Amiko Learning Center is committed to building a rich community by welcoming families of all backgrounds.

We believe that the power of empathetic practices, critical thinking skills, and close relationships are built upon connections with people who have diverse perspectives, beliefs, traditions, identities, and cultures. We promote the development of meaningful relationships and learning with small class sizes (1:7-9) and practices that support learners to significantly impact what and how they learn.

While we welcome volunteer support for some tasks, there is no required volunteering commitment.


The mission of Amiko Learning Center is to support young people to build knowledge in ways that promote collaboration and autonomy, so they can understand the complexity of our world, to make informed decisions and generate innovative ideas, while acting with empathy for others.

Core Values

We work together to make choices about what and how we learn, so the knowledge we build is personally meaningful.

We develop responsibility and persistence to plan and achieve challenging goals, with accountability to ourselves and to our community.

We create evidence of our learning in a variety of ways, including photography and written means, to enhance our learning process, facilitate reflection, and to share with others, in person, and in digital spaces.

Our collaborative community, built from diverse perspectives, strengthens our learning experiences and helps us to develop empathetic understanding.

Our Approach

The learning center is guided by research that supports people to have empowering learning experiences by promoting autonomy and collaboration. Instead of grades, guides facilitate assessment by providing and encouraging specific and helpful feedback from self-reflection, peers, other guides, and community members. We contribute to our community by documenting our learning and creating artifacts that can be shared with others. Courses are designed to be relevant by aligning activities with longer-term goals, creating connections beyond the learning center, and honoring engagement as the driving force behind learning.

Our Team

Jennifer Green, Director

Research, Drawing and Painting, Art, and Forest School Guide

Jennifer has a Masters degree in Art Education from Nazareth College where she earned the Excellence in Art Education Award. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Teaching and Curriculum at the University of Rochester. Her research interests center on student autonomy and collaboration. To investigate educational opportunities that support learners to make meaningful decisions about their learning, she visited 12 learning centers throughout the Northeast. These visits and her academic efforts have inspired the development of Amiko. Previous to beginning her studies at U of R, she served as the Assistant Head of School at the Montessori School of Rochester. She loves gardening and operated Flower of Life Gardening for 15 years. She also taught Forest School for the Earthworks Institute and the Rochester Museum and Science Center before launching Amiko’s Forest School. Jennifer has two young children and enjoys cooking and hiking.

Jenamarie Bacot

American Sign Language Guide

A California native and born into a Deaf family actively involved in the Deaf community, Jenamarie has been immersed in Deaf culture.  Though not profoundly deaf, she considers herself culturally Deaf.  The big “D” in Deaf means one who uses ASL as the means of communication and is culturally immersed in it; the ability to hear sounds can vary from total deafness to partial loss to CODAS (Children of Deaf Adults).  She had the favor of never feeling disabled in her home growing up where total communication was always present, a gift many deaf children do not have.  She came to Rochester in 1999 to study Fine Art at the Rochester Institute of Technology, graduating with a BFA & MFA focused on Painting.  During that time, she taught evening ASL classes at the Rochester School for the Deaf’s Outreach Program.  RIT is also where she met her sweet husband of 12 years and together they have 5 children. Art is one of her happy places along with homesteading and catching moments of blessedness in the messy life. Her family loves people and enjoys church, Friday night family movie nights (with popcorn!), Taco Tuesdays and their 15 chickens.  She hopes to someday illustrate & write a children’s picture book or two and is very glad to see ASL becoming recognized as an official language. 

Pearl Brunt

Cultural Studies Guide

Pearl was born and raised in the United States.  She grew to appreciate traveling abroad when she spent her senior year in high school and her college summers in Germany with her brother.  She earned her BA in Political Science (Pre-law) at Norfolk State University. She chose to study there because it was an HBCU (Historically Black College and University).  After that, she spent two years in Paris, where she earned an MA in International Relations and Diplomacy from Schiller International University in Paris. She also met her husband, Pete, who is English, in a British pub off of the Champs-Elysees.  He happened to be studying abroad, as well. She moved to England the following year and earned her MBA in International Business from Schiller International University in London.

Shortly before graduation, she started her own foreign relations consultancy.  While she has worked on a variety of projects, her primary focus was to assist small and medium-sized companies in Europe that wanted to build relationships with companies in the US or the UK.  She has led one-on-one and group training opportunities, which included webinars, seminars, training videos, and developing online courses. She has also enjoyed volunteering to assist young people to gain new perspectives on their academic careers by introducing them to foreign languages as well as tutoring them academically.  After spending 12 years in Europe, Pearl and her family moved to Rochester for her husband’s work. She currently homeschools her two daughters, is the US Business Liaison for a German engineering and consulting firm, and continues to engage with clients in her foreign relations consultancy.

