About Us

Roots Nature & Leadership Academy inspires the child’s creative spirit, inquisitive mind, love of learning, and compassion for others and the world.

Our dynamic learning environment seamlessly integrates both inside and outside spaces where we ignite the senses and encourage learning through the use of natural surroundings and materials. Our innovative and holistic academic curriculum nurtures the whole child by honoring their individual interests, learning styles, and journey. Beyond raising children, we care deeply about nurturing families, and fostering community.

Our Founder’s Story

My name is Briana Santoro. I am a wife, mother, entrepreneur, lover of good healthy food, and am passionate about inspiring others to live the life of their dreams. My husband and I moved to beautiful sunny Sarasota, Florida a year ago in hopes of building a wonderful future for our two young boys. We have been inspired by the like-minded community of families we have met and aim to create a nurturing school environment that honors the wonder of childhood, while preparing them for the future that awaits.

As a child I started my early years in a wonderful Montessori school, where my mother drove long distances each day to make sure I had access to this incredible learning environment. Starting in grade one I was lucky enough to get into a local alternative school where as children we guided our education journey, learned through experience, were encouraged to develop a love of learning, and were treated with respect. I think very fondly of those years and have always dreamt of my children having access to an equally magical school experience.

As with many life stories, during my adult years my career has been an interesting journey. I started in business strategy consulting, working all days and hours of the week, while guiding companies towards developing strategies that were truly aligned with their customers needs and desires. From there, with an interest to move beyond strategy and hone my skills in implementation, I worked in both the dental supplies and financial services industries as a Director of Marketing. While following a passionate spark I had for healthy living, I later went back to school for holistic nutrition and graduated at the top of my class in 2010 as a Certified Nutritional Practitioner. I have since published a #1 best selling cookbook, specialized in functional pediatric nutrition where I co-founded a functional food and high-end supplement company for kids, and co-authored a book on early childhood nutrition set to be published by Random House in 2024.

With all that I have accomplished, no journey has inspired me more than that of motherhood and the burning desire I have to nourish the whole child—body, mind, and spirit—through the food they eat, the environment they are exposed to, the community we foster, and the education they receive. It’s this guiding light and the yearning I have to find an incredible school for my own boys that has led me towards founding Roots Nature & Leadership Academy.

Our Team

Lori Lewis – Administrative Coordinator and Parent Liaison

Hello, my name is Lori Lewis. I enjoy sunset walks on the beach, adventures on the water, gardening in my yard and quiet time reading by my pool. I am a lover of the arts. I can play the piano, drums, clarinet and saxophone, enjoy tap and jazz dance and can sing a note or two. I mostly play my piano for fun now and can sometimes be found at a drum circle getting my groove on. I also love traveling. I have explored over twenty countries, some of which were for mission trips. My favorite mission trip was going to Zimbabwe, Africa, where I was able to finally meet 2 children that I have sponsored for 8 years. The day I met them in person was one of the most memorable and amazing days of my life! I am the proud mom of two adorable long-haired dachshunds named Annie Oakley and Texas Ranger. I may be a bit obsessed with them.

I have a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology and a minor in Social Work along with a Masters in Education in Counseling and Student Services from the University of North Texas. I have 29 years of academic and guidance counseling experience in education – 2 years in college and 27 years in high school. I have a Florida Certificate in PK-12 Counseling. I have acted as the lead counselor or guidance director managing school counseling programs that consisted of many responsibilities and roles throughout the school. I have planned many school events, award ceremonies, graduations, testing, college/career planning and fairs, classroom presentations and evening programs for parents. I have worked in public, charter and private schools. Prior to that, I worked in a psychiatric private practice and a hospital setting. I have a passion for helping others reach their true potential and absolutely love watching my students grow and achieve their dreams. I moved to the Sarasota/Bradenton area 12 years ago after having visited here a couple times. I felt such an amazing energy while walking on the beach in Siesta Key. The quartz sand and the beautiful clear ocean felt so healing and I knew it was where I was meant to be.

