Meet our teachers.
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.
I have lived in the Chattanooga area my entire life, and was raised just over the line in Ringgold, GA. I am the happiest wife to my husband, Jason, and the luckiest mom to my son, River. My heart pulled to the call of nature as a little girl, and I spent many weekends digging for Civil War relics or searching for Native American artifacts with my Dad. My deeply rooted love and appreciation for the outdoors came from my parents and I will forever be grateful for that. It led me to the water, where I have been a raft guide on the Ocoee River for seven years. With seniority on the river comes responsibility, and in 2013 I became a Wilderness Emergency Medical Responder (EMR.) Along with guiding, I'm an avid kayaker, hiker and climber. I received my 200 yoga teacher certification in November of 2015 and shortly after, started my own business with stand up paddle board yoga; The River Yogis. The ability to bring my love for the outdoors and yoga together came so effortlessly, which is how I know it was meant to be. I am so honored to be able to share the incredible lessons that Nature has to offer with my students at Wauhatchie, and I look forward to the magic that is in store.
Rosie is a mud-loving hiker, musician and teacher from St. Paul, Minnesota. She has spent the last two years teaching at a German international school in Portland, Oregon and has moved to Tennessee this year to work with the Wauhatchie School and be closer to her sisters. She is currently pursuing her master's in early childhood education and plays upright bass in a band when not teaching.
Meet our 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.