About

Our Mission

Mentoring students outdoors to foster confidence, resilience, and kinship with nature.

Whole Earth Nature School is about more than developing outdoor skills, we are about developing thriving human beings. Through the pathway of nature connection and wilderness skills, our students are given the support they need to flourish. Our outstanding staff ensure lots of personal support and attention goes to each and every student. Through fire making, students learn patience, resilience, and safety. Through hiding, they learn stillness, observation and awareness. Through wildcrafting, they learn caretaking, pattern recognition, and self-sufficiency. Through group play and challenges, they learn leadership, respect, and confidence. Whole Earth Nature School is a place where each student is given the right balance of freedom and support to be their best self.

CORE VALUES

Cultivate gratitude • Encourage a culture of respect • Learn from failure • Teach appropriate risk-taking • Take personal responsibility• Practice awareness • Play

We are committed to Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion:

We believe that access to nature is a human right and recognize that structural inequities impact participation in outdoor experiences. Through staff training, student financial support, and culturally responsive curriculum, we commit to providing greater access to inclusive nature experiences so that everyone can benefit from the healing power of nature.

We acknowledge that our program activities take place on the traditional homelands of indigenous people, including tribes and bands of Kalapuya, Coos, Lower Umpqua, Siuslaw, and Molalla peoples, who have lived and cared for this land since time immemorial. They were forcibly removed from their homelands and moved onto reservations by EuroAmerican colonizers. These tribes are still thriving today as part of two sovereign nations: the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. We commit to including land acknowledgements in our programs, strengthening relationships with tribal nations and Indigenous people, learning from Indigenous educators, and with permission, including Indigenous education and traditional ecological knowledge in our programs.

Volunteer

Make a difference in our community by sharing your nature connection with kids. Plus you can learn new outdoor skills and games. We have a variety of schedules and commitment levels available, depending on your experience and schedule. Training is provided.

Meet the Founders

Anna Bradley, Matt Bradley, and Rees Maxwell

Founders’ story

Whole Earth Nature School was founded in the fall of 2009 by Rees Maxwell, Matt Bradley, and Anna Bradley. Each of their life journeys had brought them through deep nature connections and trainings, culminating in that fateful day when their paths crossed at a bank: the teller Matt spoke first, “Rees, I’ve been meaning to talk with you.”
The three of them gathered every day after, sharing stories of the profound impact that nature connection had in their own lives, and discovered a shared vision to create opportunities for all people to receive personalized nature mentorship. They quickly took this passion for living in kinship with the earth, and an understanding of the many barriers to experiencing that, and within two weeks were at their first school meeting kids at their classrooms to bring them out to connect with the diversity of nature that exists right in the surrounding alleys and avenues. Thus Whole Earth Nature School was born, and their first program Coyote Kids was launched.
Since then tens of thousands of youth have received personalized mentorship outdoors, and experienced the benefits of confidence, resilience and kinship with nature. We are continually working to decrease barriers to nature connection, while increasing our understanding of the limitless diversity of the human condition and adapting our pedagogy to better support every student.

Whole Earth Nature School was created because our founders saw that there was a need for a different kind of nature connection experience in Lane County. While there are good Environmental Education programs in our area, there were no programs offering the type of immersive nature connection and wilderness skills experiences that we wanted to see. It is important to us that our students’ experience is hands-on and based in real outdoor experiences. We want our students to interact with their environment, not just observe and learn about it. Students eat wild plants and use them for medicine. They move off of trails and follow the tracks of wildlife. They use mud and charcoal to camouflage their faces and bodies to blend into the landscape and observe nature, unseen.

Another key aspect of what makes our program unique is the use of live action storytelling and themed camp programs to hook the interest of students and help them to more easily immerse themselves in the natural world. We often theme our nature camps around aspects of popular culture that allow kids to relate to the experience more quickly. It also allows them to live inside a story while being introduced to the concepts and connective experiences we are offering. 

Whole Earth Nature School was originally created as a private company (LLC). In January of 2012 we transferred all operations over to a newly created nonprofit entity. Whole Earth Nature School is a tax exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Admin

Rees-high-5-sm

Rees "Flicker" Maxwell

Executive Director

Rees Maxwell enjoyed hiking and canoeing during his childhood years, before getting pulled into the tech world of Silicon Valley. Thankfully he moved to the Northwest later in his college years and rediscovered the wonder of the wilds. He has attempted to walk in both worlds ever since.

