Dr. Paul Astin has worked in education for over 20 years. He has been a teacher and administrator in both public and private schools.  Paul has a BA degree in Prehistoric Studies, a bilingual teaching credential, an MA in Latin American Studies, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership.  Paul’s 2008 dissertation focusing on adolescent development and middle school reform won the Dissertation of the Year Award in UCLA’s Educational Leadership Program.  Paul founded and directed Los Vecinos Grassroots Development Organization, a non-profit corporation that from 1988-1991 developed health education programs in squatter settlements outside of Mexicali, Mexico.  In 2001, Paul won the Bravo Award from the Los Angeles County Music Center for integrating art into his classroom.  Paul was named “Topanga Citizen of the Year” in 2008, partly in recognition of the service work of his 6th grade students at Topanga Elementary.  Prior to becoming a full-time classroom educator, Paul worked as a jazz pianist and music teacher.  Paul lives in Topanga Canyon with his wife Jenny, and their two teenage daughters, Amalia and Ila.




Ryan has been working with children for over 20 years, having been a Camp Counselor, Lifeguard, Camp Director, P.E. Teacher, Coach, Teacher’s Assistant, Yard Supervisor, Independent Living Program Instructor for High School Foster Youth, Science and Math Specialist, Elementary School Teacher, and most recently a Middle School Teacher. He is extremely passionate about sports, nature, and the changing landscape of education. At Manzanita, Ryan is able to blend his many passions, working to create a sustainable and dynamic community of caring and involved families. He enjoys working with the beautiful and spacious land at Big Rock, as well as collaborating with the entire Manzanita Family as they blaze a new trail to help positively shape lives and create memorable experiences for everyone involved, most notably the students. Ryan feels honored and privileged to be a part of this amazing school!




Gabrielle Cartelli has been an educator and curriculum specialist for over 15 years.  She holds a MS degree in Literacy Education and BA degrees in both Elementary Education and Sociology.  Gabrielle has extensive training in Lucy Calkin's Reading and Writing Workshop and she has worked one-on-one with Columbia Teachers College mentors.  In addition to her training in literacy, Gabrielle has developed a 5th grade humanities curriculum for Ramapo Central School District in Suffern, NY, with published Complete Four authors, Laurie Pastore and Patty Vitatle-Reilly.  In 2009, Gabrielle joined The New Village Leadership Academy, where she was both a teacher and a staff developer.  It was there that she created a unique way of designing units of study integrating the school’s core values with concepts and enduring understandings.  These concept-based units built off the strengths and talents of the individual students and at the same time challenged their thinking.  Gabrielle believes strongly that the role of an educator is to coach students on how to accomplish their own goals and to bring awareness to goals they never knew they wanted to achieve.



Jenny A. Griffiths


Jenny Griffiths has a California K-12 single subject teaching credential in Art, and a Masters in Art Education, with an emphasis on empathy building in the arts.  She has been teaching art for over 20 years. She was head of the Art Department at a K-8 arts magnet school in Long Beach, integrating art throughout the curriculum. She also taught at Wilson High School in Long Beach. For the past 12 years, Jenny has run her own educational business, "Art with Jenny" serving after-school and home-schooled youth in her community of Topanga.  Ms. Griffiths has been involved in a variety of community projects, including student-driven art installations, environmental art projects, and numerous student art shows, offering vital opportunities for community recognition of student work.  Jenny has also designed and delivered courses for mothers in building mother-daughter groups, a project supporting networks of mentors for adolescent girls. Jenny has also received training in leading council and has been leading our parent council group at Manzanita since 2014. 





Claire joins Manzanita School directly from the Huffington Post where she produced daily segments for its online video component, HuffPost Live. Prior to that she covered education for a local newspaper on the East End of Long Island; taught high school English, journalism and ESL classes in Squaw Valley, CA; and coached high school and middle school basketball teams in New York City.  She holds a B.A. in Modern English Literature from University of California, Santa Cruz.  When she’s not at school, chances are she’s either running ridiculously long distances, planning mountain excursions, or climbing some rocks. 


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Prior to joining Manzanita, Karen served as Office Manager at Mariposa School of Global Education, where she first teamed up with Dr. Paul and Mr. Ryan. Prior to her work in education, she operated her own catering company, serving both private clients and industry events. She also worked as an Executive Chef and eventually Help Desk Manager for a global film company.  Karen’s role at Manzanita marks her return to the working world after taking a year off to try retirement on for size. While she enjoyed traveling abroad and through the American West,  she discovered she really wasn’t ready to let go of her passion for helping others. It is with deep gratitude that she now has the opportunity to share her sense of purpose by serving the extraordinary vision and reality of Manzanita School.

