Meet Our Educators

Mike Finn:

Mike Finn has been working with children and their families in many educational and community based settings for more than 35 years.  He has been a New York State Council of the Arts Poet in the Schools, a TST BOCES Enrichment Instructor (in Creative Writing, Science and Art), and a Waldorf Teacher for fifteen years.   As a Lead Construction Consultant and Organizer for Leathers and Associates community-built playgrounds, he has worked with communities nationally and internationally, leading hundreds of thousands of volunteers, young and old, through the playground construction process. As Ringmaster for the Backyard Circus (Midway Caravan), Mike has brought participatory theater to thousands of children throughout the U.S. for the last 20 years.  Mike is an Artist and Poet and shares his love of art, literature, music, drama, nature and humor with his students.

Sophia Hutnik:

An Ithaca native, Sophia has an undergraduate degree in International Relations and Anthropology from SUNY Geneseo. She spent two years in Istanbul, Turkey studying at Bogazici University, teaching English, interning at the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and working at a political research center. After leaving her position as a project coordinator at the Global Political Trends Center in Istanbul she spent time in the mountains of southern Turkey where she ate pomegranates right off the trees and learned about compost toilets and alternative living. This experience propelled her to engage with the life around her and explore other ways of being and knowing in this world. She went on to complete a masters degree in Human Ecology from Lund University in Sweden with a focus on the impact that the financialization of the global agricultural system has had on environmental justice movements around the world. During this time she also participated in an agroecology internship at Wagenengin University in the Netherlands, as well as an internship in regenerative agriculture in southern Ecuador. In 2016 she was a playworker at Ithaca Children’s Garden summer camp and worked at Ithaca Montessori as a classroom teacher with ages 5 months to 5 years. From 2017-2019 she was a fellow with the Allegheny Mountain Institute in Virginia where she had weekly workshops on regenerative agricultural systems and topics, took an herbalism course, received a Permaculture Design Certificate and worked as a farm and education assistant at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind for a year. She was the registrar as well as the food and nutrition educator for the Ithaca Children’s Garden in 2019 and has been a field instructor at Primitive Pursuits since March 2019 after completing a 2 month long internship with their forest pre-school. Since the fall of 2019 she has been the Wednesday co-teacher at the Lantern Program through Earth Arts. She brings her passions for foraging, wildcrafting, cooking, bird language, gardening, environmental justice among other things, to all of the programs that she runs.

Hello everyone! In addition to my bio I wanted to write a bit about my approach to teaching, my excitement to be joining the Finnstitute team and what I will bring. My teaching pedagogy has been influenced by the philosophies found in Montessori, playwork and Coyote mentoring as well as my life experiences and academic and personal inquiries into environmental justice and deep ecology. My goals are to share the wonders of the world we live in through participatory observation, building relationships with the beings of this world and finding joy in the process of understanding where the items that we use come from and how to make them for ourselves with materials around us. I am passionate about immersing students in long-range learning projects that approach subjects in a holistic manner. Rather than compartmentalizing topics into units, we will look at topics within the context of all of the relationships between the beings and events that they entail (I am a human ecologist after all). My educational goal for the students is to encourage deep analytical thought, compassion, justice, wonder and curiosity. To not merely accept what is told to them and to be aware of the differing epistemological and ontological realities of peoples and beings around the world. Together, we will learn how to be anti-racist together, we will learn about the Native Americans of this land, we will learn about the continuing impacts of colonization, imperialism and neoliberalism, we will learn about the intrinsic worth of all beings not just humans, and we will learn to foster and value our relationships with all beings in our ‘ecosystem’ not in individual units, but rather incorporated into all of our lessons. Many of the topics relating to justice, history, the environment and so on can be very depressing and stressful. However, I have found for myself, and those around me, when we couple educating ourselves on these topics with educating ourselves on how we can reclaim our health, our food ways etc, we become empowered. Furthermore, through connecting with the more-than-human world around us we see that we are not alone and are able to see that the beauty in what is can overpower the dark.

An example of a long-range project would be making acorn and dandelion flower muffins. In the fall we will start off harvesting acorns (I will just list off some of the things that could be touched on): tree ID, traditional Native American diets, history of colonization, impact of colonization on food ways, being a black naturalist. Storing acorns: lesson on oil and fats. Field trip to a farm to see how wheat looks and is harvested: the advent of agricultural societies, the history of wheat and colonization of the americas, slavery, history of civilizations that fell due to extractive agriculture. Using vanilla: history of the spice trade, exploration of spices that we can forage or grow, where did different foods that we eat come from, decrease of genetic diversity in the plants we eat now, slavery, food sovereignty. Field trip to someone who has chickens: biology of chickens, soil biology and using chickens in your farming system, compost, origins of chickens – domestication of animals, relationships between different peoples and their domesticated animals. Harvesting dandelions: herbalism, connecting with plants, plant botany. Leaching the acorns to make the flour and grinding wheat to make flour: nutrition, chemistry, food traditions from other peoples. And at long last, making the muffins: cooking, chemistry, valuing the food that we eat everyday for all that went into gathering and preparing all of the ingredients. (Math can be woven into everything!)

I am excited to work with the curriculum and resources that Mike and Helene have so consciously created and to work with them. As they have, I plan on weaving in poetry, writing, art, movement, math, science and such throughout our explorations together. I have had the pleasure of working with many of the students either at Ithaca Children’s Garden, Primitive Pursuits or Lantern and am looking forward to continuing a journey of learning with them. There are a lot of unknowns for this coming year related to Covid hopefully the Finnstitute will be able to run and be a site of empowerment for the students. Not only will it be  a center of learning and exploration, but as all of you know, the development of relationships between the students and the teachers is almost as important as the academic work that we will do.


If you have any questions or want to set up a time to meet Mike in person, contact Mike or Helene.                             Email:

 phone: (607)277-2345

4 Responses to Meet Our Educators

  1. I.Heart.World.Peace! says:

    Hello Mike!
    Great picture you have here!
    Have a good day.

  2. Jake says:

    Great to see you out there sharing your gifts Mike! A friend from long ago.

  3. David Esclusa says:

    Great photo! You’re the best teacher I ever had!

    David Esclusa:)

  4. JOHN AMOROSIA says:


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