Tennessee he became an expert whitewater kayaker and backpacker and led trips for the UT outdoors club. His professional career has centered on young people and their families, primarily in wilderness therapy and experiential education in a variety of roles.
Since becoming a father in 2010, most of his outdoor time is spent with his wife Christy and son Andrew. As parents they both strongly believe that experiences in the outdoors will benefit their son in very powerful ways. Andrew was a Forest Kindergarten student at Wauhatchie School last year and will be back this coming school year.
Carl holds a Ph.D. in Science Education. He was a classroom teacher for 20 years and since 1993 has been a professor at Southern Adventist University. He is the founder of the Outdoor Education Degree program at the university that includes a Bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Leadership and a Master’s Degree in Outdoor Teacher Education. He is currently Dean of Graduate Studies. His pastimes include traveling, birding, photography and all things nature.
Gilbert Elementary School in nearby Lafayette, Georgia, is home to the first public school Forest Kindergarten program in the United States.
Designed for outdoor professionals, youth workers, classroom teachers, and others who want to more effectively use God’s book of nature in teaching and programming.