Director & Viva Atelier Guide
Ursula Costin was born in New York City, but lived most of the first decade of her childhood in Faculty housing at Kent School with her parents and 5 sisters. The small town on the banks of the Housatonic River in northwestern Connecticut and its natural beauty inspired and supported her explorations and imagination. The sound of the Kent School students singing at Evensong and an introduction to folk songs given in a live concert by Pete Seeger rooted her love of music. Nature, learning through playful exploration, and music have been continual sources of enjoyment throughout her life. Ursula’s undergraduate degree is in Fine Arts (Creative Writing, Music, and Art History). She earned a master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College of Education and studied in the School Psychology Doctoral Program at New York University. She worked as an early childhood educator in and near New York City from 1977 to 2014, and in the metropolitan Washington DC area until 2017. She joined the Acton community in 2018 to use her work and life experiences to support and guide the youngest learners.
Ursula is an avid reader and enjoys writing and illustrating books for children. She plays acoustic guitar and is a member of the Celebration Singers at St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville.
Her sons, music, the natural world, and children bring delight to Ursula’s life. She eagerly anticipates joyfully exploring, learning, and growing with the children at River Oak Academy.
Outdoor Exploration Teacher
Mr. Skip, as he is fondly called, was born in the South, but has lived in 5 foreign countries and has traveled through all 50 states. He served in the USA, 10th Special Forces Group. Florida has been his home for most of his life and he even married his Central-Florida high-school sweetheart (nearly 40 years).
Skip’s great-grandmother was a Creek Native American and she began the family tradition of mastering Native Plant Lore; the practical usage of all Southern Plants. A born naturalist; he spent most of his youth in the South’s Swamps and Forests, and was fortunate to have a father as his first teacher in the stewardship and use of wild resources. As parents of four children, Skip and Sheila were among the first pioneers in the homeschooling movement of the early 1980’s; eventually recognized for impacting worldwide homeschoolers, via seminars and published materials. The Wild Outdoors became Skip’s best teacher and forged his philosophy of “Staying Connected to Creation”. His Faith and Family are bedrock in influencing his heart to befriend like-minded people along the way. He is self- enrolled in the school of life-long learning; he seeks to inspire the very young and even the very old to do the same. He is a writer, artist, photographer, horticulturalists, and a true storyteller. He brings these attributes and skills into every project he his asked to lead. He is passionate about creating and maintaining quality environment education practices. His drive for excellence is summed up in his willingness to be a servant to River Oak Academy: guiding children as they encounter Nature’s Classroom and gently assisting as they begin their own journey of discovery of native Florida Flora and Fauna. He is centered on creating structures out of natural elements, encouraging a world of free play in the outdoors; unstructured flow learning, child-inspired emergent curriculum; and the mastery of inquiry-based teaching style; fostering a lifelong connection with the natural world.
Explorer Studio Teacher
Heather Brinkley was born in the South where faith, hospitality, and family values shaped her deep respect and love for people and the natural world. She grew up in a military family, the youngest of four children. She spent a better part of her childhood in the Midwest where gardening, nature walks, and seasonal changes inspired her childhood with colorful expression. In 2000, she made her way back home to north-east Florida, where she continues to live today.
Heather has spent the better part of her life leading, teaching, and guiding children and youth of all backgrounds and ages. She believes deeply in the power of positive affirmation and joyful celebration of each individual’s gifts and abilities. She is a passionate advocate for personal growth and creative expression through art and other imaginative media. She believes that one of the highest virtues a person can possess is that of a teachable spirit and a willingness to learn and overcome. Her motto is, “life is a classroom, truth is the guide, wisdom comes from experience, and faith is the courage that empowers us to achieve the impossible.”