Who we are:

We are a group of educators, community advocates, parents, and business people seeking workable solutions for educational choice.


  • To create, facilitate, and promote alternative opportunities for authentic learning in the local community.


  • To expand and understand the ways in which we learn and teach
  • To provide meaningful lifelong educational alternatives for our community
  • To foster a collaborative environment for engaging teachers, community educators, parents, and students.

LCN Organizers and Members:


LCN-megan-mills-hoffmanMegan Mills Hoffman grew up in south-central Alaska, leaving the formal school classroom for an unstructured, informal, self-directed education from grades 5-12, returning to the classroom as a college student with a personalized transcript and admission to an out-of- state four year university honors program with a full tuition scholarship. She went on to work as a Resident Assistant in college residence life housing as a freshman, and assumed the role of a Head Resident as a sophomore, responsible for a student staff of twelve and a residence hall of 120 students. She has since attended and worked in college admissions, registrars, and development offices for two state universities, a state college, and a private university, completed a B.S. in Sociology, and built twenty years of experience working in community development and grassroots organizations. Since moving to Buffalo eight years ago she has worked as an arts advocate with local artists, Buffalo Rising and the Burchfield- Penney Art Center’s Capital Campaign for a New Museum. She currently serves on the board of Field & Fork Network and has served as board member for the Allentown Association where she initiated a monthly arts walk, and the Western New York Environmental Alliance where she chaired the Growing work group and served on the Regional Economic Development Council’s Agriculture committee. After a brief run as Director of Resource Development for Young Audiences and Assistant Director of Development for The Gow School, she has now made LCN one of her top priorities. She dreams of the day when substantive and meaningful education options are easily accessible for every family.

Dr. John Newton retired from public school teaching to follow his dream of over 35 years to provide a healthy, humanistic learning environment. He has a Bachelor of Science in Human Development from St. Lawrence University, a Masters of Science in Early Childhood from SUNY-Cortland, and a Doctorate in Elementary Education from Temple University. He is currently an adjunct instructor for SUNY-Fredonia in the Curriculum and Instruction Department. Dr. John was the New York State recipient of the Christa McAuliffe Fellowship for 1997-1998. Always innovative, his work with students has included one of the first internet projects, an AT&T Learning Circle in the 1980s featured around the world; an environmental project on zebra mussels that resulted in a United Nations presentation and a spot on Japanese television; the creation of the Great Lakes Student Summit, student presentations to the International Joint Commission as well as the Canadian ambassador; and the student-created Friends of Emery Park. Dr. John was one of the founders of Explore & More Children’s Museum.

Emily Eisenbaum has worked in the field of special education for 35 years, teaching youngsters in both public and private schools. She has worked with students from the ages of 2- 12 years in a variety of settings, and served as a practicum supervisor for the Infancy/Toddler Special Education Masters Program at Buffalo State College, overseeing and supervising the student teachers and graduate assistants in that program. Emily conducted educational seminars for professionals through Buffalo’s SETRC (Special Education Teacher Resource Center) for many years, and helped organize the Very Special Arts Festival for children with various challenges in Western New York. She has published articles for both educational and local publications, with a weekly column in a Maryland paper. Emily contributed in the writing of the textbook, A Practical Guide to Infant and Preschool Assessment in Special Education, as well as having presented in national conferences. Having adopted three children internationally, Emily was also involved in the local adoption community, and was president of Families Interested in Adoption, an adoption support group, and served as an adoption coordinator for eight years for World Child, Inc., an international adoption agency. She is currently teaching preschool in her eleventh year at Bornhava, a specialized Early Childhood Center in Western New York. In her free time, Emily teaches art at her temple, knits, reads, enjoys cooking and watching the growth and development of her four children, ages 12-22 years.

Jesse Griffis came up through the public schools in Western New York, graduating from SUNY Buffalo with a B.S. in Environmental Studies and an M.A. in Geography. He now works in software development, where he has specialized in geographic information systems for the last 15 years. His frustration with school programs that “dumbed down” year after year, where students routinely skate by with minimal effort for the sake of questionably relevant multiple choice tests, led him to question the increasing centralization and decline in the quality of education our kids experience.

Barb Haney-Cocca has been learning and teaching her whole life. After graduating from East Aurora High School, she worked as a wild-land firefighter in the US Forest Service, Los Padres National Forest while pursuing her bachelor’s of science degree in Environmental Studies from SUNY at Buffalo. While at UB she founded the Environmental Studies Group which later became UBGreens and was instrumental in developing the UB Recyclers and making the campus more environmentally conscience. She worked as an Environmental Educator for a number of years at a city park in Pittsburgh and state park in Pennsylvania. She volunteered for the Peace Corps in Guatemala in Environmental Management where she helped a community learn to care for a delicate eco-system called a cloud forest by teaching in the schools and community. After becoming a mother she entered the medical field as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and doula. She teaches prenatal yoga, is a doula trainer and has taught pediatric and ob/gyn residents about breastfeeding. Most recently she has a passion for education and is pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Buffalo in Learning and Instruction/secondary science. She teaches at Mandala School in East Aurora where she does best by learning about each student through radical listening and kindness.

Joshua Murphy is an education change-maker originating from the Genesee Valley of New York. After graduating from a small K-12 school he took to experiential learning and participated in two gap year programs; the first taking him to various volunteer positions in Latin America and the second bringing him home to Western New York. Murphy now serves on the board of directors for the Lagom Landing gap year and has taken many opportunities to explore the world of alternative education. He is passionate about creating diverse opportunities for authentic development. As a psychology student at SUNY Geneseo, Murphy was awarded a Ambassadorship Grant to begin founding Discover: Self-Directed Teen Learning, a project aimed at creating an educational community that can help teens explore their interests and build critical 21st century skills.

Heather Russell is an architect of human development and motivation. An entrepreneur and mother she is passionate about the various ways that education takes place in everyday situations. Having founded Verve Dance Studio, Russell uses dance classes and community events as a platform to create a network of individuals who collectively care about and help to spread the value of education through art forms and self expression. In previous business endeavors and currently as a professional development coach, she builds new formulas for success, by defining profit driven success around values of integrity, human development and the hierarchy of human needs.

Alyce Thorp became interested in alternative education while teaching information literacy at a local university. Hoping to inspire incoming freshman she was sorely disappointed by their lack of enthusiasm, curiosity and intrinsic motivation. Down the rabbit hole, looking for answers, she read books by Dewey, Holt and Gatto and discovered enlightening alternative education concepts that made people’s hair stand on end. All of this led to great opportunities working with families in Rochester and Fredonia – leading a homeschooling enrichment program and a school start up, respectively. She is now caring for young children in East Aurora and working with the Mandala School to create a primary program for this coming fall.

Stacy VanBlarcom is a dancer, teacher, poet, and public relations professional in Buffalo, NY. She is a Bboy/Bgirl youth instructor at Future Dance Center in Hamburg, NY, and believes there is no better learning tool than finding and pursuing your passion. VanBlarcom has danced for more than 20 years and now performs and competes across the U.S. and Canada in both bgirling (break dancing) and poetry. She is a proud member of the arts and Hip Hop communities in Buffalo, providing communications support to artists and encouraging connections at a local, regional and national level. In her nearly decade long career in public relations, VanBlarcom has aimed to exemplify the best of the profession, building relationships between organizations and their audiences that bring tangible benefits to all involved. She currently serves as Communications Manager for Lifetime Health Medical Group, and on the e-communications committee of the Buffalo/Niagara Public Relations Society of America.

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