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Meet the New Faculty: 2021

This fall, Avon welcomed several new faculty members, each with an impressive background and list of experiences leading them to Avon Old Farms. From a new football coach to a long-time theater director, we invite you to get to know each of our new faculty members:

Ty Adams grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut, and was a faculty kid at Kingswood Oxford School where both of his parents taught and worked. Following graduation from KO, he attended Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, and majored in history. Ty held several teaching internships at other Founders League schools before graduating in 2016. He was lucky to earn a teaching fellowship at Woodberry Forest School, an all-boys boarding school in Central Virginia. After completing a Masters in Education at the University of Virginia and working at Woodberry for five years, he is excited to return to his home state and work at Avon Old Farms.

“I grew up watching my dad coach and teach his high school basketball players," shared Ty. "Like many young boys, my dad was my role model and hero. I always looked up to him and was captivated by the mutual respect between him and his players. He loves what he does so I wanted to follow in his footsteps and work with young adults.”

As a history teacher, Ty teaches his students to become critical thinkers through reading, writing, and discussing. No matter the topic, history allows Ty to teach students the importance of understanding the struggles and triumphs of other people. “I am very fortunate to help my students develop the tools they need to be active citizens, capable of making informed decisions to better our democracy and the world.”

“Seeing my students thrive in all aspects of their lives. I love working at a boarding school because the learning is not over when my students or I leave the classroom. We work towards common goals and share the experience of life at Avon. Whether during a sit down meal or after a tough match on the soccer field, some of the most memorable moments of my career have emerged while knowing and caring for the students with whom I live and work.”

Dan Casella joined the Avon Old Farms School community in the fall of 2021 along with his wife Jen, and their sons Jack, Wyatt, Rowan, and Matthew. They live on campus with their dog Deggy.

Dan came to Avon Old Farms with a long history of teaching—both in public and private schools, single-sex and co-ed. Throughout all of his experiences, however, it was an all-boys prep environment that felt like the right place to raise his family. 

As a high schooler, Dan attended the all-boys Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, New Jersey, before transferring to Lawrence Academy for three years to pursue not only his love of ice hockey, but to also take his academic career more seriously.

“For my family it was a leap of faith, as no one before me had enrolled in a boarding school,” Dan explains. “But, that was the start of it all, I’d say. My high school years were pivotal in terms of getting me to focus and do well.”

After Lawrence, Dan matriculated to Dartmouth College where he pursued a degree in government. There, he played four years of hockey and was recognized not only for his stick skills, but also for his engagement with the community: he was a finalist for the NCAA’s Hockey Humanitarian of the Year award and also received the ‘Unsung Hero Award’ on his college hockey team.

“It felt great to be recognized by my teammates, the coaching staff, and the greater community,” he recalls. “My years at Dartmouth were great. The sense of community there inspired me to help communities abroad.”

For two years right after college, Dan was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan where he helped build the community and taught English. He immersed himself in the village, learning the culture and the language. Dan describes those years as the most rewarding in his professional life, and upon returning to the U.S., decided he needed to continue to teach.

“I knew teaching was something I needed to continue, so I took a test for NYC teaching fellows... Upon receiving my scores, I thought I would become a history teacher or something similar, but the city needed math teachers, so that is what I became. My first teaching job was at IS 129 in the Bronx.”

To prepare, Dan enrolled in courses to re-learned high school math and took on the mentality of an ‘us versus the material’ approach inside his classroom. 

“I remembered what it was like to struggle with material, and so I really wanted my students to see me as an ally; someone who was there to inspire them to stick with it and a partner to help them through. It’s a team approach between me and my students to conquer the material, and I think that really resonates with high school students.”

After a stint in public schools, Dan felt driven to share his love for hockey with young people and made the professional move to private schools. He first taught and coached at an all-girls school in Baltimore. While he recalls that the hockey team wasn’t very good, he says each time a player went after the puck it was like they were playing for the Stanley Cup. That energy and passion more than made up for the 4:30 a.m. drives to the rink for practice. 

Around that same time, Dan was pursuing his Masters in Education at Towson University, where he met his wife Jen. When the two married and were having their first-born son, they decided a move closer to family was needed, and so they picked up from Maryland and moved to Pittsburgh. There, Dan took a job as the executive director of the Allegheny Valley Habitat for Humanity.

“We had moved without having secured jobs in our new home, so while it wasn’t a teaching job, I was still learning new skills and helping a community grow. But, soon Jen said to me, “You love teaching and coaching...You need to get back to that. So, late in the season, I reached out to a placement service and found a job at Tilton School. In 2014 I migrated from Tilton to Cheshire Academy, knowing that Connecticut was a good place to raise a family with strong schools and great communities.”

