Meet The Inspiring Minds Staff
Founder & Director
Dawn was always on the lookout for educational opportunities for her daughter and realized that there was a lack of hands-on, multi-aged, creatively fun, nature-inspired, whole-child centered programs in her area. Which is what led her, in July of 2015, to began the journey to create The Living School, which she has since transitioned into the Inspiring Minds Day School. The journey has been a powerful one that has helped Dawn grow as a person, a mother, a business owner, and a teacher.
Dawn is a graduate of Ithaca College, with a degree in Theatre, and a minor in Dance and Writing. Since graduating from college she has worked as an actress in Film, TV, and Theatre. She has taught acting and dance to children ages 6 to 16. As well as directing and choreographing theatre and dance projects for children ages 6 to16. Dawn was also a Music with Mar Instructor using their curriculum to teach music and rhythm to children ages 8 months to 5 years old. And she created a homeschool language arts, math, and science class for K-3rd grade using the Music with Mar curriculum and program.
In the past Dawn has run two successful sales based businesses out of her home, but Inspiring Minds Day School is, by far, the project that is closest to her heart. It combines her passion for education, with her love of helping children, and her desire to make sure each child has a place
where they feel accepted and safe, and where they feel they belong. This is her goal at Inspiring Minds Day School. Dawn wants her child, and all those that attend, to have a safe environment to learn and grow in, to be excited to come to each week, and that sparks a lifelong love of
learning in them that will help them succeed at whatever they choose to do in life.
Dawn is so grateful to be able to homeschool her daughter, and to show her, by example, that you can achieve your dream if you are willing to work hard, give back to your community and those that helped you along the way, and stay true to your heart and who you are inside. She is
thrilled to share the journey of the Inspiring Minds Day School with her wonderful daughter and incredible husband. And she is grateful that the Central Florida community has embraced this dream, and is helping to make the Inspiring Minds Day School a reality, not only for her daughter, but for the children of their community!!
Sprouts (Ages 5-7) Instructor
Vanessa is a State of Florida certified teacher in Elementary K-6 as well as certified by the American Montessori Society to teach Lower Elementary 6-9. She has taught in the classroom for ten years and had the pleasure of teaching her own children, each for two years. Her passion is storytelling and she uses it to invoke excitement about each lesson - from math and language to history and geography. As a teacher, she adopted the Conscious Discipline method which promotes emotional self-regulation and teaches children about inclusivity, compassion, assertiveness, emotional responsibility and focuses on connection. It was teaching in a Montessori school that she also became interested in becoming a certified kid’s yoga instructor. In this training, Vanessa became so intrigued about the affects yoga has on mind, body and spirit, that she decided to explore anatomy and physiology further by enrolling to become a Licensed Massage Therapist.
Vanessa enjoys working with those of all ages, but she specifically wanted to share with children the idea that emotional responsibility and love for others begins with oneself! She has taught over 300 children's yoga classes to date! Vanessa provides therapeutic bodywork and relaxation massages to clients in the Orlando area but she combined her passion and understanding of children with her knowledge of massage when she became licensed in Pediatric and Infant Massage in 2018. She sees pediatric clients and focuses on children with special health needs including children seeking relief due to poor digestion, anxiety, stress, ADD, ADHD, and/or sensory disorders. She also teaches infant massage classes to parents and caretakers that addresses the history of infant massage and the benefits and techniques of providing touch therapy to children to provide healthy emotional and physical development. Vanessa also shares the love of massage and yoga with her own two young children, Olivia and Gavin, that help her keep current with everything relevant in children's pop culture!
Seedlings (Ages 7-9) Instructor
Afternoon Creative Art Instructor
Karen McGowan is an art teacher and professional artist from southern Louisiana. As the owner of Creative U, she has had a very successful span of 7+ years of opening the eyes of our youth to the
amazing wold of art! Her background in art Includes creating for collectors, festival artwork poster artist, pet portraits, Boy Scouts of America patch designer (2 times!), murals in many establishments
throughout the south, book illustration, and logo design. Any opportunity to create, she does!