Gabriel Costanzo

Musical Creativity Guide

Gabriel Costanzo teaches music at Allendale Columbia School, where he directs the bands, chamber ensembles, and pit orchestra and leads small-group instruction of woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments. In addition to his work as an instrumental music teacher, he initiated efforts in sustainability, including gardening and composting, and has developed coursework in the area of music theory, recording technology, creativity and improvisation. Outside of school, he plays trumpet and writes music for The Buddhahood, maintains gardens and raises poultry on his Hemlock, NY homestead, and enjoys outdoor activities and making music with his family. Joining the learning community of Amiko has given him a way to continue to explore the field of education outside of the traditional classroom, and he hopes to develop meaningful relationships and have a positive impact on the community through this experience.

Maeve Cullinane

Creative Writing and Young Researchers Club Guide

Maeve Cullinane has been a learner and teacher in student-directed education for most of her life. She participated in an alternative democratic high school, graduated from Hampshire College, and led a cooperative nursery school in her neighborhood. After receiving her Masters Degree in Elementary Education, she taught at Cobblestone School for many years. In 2005, she switched to Museum Education and has been on the staff of many local institutions. She has been writing since she was in junior high and continues to devote time to her poetry, short stories, essays, editorials, and even that quintessential (unfinished) novel!

Christina Das

Forest School Guide

Christina is a graduate of the University of Vermont with a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Studies. She has worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Vermont, the Pacific Northwest, California, and Wyoming. In these roles, she build knowledge in public land management, visitor recreation usage, and wildland-fire management practices, while enjoying beautiful country. She also participated in an Environmental Education internship with Green Mountain Audubon. Christina worked as a substitute teacher for three years in Rochester, where she grew up. Most recently, Christina worked as a Learning Guide for the Earthworks Institute. Christina believes wild spaces offer refuge from our daily lives. She hopes to support young people to love the great outdoors as their comfort and confidence level grows. She is a strong advocate for experiential learning and place-based education. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, traveling, stargazing, live music, and trying new things.

Danielle Dong

Math and Science Guide

Danielle joins Amiko Learning Center with a B.A. in Art History and Mathematics from UCLA, an M.A. in museum studies from NYU, and a dedication to innovative, child-directed learning in both formal and informal settings.  Most recently, Danielle worked for the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, California.  During the summer, she developed, implemented, and evaluated curriculum for various school-aged camps, supervised and mentored fellow educators, and spent copious amounts of time exploring the grounds of the Golden Gate Recreation Area.  During the school year, Danielle served as a lead teacher at The Discovery School, the museum’s licensed, onsite preschool — building on the work of her master’s thesis (an analysis of The Discovery School, the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, and twenty-first century learning).  Prior to working in the classroom, Danielle facilitated classes and tours in fine arts museums, documented and preserved the work of older adult artists, and worked with Jumpstart to provide positive early learning experiences for children from under-resourced communities.

Joe Gomulak-Cavicchio, Ed.D.

LEGO Robotics Guide

Joe was a curious kid. He took apart his toys just to see how they worked. Sometimes he could put them back together and sometimes he could not (don’t mention the CD player to his parents).

Joe grew up and became a teacher, but this inquisitive nature did not go away. Joe turned this interest into an asset and learned how to use technology to help his students. Eventually, he went to Nazareth College an earned a Masters degree in Educational Technology Specialist. One of Joe’s favorite classes was LEGO Robotics. He loved to build creations and program them to do all sorts of crazy things.

Currently, Joe is Instructional Design Specialist at the University of Rochester School of Nursing. In this role he gets to help the faculty design courses and plan meaningful activities for students. Joe earned a doctorate in Educational Administration at the Warner School of Education. When he is not busy at work and school. He is busy at home with his wife, Beata, and their three children.

Keith Handy

Electrical Engineering Guide

Keith has been composing, performing, recording, and producing original music since his childhood in the early 1980s. With a focus in progressive or “art” rock Keith has produced several concept albums and a rock opera. He studied music theory at SUNY Fredonia, as well as computer art and film making at University at Buffalo. In line with Keith’s passion for the continual study of the creative process in all forms, he has branched out into improv comedy, computer art in GIMP, programming in C++ for generative art and signal processing, puppetry and puppet making, and video editing. He is currently a regular at the Rochester Makerspace, and spends most of his free time inventing electronic musical instruments with CAD software, 3D printing, and Arduino microcontrollers.

