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 (Retired)

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.

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