Terra Marin Micro-Schools launch Aug. 28 in Mill Valley, San Francisco and Woodside. Courtesy images.
Like any new arrival in a community, Wendy Xa, who opened Terra Marin School and the Terra Mandarin Preschool in late 2018 in the former Ring Mountain Day School space on Lomita Drive in Mill Valley, spent plenty of time in the schools’ fledgling months listening to the community about its needs and goals.

In that time, the schools launched a series of summer camps spanning a wide range of topics and age groups, hosted a bevy of open houses, filled school breaks with an incredibly wide array of learning – from SSAT prep to archery – and even held film screenings about anxiety among teens.

All that listening has primed Xa and her team to be incredibly responsive to the community’s needs, so much so that they’ve pivoted seamlessly to a model that seems custom-ready for the COVID-19 crisis that has sent schools districts all over the world flailing to find the right modality for the moment.

On Aug. 28, Terra Marin Schools are set to launch Terra Marin Micro-Schools, all-outdoor schools organized by maximum 12-student cohorts, per County of Marin health and safety protocols, that will visit locations throughout the Bay Area and conduct school in nature five days a week. Families must agree they won’t participate in activities outside the group during that time. Academic teachers are paired with earth educators so the kids receive the academics of Terra Marin married with its Earth Education program.


“The key to it all is that everyone is outdoors all day – the safest place to be these days, according to the research,” Xa says.   “They just might be the saving grace for so many parents who don’t want their kids virtual this year or are afraid to send their children back into the classroom once that is allowed.”

Terra Marin Micro-Schools, which they piloted this summer as a series of summer camps, are launching in Mill Valley, San Francisco and Woodside. 

The micro-schools have recently drawn media coverage from the likes of NBC Bay Area and the Marin Independent Journal.

“We are able to bring them into nature and say, ‘This is where math and creativity and science started,'” earth educator Claire Laurenz told NBC Bay Area. “Being outside, the kids are really engaged, and they’re excited as well,” added Molly Becher, an elementary school teacher at Terra Marin.

Xa and her team developed a curriculum that relates academic subjects back to nature — teaching science and math by measuring objects found in the forest, and teaching poetry by using the natural world for inspiration. Lessons often start with kids sitting in a circle, but soon give way to letting them get up and explore.

“Because there are no desks out in nature,” Ryan Hickey, the music teacher, told NBC Bay Area. “There is no specific spot that they should sit. So they’re naturally moving around, right? They’re naturally doing what kids do.”


Xa told the Marin IJ that since Terra Marin has been deemed an essential service, they are planning to offer both an all-off-campus outdoor program and a schedule of four days on campus in Mill Valley with small groups of 12 to 16 students, plus one day per week off campus.

“In my opinion, this may actually work better than regular school,” Xa told the IJ. “The kids are so engaged. The secret sauce is that they love it.”