Deborah Gleeson, MEd ’97
"I'm always sending people to AUNE. I tell people, if you want to go back to school, then you need to go to AUNE. AUNE is where you should go."
An AUNE Project Becomes First LEED-Certified New Hampshire School
In 2010, 2nd Nature Academy, in Nashua, became the first school in New Hampshire to be awarded LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, and the first non-residential building to achieve Platinum status, the highest of four rankings.
The school is owned and operated by The Nature of Things, LLC. It won the 2010 Lean & Green award for Green Building in Business NH magazine’s third annual statewide competition. In 2015, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) named it the New Hampshire Women Owned Business of the Year and the New England Women Owned Business of the Year.
“It all began at AUNE,” said founder and executive director, Deborah Gleeson, who also serves as principal of the school.
“The school originally was my master’s project,” she said. “The Catholic school where I was teaching was closing their preschool. My AUNE advisor said to me, ‘Why don’t you start your own school?’ I researched and wrote an action plan, applied for a license, and started it in my house with twenty-four kids.”
From home preschool to private elementary school
In short time, Debbie’s modest, home preschool evolved into a private elementary school that provides education with an environmental focus to children ranging from preschoolers to sixth graders. Now situated on twenty-two pastoral acres in New Hampshire, 2nd Nature Academy is a sustainable working farm, complete with alpacas, Nubian goats, ducks, sheep, hens and a rooster. The grounds, which abut three hundred and fifty acres of conservation land, include barns, fields, forests, wetlands, nature trails, ponds and an organic garden.
Debbie and her staff employ a hands-on, integrated curriculum, including nature studies taught by specialists.
“We start with science, and build on that, firsthand,” she said. “We do social studies and history, all taught together in a holistic manner. Children visit and feed the animals, do fiber crafts and snowshoe in winter. We do lessons in appreciation. We say to the kids, ‘Look what’s in our own backyard. If we don’t take care of it, we won’t have it.’ ”
Debbie, who grew up in Lynn, Massachusetts, earned a teaching degree at nearby Salem State College. She taught for several years in various parochial schools, where she first heard about AUNE’s Ex Ed master’s program.
“People I knew had done the program and told me all about it,” she said. “I was fascinated by AUNE’s educational philosophy. I was always dreaming and thinking, Wouldn’t it be nice someday? One day my husband, who’d just finished his master’s in Boston, took the family out for a drive straight to AUNE. He turned to me and said, ‘it’s your turn. Go in and apply.’ ”
Not long after, she was accepted into the program, which surpassed her expectations.
“It was the best, hardest time I ever had,” she said. “It was challenging. I came out of college as an undergrad thinking I knew everything there was to know about teaching. AUNE opened my eyes to holistic education. I learned more in two years than in all my years of teaching. I’d go to school, then go back to the classroom, and immediately apply what I had learned. I also learned a lot about environmental education.”
Creating a Green School
Concurrent with her graduation, she expanded her home-based school, leasing a facility while searching for a farm or other suitable property to purchase. Four years ago, she and her husband bought the current Nashua site, a former estate, and immediately undertook the formidable task of renovating the existing building to a green school.
“If we’re telling these kids that they’re stewards of the Earth, and we’re not practicing what we preach, who are we?” she said. “The architects said it was too expensive, so my husband purchased the plans and took over. We used local contractors, and we hired the Jordan Institute to help us through the LEED process.”
Their commitment and hard work paid off when the school achieved not only LEED certification but Platinum status. Besides 2nd Nature Academy, The Nature of Things is a frequent field trip destination for various other schools, and also hosts a summer adventure camp.
“I have to give Denis tons of credit for the building,” said Debbie. “It was his persistence that kept the project going, and he kept pursuing LEED Platinum when I was ready to throw in the towel. He also took over the managing process.”
A new, second green building, not far away, is due to open in September 2010. It will house Nature’s Pathways, which are childcare programs that had previously been held in a leased facility. The kindergarten, preschool and elementary school classes will also be moved to the new building, while the original, awarding-winning LEED building will be home to administrative offices as well as the library and science center for all the organization’s programs.
Debbie, who has achieved her long-held dream, is grateful to AUNE.
“I’m always sending people to AUNE. I tell people, if you want to go back to school, then you need to go to AUNE. AUNE is where you should go.”