In 2021, Dan’s career came full-circle when a mathematics faculty position opened up at Avon Old Farms. An all-boys school with an elite hockey program, it was a perfect job that paired teaching with the sport he loved and offered a caring community in which to raise his young family. 

“I’ve experienced and observed how a single-sex enviroment is able to quiet distractions and simultaneously bring kids out of their shells,” he says. “Students take risks in the classroom when they’re not fearful of being judged, and they reap the rewards. For me, when kids are engaged and willing to take that leap of faith, teaching isn’t work. It’s too much fun being in front of a class to call it work.”

Gwen Couch’s career journey has been as varied as the schools she has served. Over the past 37 years, she has been a teacher, administrator, theater director, counselor, and student advocate in both private and public educational institutions with students at all age levels: K–graduate school. Having spent over 25 of those years in all-girls’ schools—including Miss Porter’s School, The Ethel Walker School, Chatham Hall, and St. Joseph College—Gwen is a firm believer in the transformational power of the single-sex school experience for both girls and boys.

“I prefer to say that I teach students rather than “I teach English and theater,” says Gwen. “While I am ardent about literature, not every student feels the same way. My goal is to guide students to a deeper understanding of and appreciation for literature, writing, and acting, supporting them as they endeavor to find their authentic voices in the classroom, on the page, and on the stage.” 

Gwen holds a BA in both English literature and theater arts from Drew University, and an MA in education from St. Joseph College (now University of St. Joseph). In the classroom, she works through texts in a way that allows students to connect to the experiences of the characters; she believes when they feel empathy for a character, there is a better chance that they will work harder, read more deeply, and remain interested in the reading. Likewise, in theater, she continually challenges actors to think deeply about creating complex characters. 

“Students create more genuine characters when they are empowered to make connections with their own experiences and trust their own intuition.” 

An avid theater director, Gwen was honored to receive honorable mention from the Tony Awards for Excellence in Theatre Education in 2016. Her passion for the stage began at the age of 13 when she played Zaneeta Shinn in an Iowa community theater production of The Music Man. From that point on, she looked for any opportunity to explore the craft. 

“While in college, I performed in numerous productions but also worked with a New York composer/lyricist team to create original lead roles in two new musicals, a collaboration which opened up an opportunity to record and perform vocal music from new musicals for prospective financial backers in NYC.”

In 1985, she moved from the New York area to begin a new chapter at Miss Porter's School (MPS) where she worked in admissions, taught English 9 and Advanced Acting, and also directed the school's musical theater productions. It was then that she first became affiliated with Avon Old Farms, casting several Winged Beavers in MPS productions. While at MPS, she also implemented the first all-school Shakespeare Festival, a tradition continued with AOF rockstar Roger Cantello years later at The Ethel Walker School. In 2014, Chatham Hall supported her summer academic work at Oxford University where she studied nine Shakespeare plays alongside colleagues from all over the world. The experience was a blend of literary and dramatic study, inspiring new ways of thinking about teaching and learning. Thrilling productions at The Globe, as well as the Royal Shakespeare Company, were included in the coursework. 

“I will take every opportunity to experience professional live theater and keep a reflection journal of all the performances I’ve seen since 1981 when I saw James Earl Jones and Christopher Plummer in Othello,” Gwen says. 

She and her husband, Ned Edwards, raised two daughters, Liss and Mega, both of whom attended The Ethel Walker School. While her daughters are dramatically different individuals, each found her unique voice through her time at a single-sex school. 

“I feel honored to bring my experience to Avon Old Farms and look forward to the adventure of teaching and directing theater productions at an all-boys’ school for a change!”

Richard Feng traveled to the United States in 2003 looking for something new. A lover of travel and culture, a teacher by nature and trade, he found a home within the world of private schools and, in 2021, joined the Avon Old Farms School community as a Mandarin teacher. 

Originally from Jiangsu Province in China, Richard attended an elite high school before moving to Shanghai to pursue his college education. Upon graduation at the age of 22, he immediately entered the world of teaching as an assistant professor at East China Normal University. From 1998–2003 he taught at the collegiate level in China before making the move to Boston.

Richard earned his Master of Education and his mandarin teaching and math teaching licenses in Massachusetts. His first position was with St. Luke’s School in New Canaan, Conn., where he was responsible for building the Mandarin program, including an exchange program, advising high school students’ academic performance, and coaching tennis.

Richard remained with St. Luke’s for more than 10 years before transitioning to a role as the director of international admission and then director of college counseling at Vermont Academy. One milestone included growing the school’s international enrollment right fold in just two years. In September of 2020, Richard was recruited to a school in New Hampshire. While he loved the position, he missed his days in Connecticut. And so, when a recruiter called to say that there was an opportunity to teach Mandarin at Avon Old Farms, he jumped at the chance.