Rees founded Whole Earth Nature School with Matt Bradley and Anna Bradley in 2009 after graduating from Wilderness Awareness School’s yearlong immersion program. He taught in their Roots & Wings preschool program as well as their summer camps, and once back in Eugene looked for a local place where his own kids could go to camp learning advanced skills like friction fire-making, shelter building, tracking, understanding the voices of the birds, etc. and really get their hands dirty in the process. He’d previously taught children at local nature programs with Mt. Pisgah Arboretum and Nearby Nature and, while loving what they provide, saw an opportunity to bring a different style of nature education to children.

Prior to co-creating Whole Earth Nature School, he brought this environmental immersion style of nature connection to teens at the Network Charter School. Rees and his wife Matty Maxwell also founded a nature program for preschoolers called Dancing Sol in 2007, connecting the youngest kids in nature five days a week throughout the school year, for thirteen years.

Unusual for most Executive Directors, Rees continues to directly mentor youth in nature through Whole Earth. It is not only the most exhilarating and immediately impactful work he can do, it allows him to understand firsthand the challenges and needs that students and his staff experience, and supports the continual refinement of the Whole Earth pedagogy as well as the support structure created for all staff.

He feels and expresses gratitude every day.

  • Primitive wilderness skills practitioner
  • Mentor
  • Dreamer/visionary
  • Storyteller
  • Inventor
  • Interpersonal Mediator
  • Parent & Partner

Alicia "Foxfire" Kristen

Programs Director, Instructor

Crawling through wineberry brambles, Alicia prayed her natural camouflage would keep her hidden under the gibbous moon’s light. She had made it to the other team’s side in search of their “flag”: a green glow stick hidden in the bushes. Her blood raced, her senses were on high alert, and every single plant or log around her seemed a conspirator in her quest. She finally grasped the green glow she had seen from afar… only to have it crumble into rotten wood fibers. This strange species, foxfire, filled her with a powerful sense of awe and curiosity.

Like her namesake, Alicia “Foxfire” Kristen strives to help her students appreciate the beauty of the world around them and develop a lifelong love of learning. She helps students see both the magic and mechanics of the natural world. She created the Wildkin™ game to engage every student in leading and supporting the group through their individual passions. As an anthropologist and folklorist, she imbues her programs with songs, ceremony, crafts, and traditions old and new. She loves to create imaginary spells based on plants’ scientific names, build fairy villages, brachiate through the trees, create art from nature, and take students on epic and challenging adventures.

Foxfire was called to move to Eugene from Appalachia, where she trained as a mentor at Living Earth School. She is certified in Permaculture Education through the Mother Earth School and in the Art of Mentoring through the Wilderness Awareness School. She has trained with the folks at 8 Shields PDX, Jon Young, and Tom Brown. She trained in Montessori education with the folks at Heartmoor Farm Education Center. She mentored four teams of the UO Environmental Leadership Program in outdoor curriculum development. She has a B.A. in anthropology, M.S. in environmental education, M.S. in folklore programming.

  • Magic-maker & curriculum writer
  • University-, Montessori- & permaculture-trained educator
  • Scholar of natural and cultural history (here and in Costa Rica)
  • Systems Wizard
  • Renaissance Woman
  • Game Designer

Sarah "Redbud" Kelly

Director of Coyote Outdoor School

Sarah lived most of her life in the urban expanse of Houston, Texas. Growing up, she balanced her time exploring the edge habitats surrounding her house with time inside pursuing performing arts and reading about fantastical worlds. The bayous and woods where she played helped her cultivate an appreciation for nature; though hers was a complex relationship with place, experiencing feelings of love, connection, and loss. She saw the fireflies slowly disappear over time and oil bubble up from discarded car parts in Mustang bayou. Sarah learned about climate change, habitat loss, and other forms of environmental destruction while living in a place where freeways are more valuable than fireflies and oil and gas profits trump clean air and a stable climate.

Motivated by the urgency to address global environmental issues, Sarah started to working on sustainability projects while pursuing her undergraduate degree in Communications at the University of Houston. She later became the first Sustainability Manager for her alma mater and directed campus sustainability initiatives. Sarah left Houston to pursue her master’s degree in Environmental Arts & Humanities at Oregon State University where she studied environmental justice, place-based education, and ecological ethics. During graduate school, she coordinated educational programming and research for the H.J. Andrews Forest Discovery Trail — a mixed discipline arts, science and humanities field trip program.

