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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


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.


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. 



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
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Emily Bollman, Branches/Leaves Support Teacher (Grades 3-4)

Emily grew up in small town Iowa, where she developed a never-ending curiosity for life and learning. She graduated from North Park University in Chicago and earned her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Psychology with an endorsement in 6 th grade Social Studies. She taught 4 th and 5 th grade and coached for 3 years in a Chicago public school, where she learned many valuable lessons from the community. Much of Emily’s professional development during those years was focused on writing and differentiation. She continued to teach as a private educator for one family for 5 years and really grew to appreciate the value of allowing children to explore and learn at a natural pace and in a variety of environments. In addition, that position provided her with the time and flexibility to volunteer for organizations supporting literacy, youth development, and homelessness in Chicago. Emily spent the following 4 years wandering the globe; teaching English in Japan and participating in work exchanges on farms, in kitchens, in English classes, and more. Her strong belief in experiential learning, connecting with land and
food, and finding the quiet spaces in life, led her to Juniper Hill where she is thrilled to be sharing the experience with curious learners.

  Fletcher Boote,  Music Experience program

Fletcher Boote, Music Experience program

Fletcher Boote, Music Experience program

Fletcher Boote is an accomplished vocalist and visual artist and holds a BA in Art from Bard College, and an MA in Performance from Chelsea College of Art in London. Fletcher draws her inspiration from the creative and meditative practices of deep looking and listening.

Fletcher comes to Maine via New York City, Florence, Italy, and Northern Vermont where she was Director of Yoga at the Vermont Studio Center.  She brings to Juniper Hill a wide range of teaching experience, having taught elementary through college-level courses in visual arts, nature, and yoga philosophy, and lead song circles for large groups at workshops and retreats. She currently teaches yoga with live music accompaniment in midcoast Maine.

Fletcher is excited and honored to join the Juniper Hill community to sing, listen, dance and learn together. After many years of performing and singing, Fletcher believes in the transformative power of song. She sings daily with her two young daughters and delights in their natural ability to infuse joy and experimentation into sound making. Her work as an educator and musician is rooted in her conviction that gathering together to sing is a powerful and conscious action for peace.

  Chelsea Daniels,  Early Childhood Teacher (Nature/Seeds Classes)

Chelsea Daniels, Early Childhood Teacher (Nature/Seeds Classes)

Chelsea Daniels, Nature/Seeds Class Teacher (PreK)

Chelsea grew up in Exline, Iowa on 40 acres, surrounded by timber and fields.  She spent much of her childhood exploring every nook and cranny of the property and still considers it her sanctuary.  Attending Simpson College in Iowa, she received her bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts and Elementary Education, with endorsements in reading and early childhood.  It was here she was inspired by professors who introduced nontraditional educational philosophies that focused on holistic development and celebrated the unique potential in each individual child.  After creating her own curriculum for a 3- and a 4-year-old Catholic Preschool program, she pursued certification through Montessori Centre International.  She earned her Early Childhood Certificate in Montessori Theory and Methodology and International Diploma in Montessori Pedagogy while teaching 3-6-year-olds for 2 ½ years at a Montessori in Iowa.  It was through this certification she learned of Forest Schools.  Captivated by the concept, she traveled to Washington State to earn the Cedarsong Way Forest Kindergarten Teacher Training and Certification.  Through this journey, she discovered Juniper Hill School.  She feels incredibly privileged to be doing something she loves and believes in while being connected to and connecting children with nature. 

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Adrienne Hofman, Roots Class Support Teacher (Grade K)

Adrienne joins Juniper Hill after many years in Connecticut where she taught Preschool for more than 8 years. While in CT she complete an AA in Photography from Paier College of Art, her BA in Art History from the University of Southern Connecticut, and most recently recently completed her MA in Education with dual certification in Early Childhood Education and Special Education at the University of St. Joseph’s.  Adrienne has spent many years with preschool aged children (3-5) and most recently taught Kindergarten Reading in Dallas, TX.  She has truly loved her time with the little ones, and is excited to join the Branches Class this fall.  Some of Adrienne’s other interest outside the classroom, are being outdoors with her dogs, exploring her new home state of Maine, and spending time with friends and family.  She is looking forward to getting to know ever-growing community at Juniper Hill.