“After hearing about the architecture at Avon and Mrs. Riddle’s life story, one day I made a point to stop and take a look around. I was immediately taken with the place, but then when I was able to speak with members of the community during my interviews, I knew the school was more than just beautiful scenery, it was a special place with caring people.”

Richard also had written an article about education and the pandemic, in which he utilized Avon Old Farms as a positive example of an institution caring for its students’ well-being. To him, the Avon way of teaching the whole boy and caring for each student as a unique individual is a great fit.

“My goal is to create a friendly and comfortable classroom atmosphere that encourages students to push themselves, and not be afraid to try new things. I always use different activities, technology, and real-life examples to teach the material. I also lean upon my love of travel and culture to empathize with students and let them know that I understand where they are coming from. In the end, I feel most satisfied when I see my students use what I taught in real life.”

One such example is a student of his from St. Luke’s who went to earn an internship at Beijing University. Richard was able to hire him for assistance as a translator when hosting admissions events in Beijing while working at Vermont Academy. Armed with Mandarin language skills, some of his former students moved to China for great positions in big companies. Also, he has coached some students to win silver medals at the COLT Mandarin competition.

He lives on campus with his wife, Emma, and their two children, William and Oscar. During his spare time, Richard enjoys playing tennis, table tennis and reading. As an avid global traveler and world culture lover and educator, he deeply believes “Empathy” is the foundation of a great educator.

Lucas Habich comes to the village of Old Farms from New Jersey. He graduated from Springfield College in 2019 and was granted a surprise opportunity to teach at Suffield Academy. He loved teaching, but after two years had a desire for a different kind of opportunity—the opportunity to help boys become men. In the summer of 2021, that opportunity presented itself at Avon Old Farms School.

At Springfield, Lucas majored in psychology with a minor in athletic coaching and was a four year member of the lacrosse team under legendary coach, Keith Bugbee. Prior to this, Lucas had spent his first three years of high school at Christian Brothers Academy before transferring and repeating his junior year at the Canterbury School. 

Graduating from Canterbury, Lucas knew he would always desire to get back into the prep school circle and a short five years later, he would begin his career as an educator. He has found a passion in teaching that he didn’t know was there.

As he began his teaching journey he has found fulfillment in many areas, but none comes close to the joy he sees after a student has overcome adversity that they had previously seen as impossible. Students who always want to be the best versions of themselves is what brings Lucas back to the classroom everyday with the same energy to be his best.

“Always show up.”

"I hated history in high school, and thought it was just about the biggest possible waste of time to study things that were already done and over," says Bob Naeher. But, coming from someone who now loves and teaches history, sometimes that's just the thing a young student needs to hear.

Bob began college as a religious studies major and, for reasons he can’t explain, spent his junior year studying French in Tours, France. That was where he completely fell in love with history.

"I was simply blown away at the magnificence and aura of multiple stories connected to the castles, cathedrals, monasteries, Roman ruins, and even cobblestone streets that I saw each day as I cruised around the countryside on my white Peugeot bicycle!"

Bob was quickly bitten by an all-consuming curiosity and desire to understand what had motivated people to build such structures, how they lived, what they thought about God, truth, family, community, the good life, and more. Upon returning to the U.S., he changed his major to history—in his senior year in fact—and has had the blessing of loving the study of and then the teaching of history ever since.

Bob earned his BA from The King’s College, an MA from Trinity College, and a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut, always majoring in history. His doctoral dissertation looked at “Puritan Prayer as Gendered Voice,” and sought to discover how extemporaneous prayers of puritan men and women differed, and why.

"I loved the topic as it allowed me to read journals and diaries of all kinds of people, on both sides of the Atlantic, during the Early Modern period, a time rich in change and possibilities that very much prefigured and still shapes our world today," he explains.

Bob began his teaching career at The Master’s School, an independent Christian school in West Simsbury, Conn. After 19 years he moved to Emma Willard School, an independent girls’ school in Troy, New York. Along the way he has served as an adjunct instructor at the University of Connecticut and Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. Additionally, he has been blessed with opportunities through the U.S. State Department and the American Federation of Teachers to work with teachers and students in Russia and Mongolia.

"I’ve also had tremendous fun leading student trips to various countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America. I’ve taught AP U.S. History and AP Economics along with a range of electives including U.S. Foreign Policy, Film in American History, and African History Through Memoir."

Bob says that another gift of working in independent schools has been the opportunity to coach both girls and boys basketball and cross country. 

The son of two educators, Patrick “Patch” Turner fell in love with the world of education. While he originally joined community organizations to get some space from his parents at home, his engagement with the Boy Scouts showed him how much he loved getting to know new people, and eventually, how much he loved working with youth.

