We are fierce Guardians of Childhood!
– SOL Staff
Founder, Director & Lead Forest School Educator
Sally comes to SOL with over 25 years of teaching experience, the majority of which has been with young children. In her 20s, Sally worked as an Outdoor Education Instructor, developing both her “hard & soft” skills which are needed for teaching in the outdoors. She has worked in several different states, as well as abroad in Kenya, Italy & New Zealand & in each of these locales, she gleaned special knowledge & experience that continues to inform her current practice. Most recently, Sally worked for nearly a decade as the School Administrator at the New Mexico School for the Deaf (NMSD) Albuquerque Preschool. NMSD is a Reggio-inspired preschool & the first school for the deaf nationally to offer a Forest School program called "Forest Day Learning", of which Sally founded. It's now operating at three of NMSD's five preschools in the state.
Sally holds BS & MA degrees in Education, as well as NM state licensure in Educational Administration. In 2016 Sally was the first person from the United States to enroll in a competitive, year-long program to become a Forest Schools Canada certified Forest School Practitioner & she is currently the only Educator in the state who holds formal Forest School training. Sally is also a certified Tinkergarten teacher, has mentored under a renowned East Mountain-based Herbalist, is a certified Shinrin Yoku Forest Therapy Guide (see separate tab) & is Wilderness First Aid trained through NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). She is a member of the Council for Nature & Forest Preschools & the American Forest Kindergarten Association. Sally is the mother of one child (Odin) who spent his early childhood years exploring the sea, coastal mountains, fields & forests of the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. As an East Mountain HS student, Odin occasionally earns required volunteer hours working alongside Sally at SOL.
SOL Forest School is named in part for something we are abundantly spoiled with in New Mexico: sun, or "sol" in Spanish. SOL was born from Sally’s combined love of nature & early childhood education, & her deep belief that by connecting young children to the Natural World, we grow competent, capable, creative, happy young souls, as well as future Stewards of the Earth. This is needed now more than ever & in this way Sally believes the work she & her colleagues are doing is sacred. She hopes that the Forest School model will become so commonplace that it will have an impact on our culture, & as a result children will be seen & heard playing outdoors again in neighbors across our great country.
Sally was awarded the 2019 Outstanding Environmental Educator award for her work with SOL Forest School, as well as the NM School for the Deaf where she founded the first forest school for deaf children in the world. This is an annual award given to an educator by the Environmental Education Association of New Mexico.
Assistant Director & Lead Forest School Educator
BrieAnne Stout brings her love of nature & training in Botany & Ecology to SOL Forest School. She has worked with us since 2018 & completed a level III Forest School Leader certificate in 2021 from Archimedes Earth, a European-style intensive training in forest school pedagogy. A former high school biology teacher, BrieAnne decided to pursue informal styles of outdoor education after working as a Camp BioPark teacher where her groups of 8-10 year-olds discovered the coolest secrets hiding at the Albuquerque Botanic Garden. “We all learned something new each day at camp – myself included! Children possess a deep wealth of knowledge & we learn from them when we slow down and listen." Her volunteer work with the Kiwanis Learning Garden Stewards & First Unitarian Church’s Earth Web group also introduced her to Environmental Education. As an AmeriCorps VISTA member she worked with a team advancing ecotourism to an economically challenged region of New Mexico. BrieAnne holds a BS in Biology & an MS in Botany, & has lived in New York, Oregon, Alaska, & of course, New Mexico. She is mother to elementary-aged Lauren, & when she’s not exploring the Sandia foothills or camping with her family, she is in her backyard vegetable garden fighting squash bugs & hoping her garden experiments eventually yield a worthy salad.
