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What is Place-Based Education?

Place-Based Education is learning that is rooted in what is local – the unique history, environment, economy, literature, and art of a particular place. This is the core educational concept for teaching and learning at Juniper Hill School. According to David Sobel of Antioch University and author of Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities (2004), Place-Based Education “is the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in reading and other language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, the arts and other subjects across the curriculum.”

Place-Based Education:

  • Grows from the specific natural and human-created environment students live in.
  • Cuts across all academic subjects and invites interdisciplinary work.
  • Engages students in the community and the community in the education of the students.
  • Promotes academic and intellectual rigor and active, responsible citizenship.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods (2005), refers to this approach and connection to nature and community as creating “happier, healthier and smarter” children. This is our primary goal at Juniper Hill School. 

Watch our video below to learn more.

 

A Brief History of Juniper Hill

by Anne Stires, Founder/Director, Juniper Hill School

Juniper Hill is a place that holds deep meaning for me. This property where the school now resides originally belonged to my grandmother, Jane Keyes, whom we all called Mima. My father, Kinne, spent much of his childhood here with his two sisters, and I was raised hearing stories of my father's adventures in the 42 acres of fields, woods and marshes. He explored the surrounding wilderness even in the middle of the night under a full moon, slept under heavy blankets in his unheated bedroom of the old farmhouse even through the winter, and loved canoeing along the Sheepscot River.  As I was growing up, we celebrated nearly every holiday at Juniper Hill in Mima's warm and adoring presence. My cousins, my sister and I made forts in the woods and became adept at climbing high in the apple trees--a skill our Juniper Hill students all learn to master, as well. 

As an adult, I have celebrated many milestones here: my wedding, my son's birthdays and the establishment of this very special school. Like my father, I too have spent many days canoeing the Sheepscot River. Once, during my tenure teaching at a local environmental education organization, I even had the honor of releasing a rehabilitated Barred Owl into the woods with Mima by side.

Mima lovingly kept the 1762 farmhouse, outbuildings and gardens for 45 years until it was acquired by my family when Mima passed in 2003.

I founded Juniper Hill School for Place-Based Education as a place of refuge, connection, and community. The children who attend this school readily identify the landscape with exploration, adventure and growth, as well as a magical world unto itself.  A four-year-old leaving Juniper Hill School after one of the first weeks of the Nature Immersion program, sighed a long sigh from the back seat of the car, and whispered to herself, “And now, we leave this world…and go back to the other one.”  

Antique Map of Alna, Maine 

Juniper Hill School is located at 180 Golden Ridge Road in Alna

OUR MISSION

Juniper Hill School for Place-Based Education connects children to themselves, to each other, and to their communities through studying both the natural and human environments. We utilize an integrated academic and social curriculum that immerses children in their educational context in a deeply experiential way. We strive to develop curious, creative, kind children who are becoming masters of their own learning and who actively engage to improve the world that surrounds them.

Reading in the yurts

Learning the alphabet in an outdoor classroom

Juniper Hill School Values

In order to know each child, there must exist a close relationship between families and Juniper Hill School. The curriculum is enriched by the expertise and varied experiences of students’ family members.

The concept of community is integral to Place-Based Education. Community starts with home and school and expands in ever widening circles as students become aware of their roles in their towns, their state, their country, and the world.

Juniper Hill School allows time for children to grow and learn at their own pace through exploration, opportunity, support and guidance.

An integrated curriculum supports academic rigor.  Our expectations are high of each student. We create assessments for project work and determine readiness for class level placements. 

In striving to create a culture of emotional intelligence, each child’s unique experiences, feelings, and needs are valued and validated.

Nature-Based Early Childhood Programs at Juniper Hill School

The Nature-Based Early Childhood programs include, Nature (pre-pre-kindergarten, ages 3-4, attendance1 or 2 part or full days) and the Seeds class (pre-kindergarten, ages 3-5, attendance 3 or 5 full days).

The Nature-Based Early Childhood programs at Juniper Hill School:

  • utilize nature as the central concept of all of the learning experiences and curriculum, including the organization of the indoor and outdoor classrooms
  • integrate developmentally appropriate practices in early childhood and environmental education, led by qualified teachers who are trained in both
  • cultivate ecological literacy and focus on all aspects of child development (cognitive, social, emotional, physical, aesthetic) using the woods, fields, and wetlands of the 42-acre campus as the classroom.

*Above points from a document on the organizing principles of nature preschools by Dr. Patti Baille, nature preschool researcher and assistant professor at the Univeristy of Maine and Ken Finch, Founding Director of Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood.

Place-Based Elementary at Juniper Hill School

The Place-Based Elementary programs for 2017-18 include the Roots class (ages 5-6, grade K), the Sprouts/Branches class (ages 6-8, grades 1 & 2), and the Branches/Leaves class (ages 8-10, grades 3-4).*

The Place-Based Elementary programs at Juniper Hill School: 

  • place equal value on the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive growth of students 
  • promote authentic learning with high expectations. 
  • provide an open atmosphere for the student's discovery of self, others, and the world around them. 
  • encourage an intimate connection to the natural world and surrounding communities through in-depth, integrated study. 

*We are planning for a pre-K through 5th grade early childhood and elementary school in the coming years.

Integrated Curriculum

Juniper Hill School’s interdisciplinary approach to literacy is a three-fold process of training the ear, the eye, and the hand with the mind. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are incorporated into all disciplines as students learn to use terminology relevant to specific subject areas.

