Elm House


Sarah-Luella Baker

Owner and Consulting Director

The world needs educational systems that honor both the individual and the collective, and that teach us how to cooperate, collaborate, and love one another. Tulip Tree has grown in the past six years from this initial vision, into a community where children feel seen, families feel included, and teachers feel inspired to learn alongside children.

For over two decades, I have been a teacher, co-learner, director, and artist in many different educational settings. Before opening Tulip Tree in 2010, I worked in private and public schools in Portland, the Bay Area, and Salt Lake City.  I am a life-long learner, and continuing education is very important to me. As I embrace my role of mentor to teachers, I continue to learn about best practices of teaching through attending conferences, workshops, and educational offerings. In fall of 2016, I traveled with other Tulip Tree educators to the town of Reggio Emilia, Italy to see first-hand the wonder of their early learning environments. In my current educational journey, I am embarking on a four-year training in the Alexander Technique with Robyn Avalon at the Contemporary Alexander School. I am also currently a student in somatic exploration, music, and movement with various teachers in the Portland community.

I have an MFA and a BFA in performing arts. My background in fine arts profoundly impacts the work that I do as an educator and mentor. Exposure to the arts throughout one’s life is paramount to leading a life full of creativity, fostering collaborative prowess, developing an understanding of difference, and being open and willing to accept change as a positive force. My arts background has greatly influenced my ability to remain flexible, and to be a creative problem-solver. I owe much gratitude to my incredible artistic mentors, who continue to teach me about growth, change, passion, and difference. My recent explorations in the arts have led me back into the choreographic process with local artists and musicians; and I am a current artist-in-residence at New Expressive Works in SE Portland.

During my early teaching years, I became aware of the constructivist theory of learning. Since then, I have combined my arts background with the approaches of Social Constructivism and Reggio Emilia, and then the Anti-Bias Approach to Early Childhood Education. I have been witness to children making connections and forming knowledge; teachers learning alongside children and celebrating their fulfillments; and families connecting to each other and discovering new ways of viewing their children and themselves. The experience is incredibly motivating- full of magic, surprise, and surrender. I continue to revel in bearing witness to the growth of young children, their families, and teachers who care deeply about children and our impact as educators on the world.

[Download my complete resume in PDF form, here.]

Mage Baltes

Program Director and Teacher, 4th year at Elm House

An educator, an artist, an anti-fascist–I was raised in the hot desert of Palm Springs, CA, and have lived in Portland, OR since 2005. During my time in Portland, I attended Portland State University, and have achieved an MS in Early Childhood Education: Inclusive Education and Curriculum & Instruction. I began my career in teaching in 2006, as a student-teacher at the Helen Gordon Center at PSU. While I have had a love of learning alongside children since my early days, it was at HGCDC that I discovered my passion for educating toddlers inspired by the ways of Reggio Emilia and Magda Gerber.

As I step into the role of Program Director of Elm House during my 4th year at TTPS’s Elm House, I ask myself how I can bear the responsibility of power with justice. I believe that the school belongs first and foremost to the children, then to the community of families and educators connected with the school, and then ultimately to the global community, of which we are all participants. I believe that through an anti-bias lens, I can nurture a program in which each child is respected and feels heard and known, where teachers partner with families, and where all participants have the freedom to ask questions, play and experiment. With great enthusiasm, I hope to foster an environment of creativity and collaboration this year and in years to come.

Megan Milligan

Teacher, 3rd year at Elm House

My first experience with alternative education was in high school where I attended Nebraska’s first public Arts and Humanities Focus Program. There I remember being given the freedom and responsibility to follow my interests which included film photography, Spanish, sustainable farming and social justice activism. I remember a sense of being “built up” by my teachers there, being heard and respected and given many opportunities to learn through hands on experience. This shaped my future and goals in studying Educational Psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where I graduated with a BA in 2005. I also completed my Montessori teaching credential here in Portland, Oregon from Montessori North West for ages 3-6. And I hold a credential from the Montessori Teacher Training Center of SF Bay, for ages 0-3.

I have worked with young children in many different capacities over the past ten years, and each experience has taught me something vital. I worked for many years as a nanny in California, and witnessed the span of development for 3 children under the age of 6. The bulk of my experience in schools is in Montessori environments where I worked for nearly 10 years with hundreds of families. Most recently I worked at a progressive Montessori School in south west Portland for 5 years. I am a life long learner and have familiarity with Reggio and RIE philosophy and practices too, and I am excited to learn more about it through my work at Elm House.