After many years working in psychiatric facilities and public and private schools, I kept finding myself in disconnect with those philosophies of learning and mental and physical wellness. It just did not seem effective or healthy for optimal academic, mental or physical growth. I also experienced my own personal journey to find wellness that led me to a holistic approach that supports the mind, body and spirit in natural and organic ways. I believe that students thrive in an environment that is connected with nature, play, and proper nutrition. As a counselor, I have enjoyed using music, sounds of nature, essential oils and mindfulness techniques to ground my students into a peaceful and calm state of mind.  For years, I have been hoping to find an educational setting that aligns with my beliefs. And then I found Roots Academy! I am thrilled about bringing my talents and experiences into a new and exciting role as the Administrative Coordinator and Parent Liaison.

Jenna Saulo – Educator (Pre-K & Kindergarten) and Art/Gardening Guide

My name is Jenna Saulo, and I am a passionately curious human being who loves to explore the world through creation. My objective as a teacher is to create a diverse curriculum that is based on indigenous wisdoms’ traditional ecological knowledge, and use Art as a medium to teach children about their environment. Children who feel connected to the natural world and their local place will grow up to take care of it.

My daughter, Lilly, is a huge inspiration behind these ideas and lessons. She inspires me daily to expand my knowledge and fall in love with learning. Together we aim to lead a lifestyle full of community, sustainability, and truths. Our hobbies are painting, hiking, reading, collecting/drawing specimens, cooking, gardening, camping, caring for our pets, and being a daily explorer of the world.

Rachel Carson once said, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” It is my goal to share this sense of wonder with children and cultivate a connection between them and the natural world.

I received my BFA in Illustration from RMCAD and my Masters in Art Education from the University of Florida. I have a Florida teacher certification, and continue to expand knowledge on education daily. My studies focus on introducing TEK to the classroom to build a deeper connection to the natural world. I create curriculum that is diverse, place-based, nature-based, project-based, and aims to teach multiple academics through art-making.

To learn more about my views on education, you can find the paper I wrote for my Master’s Degree here entitled Exploring Indigenous Wisdom To Cultivate A Connection To The Natural World Through Art Education.

Michaela Kucera – Montessori Curriculum Coordinator, Support Educator (Pre-K & Kindergarten), and Cultural Studies Guide

My name is Michaela Kucera. I was born and raised in Prague, Czech Republic. As a child I would walk through the medieval streets covered by bright white snow and dream about my future. I always knew that I would like to visit other countries and experience something different from what was familiar to me. My family traveled to Croatia during our summer holidays and I was mesmerized by the sounds of cicadas and the smell of citrus trees lingering through the hot nights caressed by the ocean breeze. I truly enjoyed traveling, visiting museums and art galleries, uncovering the rich history of the countries I visited, and learning about other cultures.

At a young age, I attended the Film Academy of Jan Neruda and graduated with a communication and film history degree. The year was 1989 and I was living behind the iron curtain, not able to dream colorful images and listen to The Beatles. I decided to leave my home behind and explore the world. I came to the United States to study English and decided to stay in order to pursue a higher level of academic achievement.

I earned my bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York. I later graduated with a Masters of Art in Education from New York University, with a major in early childhood and elementary education, including a specialization in Montessori. I received a certificate from the American Montessori Society and was trained at the West Side Montessori School by the legendary Dr. Marlene Barron. I consider myself a very fortunate student, since I spent many hours listening to Dr. Barron’s presentations and observing her Montessori lessons. Marlene was a unique force of nature and an amazing inspiration to all of us.

Since that time, I have spent more than 20 years teaching in Montessori schools throughout New York City, Westchester County, Long Island, and more recently Sarasota, including New Gate Montessori Academy.

Throughout my life I have had the opportunity to observe and compare how rural and urban environments differ in terms of physical space and how this impacts the learning experience for young children. I have observed that children are closely linked with nature and that nature is a fundamental element of their growing and learning experience. What I adore about the Montessori philosophy, is that it encourages children to learn about other cultures and introduces them to foreign languages, artifacts, food and lifestyles from around the globe.

I am looking forward to joining the Roots Academy community and having the opportunity to combine my passion for Montessori and cultural studies, with my love for nature and outdoor education.

