RAE ALBERG, FOUNDER & TEACHER
Rae is an educator, mother, and lover of all things colorful, creative, muddy and green. She has over 15 years of experience in the early childhood field, many spent working, thinking, dreaming and planning a program that supports the whole child.
Being inspired by Richard Louvs, “The Last child in the Woods,” and learning about the first Forest Kindergarten in the states, Rae was inspired to take steps to open a Forest School in Bend.
Rae has an Masters Degree and Oregon Teaching License in Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education as well as a graduate certificate in Infant Toddler Mental Health from Portland State University. In 2016, Rae became a Certified Forest Kindergarten Teacher through CedarSong Nature School’s Teacher Training program. In addition, Rae is a certified yoga teacher and is certified in Wilderness First aid and CPR.
When not tromping around the woods with a group of children, Rae can be found providing early childhood mental health consultation to families and early childhood programs in the Central Oregon community. Outside of work, she spends her time chasing her four-year-old son Loren, two-year-old daughter Birdie, and her young-at-heart husband Lucas.
LAUREN VAN COUTREN, 5-6's LEAD TEACHER
Lauren has always felt at home in nature. Growing up in the woods of Maine, she spent most days outside, exploring the natural world around her. Lauren feels that these childhood experiences contributed to her passion to provide children with experiences to heal and grow in nature.
After graduating with a BA in Therapeutic Recreation, Lauren found herself working with adolescents in a Psychiatric hospital. She led groups to teach her patients healthy ways to cope with stress and build confidence. This work was deeply important, but Lauren knew there was something missing. This feeling led her to Bend in 2006 to work for a Wilderness Therapy program. The missing piece was nature. It was here that she witnessed her students grow in lasting and life-changing ways. Lauren was no stranger to this transformation for herself. She was challenged in ways that ultimately built confidence and instilled personal growth.
After several years, Lauren desired more education and earned a MA in Early Childhood Education. Lauren’s most recent educational experience has been as a elementary teacher in the Bend La Pine School District. For 6 years, Lauren has worked as a 3rd grade and Kindergarten teacher. Working at LaPine and Rosland Elementary schools in LaPine, Lauren was able to utilize abundant nature opportunities right in the schools’ backyard.
When Lauren isn’t at Bend Forest School along with her 4 year old daughter, Leona, she is most likely outside exploring with Leona, working on her yoga teacher training studies, and spending quality time with her husband.
RACHEL KELLEY, 3-5's TEACHER
Rachel grew up in a small town in Northern Arizona and spent a large majority of her childhood playing in the vast ponderosa pine forest surrounding her hometown. She feels fortunate to have had parents and
teachers who put a high priority on getting her outside to learn all about the place they called home. Having been given freedom to explore the natural world around her hometown Rachel gained an irreplaceable respect and love for the outdoors at a very young age. Her many experiences exploring Northern Arizona combined with the emphasis in learning about her environment sparked her desire to become an educator.
In 2012 Rachel graduated from Concordia University in Portland where she received her BA in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. Though her love of teaching has never faded Rachel quickly realized the mainstream style of education was not what she was looking for as a teacher. She decided to take a break from teaching and began a nanny position which started a whole new journey in her work with young children and their families.
Rachel firmly believes that when children are given the opportunity to explore their surroundings in a way that fosters freedom and creativity they grow a deeper connection to the land and its inhabitants. Rachel hopes that
by being an educator and mother who encourages and provides children with this opportunity she will be giving them the early life lessons that have shaped her into the person she is today.
Rachel is thrilled to have the opportunity to switch gears back into teaching at Forest School, a place where she finally feels that she will be able to be the educator she dreamt of becoming as a child. When she is not out exploring the forest with a group of kiddos you will likely find her hiking, backpacking or riding bikes her husband Josh and their daughter Olivia.
JESSICA CURTO, 2-3's & 3-5's TEACHER
Growing up as an avid surfer on Long Island, Jess developed a deep connection to nature at a
young age. When she began working with children, she realized she could share her love of nature with them. Jess is passionate about working with children and is fascinated by the mind of a child. Their ability to live fully in the present moment, to wonder at the small things, and to take risks inspires Jess as a teacher and an individual.
