Natural tranquility helps to inspire an education entrepreneur
Anne Stires began her life on Westport Island in 1976. Her formative years were spent in the woods and marshes of her parents’ expansive property on Post Office Road — where trees, birds and other wild creatures were their closest neighbors. She grew up connected to the land — in a home heated with wood, holding a kitchen table that often included food from the family garden. Family life included harvesting firewood and vegetables, as well as restoring a house steeped in Island history.
Anne moved off the Island in 5th grade. Ironically, it was while she was in 6th grade at the Banks School in Manhattan’s Upper West Side that she was struck with what would become her “truth.” Anne’s teacher brought their classroom outside one day to walk the streets of Manhattan and absorb the world about them. With their eyes and senses primed, they returned to the classroom to write poetry. Anne absorbed more than the sights of Manhattan that day, she absorbed a way of thinking and learning beyond “the desk” that meshed outdoor and social experience, or “place”, with learning.
Today, she brings her academic training together with her love of life and the natural world at a school she founded, the Juniper Hill School, in Alna. 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. The school serves Pre-K to Grade 4 students and their families.
As an example of the school’s integrated, “place-based” approach: if this school was on Westport Island — older students might look at the history of transportation on Westport over time. Investigating its historical evolution would require speaking with Westport Islanders whose roots are here. And, tackling the subject as a whole might take them to look at the role of personal boats, the development of mass transportation from steamboats to cars, the ferry landings, the development of roads and bridges — as well as how the demands on this infrastructure changed over time. It would be a Social Studies integrated project where the children read, write, and do studies — perhaps even art studies like photographic essays. Development of concepts and skills is brought to life with sensory immersion. The outdoors and community are “classroom ground zero”.
Anne has a bachelor’s degree in biology and English from Hamilton College in New York and a Masters 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. As a 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.
Juniper Hill School is a private school that serves students aged 3-9 in central and Mid-Coast Maine. Students may attend as private pay, or as a “school of choice” in communities like Westport Island and Alna that allow families a tuition-paid choice. To learn more about the school, on-Island resources include Director Anne Stires; Literacy Specialist Susan Stires; and Board Member, Susie Stedman.
photo of Anne Stires and photos of students at the school courtesy of Juniper Hill School