Lindsay Richards – Educator (Grades 1 & 2) and Homesteading Guide

My name is Lindsay Richards. I am an adventurer, nurturer, and nature-lover! I am passionate about curating experiences and invitations to investigate for my students and I am often as eager to explore as they are. I believe so deeply in all of the benefits of a nature-based, project-based curriculum because I have witnessed time and time again how it creates a life-long love of learning and fosters independence and self-trust.  

My goal in our outdoor classroom is always to implement experiences that nurture a deep respect for nature, movement, and mindfulness.  I view my own role as more of a facilitator to learning and always with an open mind and open heart.  I enjoy creating experiential and imaginative experiences for my students that cultivate in them a reverence for the natural world while also focusing on developing both their creative and intellectual capacities.  I have found that it is entirely possible to meet the academic and developmental standards for my students using a nature-based and inquiry-based model. 

After obtaining a dual-degree in Early Childhood Education and Psychology/Sociology, I taught in preschools in Boston and San Francisco before I was introduced to the Project-Based learning model. I have been trained by the I3 Institute – Inquiry, Intention, Innovation and utilize these strategies to spark curiosity and guide my students to problem-solve.

I have also spent the better part of the last decade traveling the world! I was fortunate to find teaching opportunities that allowed me to continue to teach a project-based curriculum in international programs and have lived in Ghana, Cambodia, Scotland, and Mexico! I was raised in a family of environmental activists and we followed my father around the globe as he worked with Jacques Cousteau. I was fortunate to experience other cultures and be free to roam in nature from a young age.  This exposure instilled in me a passion for exploring and for observing the natural world and thus, the determination to protect it. As Jacques Cousteau said, “People protect what they love.” My aim is to foster a love and understanding of nature and I am so thrilled to be working with little explorers!

Kim Louria – Educator (Grades 3 & 4) and Yoga/Mindfulness Guide

Hello, I am Kim Louria. I am an avid reader, enjoy painting, and love all things science. My hobbies include kayaking, biking, walking, and anything that keeps me outside. My love for nature stems from my upbringing in Michigan where I spent most of my childhood camping or playing outdoors. I have shared this love of the outdoors with my husband and three grown sons through many miles of hiking all over the US.

I have over 25 years of teaching experience in public and private settings. I have a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education Degree from Wayne State University where I majored in math and minored in English. With a passion for teaching students how to read, I later received my Reading Specialist Master’s Degree from Eastern Michigan University and have completed training in Yoga for Children with a Trauma-Informed Focus.

After teaching in public school for 8 years at the beginning of my career, I sought out a new approach to education. I became excited about student-led learning and honoring each child’s individual journey. I went back to school and received my Montessori Diploma in Lower Elementary (ages 6-9) at the North American Montessori Center. I then spent 13 years teaching at Montessori schools in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and worked as a Directress for grades 1-3 and 4-6. During this time, I was also responsible for providing reading evaluations and remediation for students K-6 and implemented an Accelerated Reading Program for 1st-6th grades.

I moved to Sarasota, Florida in 2017 and have spent the past 6 years teaching students in 4th and 5th grade. Most recently I worked at Out-of-Door-Academy as a math specialist teacher, where I developed differentiated lessons for 85+ students in accordance with school and state standards that focus on Neurological development.

I feel strongly that developing a connection to nature through education is critical in helping children understand the natural world and its importance in sustaining life on our planet. When children develop a connection to nature, they also tend to develop a sense of responsibility and respect for the environment, as well as empathy and compassion for all living things. This helps them understand that they have a role to play in protecting and preserving nature for future generations, and it helps them become compassionate citizens who strive to make the world a better place for everyone.

I have taught in nearly every type of school including public, private, charter, and Montessori. One year I even designed a homeschool program for one of my own children because the available options did not meet his learning needs. When I learned about Roots Nature & Leadership Academy, I knew immediately I needed to be here. Too often, a school’s mission statement to address the needs of the whole child falls short, as the desire to compare students to an arbitrary national norm sets precedent and becomes their commanding focus; typically because of their need to secure funding. My quest to find a school that truly values the idea that one-size-fits-all doesn’t work when it comes to children, ended when I found Roots. The team and families here understand and honor that every child learns in a unique way and at their own pace, and are passionate about inspiring a love of learning. I am excited that my path has led me to help guide the education of learners at Roots.

