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VFS STAFF

Interested in working with children outdoors every week on the VFS team? Email Bekah for opportunities at bekah@valleyforestschool.com

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BEKAH QUIRIN

Executive Director

Forest Name- Mrs. Luna

Bekah started Valley Forest School in 2019 after developing a passion for immersing children of all ages in nature. Bekah has a bachelors degree in Outdoor Leadership from North Greenville University where she spent much of her time studying the psychology of children in the outdoors. Her desire to start a Forest School in America grew stronger after she and her husband spent 6 months thru hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2017 with their 1 year old daughter, Ellie. In 2018 they rode their bikes from Canada to Mexico. Bekah has been a Wilderness First Responder for 6 years. She has 13 years of outdoor guiding experience across the country serving youth to senior adults from the Carolinas, to the coast of Virginia, to the Pacific Northwest states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Bekah has over 1,000 logged days and nights of backcountry travel, and more than 600 of those are with children.

Contact Bekah: bekah@valleyforestschool.com

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DERRICK QUIRIN

Director of Operations

Forest Name- Mountain Goat

Derrick grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains where his love for the outdoors was fostered by his parents from a young age. From hiking to mountain biking to sailing, he gained thousands of hours of experience outdoors before reaching the age of 10! His passion for guiding children outdoors comes from his own experiences outdoors as a child. He graduated in 2014 from North Greenville University with a degree in Outdoor Leadership. His direct observations of the benefits of immersing children outdoors grew strong when he thru hiked the Appalachian Trail and rode his bike from Canada to Mexico with his family. He has 13 years of experience working across America as a summer camp counselor, mountaineering/rafting/climbing guide, and was the Outdoor Adventure Manager for all of The Cliffs locations in the Carolinas. He has been a Wilderness First Responder for 6 years.

Contact Derrick: derrick@valleyforestschool.com

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ANN CHAPPELL MCALLISTER

Program Coordinator- Fincastle Farm School

Forest Name- Mrs. Salamander

Anne Chappell is a Botetourt native who has lived on a farm in since she was 5 years old. She grew up raising cows, horses, sheep, ducks, and chickens. She has a huge heart for working with children and connecting them to their natural environment- the outdoors. In her free time, she spends her days outdoors hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking, and fishing. In addition to managing her farm, teaching horseback riding lessons, and instructing for VFS, Ann Chappell is a pediatric nurse.

Contact Anne Chappell: annechappell@valleyforestschool.com

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KACEY BOWMAN

Program Coordinator- Catawba

Forest Name- Mrs. Juniper

Kacey has been working with children outdoors since she was able to begin working as a junior counselor at summer camps. She has spent the last ten years working in the summer camp industry both as a counselor and as a year round program coordinator. Working in the summer camp industry allowed her to see first hand how much of a positive impact the outdoors can have on a child. She has had the privilege of leading backpacking trips and rock climbing trips through her years of experience.

 Contact Kacey: kacey@valleyforestschool.com

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OWEN CUNNANE

Program Coordinator- Travelers Rest

Forest name- Mr. Rootz

Owen originally hails from Maine where he first developed his love and interest for the natural world. After living on the Canadian border working at Acadia National Park as a Park Ranger, Owen traveled the country in pursuit of a diverse range of professional outdoor experience. Whether it was the Redwoods in California, deserts of Utah, or the Jungles and Volcanoes of Hawaii, Owen's experience is eclectic working as a ranger for the National Forest and National Parks. In 2014 Owen started developing and leading expedition and farm based programs for children. His longest expedition with students was over 400 miles all by canoes from the tributaries of the St Lawrence (Canada) all the way to NYC. Owen has worked with children for the last 7 years in expedition, ecology, and farm based programs between Canada and America. Owen has his B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Maine and is trained and certified as a Wilderness First Responder and Lifeguard in addition to numerous other certifications and training. When Owen is not adventuring outdoors you can find him playing chess, doing yoga or Tai Chi or simply reading a book.

Contact Owen: owen@valleyforestschool.com

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AMY HELMS

Lead Instructor- Travelers Rest

Forest Name- Mrs. Monarch
Amy has over 15 years of experience working professionally with children.  As a Michigan native, she immediately fell in love with the Carolina outdoors when she moved to Greenville 8 years ago. Hiking and outdoor adventures became a new weekend must! After having her first daughter, Amy joined her local Hike it Baby community where she grew in her confidence taking children outdoors and learned how the outdoors helped her bond with children.  Alongside her husband and two girls, you can find them in the mountains most weekends forging for mushrooms and looking for squirrels. Amy believes the best way for kids to learn and grow is by experiencing the beauty and challenges of nature. Amy is trained in Wilderness First Aid.

