Maria Stalsberg created an outdoor school to reimagine education during the pandemic.
Maria Stalsberg wasn’t planning on homeschooling her four children, but when distance learning started at the beginning of the pandemic, Stalsberg thought, “There has to be a better way.”
She started searching online for homeschool co-ops but wasn’t finding the right fit, so she ended up creating her own “right fit” with Our Village School and saw an immediate response from other families with similar values. The school takes the classroom outdoors, serving children ages 6–13 with classes taught by community experts, who are passionate about teaching and connect well with kids. Topics include art, science, outdoor survival, makerspace, entrepreneurship, drama, shop, cooking, movement, gardening and music. Multiage cohorts allow older kids to mentor younger kids, giving them future life skills from the beginning.
Stalsberg started offering the classes in her Lakeville backyard in September 2020 when outdoor gatherings were allowed. In 2021, the makeshift enrichment school moved from her 3-acre property to YMCA Camp Streefland in Lakeville. The camp is only used in the summer, so Our Village School students have a 65-acre wooded classroom with hiking trails, zip lines and an outdoor amphitheater to learn and explore. When the weather turns cooler, the school makes use of a shelter, kids learn to layer up and music class is around the bonfire.
Our Village School emphasizes getting kids outdoors and engaging with nature. “It’s truly amazing how the grass becomes a fidget, and there’s no bouncing off the walls because there aren’t any to bounce off of,” Stalsberg says. In a time of so much technology, “It’s crucial that our kids are given time to unplug and immerse themselves in nature,” she says.
Stalsberg worked in corporate merchandising before getting a master’s degree in teaching in 2012. She taught at St. Paul Academy before having her first child and now runs Our Village School with 104 students and 71 families. Most of Our Village School families are in the same situation as Stalsberg, calling themselves COVID-19 Homeschoolers.
Heidi Fish is the mother of twins. Like others, she didn’t think homeschooling was the right fit for her family until the pandemic. Looking to connect with other families, Fish scrolled through a Facebook group and stumbled upon an online comment Stalsberg made a year prior.
Our Village School was up and running by the time Fish saw the comment and knew right away she wanted to get her girls involved. She and her husband work from home and appreciate the freedom homeschooling offers, as well as the support that Our Village School offers. “It’s such a great way for them to be exposed to different learning opportunities by different teachers and community members,” Fish says. “We’re grateful for Maria and her vision and passion. She’s serving a beautiful need in the community, and we’re so grateful that she took that leap.”
Shannon Perez teaches the Nature Explores class and is an anchor teacher. As a teacher, she sees students transform each week. She’s also a parent and has watched her son’s growth since joining the program. Perez’s son struggled during the pandemic with all the changes schools had to make. He commented that he “felt trapped in a room all day.” He’s now thriving and only wishes that two days of outdoor enrichment classes could be every day.