EcoRise Teacher Ambassadors are experienced EcoRise teachers who have demonstrated a strong interest in and commitment to the EcoRise mission and core values. Teacher Ambassadors regularly and effectively implement EcoRise curriculum, Eco-Audits, green-school projects, and microgrants, in addition to leveraging EcoRise support services and connecting with community partners and the larger EcoRise teacher community.
Meet the 2021–22 Teacher Ambassadors
Aimee O’Brien has been an educator for 25 years—22 of those years at the same elementary public charter school in Sacramento, CA called Pony Express. Her passions are art and science education, and she enjoys integrating them thematically across the curriculum. She believes that education should have true meaning and purpose above and beyond the standards—in connecting with students and families, nurturing our changemakers, and coaching them to be their best selves.
When Aimee is not teaching, you can find her at music festivals, creating art, working in her garden, and enjoying her cabin in the Sierras near South Lake Tahoe.
Alexandra Dowd is an aquatic science teacher at New Braunfels High School in New Braunfels, TX. (Go Unicorns!) She began teaching at her alma mater in 2019 and is going into her fourth year of teaching. She loves what she teaches, where she teaches, and who she gets to work with every day.
Alexandra teaches environmental education because the environment is an integral part of our lives, whether we recognize it or not. She believes that when students grow in their understanding of the interconnectedness of the world around them, their lifestyles, world views, and futures shift. She loves seeing this shift and hopes to create strong environmental stewards in her classroom.
Connect with Alexandra on Instagram, @al.dowd.
Amelia Thomas has over 10 years of experience as an educator, with experience as a literacy coach, teacher leader, and professional learning facilitator. She has expertise in helping organizations build stronger, more effective teams, and she is valued for helping teams think strategically and engage in meaningful conversations that allow for reflection and inquiry and lead to change. Amelia currently teachers first grade at Cascade Elementary School in Atlanta, GA.
Anthony Allard is a civil engineer turned teacher who enjoys giving students opportunities to see a world full of hope through the solutions they can create. He is a graduate of Howard University with a degree in civil engineering. Anthony is going into his eighth year of teaching at Dunbar High School in Washington, DC.
Anthony believes environmental education is essential to a holistic understanding of the needs of all citizens. Knowledge of those needs helps in establishing more creative and innovative solutions.
Connect with Anthony on Twitter, @triniallard.
Cherice Greene has a passion for helping scholars learn and advance their education. She has been in the field of education for 21 years. Cherice currently teaches two EcoRise courses—Sustainable Intelligence and Green Building Lessons for a Sustainable Future—at Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy, a premier STEM school in Washington, DC. She is the lead teacher for the Urban Ecology Career Academy, which focuses on the importance of scholars sustaining their environments and being strong advocates for saving our planet.
Connect with Cherice on Twitter, @cherice_r.
Christine Mederos will begin her fifth year of teaching in the Austin Independent School District (ISD) and her fourth year of being a proud EcoRise Ambassador in 2021! She began teaching kindergarten, then moved to third grade, and is now going to teach sixth grade. Each year she has loved finding ways to adapt sustainable education to the age groups she works with and loves helping other teachers on her campus do the same.
Christine teaches environmental education because she believes there is more to education than just what is found in books. Real-world conversation and experience are of paramount importance to well-rounded kids willing to fight for themselves and their world.
Connect with Christine on Twitter, @ms_mederos.
Denisse Ochoa is a librarian at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD in Texas. She has been in education for over 18 years and has taught kindergarten; second, third, and fifth grades; and library classes. This coming year will be her third year as an EcoRise Ambassador, and she is really excited about making an impact in her school district.
Denisse is also a mother to two beautiful daughters, Natalie and Samantha.
Earl Gray is the sustainability coordinator at Harlem Renaissance High School in New York City. He finds it exciting and challenging to bring change into how we are educating our students for the future by introducing sustainability to the school community through classroom instruction and outdoor learning.
Earl is an advocate for environmental justice and educates his students to be aware of climate change, environmental injustices, and their roles in our future society.
Ed Yoo joined the Codman Academy faculty in Dorchester, MA, in 2011 and has taught physics, chemistry, and advanced placement (AP) biology in the past. Ed now has settled into ninth grade biology and 12th grade AP environmental science. He has been really excited over the past four years to incorporate EcoRise Eco-Audits and environmental justice into his instruction, and he has enjoyed helping students apply for microgrants. Ed is also an avid nature photographer, and he scuba dives every weekend off Cape Ann to photograph nudibranchs and anemones.