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ASHA MILLS

Lead Instructor- Catawba

Forest Name- Ms. Root

Asha has over 16 years of experience working in professional settings with children, but her passion for early childhood education and her love of the outdoors can be traced back to a very young age. She has a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech in English, a certificate in early childhood education from NRCC, as well as training in many areas of child development. She has worked with families as a babywearing educator, Family Nature Club leader, and ran a Waldorf and Forest School inspired in home program for several years. As a home educator with her own four children, she has been combining inspiration from Forest School models with other educational methods for the past ten years and is thrilled to get to spend her days at VFS now, bringing all of her training and experience together and connecting with the children. In her free time Asha enjoys reading, cooking, baking, gardening, and going on outdoor adventures with her children. 


Asha is trained in Wilderness First Aid. 

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ASHLEY WHITSON

Lead Instructor- Fincastle and Catawba

Forest Name: Mrs. Sunflower

Ashley grew up in Northern Virginia volunteering at 2 nature centers where she educated the public and cared for the animals housed there. She also rehabilitated injured and orphaned wildlife in her home. Ashley attended Virginia Tech and earned a BS in Animal Science and Biology and then went on to obtain a masters in Education at Hollins University.

Ashley has conducted Animal information classes, taught swim lessons and middle school science for a total of 28 years. She has been a resident of Botetourt County since 2009 where she lives in a log cabin with her husband, Sean, 4 kids, 3 dogs, 6 lizards, a snake, a tarantula, numerous chickens & ducks and an apiary full of honey bees.

Ashley enjoys hiking and kayaking, reading, & anything having to do with animals.

Ashley is also trained and certified in Wilderness First Aid.

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BRITTANY HORTON

Lead Instructor- Catawba and Fincastle

Forest Name- Ms. Bee
Brittany has over 20 years of experience working with children. She graduated from the University of South Carolina where she attended the Honors College. She has a B.S in Biology and a B.A. in Anthropology with a minor in Environmental Studies. She studied abroad in the Amazon region of Brazil and spent six months backpacking, adventuring, and learning in an immersive experience that made a lasting impact on her life.
Brittany is passionate about fostering a love for learning as she had educated her three children at home for the past 13 years. Health and wellness plays an important role in Brittany's life and she is certified as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. She spends her free time reading, taking walks with her children, and connecting with friends.
Brittany is trained and certified in Wilderness First Aid and adult/child CPR.

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CHRYSTAL  PENDZICH

Lead Instructor- Catawba and Fincastle

Forest Name- Miss Sage

Chrystal has been working closely with children and natural education for over 15 years. Born and raised in Germany, she moved to California to study Human Development at U.C. San Diego. Chrystal earned her certificate in early childhood education online through UCLA while teaching at several preschools, both in California and then back in Germany.

For the past 8 years, Chrystal has been living in Germany, teaching at bilingual preschools and kindergartens. She led frequent forest trips and used nature-based education as a focus for her curriculum. Chrystal was deeply inspired by the German's appreciation for 'Wald Kindergartens' (forest kindergartens)! In her free time, Chrystal enjoys gardening, crafting with herbs, and working with farm animals. She also has a soft spot for music and the circus arts. You can also find her hiking around the mountains any time of the year.


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DEBBIE MCALLISTER

Lead Instructor- Fincastle

Forest name- to be determined

Debbie has been a farm owner for 20 years in Fincastle, VA. She studied education at Radford University, and having 40 years of teaching experience, she have taught a wide variety of skills and subject matter to students ranging from 2 to 70+ years of age. Her outdoor education experience gained over the years includes foraging with the use of plant, leaf, and tree identification resources. Some of her favorite memories are time with family camping, hiking, biking, kayaking, canoeing, sledding, snow walks, snow skiing/tubing, water skiing/tubing, white water rafting, forest bathing (aka nature walks), creek stomping, puddle jumping, mud pie, chocolate milk, and snow cream prep, and raising rainbow trout. Some of Debbie's passions are holistic personal health, sourdough baking, goat milk soap, and anything else natural minded!

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HAILEY WILLINGHAM

Lead Instructor- Travelers Rest

Forest Name- Miss Sunset
Hailey has her B.S degree in Outdoor Leadership from North Greenville University where she fell in love with the Western Carolina Mountains. She has worked for many adventure summer camps as a counselor, trip leader, and outdoor program director where she enjoyed the opportunities to help kids and teens experience the wonder of wilderness and adventure. She worked a couple of seasons at the North Carolina Outward Bound School leading backpacking, climbing, and white water canoe expeditions in the beautiful Linville Gorge. She also worked for two expedition semesters with college aged students, worked in wilderness therapy as a wilderness field instructor, and worked at a Children's Home where she led recreation activities and retreats for youth in group foster care. Additionally she has worked as a middle school P.E teacher and does some raft guiding and hike guiding on the side. Hailey is passionate about the healing aspects of nature and community and the importance of positive outdoor experiences for kids and teens. She is a Certified Wilderness First Responder.