Casey Gramaglia – Educator (Grades 5 & 6)

My name is Casey Gramaglia. I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, and attended the oldest Montessori school in the country, Whitby School. It was there that I learned how to develop compassion and kindness towards my teachers, peers, animals, and the planet. My teachers were kind; they taught us about community, stewardship, and the necessity of having respect for one another. At Whitby, it was ok to learn differently and at one’s own pace. Our teachers embodied the principles of positive discipline, they gave us the space to work out our differences through peace talks with each other, always asking students to problem-solve before intervening. During my time at Whitby, I was an avid ballet dancer, starting at five years of age and dancing through middle school. Towards the end of my tenure, I started snowboarding at the birthplace of the sport, Stratton Mountain, Vermont. I dedicated my life to the sport and merged my love of dancing with snowboarding. 

For high school, I attended St. Luke’s School in New Cannan, Connecticut. Here, I was immersed in a culture that emphasized academic excellence and service. The school’s motto, “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve,” resonated deeply, reinforcing the importance of intellectual growth alongside a commitment to community betterment. Later, I was fortunate to attend Eugene Lang College, a division of the New School, in New York City. At Lang I studied the contemplative arts; focusing on Eastern philosophy, Eastern art history, and Eastern medicine, such as Ayurveda, Chinese and Tibetan medicine, and calligraphy. While in New York City I was tenaciously committed to yoga and meditation practice which led me to discover the Jivamukti Yoga School, where I completed my yoga teacher training. 

A pivotal chapter in my life unfolded during my two-decade sojourn in Northern Thailand. Immersed in the rich tapestry of Thai culture, language, and customs, I became fluent in central and northern Thai dialects, while embracing local practices such as Vipassana meditation, permaculture, and organic farming. At this time, I ran a yoga school out of my home, constructed completely of natural materials. I developed a method of yoga and detox called Thai Hermit Yoga, where individuals would stay in my hot spring homes in Pai, Thailand, take a break from their busy, professional lives, rest, fast, eat healthy food, practice, and heal. 

Upon becoming a parent to my son, ‘Cha’ (which means ’tea’ ), I relocated to Chiang Mai, where I found fulfillment in teaching mindfulness and yoga at Prem Tinsulanonda International School. Inspired by the positive impact of international educators on young minds, I embarked on a journey to further my education, earning a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) from Keele University in England. Upon graduating, I was offered a job at PREM teaching English for a startup program called The Intensive English Program (IEP) and later became the director of this program. This period saw the conception of transformative educational experiences, including planning and executing a life-changing trip to Bhutan, for students and their families, which underscored the importance of experiential learning and cultural immersion.

Driven by a passion for continuous growth, I later pursued a Master’s in Education (M.A. Edu.) from Keele University. I became a Certified Mindfulness Teacher through Mindful Schools, USA, all while juggling my responsibilities as an educator and my dedication to multisport triathlons and long-distance ULTRA trail-running marathons. Upon returning to the USA, I worked at the Indian Mountain School in Connecticut as a middle school English Teacher and Director of Outdoor Education. Most recently, after moving to Florida to be close to family, I worked as a lower elementary Montessori guide and literacy/outdoor education specialist at New Gate International IB Montessori school. 

My pedagogy is holistic; I am adamant about educating the whole child. For children to adapt to 21st-century living, I believe contemplative practices are essential. Roots Academy incorporates nature, project-based learning, and forming strong community bonds as the pillars for great learning. When all of a child’s needs are met; social, emotional, intellectual, physical, and academic, excellence becomes possible. My approach to education is one of trust; I seek to build lasting relationships with my students and their families, and to let the content of my character speak for itself; once our students leave us, it is our character that they will most remember. The values at Roots Academy concerning inquiry, creativity, and compassion align with my worldview. As a result, I am honored to work in an environment that prioritizes compassion and stokes student creativity, rather than stifles it. Together, they aim to create a space where each individual feels valued, empowered, and inspired to unlock their fullest potential.