Jess has over ten years of diverse experience working with children. She began working in Early Childhood Education while obtaining her BA in sociology at the University of Rhode Island. After she graduated she continued to work part time at an Early Learning Center while also working full time as a senior residential counselor in a children’s group home. Working at the group home was both a challenging and life changing experience that validated her belief that nature is therapeutic and essential to the development of the whole child.
Jess continued to work in the field of Early Childhood Education, teaching at both Reggio Emilia and Montessori preschools. While traveling and living abroad, Jess became the Program Manager of a non-profit after school program in Nicaragua and taught English Classes. During this time she worked seasonally as a nanny, yoga teacher, and surf instructor on Block Island, RI. Since moving to Bend Jess has continued to teach yoga and spent the last year as a Bilingual Interventionist at a local non-profit, where she worked as a preschool teacher in a therapeutic classroom and a home visitor.
In all her experience working with children, she has observed that children thrive outside in nature and it is therefore the best place for children to grow, heal, and learn. Jess’ hope is to foster self confidence, empathy, kindness, and a deep connection to nature with the children she works with. She is honored to be a part of the Bend Forest School and can’t wait to begin this next chapter of her journey.
Jessica attended the Cedar Song Nature School Teacher Training in August 2019.
ELIZABETH STAUDER, TEACHER 3-5's & 5-6's
JASON GOCKEL, ASSISTANT/SUBSTITUTE TEACHER 3-5's & 5-6's
Jason developed a love and appreciation of the natural world at a very young age. Most of his childhood and adolescent years were spent exploring the forests outside his home in southern Ohio. While studying Economics at Miami University, Jason attended a wilderness backpacking program in northern Montana where he learned the true power of spending time in the outdoors.
Knowing that teaching and learning in a wilderness setting was his passion, he moved to Bend in 2013 to work for a wilderness therapy program. For the past 6 years, Jason has been teaching young adolescents a wide variety of therapeutic tools / concepts, mindfulness practices, & wilderness skills while also being responsible for the physical and emotional safety of the group.
Jason strongly believes that those who spend time and connect with nature will gain a deeper connection with others and a deeper understanding of themselves. He has seen the power of nature assist in the improvement of many peoples’ emotional, mental, and physical health and believes that this development of well-being starts at a very young age.
Jason is grateful to be part of an early childhood forest program that allows children to guide their own learning through the discovery and exploration of their own interests. When not at the forest school, Jason can be found exploring all of the beauty that Oregon has to offer.
LAUREN ALLEN, SUNRIVER 3-5's TEACHER
When one of Lauren's children asks for a story, the settings is often in the woods outside her childhood home in Ohio. She spent countless hours engaged in all types of play with her brother and neighbors. Lauren believes that this immersion in nature is so important for child development. It is no surprise that she continues this tradition with her husband and three children. Living on the outskirts of town allows the family to reap the benefits being immersed in nature.
After earning a Bachelor's degree in biology, Lauren spent several years working for non-profit environmental groups. Backpacking, collecting data and trail building were wonderful experiences, but she missed the connection with young people. This led her to seek a Masters degree in teaching and spend the last 12 years teaching early elementary. Starting her career in a 2nd grade classroom, Lauren felt a calling for the younger grades and worked her way towards Kindergarten. Lauren appreciates all stages however she fell in love with the preschool and Kinder ages. Throughout her years of working with young children, Lauren learned to appreciate the necessity and joy of play. Through play, she discovered children's learning was deeper, more meaningful, and of course, more joyful.
Lauren's love for education and children has fueled her commitment to her profession, but many factors have lead her to take leave from the public schools. Lauren is very passionate about preserving and enriching early childhood experiences. She believes that building strong social and emotional skills at an early age has many benefits and has a positive effect on quality of life. Lauren knows that play is fundamental to healthy (and happy) growth, for children and adults. She is excited to join Bend Forest School to learn alongside children and adults in our amazing world.