We are fierce Guardians of Childhood!
– SOL Staff
Founder, Director & Lead Forest School Guide
Miss Sally comes to SOL with over 25 years of teaching experience, the majority of which has been with young children. In her 20s, she 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, Miss 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 she founded. It's now operating at three of NMSD's five preschools in the state.
Miss Sally holds BS & MA degrees in Education, as well as NM state licensure in Educational Administration. In 2016 she 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 was one of the first Educators in the state to hold formal Forest School training. Miss 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. Miss 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 Miss 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 Miss 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 she 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.
Miss 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 Guide
Miss BrieAnne 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, Miss 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. Miss 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 Guide
Born and raised in Central New Mexico, Miss Amber was inspired by the magic of the natural world from an early age. As a child, she spent summers day hiking with her family in the Sandias and the surrounding Northern Mountains –wondering and wandering through ponderosa pines and evergreen junipers. The outdoors became her essential respite while completing a B.A in Sociology with a concentration in Human Services & Social Policy with a minor in Business Management. During her time at the University of New Mexico, Miss Amber also became a student of American Sign Language, and has loving roots in the Deaf community. She began her professional career working for the Children, Youth, and Families Department, Protective Services Division for the State of New Mexico. “I was awarded a rare glimpse into the hardship and perseverance of so many families in New Mexico. The families I worked with inspired me in ways I will never forget. I kept wondering how the system could look if it valued a connection to the outdoors.” She grew eager to learn about Outdoor Education, Wilderness Therapy, and Nature Based Early Childhood Education. Drawn to the pedagogy of Forest School, Miss Amber began as an intern for SOL in January 2022. Her recent experience includes living and working in Oregon for the Northwest Outward Bound School, a worldwide non-profit specializing in outdoor education for youth. She is Wilderness First Aid certified through NOLS Wilderness Medicine and enjoys recreating in all seasons with family, friends, and her beloved Shih Tzu, T-bone. Miss Amber returns this year as a SOL Forest School Guide, eager and fueled by her experiences. “The natural world is the original teacher. To think that I could be a Guide alongside Her – it’s so honoring.”
ARTHUR BAPTISTA SALDANA
SOL Forest School Guide
As a father of two outgoing girls, one of whom started with SOL at age 3, Mr. Artie is relearning to view the natural world through a young explorers' eyes. His interest in child-led learning and confidence building through risky behavior was sparked when finding out his wife was pregnant with their first, Juniper. After a chance meeting with a group of SOL Treeschoolers in the forest, their family decided they knew exactly what kind of early education their kids needed. One that was fully emergent with a focus on observation and adaptation in the elements. Artie comes from a scientific background in Biology and Botany, with a profound love for outdoor recreation. With years of trail guiding and wildlife tracking experience in the Southwest, and studying the ecology of fungi in the forests of Northern California, his eye for interesting learning opportunities is valuable to our curious explorers. His experience as a Respite Worker for developmentally challenged youth has provided him with varied learning techniques and coping mechanisms for young children. This will be his first step toward a path to alternative education as he plans on obtaining his Forest School Educator certification. He hopes to become a better educator and parent by learning with and from the sharp young people at SOL Forest School.
SOL Forest School Guide
Miss Dana spent her childhood summers playing in Lake Wallenpaupack in the Pocono Mountains of PA. Her parents instilled in her a love of travel and exploring new land. She comes to SOL this Fall with a wealth of experience and knowledge. Miss Dana has earned a BS in Liberal Arts-Professional Education with minors in Peace & Conflict Studies and Professional Education, and an Associates in Elementary Education. She is also a trained Montessori Early Childhood Educator earning her diploma through NAMC, and is certified as both a Children’s Yoga teacher through Radiant Beginnings and as a Vinyasa yoga teacher (200hr YTT). She’s also completed full training as a Forest School Teacher through the Forest School Teacher Institute (FSTI). In Spring 2022 Dana traveled with FSTI to England for continuing education training to learn from UK Forest Schools and colleagues (that’s where she met Miss Sally!). Her career in Education began as an AmeriCorps volunteer with City Year, an education non-profit in southwest Denver serving a Spanish dual language elementary school. Her experience also includes teaching at a Creative Learning School, a Waldorf school and a homeschool academy. Dana joins us after most recently teaching at a Forest School in New Jersey. When she’s not playing outside, Dana enjoys snuggling with her cat, eating fresh food, making art and laughing with friends. She’s grateful that her soul has aligned with SOL and for the opportunity to connect with a SOUL/SOL-minded community!
