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Cocoplum
Nature School

 

About
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Vision

To cultivate liberated learners who can collectively create a more just and healthy planet for everyone.

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Mission

Early childhood, elementary school and related programs built on the pillars of nature-based, place-based, and play-based learning

Vision & Mission
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History

Cocoplum Nature School was founded in 2020 by two Delray Beach mothers, educators, and environmental stewards, Dr. Fernanda Wolfson and Dr. Melanie Stefanovic. Their friendship began at the children's library and local community gardens when their first children were babies. Friendship blossomed into co-founding the evidence-based school they each dreamed of for their own children.

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Philosophy

Everything that is taught in traditional schools with textbooks and rote practice can be learned by children outdoors with natural materials through play, exploration, and inquiry. In fact, for most of humanity, children have joyfully learned all they needed to know and do through play groups, the natural world, markets, gardens and farms, and other settings not bound by four walls.

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Framework

The three pillars of Cocoplum's curriculum are nature, place, and play. We employ Reggio Emilia methods of observation, documentation, and assessment. Learning is individualized, largely self-directed, experiential, and social. We foster critical thinking and creativity, not conformity, and we cultivate collaboration and communication, not competition.

History, Philosophy, Curriculum
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Beliefs, Values, & Practices

Beliefs, Values, & Practices

We believe

All children can and do learn in their own way in their own time

We value

Individualized and experiential learning

We practice

Constructivism in the form of an emergent curriculum and child-centric practices

Testimonials

"I couldn’t imagine my child at a different school and I don’t think he could either."

 

"She wants to go to school every day, so of course that makes us happy parents."

 

"I know my daughter’s interests and curiosities are valued."

 

"CNS has provided a safe and stable environment for my child. She loves going to school."

2021 by Ty Powell. All rights reserved.
Testimonials
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FAQs Answered by Caregivers

How does nature school work?

The children are encouraged to wander, dream, experiment, question and explore. Through the fascination and inquisitiveness that is inherent in their nature, they discover the world around them in real time through real experiences creating a deep learning that will stay with them and allow them to grow. The teachers offer suggestions, look for interests, ask questions and encourage discovery. They run with the interests of the children instilling the learning principles that we all hope for within the context of their interests – not the other way around. This fosters autonomy, confidence, growth and a love of life and learning.

- Mother of a 7-year-old

Are you worried your child will get hurt? 

Not really. Of course there is always the risk of injury, but the children are closely supervised given the small student to teacher ratio. Also, accidents happen everywhere, and at least at Cocoplum I know when my child gets hurts she we will be cared for by a well-trained, empathetic adult.

- Mother of a 5-year-old 

How do you track your child's progress?

We measure progress by his social/emotional growth just as much as everything else. There are academic areas currently where he is excelling and areas where he is coming along at his own pace. He is not struggling anywhere and is a happy, well-adapted child building his own confidence in his world. And in the areas that he is not interested, we have seen that at his own time, learning in those avenues will and has come around - never forced and never feeling inept. We receive narratives of learning from the teachers that fully document the experiences, growth, and learning he is undergoing. We are encouraged and lead by the school to further provide opportunities for him in the avenues he is most interested in. 

- Mother of a 7-year-old 

What do Cocoplum students do all day?

In a word: PLAY! As simple as this may sound, their play is extremely dynamic. It is fully immersive, so collaborative and engaging, that they don’t even realize that they are absorbing and learning so much. Whether this consists of making mud pies and selling them to make a profit, water play with physics, animal yoga or enjoying their numerous field trips all over, these kids are learning math, science, history, reading, writing, economics, mindfulness, emotional regulation, music, art and tons of physical education. Most importantly, they are busy soaking up and giving out all of the kindness, friendship and love of their Cocoplum community!

- Mother of a 6-year-old 

How do they learn to read?

By following their own interests and curiosities. The children are continually invited to activities that will allow them to build the foundation for reading. They even guide and help each other which instills a sense of community at a young age and creates a safe space to learn. By traditional school standards our son would be considered “behind” on reading and writing because he didn’t start until almost the age of 7. Yet, since he was allowed to discover, create a curiosity and interest and then begin learning at his own pace, he has shown a deep interest and enjoyment in reading and writing. When there is no pressure, this enjoyment will stay with him for the rest of his life, instead of being labeled as “behind” which could create a displeasure and sense of being not good enough.

- Father of a 7-year-old

How does the school handle conflict?

I was particularly impressed with how Cocoplum handles conflict resolution with the children. Cocoplum teaches the kids social-emotional skills so that they can understand, experience, express and manage their emotions. They are also encouraged to interpret their classmates’ emotions as well. Since these kids are at play in nature every day, they are given the opportunity to practice conflict resolution and self-regulation in a playful setting and to find common ground and peacefully make amends. I have noticed that communication and naming feelings is key at Cocoplum in helping the children better understand conflict and work through it together.

- Father of a 7-year-old 

FAQs
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High Professional Standards

Evidence Base

The evidence from dozens of studies conducted over about a decade converges around a single conclusion: “In academic contexts, nature-based instruction outperforms traditional instruction” (National Institutes for Health, 2019, p. 1).  Natural surroundings and unstructured play have significant benefits for learning.

Code of Ethics

We hold our employees and volunteers to the highest standards, and our topmost priority is the protection and safety of the children in our care. To learn more about our Standards of Ethics, click here.