Ed believes that environmental science is the most important topic students need to understand in order to be scientifically literate. They can then make informed decisions about their personal health and as voters in the larger political arena. There is no greater or urgent issue today.
Connect with Ed on Instagram, @educationalontogeny.
Isabel Anaya is entering her 21st year of being an educator in Northside ISD in Helotes, TX. She is a fifth-grade teacher at Charles L. Kuentz, Jr. Elementary School and is dedicated to making a difference in the environment and igniting passion in others. Isabel teaches students to understand the impact they are making in their environment on a daily basis. To build awareness and reverse monarch decline, her students play an active part in the National Wildlife Federation Monarch Heroes Program.
Connect with Isabel on Twitter, @isabel_anaya1.
This year is Jennifer Humphrey’s 19th year in education. She currently teaches eighth-grade science as well as seventh- and eighth-grade environmental science at Nimitz Middle School in San Antonio, TX. Jennifer spent her first six years as an educator teaching outdoor environmental education in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Texas. She has spent the last 12 years teaching at Nimitz Middle School’s STEM Academy.
Jennifer loves being outdoors, hiking, biking, kayaking, and traveling. She has been to 22 countries and 48 of the 50 United States. She continuously finds new ways to grow and build as a parent and as an educator through her experiences and opportunities, such as those with EcoRise. She enjoys bringing science and nature together to engage and educate her students about the world around them. Go Aggies!
Connect with Jennifer on Twitter, @SosStem.
Jessica Cravens has been in education for 13 years, serving as a teacher, instructional coach, and campus curriculum facilitator. This year she is teaching second grade at San Jacinto Elementary in Odessa, TX, and is excited to bring EcoRise lessons to her school! Jessica enjoys fostering connections between classroom learning and real-world application. She believes that connecting students to their environment helps them to feel grounded and feel that they have the power to elicit change.
Connect with Jessica on Twitter, @jessicacravens9.
Jocelyn Vache is a technology and computer science teacher at Boston International Newcomers Academy (BINcA) in Boston, MA. BINcA is a public high school that serves immigrant youth learning English. It is centered on the socio-emotional well-being of all students and their families. Jocelyn is committed to project-based learning (PBL) with embedded arts that promote justice and joy. She has her LEED Green credential and aims to bring real-world impactful learning to her students.
Being an EcoRise Teacher Ambassador deepens her connection with sustainable practices and environmental justice in order to equitably foster her students’ educational goals and career exploration.
Connect with Jocelyn on Twitter, @jocelynvache.
Kendra Heffelbower has been teaching or coaching kindergarten through fifth grade in District of Columbia Public Schools for 18 years. This year she is transitioning to a new role as the STEM instructional coach at Langley Elementary in Washington, DC. For the past six years, Kendra has worked with EcoRise, and this is her second year as an Ambassador. She loves watching students learn through making connections, considering different perspectives, and applying what they have learned.
Lyndsey Hurley supports teachers and students in Klein ISD in Spring, TX, as the math/science instructional specialist. Lyndsey is a member of her district’s annual Girls in STEM Conference Committee, and she has served on the district curriculum team to help design and restructure the curriculum to fit students’ needs and build their engagement.
As a third-year Ambassador with EcoRise, Lyndsey’s favorite moment was watching her three student teams present their projects at the first annual Houston Student Innovation Showcase at Houston City Hall. Their projects were then published in the Houston Chronicle!
Connect with Lyndsey on Twitter, @lyndseyhurley2.
Marisa Varalli has taught Spanish for the last 20 years in San Francisco and is now a Teacher on Special Assignment in the San Francisco Unified School District (USD). She supports high schoolers who are dually enrolled in community college courses and high school classes or internships.
Marisa believes that environmental education inspires a heightened appreciation of one’s surroundings and that it allows us to see the direct correlation between human actions and their varying effects on local and global communities.
Mylene Garcia teaches chemistry and environmental science at Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington, DC. She has more than 20 years of teaching experience, and this will be her seventh year in DC Public Schools. She is excited to start the 2021–2022 school year in person at the new school site. The new site will not only house the students, but it will also be a learning lab where students can apply principles of sustainability and promote environmental awareness.
Mylene teaches environmental education because there is a growing need for people to promote sustainability. Although it is a global need, recruitment can start in her classroom by providing students with knowledge of environmental concepts and skills for employing solutions.