SOL Forest School Guide
Miss Julie grew up in Cable, Wisconsin, known for its beautiful Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, abundant rivers, lakes & many miles of cross country ski & mountain bike trails. She has lived all across the United States but her love of the Southwest (& Green chile!) keeps her in New Mexico. She holds an associate degree in Early Childhood Education. She is also currently enrolled in a Level III Forest School Leader certificate course from Archimedes Earth which will further her knowledge in the Forest School pedagogy. She believes that educating children in this way, where they keep their natural zest and spark for learning, is the way of the future. She says "Working for SOL has been the greatest joy! It is so exciting to share the forest with wonder-filled SOL Treeschoolers. I'm so lucky to be given this opportunity to be a co-researcher alongside children as they discover & form invaluable connections to the natural world."
SOL Forest School Guide
Born in Las Cruces and raised in Bosque Farms, Mr. Nick is a lifelong resident of New Mexico. Early explorations of New Mexico's mountains and deserts while backpacking with his father instilled in him a love of nature and the Southwest. After later living in and exploring Colorado and Arizona, the birth of his son, Arlo, prompted his return to the Land of Enchantment, where he now lives in the East Mountains with his wife and two kids. A decade spent managing large and diverse teams taught Mr. Nick that everyone has unique perspectives and skill sets. Honoring those natural differences is key to fostering individual growth, purpose, and a strong sense of community. Wanting to make a positive impact on the environment and humanity, Mr. Nick realized that the biggest change could be made through education. He believes that active participation is necessary for learning. Meaningful lessons come through reinforcing one’s innate curiosity and lead to personal discoveries. Social and emotional strength is foundational for personal, academic, and professional achievement and should be the focus of educators facilitating the journey through early childhood. He believes that listening is the keystone of effective communication and relies on it to guide his mindful and respectful work with children. Mr. Nick is an FSTI certified Forest School Teacher and holds an Associate degree in Elementary and Special Education. He is currently attending WNMU for a Bachelor of Science in elementary education.
SOL Forest School Guide
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.
RHIANNON MERCER SIMPLER
SOL Forest School Guide & Artistic Lead
Miss 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 joined our dedicated group of forest school educators in early 2021 both as an Educator and as Artistic Director to the organization. Miss 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 member. She recently completed Forest Educator training from the Forest Teacher Institute as well as a year-long Nature-based Early Childhood Training & Certification Program through Nature Niños New Mexico and the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. 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. 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 Forest School Guide
Ms. Veronica settled in the East Mountains of Albuquerque three years ago after hopping across the country pursuing her and her husband's educations. She comes to SOL with a background as a traditional classroom teacher in urban public schools. She earned a Master's degree in Education focusing on literacy and constructivism which honed her interest in individualized student experiences. Becoming a parent broadened her interest in children as natural learners and child-led approaches to learning. Upon enrolling her kids in forest school, Ms. Veronica's family became deeply committed to exploring the outdoors and spending their weekends hiking, camping and enjoying the natural world. She is thrilled to be joining the SOL team and helping more kids have their very first school experience be in the forest.
SOL VOLUNTEERS & INTERNS
SOL Volunteers and Interns from the community are passionate about connecting young children to nature and experiencing first-hand the workings of a Forest School, or one day maybe working for or operating their own Forest School!
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.