SOL Forest School Educator
Mr. Gavin is in his first year with SOL Forest School. He primarily grew up in the East Mountains & he brings a wide variety of talents to our young Treeschool community. With an MA in Special Education & a BA in Liberal Arts, Gavin has merged his love for the outdoors & interests in survivalist skills into a unique educational experience for our outdoor-based school. Outside of SOL Forest School, you might find Gavin practicing Chinese Martial Arts as a Shaolin Disciple or just rambling in the mountains in his utility kilt (in fact, this is how SOL found Mr. Gavin! We met several times in the forest & learned of our shared passion for connecting children to nature, as well as Mr. Gavin's unique training & interests, which is a perfect fit for SOL Forest School).
SOL Forest School Educator
Miss Nicole was born & bred in El Paso, Texas & is a native Spanish-speaker. She has a BA in Elementary Education, with a focus on Social Justice & has completed some Master's level course work in Education. Miss Nicole has worked in Early Childhood Education, specifically with the Mescalero Apache Early Childhood program, and she completed an internship with the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center. Miss Nicole is passionate about connecting young children to the Natural World & she is particularly interested in the junction between Spirituality & Nature. She lives with her husband & SOL Treeschooler daughter Isabella in Albuquerque where she pursues clean living & enjoys learning about the benefits of essential oils with Do Terra.
SOL Forest School Educator
Miss Julie grew up in Cable, Wisconsin, known for its beautiful Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, abundant rivers, lakes and many miles of cross country ski and mountain bike trails. She holds an Associate's degree in Early Childhood Education and plans to eventually pursue further education to become a certified Forest Schools leader. In her spare time you can find her exploring the mountains or bosque with son Connor and has recently been rollerblading and biking like crazy as well (thanks to mild NM winters). She also loves to work puzzles, read, cook and bake and is currently trying to perfect homemade sourdough bread from her lovely quarantine starter. Miss Julie dreams of a time hopefully in the future when she can have a huge garden, about 25 chickens, a goat (per Connor's request), and a nice place to watch the stars at night. She says “In this coming year I am most excited to be immersed in the forest with these beautiful SOL Treeschoolers while enjoying access to my joyful, child-like inner self. I'm so lucky to be given the opportunity to become co-researcher with them as they discover and form their invaluable connections to the natural world. I feel so fortunate to have found this lovely community!”
RHIANNON MERCER SIMPLER
SOL Forest School Educator & Artistic Director
Rhiannon began with SOL in 2019 as a weekly parent-volunteer when her two young children began as Treeschoolers. Since then she has become increasingly involved with SOL in a variety of ways, and now joins our dedicated group of forest school educators this spring both as a Teacher and as Artistic Director to the organization. Rhiannon brings a strong passion for nature and being outdoors, both in fair and foul weather, and a range of experience in nature as a former wildland firefighter, search and rescue volunteer and backcountry trail crew person. She is also the former Associate Director of 516 ARTS and a visual artist, and holds a MFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of New Mexico, a BA in Painting from the University of Nevada, Reno, and has taught a variety of higher education and continuing education studio art courses. Between 2006 and 2016 she was involved in nearly every aspect of Albuquerque’s leading contemporary arts organization, including coordinating and curating several exhibitions, and providing educational tours to local K-12 students. Her experiences with the natural world directly feed her imagination and aesthetic, and motivate her to instill a love, wonder and respect for that world in her children and to support more children and families in connecting with nature. She lives in the East Mountains with her husband, kids and dogs pursuing numerous creative projects and embarking on outdoor adventures with her family.
SOL PARENT HELPERS
SOL sessions are run with two educators, as well a parent-volunteer, providing a better than 1 to 5 adult to child ratio. Each parent is responsible for assisting as our third adult at least once per semester, & by doing so, they benefit by learning our SOL-approach to supporting risky & adventurous play, social problem-solving, cultivating mindfulness & the "SOL Rule of Care", among other things. SOL parents frequently report that by working with SOL, their own parenting skills improve. This is something we are very proud of! We deeply appreciate our SOL parents & work very hard to collaborate with SOL parents in supporting each & every Treeschooler in our program. We are a true community that cares for one another. We enjoy celebrating the Solstices together & typically enjoy a large community Camp-Out once per year.