Nichi Avina is a science, STEAM lab, and ecology teacher at Cielo Vista Charter School (CVC) in Palm Springs, CA. She has both a Bachelor of Science and Master of Education from the University of California in her hometown of San Diego, and she brings to the classroom a unique perspective informed by her lived experience. Having immigrated to the United States from the Philippines at age 7, she knows first-hand the struggles of many first-generation immigrant families. And having begun her career working at the UCSD Cancer Center, she was moved to become a teacher after the tragic death of her brother due to mental health issues. Drawing from these experiences, when she began teaching at La Presa Middle School in 2005, she founded Victory over Violence, Speech and Debate, and Multicultural Dance Club programs, as well as a Hippocrates Circle program for students aspiring to work in the medical field.
In 2018, Nichi joined CVC, where she has spearheaded the development of a school garden, a STEAM lab, an art mentoring program, and a district-wide Trauma-Informed Training program. Nichi believes in fostering global citizens with the EcoRise program, and she hopes to provide students with green leadership opportunities with the goal of turning CVC into a California Green Ribbon School by 2025.
Connect with Nichi on Twitter, @cvcgreenschool.
Nicole Nicholson is a native Houstonian. This coming school year marks her ninth year as a certified educator teaching high school science: biology, aquatic science, environmental systems, and AP environmental science. She is also the team leader of the environmental systems course at Klein Forest High School. Prior to teaching, Nicole earned her bachelor’s degree from Texas Southern University and her master’s degree from Western Governors University.
Nicole teaches environmental education because it is an interdisciplinary science that encompasses all areas of life on our planet.
Connect with Nicole on Twitter, @msnicoleyvette.
Octavia Wolf is a fifth-grade teacher at West Elementary School in Ward 4 in Washington, DC. She is a Teach for America alumna and has taught in her original placement school for the last eight years. She is expected to finish her Master of Education in May 2022 from Johns Hopkins University.
Octavia believes that environmental education is paramount if we are to solve many of the societal ills and challenges of the future. To teach children about the environment is to teach them about their place in this world and their role in making it better.
Connect with Octavia on Instagram, @mrs.wolf.5th.
Rosalie Patel is an early childhood educator working in Austin, TX, at Boone Elementary. She has a passion for teaching science and sustainability as well as for facilitating collaboration between the oldest and youngest students on campus. This will be Rosalie’s third year as an EcoRise Ambassador. She has supported students as they have worked on a variety of sustainability projects to improve their school. Student-led grants have accomplished everything from improving air quality through classroom plants to reducing waste through campus compost systems.
This year Rosalie is looking forward to restarting the community/campus EcoClub, supporting other teachers, and continuing to foster a passion for science and nature in elementary students.
Connect with Rosalie on Twitter, @rosaliepatel17.
Sabina Malkani is a third-grade teacher in a dual-language school in Washington, DC. Over the last two years, her students have successfully completed Public Spaces Eco-Audits and applied for EcoRise grants to start a school garden. When Sabina is not doing school projects, she likes to cook Indian food, work on her own kitchen garden, and organize events for children in her neighborhood. One day when it is safe, this list will include going home to Toronto to visit.
Sabina believes that environmental education empowers young people to become changemakers, and she aims to be a part of guiding them through that evolution.
Sally Smollar is the school librarian at Plumosa School of the Arts in Delray Beach, FL. In addition to providing library services to the children and faculty, she teaches a class in digital media to students in third, fourth, and fifth grades. Sally strives to use technology as a tool for learning, gathering information, and sharing knowledge. Her students are engaged in a variety of creative projects, and in the process, they learn to collaborate and solve problems. Sally is passionate about allowing her students to gather and evaluate information from a variety of sources, and she assigns research projects that are designed to engage students’ sense of curiosity about the wonders of the world around them, from sea turtles in Belize to lowland mountain gorillas in Eastern Africa. Whether her students are learning about nutrition and food waste or cooking up family-recipe ideas for a collaborative cookbook, they work in groups to create their own knowledge and to present that information using a variety of technology tools.
Connect with Sally on Twitter, @smollas.
Sandy SanAhmadi has over 28 years of experience working in education. She began her career teaching kindergarten after graduating from the University of Minnesota. In 1995, Sandy moved to California and has been an educator with Sacramento City USD ever since. She has taught middle school math and science, second grade, and fifth grade in Sacramento. Additionally, she worked with the district to develop and implement a science and environmental curriculum. Sandy currently teaches fifth-grade gifted students.
