History of the juniper school

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(written by Marcelle Gilkerson and Kate Curlis-West)

The Juniper School is the legacy of Briar Rose Children’s Center.  

Rebecah Freeling, the director of BRCC, generously offered the building at an extraordinary price to Shambhala Columbus with the request that a school for young children be reopened for our community at 636 Chase Road. This generosity would not have been possible without the work of Meg Freeling and countless other original investors, most notably Harvey Lisle (father of Marilyn Welker.)

Briar Rose Children’s Center was established to be an educational, nurturing place for 3 – 6 year old children, using Waldorf Education methods.  BRCC was a supportive educational space for families. This school was intended to be the first step toward developing a K-12 Waldorf School in Columbus. Through their programs, intentions and celebrations, the founders intended to nurture children who grow up contributing to a healthy evolution of society and the earth.


Key Dates in our History

1998  Building on Chase Road Originally Purchased – A core group of 4-6 people formed in  June 1998 to develop bylaws and created a Board of Directors to start a Waldorf-inspired school for young children.  

1999  Briar Rose Opened – Licensing was approved for Briar Rose Children’s Center and the school opened at 636 Chase Road, providing a Waldorf-inspired education for over 300 children and their families for twelve years.

2011  Briar Rose Closed – BRCC closed and generously offered the building to Shambhala with the aspiration for the school to reopen.

2012  Shambhala Purchased 636 Chase Road – Through member donations, fundraising, sit-thons, book publishing, raffles, Shambhala Trust grants and extraordinarily generous sangha/community donors, the Shambhala Meditation Center of Columbus became the proud new owners of 636 Chase Road with the intention to open a new Shambhala Center and a school. This process provided a path for the Shambhala community to learn about community development, a path of groundlessness, invaluable friendships and the indomitable power of a strong collective vision.

2013  A Planning Group Formed – Celia Kahle met Nicole Graf, a teacher who helped start a Waldorf methods preschool in Minnesota. With a masters degree in early childhood education and a steady, open, genuine and utterly dedicated commitment to supporting young children – Nicole partnered with Shambhala to open the Juniper School. A working group formed with Betsy Loeb (formerly with Action for Children,) Celia Kahle (Waldorf handwork teacher and Shambhala sangha member,) Nicole Graf (Future Juniper School Director) and Marcelle Gilkerson (Shambhala Center Director.)

Betsy set up meetings for us with the directors of all the preschools we admired in Columbus. We went to each school and talked to the directors about their work, success, history and experience to learn how to start a successful school. We visited North Broadway Children’s Center, Mary Evans and the School for Young Children. We didn’t realize it then, but we were gathering the first teachers for our school and all the allies we would need to gather community around our project. 

The Shambhala community continued fundraising and invested hundreds  of hours and thousands of dollars into remodeling the building.

2014  The Building was Remodeled and Licensing Approved all in the Nick of Time!

Fall 2014 The Juniper School Opened –The Juniper School opened as an early childhood outreach program of Shambhala Columbus for children ages 3-5 with 34 children and three founding teachers – Nicole Graf, Kendra Copenhaver and Zaryana Bezu.

2015, 2016, 2017 The school thrived in a culture of kindness, beauty and play.

In 2018, A Group of Parents requested that the school grow in order to serve their school-aged children. The continued training and support of the teaching craft through pursuing accreditation with WECAN (Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America) and AWSNA (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America) felt like a wise and natural next step.  At this point, the school grew too large to be an outreach program and took steps toward becoming an independent 501c3 non-profit entity (separation to formally take place in spring 2019). The Shambhala Columbus community will continue to nurture, support and inspire the Juniper School through a shared culture of kindness and a cultivated view that all children and families are innately good, whole and strong.  

Fall 2018  The Juniper School expanded to add a Kindergarten, 1st Grade and 2nd/3rd Grade in rented rooms at the North Baptist Church on Charleston Ave., in addition to the Early Childhood classroom at 636 Chase Rd. The Faculty and School Board are growing and The Juniper School is becoming a Chartered Non-Public School (eventually Pre-K thru 8th Grade).

May the Juniper School flourish and benefit many children, families and communities in Columbus.

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