Sarah offers learners opportunities to cultivate relationships with nature on their own terms by engaging in sensory awareness, self-reflection, and empathetic activities. She is committed to ensuring that every student at Coyote Outdoor School has a sense of belonging, feels welcome in our Coyote community, and supported in their immersive outdoor learning experiences. Sarah wants students to leave not only with better scientific understanding and ecological knowledge but also greater self-confidence, new human and non-human friends, curiosity to discover more, and gratitude for nature’s gifts. Learn more about Sarah’s work and background at sarahminette.com.

  • Empathetic leader
  • Advocate for just & sustainable change
  • Curious, life-long learner
  • Facilitator of discovery
  • Fungi enthusiast
  • Naturalist & organic gardener
  • Dance party catalyst
Sarah Hoffman

Sarah "Sparkles" Hoffman

Office Administrator

Sarah grew up in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California where she was immersed in nature at a very young age. Days were spent creating and reading about different worlds and a deep love for and connection to the outdoors was born. At the age of nine she wrote President Clinton about the impending doom of rapidly filling landfills after seeing an episode of Bill Nye and has been passionate about the environment ever since.

Sarah believes in the interconnectedness of all beings, including the land we live on, and strives to be a responsible human and an advocate of both her peers and the Earth. With nearly 20 years of customer service and 10 years of administrative experience, Sarah has worked in the non-profit, local government, and retail industries. She has realized her passion for making tangible contributions to the local communities around her and is very excited to be a part of the Whole Earth Nature School family where she hopes to learn much more than she can give.

  • Intuitive movement enthusiast
  • Zero waste and whole systems advocate
  • Student of energy and the interconnectedness of all things
  • Frequent outbursts of song
  • World explorer
  • Believer of magic

Julie Hubbard McNall

Bookkeeper

Julie is compelled to keep all the rest of the nature nerds around here responsible. But she also loves to play outside when she gets the chance.

  • “Numbers person”
  • Jolly soul
  • Mother

Board

Becky Wheeler

President
  • Certified Professional Public Buyer
  • Experience in city management
  • Outdoor recreation enthusiast

Brenna Leech

Vice President
  • Air Force veteran
  • MS Planning, Public Policy and Management
  • Outdoor adventure enthusiast

Ericka Thessen

Member at large
  • Acute Care Physical Therapist
  • Public education enthusiast, 4J and Whole Earth Parent
  • Volunteer for animal rescue, youth homelessness, and social justice

John Giustina

Member at large
  • Professional wildlife and sports photographer
  • Whole Earth Parent
  • Experience in natural resources management

Leah Rosin

Member at large
  • Digital content & marketing strategist
  • 4J parent leader & Whole Earth Parent
  • Former wildland firefighter, goat milker, and Oregon farm kid

Roger "Bill" Ward

Member at large
  • NW Regional Outreach for Oregon Trail Recovery
  • Fifth-generation Oregonian
  • Art, music, and outdoor enthusiast

Staff

Terance “Dirt” MacKenzie

Instructor, Director of FOREST, Assistant Director of Coyote Outdoor School

Terance was raised in Coburg, Oregon. He graduated from the Northwest Youth Corps Outdoor high school. While with the Youth Corps he worked with crews on a variety of conservation projects all over Oregon and Washington building trails plus restoring habitat for animals and plants. His family taught him to love the forest and everything in it while helping him learn how to identify plants and mushrooms, how to hunt and fish and most important how to have fun and get muddy. He has been a counselor for a number of youth programs including: City of Eugene’s Safety Town, Sempervirens Outdoor School located in the California Redwoods and Portland based Trackers Northwest.

  • Longest-running instructor
  • Director of challenging team building activities
  • Head Ogreseer
  • Tink
  • Head baker of wood cookies
  • Ninny Bane
  • Loud

Peat Hurst

Instructor, Assistant Director of Outdoor School

Growing up on a sheep farm in Mid-Michigan, Peat loved being outside from the start. Whether it was farm work, adventuring in the woods, family camping trips, or helping Grandma in the garden Peat was almost always outside.  Peat graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Child & Youth Development. From summer camps, to outdoor school, to trail crews Peat has been connecting students with nature all over the country for almost 10 years. Bringing their love of learning along with them, Peat has found fulfillment in hiking, tree climbing, rock climbing, as well as self-sufficiency skills such as fire, shelter, edible and medicinal plants, and wilderness medicine. They are always game to learn something new and their favorite teachers are their students. When not exploring the great outdoors, Peat loves to cook, train dogs, and watch every nature show on re-peat.

