The Santa Cruz Forest School
The Santa Cruz Forest School

Amanda Bell

Director of Santa Cruz Forest School, Amanda connects with children through a spirit of respect and listening.  She loves slowing down on the trails, kneeling to see the environment from the child's perspective, naming and identifying plants together, and never asking anyone to hurry.  


She developed her love of the outdoors at an early age on family camping trips to the Current River in southeast Missouri.  She fondly remembers  swimming and tubing in the river and playing with her cousins in the July heat, and never wanting to leave.

During college, Amanda studied geology, the field trips being her favorite part.  She was fortunate to explore many parts of the country-from the National Parks in the desert southwest to glacier-covered mountains in Alaska to coral reefs in the Florida Keys-all from the perspective of learning about the natural environment and geologic history.  She brings her love of science to the children at the Santa Cruz Forest School in a natural, wonder-inspired way.

After college she worked at a natural foods co-op, a hands-on science museum, and in the elementary schools of Ohio.  After her first child was born, she worked from home teaching Environmental Science online.

In addition to being outdoors, Amanda loves caring for animals and reading novels.  She's grateful to her supportive husband and two growing kids for her inspiration.  




Ra Birhan

Ra’s work is an embodiment of play that synergizes from having a profound understanding of the importance of holistic learning; and the foundation is spiritually based from the divine heart.

His ever-developing talents orbit around the theme of allowing play to be intrinsically expressed for every living form.

One of those talents is expressed fragrantly as a botanical perfumer, which started unfolding when he was 16 years old.  Interestingly, both of his biological parents also found a connection to the immersive world of fragrance when they were 16.


He has been working as a preschool teacher since 2004.  The very young child appears as if he or she is constantly in an omnipresent state of creative expression.  In this way, children can be looked at as spiritual guides.  


Ra had holistic adventures throughout the years as a practitioner of both acupressure and aromatherapy within a framework of sound. Ra incorporates daily meditation with Qigong and Yoga using subtle personality from different ancient cultural beliefs.  As Ra’s life’s multi-dimensionally intergenerational curriculum unfolds, the formless within the form is manifested as light.

Ra believes that for us to increase a deeper connection with the infinite, we must try immersing with all of the magnificent subtle aspects of nature: especially within the forest, ocean, and in both the day and night skies.  Nature itself, in all its grace and glory is the original teacher to listen to and learn from.


Lisa Goodenough

Lisa approaches children with curiosity, respect, and kindness.  She loves to hear what they have to say, and to encourage them to practice the art of being themselves.    

Lisa grew up in Ben Lomond, CA.  For as long as she can remember, she has felt a deep love for nature and the outdoors.   As a child, she spent many hours of many years riding her horse, accompanied by only her two dogs; all over the San Lorenzo Valley.  She also spent a lot of time throughout her childhood, camping with her family and exploring some of the most beautiful parks around the United States. 


Because of these experiences, she knows that spending time with animals and in nature is a path to discovery of one’s own self, as well as to how one connects and relates with life all around them.

Lisa studied Early Childhood Education at Cabrillo College.  While studying early childhood education, she developed a passion for communication and conflict resolution.  She believes that if children can learn how to effectively communicate and work through conflict at young ages, the world will be a much more peaceful place.  She has also taken classes and studied nonviolent communication and active listening.  

Spending time with animals is one of Lisa’s favorite past times.  Horses have always been a part of her life, and have taught her so much.  She has a certification in Equine Experiential Learning, which is a practice that includes horses for learning and therapy.  Currently, she has a horse lesson program at her home.  She works with children and horses, and she focuses on relationships and communication.  

 In her spare time, Lisa enjoys playing with her horses, running with her dogs, and mountain biking with her two teenage sons and her husband.  She loves to swim in the ocean and to hike through the redwoods.  
Spending time in nature with children brings a smile to Lisa’s heart.




Jutta Braken-Guelke

(Substitute Teacher)
Exploring the outdoors with children and seeing the world through their eyes warms Jutta’s heart. In her 15 years as a preschool teacher, she has learnt so much from children. Their curiosity and sense of wonder amaze and inspire her every time she is with them.

Jutta likes to approach children with respect, gentleness, and patience. She genuinely enjoys listening to their stories and learning about each child’s uniqueness. Being in the moment with children and learning with them through play is a gift and adventure.

Jutta’s passion for nature and the outdoors were instilled during her childhood. She grew up in a suburb of Hamburg, Germany, in a family with three younger brothers. During that time, she spent most days outside, rain or shine, roaming the neighborhood, nearby fields, marshlands, and forests snacking on wild berries. She has very fond memories of those years and believes that children should spend as much time outdoors and in nature as they possibly can.

