In the spirit of all the uplifting back-to-school posts filling my Facebook feed right now, here’s a fun interview with our Lead Teacher, Amy Zvonar . We feel so fortunate to have found Amy to help us bring this vision to life! When she came to my house for a wild and crazy backyard meeting one day, with my children running around in their birthday suits and covered in mud, she immediately crouched down and connected with each of them in a way that suited their age AND personality. That is no small feat because there are three of them and they were in their hot, sweaty, and tired afternoon moods 🙂
Amy truly is a gifted educator; she views education as a dynamic interplay among teachers, students, and parents. She is always challenging herself to learn and grow, and I can't wait to learn from her and grow with her myself! As your forest kindergarten teachers, Amy and I are excited to get to know you and co-create AFK with each of you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us with questions and keep those applications coming!
Q: Where are you from?
Amy: I am a Georgia native! Born in ATL and grew up a little south of the city in Jonesboro. I stayed in Georgia through college, but spent most of my 20's going up and down the east coast to pursue my career in environmental education. I've taught on whale watching boats in the Gulf of Maine, the beaches of St. Simons, Jekyll and Cumberland Islands, and along the shore and in the forests of Connecticut. After managing 7 Winters in CT, I was thrilled to return to Athens 4 years ago with my family and enjoy the warmth of the South!!
Q: What are some of the things you do for fun?
Amy: I am a reader! If I ever leave Athens, the worst part will not be having Avid bookstore just up the street 😁 I also love swimming for fun and competitively, and swim with the Athens Bulldogs Swim Club Master's team. Playing outside with my daughter is what I love most. We walk in the woods surrounding Memorial Park and pretend we are entering a magic forest, build and destroy tiny dams in the stream, and try to catch insects in our butterfly net!
Q: What is your educational background?
Amy: I earned a B.A. from Agnes Scott College back in 2004. My major was Biology, and I never did decide on a minor. I just took tons of classes in fine arts, literature and history- which were all subjects I loved. That was the best part of getting a liberal arts degree! I even got to take a fifth year of classes free, and enjoyed Physics right alongside a course in bookmaking.
My Master's degree is from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. It is in Environmental Studies, with a focus in Water Resource Management. I increased my understanding of Environmental issues and got the chance to take classes in early childhood education. It was here that I learned about Forest Kindergartens and my Master's thesis was on how to improve environmental education for early childhood.
Right after earning my degree, I did a post-graduate fellowship with the Yale Child Study Center and the Calvin Hill Day Care center and Kitty Lustman-Findling Kindergarten. My time there taught me the value of play in children's education.
Q: How did you decide to specialize in Early Childhood Environmental Education?
Amy: My parents were life science teachers and I spent a lot of time outside exploring nature growing up; in my backyard, the woods, the beach. I went to nature camps and my best memories from childhood are from when I was outside. I have also wanted to be a teacher since I was in Kindergarten, but was always counseled to pursue other careers. It was in college when I was teaching swim lessons and taking a class on plant identification that I was able to decide environmental education was the career path I should pursue. Reconnecting with my childhood memories about playing outside during my time in graduate school brought everything together for me and has helped me discover the joy of teaching outside.
Q: What is a nature memory from childhood that shaped who are you today?
Amy: A favorite memory I have from childhood was "rescuing" a butterfly in my red Radio Flyer wagon when I was 4 or 5. I thought it was dead, because it wasn't moving, so I put it in the wagon and pulled it around- singing a little funeral song to it. Suddenly, it flew away! I delighted in the miracle as a child. I now understand how that time of play and empathy for an animal inspired me to learn more about butterflies and the living world in general. I approach the way I work with children with this in mind, and recognizing that children have a natural wonder for the world and when provided the opportunity they will pursue it, learn from it, and grow from it.
Q: Anything you’re particularly looking forward to with the forest kindergarten and playgroup programs you will lead with AFK?
Amy: I am most excited to learn with the children! It is so energizing to be outside with children and always getting to know the world in new ways. It is so exciting to discover how much I can learn right along with the kids; it challenges me to always grow as a teacher.