Marissa Hollinger

Forest School Guide

Marissa graduated from Houghton College in 2014 with a degree in Environmental Biology. Her program included courses in environmental science, animal behavior, field botany, and ecology. She was a member of the Eco Club at Houghton, which focuses on bringing more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices and awareness to the school and students. At Mary Cariola Children’s Center, Marissa worked as teacher’s aide for children with special needs. She loved her time playing with the children, while also helping them to develop their academic and social skills. She also worked as a field botany technician on a research project for the Cleveland Metroparks where she surveyed plots of land for plant identification, microhabitat quality, invasive species, and overall forest health. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, biking, camping, rock climbing, ultimate Frisbee, and field hockey. She loves working with children, and she has a huge passion for conservation and environmental education.

Tony Tepedino

Teen Connection and Kid Connection Guide

Tony Tepedino graduated from Roberts Wesleyan College with a Masters Degree in Education in 2004. He has worked as an educator at Allendale Columbia School for 22 years. He has had many different experiences in education, he taught physical education for 7 years, kindergarten for 7 years, has served as the Director of Curricular Technology and helped Allendale Columbia School adopt an iPad 1:1 program in its middle school and implement school wide usage of Google Apps for Education for all students. In his current position, Tony teaches electives for both middle and high school students in the Allendale Columbia School, Center for Entrepreneurship. Tony is also the Coordinator for Faculty Professional Development and Hybrid Learning. Tony has presented at variety of conferences, on the topics of Digital Literacy, Individualized Learning, iPad implementation and best practices, and the use of social media in education, both as a classroom tool and for educators to develop Personal Learning Networks (PLN). Tony is passionate about changing current educational paradigm to meet the needs of all students. Meeting the needs of all students starts with creating safe spaces for all people to be seen and heard. Only then, do we have the ability to truly learn, take risks and explore our curiosities!

Sarah Yannello

Yoga Guide

Sarah is a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher, 95-hour Yoga Ed (Pre-K-grade 12), and Trauma Informed Yoga Instructor. She began practicing yoga as a young adult in 2000, when she immediately discovered a profound connection with herself on the mat. Her personal practice allows her to see growth in all aspects of her life and she has found that through the evolution of her yoga practice, her ability to rise to challenges and accept difficult moments have increased along with her self-awareness and self-acceptance. Sarah takes joy in guiding her students through their own personal journey of discovery through movement, breath, and inquisition.

Sarah offers family and kids’ yoga classes as well as adult yoga classes at Molly’s Yoga Corner, Beautiful Birth Choices, and ROC & Soul Fitness. She will also be certified as a Relax and Renew restorative yoga teacher in late 2019.

Our Board

Lisa Ernst-Suess


Lisa is grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Amiko Learning Center from the beginning and can’t wait to watch it grow. She is an adoptive mom, foster parent, and social justice advocate. She studied elementary education and child psychology at St. Bonaventure University and then worked with a childcare center to create and run a school-age program.

Lisa can be reached at

Mark Ippolito


Mark is very happy to join Amiko Learning Center as Treasurer. He has over 30 years of accounting and financial analysis in healthcare and higher education and is excited to use his skills to contribute to the success and sustainability of this endeavor. Mark and his family have been residents of the Swillburg neighborhood of the city of Rochester for over 10 years. They enjoy city events and casual gatherings, especially potlucks, with their homeschooling, neighborhood, and church communities. In multiple alternate universes, Mark would be a farmer, an accomplished banjo player, a poet, a professional disc golf player, and a full-time reader of graphic novels.

Carole McNamara


Carole is a lifelong learner with a passion for educational philosophy, social justice, and simply enjoying the great outdoors. She has been a home educator for 12 years, during which she has had the opportunity to witness the value of meaningful, self-directed education. Prior to her career as a home educator, Carole used her degree from NTID as an American Sign Language interpreter in the Rochester community.

Amy Jeary

Amy is excited about the development of Amiko as an alternative learning center.  She holds several education certifications and currently owns and operates The Wren’s Nest, an early childhood program that supports children to develop their creativity and imagination through healthy rhythms and free movement.  She enjoys self-development through a psycho-spiritual path, reading, camping, and raising her bunnies.  She resides in the city with her partner and three children.

Jennifer Green

Executive Director

Jennifer has a Masters degree in Art Education from Nazareth College where she earned the Excellence in Art Education Award. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Teaching and Curriculum at the University of Rochester. Her research interests center on student autonomy and collaboration. To investigate educational opportunities that support learners to make meaningful decisions about their learning, she visited 12 learning centers throughout the Northeast. These visits and her academic efforts have inspired the development of Amiko. Previous to beginning her studies at U of R, she served as the Assistant Head of School at the Montessori School of Rochester. She loves gardening and operated Flower of Life Gardening for 15 years. Now, she fulfills her desire to be immersed in nature while teaching at RSMC’s Forest School. Jennifer has two young children and enjoys cooking and hiking.