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 and Catawba Program Coordinator

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

Botetourt Program Coordinator and Lead Instructor

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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OWEN CUNNANE

Greenville Program Coordinator and Lead Instructor

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.

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AMY HELMS

Lead Instructor- Greenville

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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BRITTANY HORTON

Lead Instructor- Roanoke

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- Roanoke

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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GABBIE RHODES

Lead Instructor- Roanoke

Forest Name- Mrs. Morel
In 2016, Gabbie Rhodes graduated from Emory & Henry College, where she participated as a trip leader for the Emory & Henry Outdoor Program. She led hikes and backpacking trips throughout Southwest Virginia. She absolutely loves being outside and exploring mountains with friends and family in her free time. For the last 4 years, Gabbie has been working with children as a a nanny and as a Montessori preschool teacher. Supporting children as they learn and grow is very rewarding to Gabbie and she loves working for Valley Forest School.

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GINA WOODRING

Lead Instructor- Greenville

Forest Name- Mrs. Finch
Gina has over ten years of experience working with children, from teaching English in Nepal, working at orphanages in India, nannying, and teaching Special Education in Denver. She graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver with a MAT in Special Education. Her love for the outdoors blossomed after having children and co-leading a Wild and Free group in Kansas City. Gina enjoys homeschooling her children, teaching primarily in the outdoors and learning alongside them. On the weekends you will find her on the local trails, mountain biking, or hiking with her family. She is thrilled to combine her love of teaching and the outdoors as a teacher at Valley Forest School.

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KACEY BOWMAN

Lead Instructor- Roanoke

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.

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KELLI TALLEY

Lead Instructor- Greenville

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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KRISTA HARRISON

Lead Instructor- Roanoke

Forest Name: Mrs. Sunshine
Krista graduated with a BS in Special Education: Interdisciplinary Studies from Liberty University. Since then Krista has worked in public schools as a therapeutic day treatment counselor where she quickly recognized the importance of outdoor education for academic and mental health well-being. Krista values wonder, beauty, and curiosity in all education. She believes, given the proper environment, all children can flourish beautifully through exercising their natural abilities to learn and love learning. Krista developed a love for the outdoors as she grew up hiking, camping, and biking with her family. She was a lifeguard for four years and taught swimming lessons for three. Krista is also trained and certified in Wilderness First And and adult/child CPR.

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BETH NIENKE

Forest School Nanny- Roanoke

Forest Name- Mrs. Blossom
Beth has over 30 years of experience working with children in a professional setting. Between working at St. Anne's Preschool in Salem, VA to working for the children's ministry at Fellowship Community Church, her love for children has only grown stronger. She is gentle and patient with the youngest of students and is the on-site nanny for teacher's babies who are too young for class. Beth is trained and certified in Wilderness First Aid and Adult/Child CPR.

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CASSIE CARTER

Substitute- Roanoke

Forest Name- Mrs. Moonswallow
According to “Blue Ridge Outdoors” magazine, Roanoke was the top “place to raise an outdoor family," and now we have a 100% outdoor school! As a Roanoker, born and raised, I am so proud to be a part of this amazing growth in the valley. For almost a decade I have been working with and alongside kids. From tutoring, guiding greenhouse or garden tours, teaching swim lessons, to story-time at a local library, I have always thoroughly enjoyed being in the company of children. I’m a mom to two awesome gals, one of which will be in forest preschool! Apart from being a mom, I recently became certified to be a community herbalist through Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine in Asheville, NC. Through the herbal program, I obtained a good foundation on how to forage, properly identify plants, make medicine, and perform herbal first aid. I am also trained and certified in Wilderness First Aid and child/adult CPR. It has been a long term goal of mine to incorporate my love for a natural lifestyle with my love for working with kids, and well, what better way than through Valley Forest School!