By Emma Castleberry
Nestled in the Pisgah National Forest just 20 minutes from Asheville, a 100-acre campus is the forested home for School of Living Arts (SOLA). Replete with orchards, natural springs, rolling fields, an equine and animal environment and a wilderness repository of rare and native plants, SOLA was founded by mother and educator Septimbor Lim. Lim started searching for an Earth-centered learning community when her children were toddlers. “I realized that, although our region is home to many remarkable learning environments, the depth and breadth of learning that I wanted for my children was not available in the current schooling culture,” she says. “I was searching for a wholly integral learning environment that was inclusive of the family; that considered the child as a whole being—head, heart and hands; that saw learning as a living, life-giving process; and that recognized the natural world as the ‘classroom’ and ultimate context for learning.” And because she couldn’t find such a place for her children, she decided to create one for all children.
“SOLA was created as a means of rising to meet the greatest need of our time: the need for human beings to learn from a living Earth how to regeneratively participate in its community of life,” says Lim. The SOLA campus is part of a larger tract of land comprising the Sacred Mountain Sanctuary, a charitable organization also founded by Lim that supports the integration of education, community, conservation and commerce. Lim and her husband found the land in 2009, and they are currently working with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy to create a conservation easement that will protect it for future generations.
The guiding principles at SOLA are influenced by Waldorf education as well as the eco-theologian Thomas Berry. “And we are first and foremost inspired and informed by our living relationships with each child and that child’s family, and our collective presence to the natural world and one another,” says Lim. “The curriculum includes daily chores like tending to horses, sheep, rabbits and land; learning to knit, sew, carve, paint, create pottery, make music and play games; learning foreign languages; cooking; cleaning; and conflict prevention and resolution.”
SOLA offers a pre-kindergarten to 12th-grade learning environment, with class sizes limited to 12 to 14 students. “This is because we are working deeply with each child as they grow into the totality of their human identity,” says Lim. “This means that our faculty gives equal attention to the cognitive/academic, social/emotional and kinesthetic realms of learning.”
Elizabeth Porritt Carrington, The Laurel’s January Cover Artist, is an eco-contemplative artist teacher and guide at SOLA. She first learned of the school in 2014, when her 8-year-old daughter went on a field trip to SOLA and came home begging to attend school there. That summer, when Carrington brought her daughter to a summer camp that was held on the SOLA campus, she immediately understood the child’s enthusiasm. “It felt like home,” says Carrington. “It’s so perfectly situated on the edge of the national park under the peaks of Pisgah. The school buildings, yome [portable yurt] classrooms, cabins and gardens were so thoughtfully laid out and it was clear the land was being tended to very considerately.”
Carrington’s daughter became a SOLA student in 2016, and Carrington joined the teaching team in 2017. “SOLA offers students a very real and experiential kind of education,” Carrington says. “There is an approach to life at SOLA that contains a set of principles that are often missing in educational facilities today, where there can be an over-emphasis on production or result. Loving learning is at the core of SOLA.”
For more information, visit SOLASchoolOfLivingArts.org.