Who We Are


Amanda Collis

Mountain River School Educator

I grew up in a small town right outside of Albany, NY.  I went to a one-room school house for Kindergarten, First and Second Grade.  This is where I fell in love with school and knew that I wanted to be a teacher.  I used to wear my mom’s high heels and recruit the neighborhood kids to be in my “class”.  I’ve traded the high heels for hiking boots and while my idea of what it means to be a good teacher have changed since I was little, my passion for teaching has only grown.

I graduated from the University of Vermont in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education with a concentration in Communication Sciences. While at UVM I was a four year starter on the softball team and was voted captain my senior year. While softball has taken me across the country, I always come back to the Northeast.  

Before joining Mountain River School I worked at a private preschool for twelve years and served as both teacher and director.  I am excited to be back in the classroom full time as I love learning alongside my students in the great outdoors.  I am excited to take full advantage of all the outdoor learning space that surrounds Mountain River School.  I love bringing the community into meet with the children, whether it be a visit from Peace Pups (a local dog sledding organization) during the Iditarod, an experienced yoga instructor, or a composting expert.  

I currently live in Bolton with my husband, Bob, and our dog Tyrus.  We all love to be outside, whether it be hiking, snow shoeing or running in preparation for my eighth half marathon in October.  When I’m not outside, I love to experiment with new recipes in the kitchen.  

I am thrilled to be part of the Mountain River School teaching staff and I am looking forward to continuing to get to know the school community!




Matt Mitchell

Mountain River School Educator

I grew up west of Boston, in a suburb most notable for its gigantic mall and home to Heisman Trophy-winning Natick High School alum, Doug Flutie. My neighborhood was a short bike ride away from my childhood elementary school, as well as adjacent to the local town forest, a hundred-acre preserve, which encompassed a vegetative pond. Much of my childhood was spent outside in these spaces, whether imitating the Boston sports stars who adorned the walls of my childhood bedroom or bushwhacking through the woods, trying to elude a seeker during a neighborhood-wide game of tag.

My first exposure to teaching, therefore, was through sports. Beginning in high school and continuing throughout college, I coached many seasons of youth recreational soccer, basketball and baseball, several teams of which were coached alongside my father. Coaching ignited a sense of purpose for me; I was able to make meaningful connections with the players. Also overlapping some of those coaching seasons, were many summers working at a YMCA day camp. Working at Camp Chickami enriched and deepened my understanding of how play is connected to learning; it also taught me how important nature was in helping me to thrive, both as a child and an adult. These experiences guided and shaped my pursuit of education studies while at Skidmore College. It was there that I developed the pillars of my pedagogy. Though I had a clear picture of my career ambitions, my zest for adventure momentarily interrupted me from pursuing them.

In the fall after graduation, my childhood best friend and I, set out to conquer the Appalachian Trail. We ended up completing a large section from Massachusetts to Virginia in two and half months despite no prior backpacking experience. Though the encroachment of winter and lack of funds eventually ended our trek, it became a defining experience for me both personally and professionally. The lessons I learned on the Trail were like nothing I had ever experienced; I became hooked on travel, outdoor recreation, and the natural world. These have helped to define my lifestyle and shaped my academic and professional decisions going forward.

Since the Trail, I have taught in both public and independent schools, most recently as a fifth grade teacher at the Grammar School in Putney, Vermont. Prior to the Grammar School, I taught fourth to sixth grade math and science, as well as eighth and ninth grade ceramics for many years at a junior boarding school in Lake Placid, New York, called the North Country School. I left that position to pursue a Masters in outdoor education and environmental sciences at Cortland University. My studies and research in school gardening there, along with my many summers of traveling domestically and internationally by foot, bike, and kayak have inspired and infused my teaching.

I love being a part of the Mountain River School community. I believe MRS’ mission, educators, and geographic location create an ideal learning environment. When not in the classroom, I enjoy being in the woods, waist deep in snow on my skis, in the company of my dogs and my partner, Sarah.



Jen Volansky

Arts Integration Educator

I live with my husband and two sons in Stowe, VT. In the winter we can be found at Trapp’s cabin eating a well-deserved bowl of soup, or on Mount Mansfield ripping it up in the woods (well my kids are the rippers). As soon as the snow melts, we are mountain biking or swimming in one of the local swimming holes.  You may also find me hiking with our dog, Poppy.

I am passionate about the outdoors, creating art, and teaching children. I have been teaching art for over 20 years and have variety of teaching experiences and curriculum development work that I am excited to incorporate into MRS curriculum.

My professional teaching career originated in an outdoor program called Nature's Classroom and I have creatively incorporated nature into my curriculum since.  A couple of my outdoor experiences with children include a variety of roles at Camp Thunderbird in Bemidji, MN and taking high school students backpacking in the Tetons and  Alaska while working at a program called Wilderness Adventure’s.  Special experiences include sharing a moon rising over the mountain on an early morning hike, whales breaching, saving  tadpoles from puddles, and reading aloud while in the lightning position on the side of a mountain.  

I believe integration is the key to in-depth learning experiences and is a holistic approach to teaching that is embedded in daily practice. “Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both.” Each child uses many different ways to express his or her creativity and show understanding.

