The Forest School is guided by a group of innovative practitioners and leaders from across Georgia’s business, education, design, and nonprofit sectors. Together the team believes that their experiences have led them to a calling at the crossroads of education and entrepreneurship.
Dr. Tyler Thigpen
Founder & Head of School of The Forest School
Tyler grew up in Georgia and has worked in innovative district, private, and charter schools, as well as statewide and national nonprofits. Currently, Tyler is a Partner at Transcend, a national nonprofit focused on accelerating innovation in the core design of school, and co-founder of MENTOR Georgia, the state’s emerging mentoring partnership. Tyler is the former head of the upper school at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta and co-founder and board member of Chattahoochee Hills Charter School near Serenbe. At Transcend, Tyler has worked closely on school redesign projects such as nXu, Whittle, The Academy Group, Washington Leadership Academy, Art in Motion, Hebrew Public, Teton Science's Place Network, EL Education, and the Brooklyn STEAM Center. Tyler holds a doctoral degree in education leadership from Harvard Graduate School of Education, a masters in public administration from Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a masters in theology from Regent College. Tyler has written about the future of learning in the Washington Post, Education Week, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Getting Smart, and others. In the summer, Tyler teaches leaders at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.
Yvette Cook Darby
Founding Board Member of The Forest School
Yvette is a seasoned executive, business strategist, coach and consultant with more than 25 years of leadership experience. She has successfully enhanced the culture of organizations to become more competitive, responsive and innovative. She is most proud of her work with non-profits, specifically those focused on education, to improve the conditions and opportunities for those living in underserved communities. Yvette began her professional career in broadcast media sales, has owned a marketing consulting firm, and is a certified Personal and Executive Coach. Her past positions include: President & CEO of Ushers New Look, Chief Marketing Officer of United Way of Atlanta, and Chief Strategy Officer of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Yvette is currently coaching, consulting, and serving as Chief Operating Officer of Inspire, Inc. She earned a master’s degree in mass communications and a bachelor’s degree in public affairs and political science from the University of Denver. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for SHRM Atlanta, Caring for Others, and the University of Denver, School of Arts and Sciences Alumni.
High School Guide & Administrator
Born and raised in Beloit, Wisconsin, Brittney is an experienced outdoor educator, mentor, counselor, coach, youth advocate, and former college athlete. Brittney graduated with a BA in social work from Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW), where she was a part of the Women’s Basketball team. Post-graduation, she worked as Teen Leadership Coordinator for Lake Valley Camp, a nonprofit serving inner-city youth in Milwaukee. It was during this time that she developed her passion for connecting outdoor education, team building, and everyday life skills. Brittney also worked for Southwest Key Programs as the Mentor Recruitment Specialist where she ran the Mentoring Program, regularly connecting youth to passionate, positive, and caring adults and opportunities in the community. Brittney has a Master’s degree in Education with a focus on Experiential Learning and Development from Plymouth State University. She has made it her life mission to use positivity and humility to impact each person she encounters so that they may in turn do the same for someone else.
Middle School Guide
Caleb grew up in Virginia, but has lived in Georgia long enough to consider it home. He has spent many years as a middle school teacher, but is a storyteller at heart. He got his start in education as a creative writing tutor to sixth graders in the Atlanta Public School system and has since taught in a multi-age, constructivist environment. Before finding his way into the classroom, Caleb served as Media Director and co-founder of Give Us Names, a nonprofit organization working alongside of displaced Colombians to share their stories. Currently, Caleb is pursuing a PhD in Teaching and Learning at Georgia State University with a research focus on Digital Storytelling. Caleb’s greatest passion (and greatest adventure) is his family, and he gladly spends most of his time with his wife and two daughters at their home in Grant Park, Atlanta.
Amber was born in Atlanta, Georgia, where she attended Frederick Douglass High School. Upon graduation she attended Georgia Southern University and graduated with a degree in Human and Environmental Sciences. After several years of managing and overseeing the renovation and construction of both residential and commercial properties, Amber changed careers to open a family shipping business and oversaw the first stage of operation. During this time she married NFL Cornerback Fernando Bryant, and began actively participating in his 25-Sports Foundation, which supports the encouragement of inner-city youth. Through the Foundation, she was able to participate in community clothing and food drives. This is where Amber found her passion for working with children. “Fernando’s Commando’s,” a group of high performing middle school students, was the brainchild of Amber. From the love to see children succeed, Amber began to volunteer at Meadowlands Montessori school and decided to pursue her certification in Montessori Middle Grades Education. She has served the Henry and Fayette County communities as a Montessori guide and assistant in both the Upper and Lower Elementary classes. Amber visited her high school alma mater and was shocked at the environment she encountered. This led her to start The Odyssey Program in hopes bringing the family environment she left at Douglass High School back to the forefront. The program focuses on essential life skills for high school students to carry into adulthood and become successful, contributing citizens to their community. She still volunteers with the students from Douglass. Fernando and Amber have been married for 14 years and raise Fernando’s older children, Amber’s nephew, and together have a 8 year old daughter named Griffin.
Mary Faith Laughlin
Apprentice Guide and Art Guide
Mary Faith grew up in Memphis, TN, but considers herself ‘fairly local’ after calling Georgia home for the past 17 years. After graduating from Auburn University in Human Development and Family Studies, Mary Faith obtained her certification as a Child Life Specialist. She began her professional work at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in the AFLAC Cancer and Blood Disorder Center, providing diagnostic education and psychosocial support to patients and their families. Mary Faith has volunteered in a variety of environments with children since that time, including Camp Sunshine and The Make-A-Wish Foundation. Most recently, she has worked as an ambassador for Noonday Collection, a fair trade jewelry line that partners with women in developing countries. Her greatest passion and joy is helping others discover how to live fully alive in who they were made to be. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, traveling, and connecting with her family and friends. Mary Faith and her husband David reside in Peachtree City with their three children, Drew, Lydia, and Ryan.
Advisor & Co-Founder of Acton Academy
Jeff Sandefer lives a dual life as an entrepreneur and a Socratic Guide. As an entrepreneur, he founded his first company at age 16 and went on to found or co-found seven successful businesses. As a Socratic teacher at the University of Texas, Jeff’s students five times voted him the school’s Outstanding Teacher and Businessweek named him one of the top Entrepreneurship professors in America. Jeff went on to co-found the Acton School of Business, an MBA program perennially ranked by the Princeton Review among the best in the nation. In 2012 The Economist honored him as one of the top fifteen Business School professors in the world. Jeff is a graduate of the Harvard Business School, where he served for over twenty years on the school’s governing committees. He was a longtime director of the Philanthropy Roundtable and National Review magazine and one of the youngest members ever elected to the Texas Business Hall of Fame.
Advisor & Co-Founder of Acton Academy
Laura lived on both US coasts and in between as a child, then settled into Vanderbilt University for her undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Science. After being awarded the highly competitive Walter Wattles Fellowship at Lloyd’s of London, Laura worked in the aviation insurance industry in New York City. Deciding to follow her calling into the world of education, Laura returned to Nashville and earned her Master of Education at Peabody College. This led her to her work at the Oklahoma Arts Institute, creating fine arts education programs for teachers and talented high school students. Laura married Jeff Sandefer and is the happy mother of Sam and Charlie and step-mother to Taite. It is the inspiration of these children that led Laura and Jeff to co-found Acton Academy. Her greatest hero is her mother who was a Master Teacher. Her wisest mentor is her father who sent her off to college with two words of advice: "Be curious."