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KELLI TALLEY

Lead Instructor- Travelers Rest

Forest Name- Mrs. Otter
Kelli has over 10 years of experience working within the outdoor field with children and youth of all ages. She graduated from North Greenville University with a B.S. degree in Outdoor Leadership and is now in her second year of graduate school at Western Carolina University studying Experiential and Outdoor Education. She has spent her recent years working in various summer camp and outdoor guiding settings mostly in Western NC along with some time in the Pacific Northwest. Rock climbing and whitewater kayaking are specialties for teaching and for fun. She lives in Brevard, NC with her husband Ethan, dog Hazel, cat Simba, and chickens. Other than recreating outside, she likes to spend her free time cooking, gardening and connecting with friends.

Kelli is passionate about fostering a love for learning through the outdoors and believes in the invaluable growth children experience through playing outside. She has seen growth within herself and so many others throughout her years as an outdoor educator.


Kelli is trained and certified as a Wilderness First Responder and a Swift Water Rescue Instructor through the American Canoe Association (ACA).

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KRISTIN FERRE

Lead Instructor- Travelers Rest

Forest Name- Mrs. Kingfisher
Hello and Guten Tag, born and raised in Germany Kristin received her BA Degree in Elementary School Education there before moving to the USA. She has traveled all over Europe and the East Coast before settling in Travelers Rest, SC. There she is homeschooling her two children and working in the homestead farm with her husband Ryan. Kristin was introduced to true concept of Forest School in Germany and fell in love with the concept of teaching by and learning in the great outdoors. Over the past two decades she has been teaching in several educational settings from students aging preschool to middle school. Reading books, hiking, walking, exercising, rising bike, and eating nourishing foods are Kristin’s beloved hobbies.

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LIBBY SCHWEIR

Lead Instructor- Travelers Rest

Forest Name coming soon!
Libby has always had a heart for the outdoors (especially the mountains!). She first grew that love while living in the foothills of the Vitosha and Rhodope mountains in the country of Bulgaria. While in college at North Greenville University studying education, she learned how to explore the outdoors in new adventurous ways (including rock climbing, white water kayaking, and backpacking). She also has a huge heart for teaching and travel! Libby has taught 9 different age groups in 4 different countries. Libby has a B.A. in Elementary Education and a Masters Certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL). Libby is passionate about child led learning and growing curiosity and confidence in children through their developmental years. In her free time, Libby enjoys rock climbing, cooking, and reading.

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LILA THOMAS

Lead Instructor- Catawba and Fincastle

Forest Name- coming soon!

Lila fell in love with wild spaces while growing up in the mountains of North Carolina. Then she spent close to a decade in Oregon and Nevada. Her time out west only furthered her sense of adventure and love of the outdoors. Lila brings BIG passion and years of experience in outdoor sports coupled with extensive yoga and mindfulness training. She is excited to help ignite the spark of love and appreciation for our natural world. Lila lives in Roanoke, VA with her husband and son, Oliver.

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REGAN ADAMS

Lead Instructor- Fincastle

Forest Name- Mrs. Huckleberry
Regan came to VFS first as a parent of a VFS student and has been hooked ever since! She got her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education from Longwood University and spent five years in public education classrooms before making the transition to stay at home with her daughter. Her love of the outdoors has always been present, but it was really ignited when she moved to Alaska for her husband's first Air Force assignment. Regan is passionate not only about her own childrens' love of learning and love of the outdoors, but also sharing that with her students. When she isn't spending time outside with her family, she loves to learn new things, like spoon-carving, paper-making, or quilting! Regan is certified in Wilderness First And and adult/child CPR.

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WENDY PEASE

Lead Instructor- Catawba and Fincastle

Forest Name- Ms. Moonlight

Wendy has 20+ years of experience working with children. She graduated from Radford University with a Bachelor of Arts in Art Education. Additionally, she teaches individual and group art classes to children and adults.

Wendy has always loved the outdoors and helped cultivate that same love for the outdoors in her own three children when they were younger. Now as young adults, they still find time to enjoy the outdoors together by hiking, biking, camping and kayaking. 

She has a passion for teaching children to enjoy the creative process, whether through painting, drawing, journaling or simply observing the beauty of nature.


Wendy is trained in Wilderness First Aid. 

Staff: Team
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