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When not co-directing the summer camp, Ariel spends the fall providing administrative support to Manzanita School. She also teaches high school math and mentors a Stewardship Group. Ariel first fell in love with Big Rock property as a camper when she was five years old. She loved it so much, she returned this past summer for her 13th year working for Cali Camp, the summer program that runs for 9 weeks on the Big Rock property. She has held many positions, including Counselor, Team Leader, Transportation and Operations Director.  She graduated from University of California, Irvine with degrees in Education and Political Science. Ariel believes in the positive impact that nature connection has on children's lives, and enjoys, above all else, joining in and playing with the kids.



Kassandra (K.C.) Wilsey


Kassandra returns to Big Rock in her newest capacity, as part of the administrative team for Manzanita School. Previously, she has spent 14 summers at Big Rock while at Cali Camp as the other co-director, bringing her expertise on Outdoor Education. She graduated top of her class with a Masters Degree in Recreation Management from California State University, Northridge. While not at Big Rock, Kassandra continues to educate students at CSUN, as a part-time professor in the Recreation Department teaching outdoor education, and environmental sustainability. Her energy and enthusiasm for children to learn through play makes her a valuable leader on our team.


Office Manager


Lauren has always had a passion for helping kids and young adults. She studied psychology and adolescent development at California State University, Channel Islands in order to gain powerful tools and insights to help foster connection to that exciting and pivotal age group. Lauren is thrilled to be at Manzanita, both as the office manager and as a Stewardship mentor.Stop by the front office any time to say hi, she’d love to meet you!

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Administrative Assistant


Emily joins the Administrative Team this year, following a summer working in the office at Cali-Camp.  Prior to that she worked at an equestrian facility in Chatsworth, teaching dressage lessons and training horses.  She graduated from University of California, Davis in 2010 with a degree in International Relations and spent a semester living — and eating — in Italy.  Emily is excited to be opening this new chapter of her life with the Manzanita family, and will be providing support wherever needed.


Vitality Coach


Melissa joins the Manzanita team as a vitality coach and stewardship mentor. She earned her Bachelors of Science in Physical Education from the University of Maine at Presque Isle. She has a wide range of experience working with kids through personal training, coaching, lifeguarding, assistant kayak guiding and outdoor mentoring through university programs. Melissa moved to Southern California from her hometown of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, to attend Cal State University San Bernadino where she studied kinesiology.  Melissa also spent six years in Venezuela and is bilingual in both English and Spanish. Melissa has competed in a wide range of sports such as, tennis, field hockey and basketball. In her off time she likes to travel, swim, hike, kayak, run, and ski.  She is extremely excited to be a part of Manzanita and to help the vitality program grow!




Jonah is thrilled to join Manzanita this year!  Jonah hails from Boston, Massachusetts, and is starting his fourth year as a California resident.  This will be Jonah's seventh year teaching. He taught at the Park School and Milton Academy, both in Massachusetts, and The Episcopal School of Los Angeles.  Over the years Jonah has taught a variety of middle and high school classes, including History, English, World Cultures, Civics, Latin, Humanities, and Performing Arts.  Wrestling is a passion for Jonah, and he coached the sport for many years. He has also coached tennis and soccer.  Jonah has performed Improv comedy numerous times on a variety of stages; the best character he ever played was probably a dinosaur.  Before teaching, he worked for the Freedom Trail Foundation in Boston, where he portrayed the real-life American revolutionary George Robert Twelves Hewes, and frequently visited (among other things) the graves of Sam Adams, John Hancock, and Ben Franklin's parents.  Jonah has an MA in History from Brown University, and a BA from Harvard College in Folklore and Mythology.  He feels so lucky to be able to teach, learn, laugh, and wonder with kids about the mysteries of life both great and small.  




As a cultural worker and educator, Jennifer has taught and mentored teachers in public and private schools for twenty years. She holds an M.A. in Literacy Development and a B.A. in Human Development.  Prior tojoining the Manzanita team, she developed and implemented curriculum that invited students to identify and pursue their passions, develop their authentic voice, and apply this critical knowledge to become “change agents” in their own lives, as well as their communities. During the summer, Jennifer works with young people ages 8-17 exploring the rich and diverse natural environments of California.  Jennifer is deeply grateful to be apart of the Manzanita community! She is joined by her two children, Rubey Grace (13) and Noah (11). 




Bridget brings unbridled enthusiasm for learning and a deep reverence for the natural world along with fifteen years of classroom experience. Her diverse teaching background encompasses urban public schools in Baltimore and Los Angeles, Waldorf education, charter schools, as well as a year abroad in rural Japanese middle schools. Prior to earning her B.A. in Education and subsequently pursuing her M.A. Ed., she has also enjoyed successful careers in radiography, print advertising, and a brief stint in the US Army Medical Corps. The thread that binds all of these experiences is a love of community, a desire to be of service, and the importance of personal relationships. 