After attending public school in his native Charlottesville, Virginia, Patrick attended the University of Virginia to study science and history. He always was drawn to the solid answers math and science could provide, but knew he soon figured out that he did not want to become a theoretical physicist because the solid answers were not there (yet).. He also loved to learn how and why things work, and always enjoyed the ‘a-ha’ moment. So, instead of entering the professional world as a scientist, he followed his passion for people and went to work in education at a therapeutic boarding school for struggling students. 

“The first half of my career in education revolved around at-risk youth, and those coming back from some sort of trauma or in need of special help,” explains Patrick. “In those institutions, the classroom curriculum really was secondary to getting students the support and guidance they needed to grow into self-sufficient, healthy adults.”

Through his work, Patrick came to realize that monumental in education is the ability to build relationships with students and to earn trust. And, while not every student will connect with every teacher, he says he has truly enjoyed forming relationships with a few along the way that he has remained in touch with long enough to learn of graduations, weddings, and family additions. 

Patrick’s first experience with older high school students in a stronger academic setting was at the Florida Preparatory Academy. There, he was able to pair another interest—travel—with his career in education by introducing international trips to the school’s curriculum. 

“When I was in school, I felt like I learned more outside of the classroom than in it—the world is a great place to explore and discover new things,” he says. “On top of boarding schools being environments in which faculty/student relationships are paramount, I also enjoy being able to own the curriculum and bring real-world experiences to my lessons.”

At Avon, Patrick teaches honors and AP Physics and lives on campus in The Coop. Inside the classroom, he focuses not only on the curriculum, but on critical thinking skills. He starts days with brain teasers, logic puzzles, and even national headlines and challenges his students to determine if something is ‘click-bait’ or a real news headline.

“What is most rewarding about being a teacher is seeing a student take not only the knowledge they’ve gained in your classroom out into the world, but also the skills and confidence in themselves to dig in and find their own answer. Seeing a young person flourish intellectually is what it’s all about. I’m not just teaching science, I’m teaching students to question the world around them.”

In the fall of 2021, Jon Wholley began teaching for the first time inside a classroom At Avon Old Farms School. However, many will say he is a natural, and that’s because he’s been coaching on the football field since he finished grad school in 2008.

“I’ve been giving presentations to young guys for years, and I think a lot of the same things I learned in coaching apply to teaching: tell stories, don’t lecture; make the material connect with the guys and show them how to use the information they’re learning to be the best they can be; teach in a way that helps them understand the whole and master the details.”

So, why the shift from college ball to high school? As Jon explains, it was a much-needed move for the stability of his family. The long and odd hours of college football required him to be away from home seven days a week, from before sun up until well after dark, and with young children at home, he was missing out on being with his family.

“When you’re successful it’s easy to get caught up in the advancement opportunities, and I certainly was pursuing a coaching career in the NFL, but when the pandemic hit, it helped me to reevaluate my priorities. It’s not about the status, the job, or the money. It’s about helping others be their best selves and feeling good about what you’re doing with your life. For me, my family had to come first.”

Jon came to Avon with the experience of coaching at Mississippi State, three years as the UConn Huskies' linebackers coach and, prior to the 2017 season, three years as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for Fordham University. After years of building an impressive resume, he was interviewing with the Giants, the Patriots, and others when the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on everything. Jon shares that he often joked that one day he might retire and come work at Avon Old Farms, as he’d always thought it was a special place when he would visit campus on recruiting trips. In 2020, Jon worked virtually for Penn State while a serving as a stay home dad while his wife, Carly, returned to work as an APRN. Then, the opportunity to coach at Avon Old Farms became available.

Our campus’s careful balance of an idealistic setting in the woods only a short drive from all of life’s needs and easy travel made for a nice fit for Jon geographically. The all-boys environment also allows the school’s values to closely align with those of teams on the field, and creates a school of boys who want to be here and are willing to push themselves to learn and grow. So, with his family in mind, Jon took the job at Avon Old Farms.

A Southington, Conn. native, Wholley was a member of the UConn football team from 2001-04 as a running back, joining the team as a walk-on. He later earned a scholarship and was a member of the 2004 Motor City Bowl championship team. After earning his undergraduate

Jon worked as an assistant coach at Central Connecticut State for the 2005 season. Wholley then returned to UConn as a graduate assistant coach for the 2006-08 seasons working on the offensive side of the ball. He was part of the coaching staff that led the Huskies to a share of the 2007 BIG EAST Championship and an appearance in the 2007 Meineke Car Care Bowl before moving on to roles with Fordham. Over the course of his football career—both as a player and a coach—he’s been a member of four conference championship teams, five bowl games, and a state championship as a high schooler in Southington, Conn.

Jon teaches math and coaches the varsity football team. In the classroom, Jon tells his students that while they may not use the exact formulas in life again, what they will use are the critical thinking skills they’ve gained from working with equations.

John, his wife and their two children, Luke and Tyler, live on campus in the Coop.