Art brings communities together.  I have facilitated this in a few different ways.  I have expanded my role outside of the traditional classroom to include work on the Red Clover committee, Vermont's statewide picture book program, work on the development of art residencies at schools which welcomed local artists and created hands on learning experiences, community events,  and participation in in-depth art residencies at the Studio Center in Johnson Vt.

After growing up in St. Charles, IL, a western suburb of Chicago,  I graduated from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Art and a K-12 degree in art education.  I began my art education career in Colorado teaching both Elementary school and Middle school in the Vail valley.  After moving to Vermont,  I continued to expand my knowledge and experience through workshops, conferences and course work at St. Michael’s and through other venues.  I had the opportunity to teach at both Georgia Elementary and Hardwick Elementary school.  My last 12 years have been spent teaching at Stowe Elementary school.  I am a practicing artist creating and showing work when I find the opportunities.

I have the perspective of parent, artist, educator and outdoor enthusiast and I look forward to continued work with the students at MRS to expand their experiences and knowledge through art. 



Bradleigh Olson

Mountain River School Educator

Growing up in a small farming town in Virginia, I attended rather ordinary schools. A few standout teachers, however, provided a learning experience that was anything but. It was these educators that ultimately kickstarted my passion for learning and eventually a career in education where I could share that passion with others.

I attended Christopher Newport University, a liberal arts school in Newport News, Virginia, where I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Teaching. Eight years of teaching 4th grade in the Virginia public school system has provided me with numerous learning opportunities, a chance to work with students from multiple nationalities & backgrounds, and a better understanding of what it takes to provide a quality education.

While my first hiking experience may not have come until college, I was quickly hooked on the joys of being in nature. Occasional hikes turned into overnight backpacking, kayaking, running, cycling, rock climbing and many other outdoor adventures. For the last four years my husband and I have chosen to spend our summers living on Maine’s Mount Desert Island. I have found great joy in exploring the beauty of Acadia National Park, where reading a book on the beach or gathering wild Maine blueberries never gets old.

I am incredibly excited about moving to Vermont and joining the Mountain River School community as I look to continue my educational journey. I look forward to learning and growing with my students as we incorporate more of the natural world into our classroom at Mountain River.


Sam Hecklau

Mountain River School Educator

I grew up in Clinton, New York, a small town in rural Upstate New York. As a boy, my playground was the woods and creek that ran behind my house. My free time was spent swimming, building forts, climbing trees, fishing, and generally enjoying what nature had to offer. These casual childhood adventures ended up having an enormous impact on me, and have helped shape the direction of my adult life.

My enjoyment and appreciation of the outdoors developed into a passion for activities such as hiking, camping, photography, wood carving, fly fishing, and skiing. It was also one of the factors that led me to attend St. Lawrence University in northern New York. While at St. Lawrence, I was able to further my passion for the outdoors and formalize them by becoming a certified guide for the school’s Outdoor Program and a trip leader for the school’s Outing Club. This also provided my first experience as an educator, allowing me to pass on my appreciation for the outdoors to others while helping them to gain new skills.

While at St. Lawrence I was drawn to Geology as a major, due in part to my interest in the natural world, as well as the Department’s emphasis on hands-on education and outdoor lab components. Additionally, I found an application for my creative interest in the Art & Art History Department. Consequently, I pursued both of these interests and graduated with a double major in 2014.

Upon graduation from St. Lawrence, I spent several summers working as a counselor/instructor and trip leader at Teton Valley Ranch Camp in Dubois, Wyoming and Pine Island Camp in Belgrade, Maine. This experience provided me with additional mentoring and outdoor education opportunities focused on middle school-aged boys and girls.

In the summer of 2017, I worked as an Associate Teacher at the Northfield Mount Herman School (NMH) Summer Session. In this position, I taught Studio Art alongside veteran educators and used the skills learned in that class to lead instruction independently in two ceramics classes. I took this foundational classroom experience to my next position as a full-time instructor at the North Country School (NCS) in Lake Placid, New York. While at NCS I taught middle school students pre-algebra, natural science, and ceramics, and served as an assistant house parent in a student dormitory. This teaching position in an Adirondack Mountain setting allowed me to capitalized on many of my personal interests and expand my teaching experience. NCS also provided an opportunity to nurture my students’ love of the outdoors. Many weekends were spent hiking, skiing, and fishing with the students. This offered the students a balanced mix of academics, creative expression, physical awareness, and recreational skill-building; a balance not often found in traditional education settings. This formative experience as an educator shaped my perspective on what a child’s education ought to look like. It inspired me to consider the development of the whole child; building strong intellects as well as well-rounded individuals.

In 2019 the opportunity to fully embrace this vision emerged at the Mountain River School (MRS). From my very first discussions, it became clear that MRS promotes a learning philosophy that aligns with my vision of what education means and what whole child growth entails. I am extremely excited to join the group of talented educators at Mountain River School. I look forward to contributing my own enthusiasm and passion for pursuing the MRS mission. I envision a middle school program that includes a project-based curriculum to stimulate learning in the core academic fields, creative expression, and physical wellness. I plan to accomplish this through interaction with the natural world, emersion in the local community, exploring leadership opportunities, and exposure to life-long recreational pursuits.

The Mountain River School, LTD. admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.