The Margaret Noecker Nature Center is a labor of love. Our goal is to help children through nature learning, and then share the intellectual capital with the education community.

The Parish School
The Parish School Campus on Hammerly Blvd

The Parish School (TPS) was started by Robbin Parish in 1983 to address the special needs of young children experiencing challenges with language and learning.  The Parish School believes that every child has unique strengths. Our task is to identify each child’s strengths, educate to those strengths, and empower these kids to succeed in life. When longtime Head of School, Margaret Noecker, died suddenly in April 2013, our daughter Lena and I set up a Nature Fund to memorialize her years of dedication which began the day Robbin opened the school in 1983 with 6 students. Margaret was my wife of 35 years.

The Margaret Noecker Nature Center (“The Nature Center”) was established to provide an infrastructure of people and processes to oversee the expenditure of money in the Nature Fund, referee project concepts, request proposals, and make recommendations to the Board for expenditures. The Nature Center was launched in the Fall ’13 school year, had its first meeting in September, and by Spring of ’14 had evaluated dozens of projects and recommended 10 for funding.

My assistance on this project began with conceiving the Nature Fund and developing a vision for The Nature Center including, The Guiding Principles document, design of The Nature Center Council, and creation of the business processes for Concept and Proposal Evaluation. Today, I serve on the Council as Founder.

Strategic Development – May 2014
With several proof points behind us, we were ready to take Next Steps and began our investigation into the concept of a Master Plan. Next, came 6 months of candidate evaluations to identify a strategic partner for The Nature Center. In May we completed negotiations with the Natural Learning Initiative, a unit of  The College of Design at NC State University. Work begins in June. NLI will assist The Parish School in creating a Master Site Plan and Strategic Frameworks for nature learning. Going forward, we’ll be exploring joint research efforts with NLI to document the effects and progress of this new initiative at Parish and share that back to the education community. This is an exciting time for The Nature Center and an attractive opportunity for The Parish School to advance its mission of empowering the whole child.

Update 2015 – Adoption of The Margaret Noecker Nature Center Master Plan
The Master Plan was co-developed with our strategic partner, Natural Learning Initiative, at NC State University … but that was only the beginning. Buy-in, consensus-building, and revisiting The Guiding Principles is an ongoing process that never really ends. With Board approval, it was time to prioritize projects in The Master Plan, secure buy-in from The Parish School community and the Board, and develop a fundraising plan. And … begin a search for a design-build partner.

Update 2016 – TBG Chosen as Design-Build Partner for The Margaret Noecker Nature Center
After a national search, the Council settled on local firm, TBG as our design-build partner. Many questions have to be answered when choosing your design-build partner: Can they do the work? Do they get the mission of the school? Are they on-board with nature-learning? Is the firm financially viable? Will they be with us for the long haul? Lastly, can we find someone local who answers Yes to all our questions, or will we need to develop a remote partner framework? After a long evaluation process, TBG proved to be the ideal partner for us. The level of expertise and professionalism they brought complemented the high standard we set in securing NC State’s Natural Learning Initiative for our Master Plan partner.

Update 2016 – Little Acorn Park
The Council made a strategic decision to begin at the beginning — with the preschoolers. The idea was to develop a nature learning space for the youngest members of The Parish School and create the possibility for them to follow the rollout of The Master Plan through the years to graduation. The Council believed it would best support business development, and student recruitment. The Council named the new space, “Little Acorn Park.”

Update 2017 – Plan, Talk, Plan, Talk, Plan, Talk
Anxious to get going on Phase 1, 2017 was a busy year of planning and anxiety. You never stop questioning your decisions but at some point, you have to believe in yourself and move forward. This year was a year of working with TBG on design-build blueprints, identifying implementation partners, and the important work of communication and circling-back for buy-in with The Parish School community and the Board. By Summer we were ready to get going … but the weather and our build partners weren’t.

Never forget – setbacks are all part of the plan. You just adapt, move the milestones to the right, and keep going. And that’s what we did.

Update August 2018 – Phase 1 Complete — Little Acorn Park!
Building on Phase 1 began in April and was finished in plenty of time for the start of the new school-year. We called it “Little Acorn Park,” in keeping with the theme of the school that every member of the community knows by heart: “From little acorns, mighty oaks grow.”

By August, Little Acorn Park was open for business.

Finishing touches -- Little Acorn Park

Mila Jade on balance log

Roney at Little Acorn Park

Terri Roney and Lena at Little Acorn Park

Water trough at Little Acorn Park

Little Acorn Park Sign

Update 2019 – Phase 2 Planning
Phase 2 has been planned, approved, and well, almost budgeted. But we know the drill now so nothing will surprise us. And nothing will stop us! Stay tuned.

The most interesting aspect of working with The Parish School is how gratifying it is. I hope I will always be a contributor to this great adventure.

Update Summer 2021 – Phase 2 Under Construction!

Stay tuned.

Word play in the outdoor classroom
An early outdoor classroom at The Parish School