  • Weaver of stories
  • Ascender of trees
  • Seeker of learning
  • Dog’s Best Friend

Jade Weaver

Instructor

Jade grew up in Eugene, Oregon, where he spent his time camping, hiking, canoeing, rock climbing and backpacking with his family. Some of his fondest memories are spending time in beautiful wild places with people he loves. At nine years old, Jade began doing camps through Whole Earth Nature School where he began develop his primitive skills, outdoor knowledge, and love for nature. He is a graduating senior at the Academy of Arts and Academics in Springfield Oregon, where he is a theatre major. He incorporates his love for theatre into his work through telling stories and providing positive and creative energy to every situation he can. Jade is a graduating member of our FOREST program and loves spending time with friends outside. More than anything he hopes to provide what was given to him through Whole Earth to new campers, an incredible learning and growth experience!

  • Lover of games
  • Pun master
  • Enthusiastic
  • Definitely not Sarcastic
  • Loud
  • Former Whole Earth student

Jordan Lindstrom-Demant

Instructor

Jordan Lindstrom-Demant has been working professionally with children for over 10 years in summer camps, day cares, after school programs and most notably for a children’s entertainment company singing and face painting dressed as fairytale characters.

Jordan is a nature enthusiast and caretaker and is so happy to have the opportunity to educate children in and about the natural environment.

In her spare time Jordan is a dedicated yogi practicing for over 9 years. You can find her locally teaching kundalini yoga and workshops combining therapeutic art and yoga.

  • Yogi
  • Transformational face painter
  • Secret princess
  • Friend of goats and donkeys

Justin "Lonestar" Watt

Instructor

Coming soon.

  • Ukulele songwriter
  • Pizza chef
  • Gnome Leader

Lucas Dixon

Instructor

Lucas’ love of the outdoors began at a young age. He grew up in the dirty hands of his gardening, do-it-yourself grandparents, spending much of his time in the dirt. At 17, Lucas took his first solo trip to Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee. By 19, Lucas has his gear and a van and began traveling the country. He has camped, backpacked, and lived among some of the country’s most remote places. In these travels, Lucas visited many intentional/primitive communities, learning all the way. This drive to commune with nature and live simply has led Lucas to a life filled with adventure and a vast arsenal of earth skills to share. Today, Lucas is 24 and lives among mountains of Oregon’s coast where he continues on his path of life, love and communion with our mother, Earth.

  • Earth Skills devotee
  • Farmer
  • Community builder
  • Father

Kaity Heflin

Instructor

Kaity Heflin grew up climbing trees and playing in the farmlands of the midwest. She spent summers visiting a wide variety of national parks throughout the Western United States with her family. They explored new lands through hiking and backpacking, biking a hundred miles a day, surfing, rock climbing, and mountain biking. While biking on a hot summer day it was rare that they passed up a swim hole or an ice cream stand. Kaity is a Scientist and a Naturalist. She understands the world on a molecular level, and enjoys sharing awesome facts with the kids when an opportunity arises. Inspired by the personal growth she experienced after receiving a scholarship to Outward Bound at age 16, Kaity went on to seek a way to connect children to nature while teaching useful skills. She volunteered at organizations such as Nearby Nature and Big Brother Big Sister, and worked as a Wilderness Therapy Instructor in the backcountry with teenagers. She appreciates the way that nature grounds people and helps us get in touch with our true selves. Running in the woods and spending time in nature nourishes her soul, and she seeks to help others feel more connected and whole through spending time in nature.

  • Fierce warrior princess
  • Athlete
  • Lover of natural sciences
  • Wilderness therapist

Kathy Mezger

Instructor

Kathy grew up in the Santa Clara Valley (now known as Silicon Valley) in California, but in those days the west valley was full of creeks and orchards. She spent long hours communing with the natural world and at a young age realized the importance of maintaining a connection with nature. She and her family lived in Eastern Oregon for eleven years and and the wildness of the place gave her the opportunity to pass on her love of nature to her daughters Anna and Caitlin.