Other favorite outdoor memories revolve around camping and traveling through Europe with her husband in their VW Vanagon. 

Jutta’s background is in computer science, and she worked several years in the semiconductor industry. Having children changed her perspective and switched gears to early childhood education. Being with children was so much more gratifying and enjoyable than developing microprocessors.


She was fortunate to get a job as a teacher at the preschool that she had attended with both of her children. Jutta has been at “Mountain School,” a parent-participation, nature- and play-based preschool located in the Santa Cruz Mountains since her children went there. While working at Mountain School, Jutta has been studying early childhood education at West Valley College.


During her free time, Jutta enjoys hiking, reading, yoga, gardening, traveling, and spending time with her family, friends, and dogs. She feels fortunate to live in the beautiful San Lorenzo Valley with so many wonderful opportunities for hiking and exploring California’s magnificent coastline.

Julie Kelly

Julie Kelly is a mother to two wonderful children, a steward of ancestral health and wellness, and a lover of nature. She approaches her time with children as a delicate and joyous relationship that needs respect, connection, and trust.


Julie believes that a child's connection to nature, the art and craft of their play, and their innate curiosity, should be supported and protected. 


Julie comes to this program with many years experience working with children of all ages as a nanny, sister, doula, auntie, and now mother. Julie finds great joy in being with kids in nature and learning from them how to notice, appreciate, explore, create, and celebrate the simple joys that abound.


Her most recent experience was working as a co-teacher for the Riekes Center's Nest To Fledge program, where she facilitated nature connections for toddlers and their parents. 


Julie attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for her undergraduate and Master's work, where she studied Agricultural Business and Food Science. Her love of food and interest in science has allowed her many interesting career caveats, her favorite being creating and building a business with her husband where they help others achieve optimal health and wellness. 


Julie's life with her family is her favorite way to pass the time. Together they enjoy traveling the world, mountain biking, raising rabbits, creek walking, tree climbing, arts and crafts, cooking, spending time with friends, learning new things, and being silly.

Alice Palacio  (Substitute)

Alice approaches her work with children through a practice of deep listening, relating to nature, and love and respect.

She has found the most accesible classroom for learning to be right outside, amongst nature.
Always close to the land, she and her husband have ventured from Felton and Bonny Doon to Kettle Falls and Spokane, WA and back to Felton again.  This venturing included five months traveling with their two horses and mule.  This time living on the trail and experiencing the world alongside her horse brought her to that profound realization that our best teachers are at hand.  Listen to the ravens, follow the trail of the squirrel, climb the trunk of a tree...there is so much waiting to reveal itself to you. 
Alice has worked with children from newborn to teen as nanny, mentor, and teacher.  She co-created an afterschool program for girls in Kathmandu, Nepal called Herstories, which sought to help students explore and expand creativity and self-confidence through the arts. 
After becoming a massage therapist in 2005, she began her training in craniosacral therapy.  This training has come to influence her interaction with children (and how she approaches many aspects of her life) by finding new ways to listen beyond the scope of her ears.  In this way she can hold the appropriate and supportive space for those in her care to thrive.
In her spare time, Alice enjoys being Auntie to many, feeding the hungry mouths of horses, hiking, sitting at creeks, swimming in rivers, expanding her working knowledge of herbs, singing in community, traveling and maintaining her private bodywork practice.

Aliza Hubbs (Substitute)

Aliza has been teaching art in a classroom setting for 5 years, and is now looking forward to spending time exploring the possibilities of a school with no walls. She has an AS in horticulture from Cabrillo College and a BA in art from UCSC, along with a substitute teaching credential.  She is the mother of a 6 year old son who has high functioning autism, where she has gained most of her early childhood education and experience. She has also taken workshops and courses in positive discipline, and takes an active interest in nonviolent communication. She is first aid and CPR certified.

The SC Forest School first called to Aliza when her son was in preschool, and she came with him to every class to give him the social support he needed. She felt very much at home in the company of the forest, the kids, the teachers, and the parents of other forest school kids. As a teacher she hopes to bring kindness, compassion, creativity, and a sense of sovereignty within safe boundaries for the kids in forest school to learn, grow, and flourish.

When she’s not working or hanging out with her family Aliza paints and exhibits her art locally. She also loves to garden and grow food, cook food, eat food, go for bike rides, swims in the ocean, and has a daily practice of yoga and qigong.

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