TEACHER & Naturalist

Ira Christian is a teacher, naturalist, and storyteller whose love for learning and the natural world was kindled at an early age.  After completing his BA in Political Theory at UC Santa Cruz, Ira embarked on a series of experiential learning opportunities around the world.  His travels have taken him to the the wilds of the North Cascade Mountains, where he participated in a six-month Stone Age living intensive; to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he apprenticed a theater artist who facilitated healing across sectarian divides; to Indiana, where he studied banjo-building; and to his family’s property in Northern California, where he both planted and tends an apple orchard.  Through his travels, Ira's interest in alternative models of teaching and learning led him to opportunities work mentoring youth in earth skills and nature connection with an array of outdoor schools and youth organizations.  Ira is excited to continue sharing his natural gift for teaching and his deep love of craft and place in his roles as teacher and naturalist at Manzanita.



Jessica London Jacobs Dirschel (aka Jes London) has been involved in the field of education consistently since birth. Her mother was a traditional public school teacher while her father is an internationally known alternative education author and speaker. After earning a BA in Mathematics and MAs in Interdisciplinary Studies, Mathematics and Education AND Theatre Arts, Jessica taught in public schools, private schools, charter schools, online schools, community college, university, and home school settings. She has worked with students of all ages around the world. She helped start a private international school in Mexico and a charter school in Northern California. She was also a long time set teacher in Los Angeles. She works with disadvantaged youth, re-entry students, children with learning challenges, and professional actors/athletes/musicians. Her oldest son graduated from UC Berkeley at age 16. She has published books and articles on topics ranging from character education to math inequality to fitness and nutrition education in schools. Jessica is also committed to environmental awareness and health and wellness and loves gymnastics and adventure racing.  She lives in Topanga with her Coast Guard husband and her four children Sage, Kaien, Rai, Koriander, their dog Kamp, and their Nissen trampoline. Her goal is to help students develop their passion and turn it into a project that will change the world. 



Ann has worked in the field of education for over 20 years. In the classroom, the majority of her experience has been as an elementary educator in mostly private schools in Montana and California. Outside the classroom, Ann has worked as a tennis coach, art teacher, parks and recreation leader and camp counselor. She has also traveled the globe as a traveling tutor, developing and teaching individualized place-based curriculum for small groups of students. In addition, she has worked as a curriculum specialist for Age of Learning, an online education company creating educational experiences for elementary age children. Ann holds a B.S. in Education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as a Masters of Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica. Ann enjoys connecting with students in joyful and supportive ways, while guiding them towards discovering their gifts and strengths. She weaves her many passions into her teaching, including art, music, movement, storytelling and the natural world.


Mentor and Specialist

Elizabeth "Cookie" Johnson


Chef EJ has been nurturing, teaching and sharing her gifts and wisdom through food preparation for over 20 years. She has been a private celebrity chef, mentored children in culinary education, and supported families in healthy meal planning, preparation and nutritional counseling. 


Head of Outdoor Studies


It was a small farm in Michigan where Shawn's fascination and passion for nature began in his youth. Eventually, the excitement of the big city and a knack for creativity on the computer drew him to Los Angeles, where for the past 25 years he has made a living directing, designing and animating motion graphics in the entertainment industry. In this time he encountered and undertook his first Visionquest, and since that experience has been guiding other men in this unique process for the past 15 years. His enthusiasm to understand what makes a healthy, whole, nature-connected human has led him further to explore the relationship between humans and nature. Over the past 10 years he has studied permaculture, participated in a 2 year, immersive community repair program, co-designed and run several day-long nature connection ceremonial workshops, and co-designed and staffed nature connection programs for kids and teens through different organizations. As head of Outdoor Studies at Manzanita School, Shawn is excited to bring his experience, dedication and passion for creating opportunities for youth to deepen their own connection to nature, themselves and their community.




Delmar has lived and breathed Topanga Canyon since 1965, and has spent considerable time working in the Santa Monica Mountains as a docent for Topanga State Park, and a naturalist for Malibu Lagoon State Beach, Sycamore Canyon, Leo Carillo State Park and Cold Creek Canyon Preserve.  He currently works as a naturalist for the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM), where he helps to restore habitats and animal populations for the Southern Steelhead Trout Project, the Endangered Tide Water Gobi Project, the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake Project and the Western Pond Turtle Project.  Delmar began his pursuit of Primitive Skills in 1977 and brings a wealth of knowledge to the Manzanita community, though he’ll be the first to tell you he still learns something new everyday.  In addition to his environmental work, Delmar is a highly skilled ceramicist and has practiced ceramics since the age of 6.  He has been teaching pottery for 20 years, and is thrilled to bring his knowledge and expertise into the Manzanita classroom.




