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Board Member’s Profile
Dr. Gifty Chung Director, Forest Trail Academy
Dr. Chung is originally from Ghana, West Africa. She comes from a family background of educators. Her family truly believes in the proverb, it takes a village to raise a child. Dr. Chung’s family has had a tremendous educational impact in her village back home. Struggling in the American education system herself, she vowed to continue her passion of educating all students no matter their environmental situations.
She believes that appropriate education is one thing in which everyone should have equal access.
Alternative education such as online schools has become the solution for numerous people in various situations. Being the director and a board member of Forest Trail Academy has been a dream come true. Dr. Chung received her BA in Sociology and a minor in general education from the University of Florida (Go Gators). She received a Masters in Secondary Education with licensure in Spanish, and Principalship certification from the University of Akron. She later earned her doctorate degree in Education/Educational Leadership from the University of Phoenix.
Ms. Heather Hillesheim
Teacher & Curriculum Lead, Forest Trail Academy
Heather Hillesheim received a Bachelor’s of Science in Textile Chemistry from North Carolina State University in 2003. In 2005 she began teaching high school science in Douglasville, GA, after pursuing her teaching certificate via alternative methods. Heather originally chose to teach because of her love for chemistry, but quickly realized she had a passion for educating high school students.
For five years she taught at the same school, teaching a variety of sciences including chemistry, physical science, forensics, and AP Physics. During that time she also began to work with the high school youth group at her local church.
The birth of her daughter and a move to Tennessee in 2010 led Heather to step back from full time teaching. In 2010-2011 Heather wrote and had published two supplemental textbooks from the Physics in Action series; Sound and Light, and Electricity and Magnetism. Also in 2011 Heather began teaching for Forest Trail Academy (FTA). Here at FTA Heather teaches several high school science courses, leads curriculum development for science courses, and runs the National Honor Society. FTA allows Heather to continue to have an impact on the lives of students, while still allowing her to rear her daughter through these early years. She continues to be fascinated by her students’ academic success as they work rigorously at FTA to pursue their future endeavors.
Teacher, Forest Trail Academy
Rachael Johnson joined Forest Trail Academy in April 2008 as a secondary math teacher. In addition to teaching, Rachael has written secondary math courses for Forest Trail Academy and acts as Curriculum Developer for mathematics and foreign language courses. She also serves as Chair of the Technology Committee and is a member of the Curriculum and Accreditation Committees.
Rachael completed her undergraduate degree at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado. There she majored in Mathematics – Secondary Education Emphasis and minored in Psychology. Rachael chose to complete her student teaching at Gunnison Valley School, the school district’s alternative high school. This experience sparked her interest in alternative education and her passion for working in a “nontraditional” classroom. Rachael went on to teach Algebra 1 and Geometry at Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, Colorado. Here, she was able to share her experiences in alternative education as a member of the school’s Alternative Planning Committee, responsible for designing and implementing the district’s alternative education program.
After completing her Master of Education in Information Science & Learning Technologies, Educational Technology Emphasis online via the University of Missouri, Rachael developed an interest in online education. This lead her to her current position with Forest Trail Academy.
Ms. Elizabeth Szczypka
Elizabeth Szczypka was born and raised in Torrance, California. In 2008, she earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Middle Childhood Education at Miami University, with specific focuses in science and language arts.
Elizabeth spent a year as an Au Pair in Switzerland and then another year as an Americorps volunteer in Denver, Colorado. In 2010, she moved back to Switzerland to teach in an international school. She taught a wide variety of subjects, from biology and geography to English as a Second Language. While in Switzerland, Elizabeth earned her Master of Education in Educational Administration and Leadership from the George Washington University (distance learning), graduating in 2012. Early on she realized that if distance education could offer her the perfect opportunity to learn despite her location then perhaps she could help children the same way.
In 2010, Elizabeth joined the Forest Trail Academy family as a middle school science teacher and then trained as curriculum developer. She continued to work full time at the international school in Switzerland for several years before moving to Edinburgh, Scotland. No matter where life took her, Forest Trail Academy was a constant in Elizabeth’s life. Elizabeth is still passionate about teaching and developing new courses while keeping our current courses up to date and relevant.
Ms. Erin Sager
Erin Sager was born and raised in Norfolk, VA. She graduated from Old Dominion University, also in Norfolk, in 2007 with a Bachelor’s of English and secondary teaching licensure. It was at ODU that Erin first became familiar with distance learning.
After graduating from college, Erin lived abroad for a time. First for half a year in London, then for just over a year in Japan, where she worked as a conversational English teacher. In 2010, it was time to return home to Virginia. Erin soon began teaching high school English in Virginia Beach. With Virginia Beach City Public Schools, Erin received online pedagogy training, taught her first online learning classes, and really became passionate about distance learning.
In 2012, her husband’s Army career moved them to Alabama, and Erin joined the Forest Trail Academy staff as an English teacher. Since then, she has taken on the additional roles of English Department Chair and Dean of Students. During her tenure with Forest Trail Academy, Erin has moved several more times. She spent three wonderful years teaching middle school Language Arts in Honolulu, Hawaii. From there, she moved back to Virginia, where she taught one year of middle school Language Arts in Hampton. In addition to her roles at Forest Trail Academy, Erin currently works as an Instructional System Designer for a U.S. Navy contractor.
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