Schooled in Art Education, with a minor in Italian Renaissance Art, Karen has learned countless ways to bring art into the world and how to teach it! Her favorite art medium is textured acrylic, though she
can teach it all! She’s always looking for new and improved ways to create.
The mother of one 13 year old and 26 year old stepdaughter (bonus prize for marrying her dad!) her family most certainly comes first. She is blessed to know that her family fully supports her career of art
and is a constant positive force that keeps her moving forward.
Physical Science Instructor
Jen Becker is a homeschooling mom, former computer systems administrator, and geek of all trades!
Before entering the Mom Life, Jen graduated magna cum laude from The College of William and Mary with a degree in Computer Science. She then worked for Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, CA for over 6 years as both a Render Pipeline Engineer for movies stretching from “Monsters, Inc” to “WALL-E” and as a member of the Rendering Team for “The Incredibles”.
Jen volunteers extensively with various youth organizations. She has led a Girl Scout troop for 7 years, a 4-H club for 3 years, and various Junior FIRST LEGO League teams for several years. She holds a diploma from the North American Montessori Center’s teacher training program, has tutored, and has taught homeschool classes and camps.
Jen homeschools to have the freedom to explore and embrace her children’s interests and strengths. Her focus has always been science and math, and she loves figuring out new ways to approach topics that work for each child’s abilities and learning style. In her free time, Jen enjoys traveling with her family in their RV.
Fine Art Instructor
Western & World Cultures Instructor
Sarah Rigas is a local artist and homeschooling mom. She has shown work locally and throughout Florida, and works out of a studio at McRae Art Studios, an artist cooperative in Orlando.
She has a BFA in painting from Auburn University. Learning more about creativity led her to question conventional education, and she has always homeschooled her two children.
Sarah loves seeing students immersed in creative work, and enjoys creating an environment in which this can happen.
Gardening & Nature Studies Instructor
Caroline Chomanics is a passionate horticulturalist in the Central Florida community having earned her Degree in Landscape and Horticulture Technology from Valencia College and has earned her Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Studies and Sustainable Urbanism from Rollins College.
She developed her horticultural skills while living for 4 years at a Historic Botanical Garden, Nehrling Gardens in Gotha, Florida. Since 2015, Caroline has been Program Manager to Fleet Farming, an urban agriculture program that transforms lawns into farms. She also acts as Chief Administrative Officer to IDEAS For Us which develops, funds, and scales environmental action projects in the focus areas of energy, water, food, waste, and ecology.
She is honored to be the gardening teacher at Inspiring Minds Day School, teaching children about the wonders of the natural world.
In-House Substitute Instructor
Before becoming a homeschool mom, Dorothea enjoyed a successful career in marketing. She worked at American Express Travel where she helped promote destinations and hotels, and this is where she discovered her love for travel and geography. After moving to Florida, she found her dream job working at Disney where she promoted the parks and resorts to various tour and travel companies, as well as planned special events for upwards of 500-1,000 people. In her career, she learned the importance of effective public speaking after being trained in the art by some Disney masters. This training is something she wished she had learned as a child and instilled in her a commitment to one day develop a program that would teach children how to have confidence and speak effectively in front of people, whether it be as few as five or a crowd of 5,000.
After leaving Disney to be a full-time mom to two boys, she rediscovered her passion for teaching. Today she is active in the homeschool community and has taught over 20 classes to homeschoolers in a variety of venues, organized and coordinated science fairs, geography expeditions, history events, and field trips. Dorothea loves creating an excitement for learning new things and teaching children of all ages. Her favorite subjects are those others consider “geek subjects”: Literature, American History, Geography, Life Skills and, of course, Public Speaking. She considers it a blessing to be able to share her knowledge and passion for homeschooling with others and is excited about this opportunity at Inspiring Minds Day School.
Yoga Instructor (2nd-8th grade)
Samantha started her children's yoga journey in Los Angeles, California, at the Golden Bridge Yoga Center as a teacher's assistant in their children's Kundalini Yoga Studio. She fell in love with this way of teaching and witnessing play, self-regulation, and social skills melding together in harmony.