Dave grew up on a remote farm on the South Island of New Zealand.  He was introduced to the wonders of the wild by his grandfather and has been passionately helping people connect with nature ever since. As a young boy, he spent time disappearing into the mountainous rainforest around his family's farm with school friends. Then, as an adult, he spent 20 years guiding clients from around the world on remote wilderness adventures. He also instructed at Outward Bound New Zealand, helping people of all ages and all walks of life connect with nature, themselves and each other. Dave has an honors degree in Agricultural Science (with an emphasis on ecology), a Teaching Diploma focusing on Science and Education Outside the Classroom, and is a qualified Outdoor Instructor and Wilderness First Responder. Since moving to Los Angeles in 2011 he has been helping private individuals and various non profit organizations connect with nature through customized adventures. He is inspired by being a part of the work being done at Manzanita and is loving the opportunity to learn with and from the Manzanita community.  

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High School Coordinator


Having grown up in Topanga, Megan understands and appreciates the unique qualities the canyon provides to a school such as Manzanita. She earned a B.A. from UC Santa Cruz in American Studies, focusing on social justice and education and worked with Access Services, providing health and educational services to students with disabilities. She has worked in early childcare and served as a researcher and editorial assistant at the Center for Civic Education, a nonprofit organization with a seventy-year history of developing curricula and providing teacher training in civic education.  After spending the last eleven years working in the music industry in artist management Megan is excited to return to her passion of working with youth by helping Manzanita's high school students determine their next step after graduation.  She feels passionate about helping young people find their place in the world and is grateful to have the opportunity to work with Manzanita's inspiring community.

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Kristy Zornes Beauvais is the Executive Director and Founder of FOCUSfish, a non-profit organization that calls Topanga its home. She has developed the FocusFish movement philosophy over the course of her life experiences in theatre, Bunraku puppetry, improvisation, dance, aerobics instruction, personal training, comedy and on-camera acting. Her unique teaching style combines strong techniques and practical body mechanics with an explorative and empowering message. FOCUSfish can now be found in more than 15 schools, both public and private, for over 15 years, offering creative aerial arts programs to people of all ages and abilities. Kristy was Fitness Expert on Food Networkʼs show “Weighing In” and has been featured in Spa and Fit magazines, as well as the Los Angeles Times.  She holds a BFA in Dance from the Tisch School of Arts at New York University. Kristy also holds ACE accredited certifications in Stretch, Pre/ Post-Natal Exercise, and Core Training.




Cecilie Stuart has been a Los Angeles choreographer, director, and producer for 20 years. Currently she is the Associate Director for an original arena show for Marvel Entertainment. Last year she was the Associate Director for Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey’s 2012 circus “Dragons.” Her other credits range from Disney films including “The Little Mermaid -Ariel’s Beginning,” Tracey Ulman’s HBO hit, “Tracey Takes On,” and Michael Jackson’s “World HIStory Tour.” In addition to her background in commercial entertainment, Cecilie co–produced the American Choreography Awards from 1995 to 2005, a 10-year annual benefit for choreographers and dancers, raising visibility for the art of choreography while funding local dance scholarships, inner city arts programs including Aid Project Los Angeles and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Inner City Arts organization. Cecilie also teaches dance to local youth in her community of Topanga, and has founded the innovative non-profit “dance activism” group called Move The World, inspiring youth performers to use their talent to affect social and environmental change. She has an Associate of Arts degree in English from Santa Monica College, and served on the board of the Los Angeles Dance Foundation from 1993-96. 



Jo Ann is currently a Commissioner for the California State Department of Education, and vice-chair of the Instructional Quality Commission.  She was responsible for developing the new frameworks for K-12 mathematics, English Language Arts, and English Language Development standards for the state. In addition to her work for the Department of Education, Jo Ann actively mentors school principals through UCLA’s Principal Leadership Institute. She is also a professor of Educational Leadership at Loyola Marymount University, and was formerly the Assistant Superintendent of Instruction for the Lennox School District, where she led her district’s remarkable innovations in curriculum and pedagogical practices. Previously Jo Ann served as a school principal for over 23 years. Jo Ann served as Chair of the UCLA Principal’s Center (1996-97), was on the Committee on Research for the National Council for Teachers of English (2006), a board member of the International Network of Principals’ Centers, and a board member of the Achievement Council (1999-2001). In 2012, she was named “Woman of the Year” by the Los Angeles County Commission for Women. She holds a Bachelors and Master of Arts degree from UCLA.



Jonathan Nadlman, MFT, is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice since 1995, and has been counseling adults, couples, young people and their families for twenty-four years. For the past seven years, he has been teaching Human Development and puberty as a rite-of-passage at many independent schools. Jonathan was the supervising therapist at Pacific Hills Middle and High School for six years. In addition, he is a facilitator of rites-of-passage workshops for adolescent teens and adults. When he is not working, he can be found carving wood into art, riding a California swell, or in the garden with his wife and twelve-year-old daughter.