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Robin Huntley, Sprouts/Branches Class Teacher (Grades 1-2)

Robin grew up on the banks of the Sheepscot River in Coopers Mills, and now makes her home in the very same century-old farm where she spent her childhood.  Robin holds a BA in place- and community-based education from Hampshire College, as well as an MEd from Antioch University New England, where she specialized in elementary science, place-based education, and environmental education.  She has years of experience in educational settings of all kinds, including public and independent school classrooms and nature immersion programs.  In addition to her teaching, Robin is the founder and director of Dirigo Learning, a community-based education network for Midcoast and Central Maine.  When she's not teaching, Robin can be found reading (and collecting) children's literature, gathering and processing specimens from the natural world, or tending to her humongous collection of indoor and outdoor plants.

  Leigh Anne Keichline , Elementary Teacher (Branches Class)

Leigh Anne Keichline, Elementary Teacher (Branches Class)

Leigh Anne Keichline, Branches/Leaves Class Teacher (Grades 3 & 4)

Leigh Anne joins Juniper Hill after many years of living in New York City, where she taught English as a Second Language to adults, completed a Masters in Political Science at Brooklyn College and a dual certification Masters in Elementary Education and Literacy at Bank Street College of Education, taught elementary school for many years, and most recently, was teaching kindergarten at Blue School in the South Street Seaport neighborhood in Manhattan.  Leigh Anne has also worked on farms from Cape Cod to Virginia, loves learning about trees, and hopes to grow many windowsill plants in her new home in Maine.  She has taught creative writing in a variety of different settings, including holding sessions on the beach in Cape Cod, and has also worked in children's books both as a librarian and in book stores.  She has many other interests as well, loves good conversation, and looks forward to learning so much from and growing with the Juniper Hill community.

  Dot Lamson , Special Programs Teacher

Dot Lamson, Special Programs Teacher

Dot Lamson, Special Programs Teacher

Dot comes to Juniper Hill after retiring from her job as Director of the Center for Environmental Education at the Chewonki Foundation where she has worked for 35 years.  She has spent her life living and working in nature and has led dozens of wilderness trips, including Sea Kayaking, Canoeing and Winter Camping.  She continues to work part time at Chewonki as their Girls Camp Program Director and adjunct wilderness trip leader.  She is a certified Wilderness First Responder, Lifeguard and Registered Maine Guide.  She started her teaching career as the Elementary Ecology Specialist in Weymouth, MA public schools and spent summers working and teaching with the Youth Conservation Corps in Baxter State Park, Mount Blue State Park and Moosehorn Wildlife Refugee.  She is a graduate from the University of Maine, Orono with a degree in Wildlife Management and minors in botany and education. Throughout her career Dot has served on the boards of the Maine Environmental Education Association, the New England Environmental Education Alliance, the Friends of Wilson Pond Land Trust and the Morris Farm.  She is now excited to be spending her retirement sharing outdoor adventures with her beloved granddaughter and with the children of Juniper Hill.

  Christina Powell  / Elementary Teacher (Sprouts Class)

Christina Powell / Elementary Teacher (Sprouts Class)

Christina Powell, Roots Class Teacher (Grade K)

Christina earned her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Wright State University. Her teaching experience ranges from preschool to third grade in public, charter and independent schools. Christina recognizes that children learn differently and strives to provide a child-centered educational approach in an enriched, peaceful environment: one that supports imagination, exploration, and creativity. Christina is passionate about getting kids out in nature and nurturing their sense of wonder.

  Kariska Puchalski,  Supporting Teacher

Kariska Puchalski, Supporting Teacher

Kariska Puchalski, Nature/Seeds Class Supporting Teacher (PreK) 

Kariska feels privileged to be part of the teaching faculty of Juniper Hill School as one of the early childhood supporting teachers. She loves to participate in a learning environment that is perceptive to each child's individual nature. She has been a lifelong learner despite the effects her own “formal” education and wishes she could have attended Juniper Hill School as a child! She brings her experience of ingenuity and self-reliance learned from living on houseboats and on an outercoast Maine island. Kariska has studied, collected and used medicinal plants for health and she helped to create a vibrant and thriving food cooperative for many years. Most importantly, she has spent the last 13 years enjoying the company of her grandchildren. She is deeply involved in their care and well being, with an emphasis on being outdoors for play and learning as much as possible.

