Meet the New Nest Nature School Staff
By Frances Sanchez
Meet the Nest Nature School Staff
A Q & A with Sarah Mortati, Director of Administration, Nest Nature School
Founded in 1989, the Cibolo Center for Conservation has long been in the heart of Boerne, connecting our community with nature and inspiring us to fall in love with our land, water, and wildlife. Since 2016, the Cibolo has provided exceptional early childhood education through our Nature School to foster young children in their full spectrum of development, inspire life-long learners, and instill a sense of wonder in the natural world.
While driving down Herff Road, it is hard to miss the incredible new construction nestled under the oak trees. The unique campus is an integral aspect of the school and provides abundant nature-based opportunities to support our play-based learning philosophy.
While the school’s construction has been an obvious process in Boerne, what you have not seen is the staff working behind the scenes to get the Nest ready to go for the first day of school on September 7th.
One of those staff members is Sarah Mortati, Director of Administration for the Nest Nature School. On any given day, you can find Sarah performing various tasks such as working the phones fielding calls from current and prospective parents, leading tours at the new campus, and working to ensure every registered family is set up for success on the first day of school.
We recently sat down with Sarah to talk about the Nest, the Cibolo, and more.
How long have you been with the Cibolo Center for Conservation, and what did you do before joining the organization?
I’ve worked at the Cibolo for just over two years. Although I feel like I’ve been here forever, I am still inspired to provide opportunities where children can learn to love their outdoor spaces. In the last 15 years, I have been involved in also most every aspect of nature-based education. I am honored to have been part of many incredible organizations all over the country.
Many of those years were as an educator, working with preschool children and adults in everything from working at a farm-based nonprofit organization in California to leading a month-long canoe trip studying bald eagles on the coast of Maine. Before my role at The Nest, I was an educator and trainer at various nature-based preschools in Austin and San Antonio, exploring Texas’ incredible landscapes with young children. I have witnessed the tremendous impact that these types of formative experiences and opportunities can have on our children, and I am so honored to continue to do so at The Nest.
How does the Nest Nature School fit into the Cibolo Center for Conservation’s mission?
We are constantly referring to the creek as the through-line for our programs and our people. The Cibolo Creek and the surrounding areas started as, and continue to be, the inspiration for that programming, including at The Nest. Our little ones will eventually be the stewards of these majestic natural places, and we want them to understand the importance and responsibility of living in harmony with the land by playing in it and loving it as young children.
When our students have an experience, such as finding a frog at the creek for the first time, the joy and that memory will often be formative. That fondness can instill a love and respect for the space and can lead to wanting to take care of it. Whether our students become wildlife biologists or just feed the birds in their own backyards, we want to create a life-long connection to nature.
Our Nest campus is a confluence of so many incredibly knowledgeable professionals and passionate nature advocates who all had experiences like this as children. The quality and fullness of this great program are the results of the deep commitment by the Cibolo leadership and staff.
What does it mean to have a new campus, and why was it essential to move it to Herff Farm?
My co-director Linda Charlton likes to say the school started almost seven years ago with “a dinosaur puzzle and a credit card on my desk.” The journey from one dinosaur puzzle and a few families to an incredible new campus providing the same spark to over 80 families from Boerne and the surrounding area is fantastic.
Herff Farm provides an incredible landscape to grow and explore with 60+ acres, pollinator habitats, multiple diverse ecosystems, and of course, the chickens for our students to enjoy. We are thrilled to open the farm every day to the children of the Nest Nature School. We cannot thank enough our unbelievably generous and passionate Cibolo community for believing in this project from day one.
What can children expect to experience at the new campus, and how much of their time will be spent outside versus the classroom?
The heart of our program remains the same as we grow into this new campus– to provide children ages 3 through 5 with a curriculum that focuses on the whole child, promoting growth in physical, social, emotional, and cognitive areas through an education centered on learning through play in authentic natural spaces. We want to nurture life-long learners. We are in awe of the diverse opportunities the students will have in this new space. When designing the campus, our goal was to highlight the natural areas on the farm with buildings that looked like they’re nestled in between the trees. It perfectly fits that feeling and is really magical, especially from a young child’s perspective.
Classrooms are in individual learning cottages, complete with beautiful indoor spaces, an open-air sceen porches, and picnic decks for mealtimes. All of the learning cottages are connected by a covered walkway that opens up into each outdoor learning space. The diverse outdoor areas allow students to grow vegetables, explore the forest, experience a sensory garden, create and build nature-based art, and of course, roll, climb and jump. In addition, classes have access to the beautiful 60+ acres of Herff Farm to explore together.
A primary aspect of our program is that classes spend more than half of their day outside. We are so excited to have the resources in place to support our staff and students in this. Our goal has been for our teachers to feel supported enough to have an entire lesson outside in one of the five outdoor learning and play spaces, enjoy a picnic lunch on the farm with their students, and feel the benefits and inspiration of nature even when they are inside. We are so proud to have been able to accomplish all that.
How does the Nest plan to keep parents engaged and involved during the school year?
One of the program’s core beliefs is the importance of community and engagement with our families. We are so excited to have opportunities on our new campus for our families to engage not only through organized events throughout the year but to explore all of the farm’s unique spaces on their own. Whether they coordinate a weekly hike on the trails with some classmates or enjoy their morning coffee under one of the magnificent oaks on the farm with a new friend, we look forward to seeing families making this space their own.
Mostly, we are thrilled to have this incredible alumnus of parents who came together this past year to support our families and students through our Nest family organization, The Perch. This past year, they planned numerous events for families to come together and are excited to welcome the new incoming families in a few short weeks. The Perch has a strong presence at every event, from monthly “Work and Playday,” where families play and participate in different stewardship activities on our campus, to welcoming incoming families on the first day of school and providing opportunities to alleviate first-day-of-school goodbyes with a cup of coffee and some words of wisdom. We are so grateful for The Perch’s love and all the insight they continue to bring to our Nest community.
What are you looking forward to in the new school year?
It is hard to believe the amount of time and love that has gone into this campus and this school year. I am immensely proud of our incredible team at the Cibolo; it truly has been a project that every member of the organization, and so many friends of the Cibolo, have helped to bring to life.
Right now, I am most excited about the first day of school. Having an opportunity to get to know all of our incoming families is one of my favorite parts of my job and hearing how excited our students are to explore their new school. This space will officially be complete once we have all our students running around. I cannot wait to see their faces as they explore the campus for the first time. I wish I were five years old again!
Now that enrollment is complete for the 2021-2022 school year, what can interested parents do?
We are always excited to meet prospective families! I encourage prospective families to reach out to me if they would like to learn more about our program, sign up for a tour and information session at the campus, or learn more about enrollment opportunities for 2022. While we are currently fully enrolled for Fall of 2021, I am happy to discuss options for Fall 2022 and beyond as we continue to grow. Additionally, we are excited to provide opportunities to engage families in Boerne and the surrounding areas with opportunities to be part of the Cibolo community through a vast array of events on our website, Cibolo.org.
Members of the local Boerne and Hill Country communities are invited to attend the Nest Nature School’s grand opening on September 25th at 11 am on Herff Farm. The school’s new staff and students will be on hand to talk about their new campus. A ribbon-cutting ceremony and activities for the whole family are currently in the works.
You can visit Cibolo.org/nest for more information about the Nest Nature School or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 830-249-4616. Follow us on Facebook @nestnatureschool for updates.