Dramatic play, puppetry, storytelling, songs, poetry, and reading aloud are used to demonstrate literacy and encourage its acquisition in the early childhood programs—and to an extent in the elementary program. In addition, for the elementary students, active engagement with reading and writing, along with appropriate, specific practice with words (word recognition, spelling, and vocabulary), leads to understanding in reading and meaning making in writing.

Topics covered in social studies begin with the students themselves and their immediate surroundings and broaden to encompass their towns, their state, their country, and the world. Students investigate the questions: Why do people live where they do? And build where they do? Local community resources and understanding of economics are used to enhance classroom study. As with studies focused in science, the breadth and depth of social studies grow much like children—here and now when they are young, to close at hand and long ago as they get older in middle elementary, and farther away and long ago as they get into upper elementary grades.

Juniper Hill School’s mathematics program focuses on concept development using hands-on materials and written work. Elementary grades use Investigations mathematics curriculum, supplemented with games, word problems, and projects. Real-life mathematical experiences come to life in outdoor classroom activities where students are guided to recognize the math that is inherent in nature and connected to the integrated curriculum studies.

Science studies at Juniper Hill School cultivate a sense of wonder for the natural landscape and the life within it. Through exploration and experimentation, students develop a spirit of inquiry and problem solving skills in the natural/life sciences, physics, chemistry, and additional scientific disciplines. The science program is strengthened by the use of many nearby resources such as the Sheepscot River and Hidden Valley Nature Center, as well as scientists from the community.

 The Arts are a part of all activities at Juniper Hill School. Music, theater and visual arts art taught as separate subjects by our art teacher. Students incorporate visual arts (drawing, painting, clay modeling, collage, and woodworking) into most of their projects, and there is strong emphasis on music through singing, dance, active listening, making and playing instruments, and rhythm games. Students showcase their work and talents by performing at the school’s many ceremonies and celebrations.

COMMUNITY

Place-Based Education at Juniper Hill is learning that is rooted in what is local to the Juniper Hill property, to Alna and to Maine—the unique history, environment, economy, literature, and art of this particular place. Our community provides the context for learning and our student work focuses on community needs, interests and service. This local focus has the power to engage students academically and as they evolve and allows them to begin to pair their growing global awareness to the intellectual rigor they've developed here. We intend for this to promote genuine local and global citizenship and problem-solving, and to prepare our children to live well in any community they choose.

A Child's Developmental Circle.jpg

Children learn an increasingly greater awareness of their own personal boundaries as they grow--something we refer to as their developmental circles. We aim to create a school community that is not just aware of these boundaries but one that evolves with the children as their boundaries expand. 

The families of the children who attend Juniper Hill School contribute to the mission of the school by sharing in and following guidelines that promote health, well-being, peace and ease for our children. Additionally, families cooperate together to support social gatherings that allow for bonding among school families and endeavor to support one another in times of both personal and community need. 

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COMMUNITY TESTIMONIALS

Over the last few years that our child has attended Juniper Hill School his confidence and physical strength have greatly increased. He looks forward to going to school and is happy to linger at the end of the day to climb in the apples tree with his friends. It has been amazing to watch his connection to and knowledge about the natural world grow in parallel with his academic and social skill set. We feel grateful to the faculty at Juniper Hill for the wonderful opportunity that nature-based and Place-Based Education offers our child. As parents we have witnessed the benefits of an integrated curriculum based on the local environment and outdoor based experiences.     --A.S., Root Parent
Juniper Hill School allows kids to be kids in a learning environment that is natural and real to them.  Every child is treated as an individual and made to feel welcome, respected, and loved.     --K.P., Seed Parent
This is what I see when I pick up my son from school: a handful of sweet kids asking politely if they can please climb, then scrambling like wild monkeys all over hundred-year-old apple trees. When one gets stuck or scared the others help strategize a way down because the rule is if you got up you have to figure out how to get down. That might just be the best lesson my son has ever learned and I'm grateful to Juniper Hill for giving him the opportunity to get stuck and the confidence and encouragement to find his way down.     --S.R., Root Parent
My husband and I are both former outdoor educators, but we never expected to find a school that felt like such a perfect fit for our values and beliefs. Our daughter began here in the Nature Immersion program and continues to thrive into her kindergarten year. The fact is, Juniper Hill School hasn't just complemented our beliefs but has improved us as parents and as citizens, as well. We think harder and make more conscious choices about everything because we are part of this community. We believe that the more the general public sees the increasing value of this type of learning in an embattled natural world, Place-Based Education will become not just merely treasured or valued, but inevitable, and Juniper Hill School is leading that revolution.     --A.G. & S.G. Root Parents
What a gift Juniper Hill School is to the Earth. I breathe more easily each day knowing you are here doing this essential work with children. Juniper Hill School has so much to offer midcoast Maine and the broader community of education.     --S.S., Maine Elementary Educator Observer
Thank you again for letting us visit Juniper Hill School. Simply put, your school is magic. I was very impressed with your teaching style, your students, and the impact you have on children.     --T.R., Maine Elementary Educator Observer
Thank you so much for taking the time to meet me and show me around your beautiful school. It meant a lot to me. Your vision and experience is so powerful. You have much to share with the world and with children. If more schools could share this vision, then the world would be much better off. Maybe one day I will find myself there too.     --J.S., School Visitor