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Sarah Schrader, Sprouts/Branches Class Teacher (Grades 1-2)

Sarah grew up in Rangeley, Maine but has done her share of exploring since then. She went to Hamilton College in upstate New York where she studied Psychology and Art and played women's basketball. Following college, she fell in love with the special needs population while working and life-sharing in a Camphill Community in PA as an Americorps Volunteer. This was followed by the full-body urge to farm, thus a season of apprenticeship in North-Central Florida where she learned to grow food and care for the land. Her teaching career kicked off with an inspiring faculty, cohort and pedagogy at Antioch University during her masters program. She taught for two years at an Arts-Based Charter School in San Francisco followed by a year of teaching in a public school in mid-coast Maine. Sarah absolutely loves spending time outdoors in the form of jogging, back country skiing, backpacking, canoeing, surfing and is currently learning to sail! She also loves to draw, paint, knit, cook, ferment things and play the fiddle! Integrating her love for outdoor space and art into her teaching keeps her energized and learning and an educator. She is enjoying rooting back down in Maine and is looking forward to teaching and learning with the Juniper Hill Community.

  Anne Stires , Founder/ Director, Forest Kindergarten Teacher (Roots Class)

Anne Stires, Founder/ Director, Forest Kindergarten Teacher (Roots Class)

Anne Stires, School and Education Director

Anne brings her academic training together with her love of life and the natural world at the school she founded, the Juniper Hill School, in Alna, Maine. There, along with like-minded colleagues, she shares her enthusiasm for learning through the lens of place. The Juniper Hill School’s “place” is her grandmother’s 1761 farm in Alna bordering the Sheepscot River. This farm has served as a consistent refuge and “garden of adventure” throughout Anne’s life. Now, it is where her students begin their immersion in the adventure of learning by studying the natural and human environments around them. 

Anne has a bachelor’s degree in Biology and English from Hamilton College in New York and a master's degree in Education from Antioch University New England. An affinity for nature and environmental education always brought her back to Maine. While pursuing her education, she worked at local marine and environmental stewardship programs: the Darling Marine Center, Chewonki Foundation and Tanglewood Learning Center. Anne also directed a Place-Based Education program for 25 schools on the midcoast region of Maine for the Quebec-Laborador Foundation Marine Program.  As a classroom teacher, she taught at Sheepscot Valley Children’s House in Wiscasset and Boothbay Region Elementary School before starting her ideal, hands-on learning “place”: Juniper Hill. Anne is a prolific speaker and advocate on the topic of nature-based education. Most recently, Anne wrote a chapter of the new book Redleaf Press on the topic: "Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens: The Handbook for Outdoor Learning" by David Sobel (with Patti Ensel Bailie, Ken Finch, Erin K. Kenny, and Anne Stires). Juniper Hill School is also featured throughout the book. In addition to being the school founder and director, Anne teaches the Roots class, as well as graduate level courses at Antioch University.

  Susan Stires , Literacy Support

Susan Stires, Literacy Support

Susan Stires, Literacy Support

Susan Stires was a faculty member of the Graduate School of Education at Bank Street College, until 2013 when she retired. She taught writing, reading, language acquisition, and children’s literature courses; supervised teacher interns; and mentored students’ master theses. Prior to that, she was a lecturer in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she received her doctorate. She was also a literacy staff developer in New York City public schools, following 30 years of elementary teaching. She is the author of numerous chapters and articles on literacy education, as well as the editor of the book, With Promise.

  Meredith Tisbert , Visual Arts Teacher

Meredith Tisbert, Visual Arts Teacher

Meredith Tisbert, Arts and Support Teacher

Meredith Tisbert graduated from Roger Williams University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Visual Arts degree. Her senior thesis was centered in mixed media, which is the process of integrating traditional drawing, painting and printmaking with everyday found objects, creating one cohesive piece of art. She is particularly excited about bringing those ideas to a nature-based program and incorporating the outdoor aspect into the children’s artwork. After college she moved to Barcelona, Spain where she taught English as a foreign language while fine tuning herself as an artist. In addition to her lifelong interest in art, Meredith found a particular interest in psychology where she studied childhood development.  Meredith is a native New Englander but after ten years in California, she brought her family back to New England. Meredith spent last year as the volunteer art assistant for the Juniper Hill art program, and is thrilled to be given the opportunity to bring her enthusiasm for art to children, as well as to be part of the Juniper Hill community.

  Elise Voigt,  Arts Teacher

Elise Voigt, Arts Teacher

Elise Voigt, Arts Teacher

Elise grew up in Whitefield, Maine where she now chooses to raise and homeschool her three children. She holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York and studied performing arts there as well as at the British American Drama Academy in London. She is an actress and an educator and has taught in public and private settings throughout the state with theater companies Heartwood Regional Theater Company of Newcastle and Theater at Monmouth. She enjoys doing Shakespeare in the Park and has performed al fresco with Fenix Theater Company of Portland and Bath and Camden Shakespeare Festivals. Her connection to the stage as a tool to practice empathy and foster teamwork drives her to develop programming to offer stage skills to both actors and non actors.