Sandy has a passion for instilling a love of science in her students and for helping them see the importance of science in their own lives. She wants her students to become stewards of the environment and understand that their words and actions have the power to make positive change. Environmental education teaches students that they have a direct connection to our physical Earth and all of its living organisms.
Steven Morris loves teaching environmental justice to his sixth graders at Martin Middle School in Austin, TX, and he believes every student deserves an opportunity to be empowered and to learn how they can make a difference in their communities. EcoRise has given Steven and his students that opportunity, and they have flourished. From developing green thumbs to learning about environmental justice, he and his students have enjoyed being proud participants of the EcoRise community and family.
Steven believes that the students at Martin Middle School and in the East Austin community deserve the opportunity to learn how to grow through education and responsibilities, so they may support their family community for years to come.
Connect with Steven on Twitter, @mrstevenmorris.
Sunshine Roque is a biology teacher at Abraham Lincoln High School who is dedicated to teaching with an anti-racist and anti-capitalist framework. Sunshine is an aspiring plant mom and is continuously working on her horticulture skills (with not much success). When she’s not teaching, she can be found playing around with Granny Cart Gangstas, an all-women Asian American comedy troupe based in Bindlestiff Studio, a small black-box theater in San Francisco.
Sunshine teaches environmental education because she feels that to defend and advocate for Earth, students must understand and fall in love with their land.
Tameka Pierre-Louis is the director of career and technical education at the Academy Charter School in Long Island, NY, where she oversees curriculum and staff development, as well as grant writing and workforce development, for a network of six schools. She is certified by the New York State Education Department in Career and Technical Education (CTE) for architecture and construction, as well as for business management. She is also certified as a work-based learning coordinator. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the New School, where she studied at Parsons School of Design, and she has a Master of Fine Arts in Design and Technical Production from Brooklyn College, as well as a Master of Professional Studies in Design Management from the Pratt Institute.
Through her work, Tameka actively fosters partnerships with global and local not-for-profit organizations to address social justice issues through student-led projects. She has devoted her career to using architecture as a tool for social justice to restore economically depressed communities. Tameka is presently pursuing a doctorate in executive educational leadership at St. John Fisher College, where her dissertation focuses on using culturally responsive pedagogies in CTE to interest minority youth in architecture.
Tasha L. J. Messer
Tasha L. J. Messer began her educator journey as a room parent—from there, she moved on to serving as a PTA co-president and working as a substitute teacher, afterschool counselor, and administrative assistant before becoming a lead teacher for pre-K, kindergarten, and third grade. Tasha enjoys finding enriching and innovative new ways to build community and nurture her students’ natural desire to learn. She brings to the classroom expertise drawn from her experiences as a Georgia Audubon Master Birder, Certified Project WET 2.0 educator, Georgia Master Gardener, Jesse Mercer Steward, STEM Garden Club coordinator, and Captain Planet Project Learning Garden liaison. She is an alumna of the Alice Waters Edible Schoolyard Academy and is certified as a School Garden Teacher through the University of Georgia Athens Extension program. She also has certifications with Natural Communities of Georgia and Monarchs Across Georgia, and she was a runner-up for Woman of the Millennium in Upscale magazine.
This fall she is returning to Mercer University to complete both her Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Business Administration. She is grateful and excited to spend the last few weeks of the summer at the EcoRise Summer Institute learning more about integrating ecological learning into the classroom.
Connect with Tasha on Twitter, @messermoments.
Now in her 20th year of teaching, Tina Coba currently supports teachers, students, and the school community at Volma Overton Early College Prep as the math instructional specialist in Austin ISD in Austin, TX. Tina earned her Master of Education Administration from Texas A&M University in 2010. Tina currently sponsors several afterschool clubs, including National Elementary Honor Society, Coding Club, Drill Team, and Gardening Club.
Tina is excited to join the EcoRise Ambassador program and help other educators incorporate the EcoRise curriculum in their classrooms!
Connect with Tina on Twitter, @coachcoba.
Victoria Galvan-Garcia teaches world geography at PSJA Early College High School in San Juan, Texas. Her love of learning led to a career as a teacher. She is passionate about helping her students learn about adapting to our changing world so they may thrive as adults.
Victoria is excited to be an EcoRise Ambassador because she believes it will help her successfully promote sustainability and adaptability within her classroom and community.