Elm House

Educators

Sarah-Luella Baker

Founder 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 ten years from this initial vision, into a community where children feel seen, families feel included, and teachers feel inspired to learn alongside children.

For twenty-three years 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. As I embrace my emerging role of mentor to teachers, I continue to learn about the world of early childhood education as it pertains to my role and my passions. I have led many trainings and workshops in ECE in both our schools and our greater community. 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 Fall of 2020, I embarked on a journey to better understand the psycho-physical development of young children through the study of Body Mind Centering. Over the course of the next two years I will be studying with BMC teachers in Germany, Rhode Island, NYC and Oregon to become certified as an Infant Developmental Movement Educator.

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 director. Exposure to the arts throughout one’s educational journey 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 and collaborators, who continue to teach me about growth, change, passion, and community. You can learn more about my stage work here.

During my early teaching years, I became aware of the constructivist theory of learning. Since then, I have combined my arts background with the philosophies of Social Constructivism, the schools of Reggio Emilia, and most recently 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 fulfillment; and families connecting to each other and discovering new ways of viewing their children and themselves. The experience continues to be incredibly motivating- full of magic, surprise, and surrender. I continue to enjoy a long calling of being with children, their families, and other teachers who care deeply about children and our impact as educators on the world.

Bee Portillo-Soria

Teacher and Program Director, 4th Year at Elm House

Over the last 12 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, 2nd 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. As I got older I continued to be surrounded by younger children. As time went I was caring for little ones in every environment and opportunity I had. During my rather unusual childhood, caring for children was something that 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 became a nanny. During my college years I continued to nanny for that family on summer vacations from college. Because I knew emotional learning was something that interested me, I graduated with a BA in Psychology. Even during that time I knew I wanted to continue to 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’ experiences as students, to be different. This is my second year at Elm House, and with the amazing teachers that surround me I have no doubt that I will continue to learn 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. I’d also like to 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 in which a child experiences their younger years. They are equally important! I am more than excited to be at Elm House!

Amber Gallagher

Teacher, 5th Year at Tulip Tree

I have always had a passion for teaching. Growing up I was eager to help and tutor other students in school. For career day I was always assigned the role as a teacher for the career placement tests. I grew up in Hawaii but moved to Portland in 2007 to start college.

I began my first teaching job as a teenager instructing dog training classes. From there I chose to major in Early Education and Family studies at PCC. My courses taught me what an incredible and crucial time the first 5 years are in a child’s development. It has since been a passion of mine to create an environment where children feel safe and supported so they can explore and thrive in the classroom.

I have worked in Early Childhood classrooms with infants up to age 5 since 2013. During those years I have been lucky enough to experience many different teaching styles and classroom philosophies. I feel as though Reggio Emilia and the RIE philosophies stand out because they are child led and child focused. Instead of the curriculum being forced and directed by the adults, we allow the children to learn in a way that organically follows their interests. I believe deeply that treating children with respect, understanding, patience and gentleness creates a community full of kind and empathetic people.

It’s important to me that each child is supported in a way that acknowledges their individuality, while also challenging them to grow. It is vital that children see their own ability to make positive change in the world by giving them the tools to recognize equity and fairness.

I am often amazed at the skill and wisdom of the young child. They teach me that I am also actively learning with them every day.