This love led her to a more intensive study of Children's Yoga and the Young Yogi Program. She studied under Candace Martin and is a graduate of Candace's Young Yogi program. Samantha is a certified 200HR RYT Yoga Instructor with a love and passion for teaching and working with children.
For the last two years, she has taught Children's Yoga classes in private and public schools, including the R School Orlando and Rolling Hills Elementary School. This summer she co-taught classes for Headstart with Candace Martin through the Young Yogi Program. Samantha also enjoys teaching Yoga to private groups, at birthday parties, and in private family sessions.
She is excited to be joining the Inspiring Minds team and looks forward to having the opportunity to teach your amazing kids!!
Candi Clark is a Mom of three amazing kids with a very diverse background and love for learning. Candi has an Associate’s degree in psychology and worked as a crisis intervention counselor for the Georgia Department of Family and Children’s services. She went on to study anthropology with a focus on Mesoamerican archaeology at Georgia State University. Candi worked on archaeological sites in South Georgia with Georgia State University and Ferbank Museum of Natural History, as well as in the Yucatan Peninsula with National Geographic and Georgia State University.
Candi left the field of archaeology for less traveling and to teach at a private school in Georgia. She eventually left teaching to home school her own children.
Candi is now a professional photographer who owns her own business. Her company, Magical Pix by Candi Clark, has clients from all over the Unites States and the world who are visiting Florida. She specializes in family photography.
“I am so excited to join the team of amazing teachers at Inspiring Minds Day School, and I can’t wait to share my love of writing, literature, culture, and creative learning with these kids. I truly hope to foster in them a love of learning like I have.”
Musical Theater Intensive Instructor
Andrea Hochkeppel is a Louisiana-born performer and teacher here in the Orlando area. Andrea’s credits include performing as a lead singer for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, starring as Junie B. Jones in Junie B. Jones the Musical, and swimming the seas with Finding Nemo the Musical at Walt Disney World. She was recently seen as a featured dancer on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.
Andrea has a degree in Musical Theatre from Northwestern University where she received extensive training in voice, acting, and dance. She has played piano, clarinet, and bassoon for over 15 years in educational, regional, and professional settings. She’s studied with the top voice teachers in Chicago and NYC and worked as a teaching assistant at Northwestern in vocal performance/singing-acting. Andrea has a multitude of experience teaching students of all ages. Her passion for teaching and her love for the performing arts is apparent in every project she takes on. She’s absolutely thrilled to be teaching at Inspiring Minds Day School!
Drum Circle Instructor
Avery Clark currently performs and competes with the nationally recognized Infinity Percussion of Florida ensemble. He is an experienced percussionist who's been playing for 9 years with various performing ensembles, including touring the East Coast and Midwest through Drum Corps International with HeatWave Drum and Bugle Corps.
In addition to his performing, Avery has 100+ hours of teaching experience with the percussion ensemble at Innovation Montessori of Ocoee, where he worked with students in 4th-10th grade. Avery is excited to join the Inspiring Minds family and is elated at the idea of being able to bring his students the gift of rhythm and music, as well as teach them how other cultures use music and drumming, and share with them the impact it has on us and our world!
Intro to Digital Photography Instructor
Greg has been the owner and lead photographer of VMP Photography since 2005. He has also worked for Disney Fairytale Weddings and was a photography trainer with Disney Photo Imaging (Photopass). VMP Photography specializes in Wedding and Portrait photography, however, Greg is knowledgeable in many aspects of photography including landscape, still life, studio, and fashion. He has worked numerous events as a photographer all over the country including the Miami Beach International Fashion Week. Expertise named VMP Photography one of the top 20 portrait photography studios in Orlando.
Greg has a passion for teaching and passing on the art of photography to those wishing to learn. He has developed several photography curriculums which he has implemented in his company's training and apprenticeship program. He is always looking for opportunities to help educate the youth of today and help inspire the next generation of photographers! You can see his work @VMPPhoto on Instagram and on his website: www.vmpphoto.com. Greg is excited to join the Inspiring Minds family and look forward to sharing his knowledge of photography with all of the amazing students!
