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.
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.”
SOL Forest School Guide
Born in New Mexico and raised in France, Teacher Cap returned to the Land of Enchantment within the last two years. As they were reconnecting with the land of their early childhood through farming, Teacher Cap was also embarking upon new opportunities to connect with children as an educator, teaching Taekwondo to kids and homeschooling in a community living space. With a creative and playful spirit, they tune in easily with little ones. Growing up Teacher Cap would spend time in nature and arrange little portals or abstract shapes to communicate with the forest. With their martial arts training they have a strong physical and artistic discipline, which allows them to have an animal relationship to their body, coalescing naturally into a genuine interest and connection with nature and other mammals and living beings, including insects. Teacher Cap believes that insects have a lot to teach us about the cycle of the seasons, the cycle of life and death and time in general. Painting and drawing are their main means of expression these days. A great wanderer and wonderer, Teacher Cap has the equivalent of a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy and they're presently carrying on their studies at UNM.
SOL Forest School Guide
Endion (or “E”) has over 15 years of environmental education and activism experience. In relation to SOL, they have worked in bush camps in New Zealand, trained and helped establish Elevations Children’s Center’s Bosque Backpackers and extensive experience in creating and implementing nature based programming. She also runs a science circus called the Conservation Carnivale that travels around ABQ celebrating local ecosystems through immersive art and performance. They are please to have this time at SOL with their kiddo Ofelia and looking forward to building the “Pack” with other Muddy Misfits this year!
Enrollment / Brightwheel Lead, Saturday 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
Kelsey moved from North Carolina to New Mexico in July 2022 as her husband transitioned from the Army to the Space Force. Upon arriving, she immediately signed her daughter, Madison, up for the Saturday Explorer program and jumped at the chance to enroll her son, Teddy, for the Treeschooler program once Teddy turned 3. Kelsey loved being a parent volunteer and having the chance to observe, interact with and witness the magic of SOL. She believes time and space spent in connection with nature, something that she did not receive as a child and had to discover as an adult, allows her to be her best version of herself and as a mom. This time has become a priority for her family and such wonderful memories have been made in the unfolding. Kelsey holds a B.S. in biology and comes to SOL with a diverse background of work experiences as a doula, personal trainer, somatic mentor and Tinkergarten leader to name a few. Kelsey will always be a lifelong student herself and is currently studying the Biology of Trauma and Pre and Perinatal Psychology. She strives to co-create memorable experiences for her students and it brings her so much joy to see them embrace all the possibilities nature has to offer!
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.
RHIANNON MERCER SIMPLER
SOL Forest School Guide, Saturday Program Lead & 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 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.