I believe in the notion of “following the child” that is, making observations about children’s interests and developing curriculum that will support them. I also am excited about the potential that each individual child has, and I wish to serve as a guide towards information, fun, exploration and to help them find connections between themselves, the natural environment and each other. I have a passion for food and cooking, sustainability, the natural world and song and I love sharing these interests with children.

Outside of school you might find me searching for the next best vegan restaurant, riding bikes my with my partner, Ryan, hiking a mountain with my rescued dog, Ellie, or perusing travel books at the library.

Bee Portillo-Soria

Teacher, 3rd year at Elm House

Over the last 11 years I have worked with all ages of children in a variety of teaching styles. I have discovered that I am particularly fond of working with very young children. There is nothing more gratifying than helping young people sort out the tricky conundrum of being human. We long to be independent, but only when we know in our core that we are truly supported. We despise being uncomfortable, but yearn for the growth that lives just outside of comfort. Helping children navigate and hold all of these conflicting feelings at once isn’t simple, but it is what I feel like I am meant to do.

I formally began working with children at Camp Namanu in 2007 and I instantly knew I had found my heart’s work. It has been my full time profession ever since. I have taught at schools that use many different pedagogies that run the gamut from the precision of Montessori, to the freedom of Reggio Emilia. When I interact with children within the framework of Reggio-inspired learning, I find myself learning just as much as the children. I am constantly amazed by the insight and wisdom held within each child I learn alongside. I am also particularly grateful for the involvement of families and home culture that is a core tenet of Reggio Emilia and Tulip Tree. Children aren’t supposed to exist in vacuums, rather they are vibrant and vital parts of our larger communities and they should be afforded the space and the platform to engage with the adults around them as such.

On a personal note, I consider myself a life long learner and am fascinated with several new subjects. I am currently trying to educate myself about the plants native to the Pacific Northwest, kayaking, and more advanced embroidery techniques. I spend my free time reading, partaking in fiber arts, caring for my pets, hiking with my spouse, and expressing myself through my photography and painting.

Iternity Wright

Teacher, 1st year at Elm House

As far back as I can remember I always had a spoon or bottle in hand to feed one of many siblings. Though that didn’t allow for much of a “real” childhood I found the positivity in that..experience! I remember facing an extreme emotional hardship when I was about eleven years old. The adults who were in my life at that point made it bearable because they actually listened to my words and thus, the feelings that were between the lines if you will. As I got older I continued to be surrounded by younger children, even if, technically they weren’t my blood siblings. I realized as time went on that even though it wasn’t something I had to do I was constantly caring for the little ones in every environment and opportunity I had. I figure during my rather abnormal childhood caring for children was something that actually made me feel safe and at home.

During my younger high school years, despite having three baby siblings at home, I babysat for my parents’ friends all of the time. As I got into my later teens I actually became a nanny. I worked for one family for about 2 years while babysitting at any chance I got.
During my college years I continued to nanny for that family on summer vacations from college. After not much consideration I knew emotional learning was something that interested me. So I graduated with a BA in Psychology, but even during that time I knew I wanted to still have some sort of focus with children so I took some child development classes as well. After college I had a few jobs that weren’t with children. Those jobs made me realize that I wanted to pursue a career that involved children.

I moved to Portland from California, where I’ve lived all my life. I was ready for a new career and a new city! I previously worked at a Montessori school and was very familiar with that school of learning. All of the children I nannied were Montessori taught as were my three younger siblings. After a short time there I realized, for many reasons, that I wanted my experience as a teacher and my childrens experience as students to be different. This is my first year at Elm House so I don’t have much experience with the Reggio philosophy, but with the amazing teachers that surround me I have no doubt that I will be learning constantly and continuously. My hope is to form emotional, and meaningful relationships with the children. Ones where they will feel safe in communicating their feelings to me whether they be sad, happy, excited, etc. And I’d also like the form relationships with the parents where they feel comfortable to talk to me about their children and vice versa. In my experience home and school life are the two main environments a child experiences their younger years in. They are equally important! I am more than excited to embark on this new journey!