Sarah Whitaker, Ph.D.
FOUNDER, DIRECTOR, EDUCATOR
Sarah Whitaker has spent her career studying, practicing, and promoting holistic education. She received her B.A. from the University of Kentucky where she studied Psychology, with an emphasis on Developmental Psychology. After years of work and living abroad, she returned to the U.S. to receive an M.A. and Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at UGA. She has previously worked as a substitute teacher, an English teacher in French public schools, a tutoring coordinator at a literacy nonprofit, pediatric neuroscience research assistant, and a part-time faculty member in Educational Psychology. Her doctoral research examined the role of mindfulness practices in promoting student self-regulatory skills. She continues to work as a consultant promoting mindfulness in schools. Dr. Whitaker completed a Certificate in Nonprofit Management during her graduate work at UGA and recently studied at Wauhatchie School in Tennessee, where she completed a Level 1 Forest Kindergarten Teacher Training.
Amy Zvonar, M.E.M.
Amy Zvonar comes to AFK with 14 years of experience in environmental education. After graduating Agnes Scott College in 2004, Amy completed a Master’s of Environmental Management at Yale. There she wrote her thesis on improving early childhood environmental education and developed an interest in Forest Kindergartens. Amy then spent three years observing, teaching, and learning in pre-K and kindergarten classrooms in Connecticut. Currently, she also serves as Education Director for Blue Heron Nature Preserve in Buckhead, where she started an early childhood nature program—now in its second summer and one of Blue Heron’s biggest successes. Amy is incredibly excited to bring her experience working with children in nature to Athens.
AFK Board of Directors
The four founding members of AFK are educators who came together over a mutual concern about the need for more high-quality, open-ended educational experiences for young children. We are excited to meet this need in our community by implementing the internationally-renowned forest kindergarten model.
Leyna Faye Singh, M.A.
Leyna Faye Singh earned her bachelor’s degrees from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, where she subsequently completed a master's degree. Leyna has traveled extensively and has taught students both in the U.S. and abroad. She has worked as a K-12 teacher in both public and private, mainstream and Montessori classrooms. These experiences, coupled with her belief that learning demands both social and physical context, has instilled in her a commitment to nurturing interdependent learners who understand the importance of building respectful and sustainable relationships with each other and with the natural world.
Lillian Brown is serving as Board Treasurer for AFK. She has a background in early childhood education rooted in a love for the natural world. Lillian received a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from UGA and completed postgraduate work at University of Colorado Denver. She has additional endorsements in ESL and mathematics. She worked to improve the quantity and quality of outdoor time for students while working as a classroom teacher in public elementary schools. She wrote grants for school gardens and implemented school-wide curriculum to get students out working in and exploring the gardens.
Shara Cherniak is serving as Board Secretary for AFK. Shara earned her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Michigan in 2007. For six years she taught either Kindergarten, 1st or 2nd grade in different contexts including in Málaga, Spain, a dual-language classroom in Avon, Colorado and in Cabrera, Dominican Republic. In the Dominican Republic she co-founded the school Puentes Early Learning Institute. Shara graduated with her master’s degree in early childhood education from UGA in 2017 and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Early Childhood and Teacher Education. Shara speaks Spanish and also teaches Grounded Kids Yoga classes.