Affiliations

Cocoplum Nature School is proud to be an organizational member of the Eastern Regional Association of Forest and Nature Schools (ERAFANS), the Natural Start Alliance (NSA), the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE), and the League of Environmental Educators in Florida (LEEF).

High Professional Standards

Meet our Educators

Cocoplum Educators

Our cohesive and dedicated team of Cocoplum educators bring a refreshing blend of agility, compassion, experience, and vision to their professional practice. They are the heartbeat of Cocoplum! 

Doctorate school director
Executive Director + Co-founder

Melanie Stefanovic, PhD

Melanie co-founded Cocoplum Nature School in 2020 after nearly 20 years of teaching and leading in schools and camps. She holds a Doctorate in K-12 educational leadership from Florida Atlantic University, a Master's in educational leadership from FAU, a Master's in elementary education from Northwestern University, and a dual Bachelor's in psychology and English from the University of Notre Dame. She and her husband are raising their two vibrant children in Delray Beach where they love to ride bikes and play at the beach. She proudly serves the City of Delray Beach on the Green Implementation Advancement Board. Melanie's admiration of the natural world was cultivated in the mountains of Utah where she grew up skiing, camping, hiking, and playing sun-up to sun-down outdoors.

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Kinder/1st Cluster Teacher

Sasha Sherman-Young, M. Ed.

Sasha has her Bachelor's in Speech, Language and Communication Disorders and a Master's in Education Policy and Leadership. Previously, Sasha was an early childhood educator for 9 years, so she has a real love for educating young scholars! She joined Cocoplum in 2023. Outside of work, she enjoys dancing, spending time with loved ones, and going on nature walks with her dog.

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Teaching Assistant

Vivi Garcia

Vivi was born in Colombia and moved to Florida when she was 23-years-old after finishing her degree in environmental engineering. After having two children, she became passionate about raising them with respect and about teaching. She believes respect is the best way to maintain children's passion and enthusiasm for learning. She earned her Level 1 ERAFANS in 2021. Previously, she worked at Sunflower Creative Arts where she honed her skills in child-led approaches in an outdoor setting.

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Operations Manager

Christina Lucas

Christina was born in New Jersey but has grown up in Delray Beach. She is a passionate and nurturing educator. She holds a Bachelor's degree from Florida Atlantic University in General Studies and Early Childhood Education, and she earned the Certificate of Early Childhood Environmental Education from FAU in 2021. Christina loves to spend time with her cat, friends, and family. Her hobbies include gardening, hiking, dancing, and cooking.

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Are you a future Cocoplum teacher?

We always love to meet dedicated educators since each year Cocoplum will expand by a grade level. Qualified applicants will have 3+ years elementary experience, a valid elementary certificate, and minimum Bachelor's degree in education or related field. 

Doctorate school director
Curriculum Director + Teacher + Co-founder

Fernanda Wolfson, EdD

Fernanda is co-founder of Cocoplum Nature School. She holds a Doctorate and Specialist Degree in Curriculum and Instruction, a Master’s in International and Intercultural Education, and a Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education from FIU. She holds a certificate in Monitoring and Evaluation from American University and is an ERAFANS Certified Nature School Educator and mindfulness facilitator (The Way Education). She has created nature-based early childhood education programs in Delray Beach since 2017 (Global Story Time at Swinton Community Garden and Bilingual Nature Play at the Children's Garden). She has worked and lived in Mexico, Philippines, France, and the USA. She has two boys and loves nature and music.

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1st/2nd Cluster Teacher

Hollie Young, PhD

Dr. Hollie Young holds a doctoral degree in K-12 Curriculum and Instruction and has over 10 years of teaching experience. She brings with her a wealth of knowledge and skills for keeping the fun and joy in students' learning experiences through engaging methods. Prior to joining the Cocoplum team, she was homeschooling her own children, and wrote a homeschooling curriculum for ages 4 to 6. In her freetime, Hollie loves being out in nature, practicing yoga, and spending time with her children.

environmental educator
Enrichment Facilitator + Substitute Teacher

Pau Bajos

Pau studied Psychology at Universidad la Salle México. She has more than 3 years of experience in Human Resources. During her career, Pau worked with children of different ages, and she credits much learning and enrichment to them. She has participated in different internships performing observation, analysis, evaluation, and development comparison for children from the ages of 6 to 9 years old. She has also practiced psychomotor, language, and cognitive stimulation for children from the ages of 2 to 3 years old. Pau has realized that what she enjoys most about her work with children is seeing them express their genuine feelings and emotions about the world around them.

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Resource Development Manager

Kate Piazza

Kate is an experienced fundraising professional with 10 years working within the nonprofit sector. Her ability to tap into the essence of an organizations mission and create an intentional resrouce development strategy creates an aligned relationship between Cocoplum and its donors. Her passion for personal grwoth and principles of permaculture design are woven into the core of how she lives and the work that she does.

Media

In the Press

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Listen now to Raising Wild Hearts interview with co-founder Melanie Stefanovic: The Path Less Traveled: Nature Schooling, Trust Based Parenting & Taking the Leap

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Check out our feature in
Florida Weekly:
Most Innovative New School

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Get an insider peek at the happenings and methods at Cocoplum Nature School!
Our Blogs

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Read a recent write-up in The Coastal Star
Delray school's natural setting designed to enhance learning

On Social Media

Contact

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