Kathy has always worked in the educational field and incorporates nature awareness into her teaching. The Coyote teaching resonates with her because it encourages curiosity and motivation, and allows children to discover for themselves. Kathy also incorporates herbalism and medicinal plant identification into her instruction, as well as music. She considers working for Whole Earth Nature School a dream job. How often does one get to run around the woods all summer interacting with children?

  • Early Childhood specialist
  • Sign language interpreter
  • Musician
  • Mother and Grandmother

Lydia "Lichen" Hoffman

Instructor

 

Lydia grew up in northern Illinois, and found every bit of nature she could amongst the suburbs and the corn fields! As a child she would spend all day outside, riding her bike and exploring. She attended a local nature camp , which she loved so much that she became a counselor for the same camp as an adult! Her favorite camp to attend and to teach was called river camp, where campers got to explore the workings of the local river. Her favorite thing to do outdoors is to hike and discover new nature spots, especially near bodies of water.

 

When indoors, she loves to draw, paint, and read. As an environmentalist and a fighter for equality and equity, she hopes to make the world a better place in small ways and big ones. When working with kids, she enjoys being silly and joking with the students, while still teaching them as many cool things as she can! As a nature instructor, she hopes to show kids the magical world of nature, and to show them how a strong connection to the natural world can improve their lives both physically and mentally.  

  • Believer of magic
  • Sunset enthusiast
  • Friend of all slugs
  • Cartoonist
  • Educator

Meg Frank

Instructor

After obtaining her B.A. in Child Development and Learning and her M.A. in Elementary Education, Meg taught Intervention K-5 and 1st grade in North Carolina. After moving to Oregon, Meg wanted to shared her passion for the outdoors with children to give them the same energizing experiences and appreciation for nature that she gained as a child. Meg captures students’ high energy and channels it into learning and helps students learn their limits with the right balance of autonomy and support. She also makes challenging experiences like campers’ first overnights comfortable by role-modeling preparedness and being super supportive!

  • Elementary teacher
  • Creator of artistic things
  • Crafter of little kid adventures
  • Lover of fire

Soma "Thunder" Bhargo

Instructor

Soma grew up in the big city of Los Angeles, dreaming of giant evergreens, mossy logs and wild, rocky rivers. She moved to Eugene in 2004 and jumped into the forest with both feet. She completed a 2 year Wildcrafting and Herbalism Apprenticeship program at Columbine’s School of Botanical Studies in 2006 and has since taken courses in Mushroom Biology and Environmental Education at the U of O. After dreaming of wolves, she began to study tracking with Wilderness Awareness School and later at Tracker’s Earth in Portland, where she completed a 9-month weekend immersion course. She’s been a nature guide at Mt. Pisgah Arboretum and led old growth ecology walks for the McGowan Creek Science Project. She has also been a summer camp instructor at Northwest Youth Corps and Tracker’s Earth. Soma holds a Level II certification in Track and Sign Identification from Cybertracker International. During the course of her wanders she’s picked up some useful wilderness survival skills too. Soma is always looking to grow her understanding of the interconnected web of nature, and loves to share what she’s learned with children and adults alike. When not exploring wild places, you can find Soma working as a massage therapist and yoga teacher, crafting, or playing in the garden.

  • Herbalist
  • Wildlife tracker
  • Wildcrafter
  • FOREST chef

Tim "Timber" Warren

Instructor

Tim spent his formative years exploring the dunes of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, romping through the marshes and climbing trees. He loves camping and playing in the wilderness. While in the Boy Scouts of America, he learned the basics of how to be in the wild; learning knots, fire structure and tending. Tim volunteered at Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve cleaning up beaches, mapping and discovering new trails, making trail markers, and care tending the facilities. Tim developed a passion for sharing his nature connection with others while working at the Museum of Natural History in Brewster, tending the aquariums and learning the local species of birds. Seeing the people’s expressions when learning about each animal or local lore, he noticed how important it is to include nature in our lives. Tim loves hiking, wood carving, learning primitive skills and teaching in the woods, passing on his excitement and curiosity of the natural world! Tim is driven by the desire to inspire the next generation to connect with the woods.

  • Finder of Things
  • Shaper of wood
  • Binder of knots
  • Wildlife Tracker
  • Fire Bender