Candace Martin, E-RYT, RYCT
Candace Martin is the Founder & Director of both the Young Yogi Program (Registered Children’s Yoga School) & Young Yogi Advocate Program, Inc. Both programs offer yoga, wellness, and mindfulness classes and camps year round.
Candace and YYP also offer a 95hr Children’s Yoga & Mindfulness Certification through Yoga Alliance. All YYP trainings have a strong emphasis on advocate work. Candace currently teaches at local studios including Guruv Yoga, Warrior Power Yoga & Firefly Yoga Company, and is grateful for her longtime relationship with Whole Foods Market, Phillips Crossing.
In 2013, Candace Martin & Beth Stone received a Grant from the Pollination Project, jump starting the Young Yogi Advocate Program which now serves at-risk youth and mental health providers in Central Florida. YYAP provides free classes, workshops and camps for those living in marginalized and underserved communities. YYAP is committed to linking our next generation to possibility in the community and offers free yoga certification to teens in or edging our of advocate care.
Candace is dedicated to sharing the tools of yoga with all of her students so they can access, uncover and shine their inherent, unique and profound light.
Sign Language Instructor
April Christman, graduated from the University of Central Florida. Upon graduation she obtained her certification in Sign Language Interpretation and began her career as a Interpreter for Orange County Public Schools. April spent 3 years working with Deaf children at Lake Sybelia Elementary helping to mainstream those children into a regular classroom setting. She left the public school system to pursue her passion of homeschooling her children which she has had the privilege of doing for the past 9 years.
April has also interpreted for numerous programs over the past 15 years including The Orlando Science Center, Amaya Papya, and the Living School. She also passed her love of Sign Language onto her two children helping them to communicate through signing before they where able to speak.
April is excited to join the team at Inspiring Minds Day School and looks forward to sharing her knowledge of Sign Language with young students through this exciting language.
Assistant to the Director
Assistant Theatre Instructor
Grant Norman is a professional actor who has worked steadily in the entertainment business for over 30 years. His credits include starring as Gaston in "Beauty and the Beast" on Broadway, the Beast in the National Tour of "Beauty and the Beast", and the Phantom in the National Tour of "The Phantom of the Opera". He was brought to London by Hal Prince and Cameron Mackintosh to play the Phantom in the West End production of "The Phantom of the Opera". His TV credits include "Law & Order", "Law & Order: SVU" and "Law & Order: CI".
Throughout the many decades of Grant's career he has enjoyed passing on his vast knowledge of acting, singing, and the theatre to students of all ages from upper elementary school through college. He has given Master Classes in Vocal Audition Technique, Scene Study, and Performance around the country to college students and professionals.
He also enjoys teaching the art of prop and set design to students as well. At Inspiring Minds you can often find him helping students design and create the props and sets we use in our show. He is a multi-talented artist that enjoys working with students and passing on his love of the arts with the benefit of his years of experience.
Grant is thrilled to be a part of the Inspiring Minds Day School family and looks forward to working with the students to help create whatever their imaginations can come up with!
Stories Around the World Instructor
Anne moved to Florida in 2015 from New Jersey. She has two boys ages 10 and 12. When her boys were little and it was time to send her first son to preschool, she realized that what she had been doing with him at home was just as good, if not better! Thus began her homeschooling journey. She soon feel in love with teaching her children at home and being able to spend extra time with them.
Anne graduated in 1995 from Hudson Area School of Radiologic Technology with certifications in Radiology and MRI and has worked in the hospital system as an MRI technologist for the last 25 years. She is also CPR certified by the American Heart Association.
Anne has experience teaching and working with children of all ages. She taught 3rd and 4th grade at The Dreamers School of Orlando. She previously served as the Director and substitute teacher of a local homeschool program. And for the past three years has taught Religious Education at her church.
Anne's favorite subject is science, followed closely by English literature. She loves to read, exercise, and travel. She also enjoys spending time at the theme parks.
Anne is excited to join the Inspiring Minds team and “is thrilled to have been given the opportunity to teach at Inspiring Minds.”