Meet Our Team

Tracy Thomas

Founder and CEO

Hi there, I'm Tracy and having spent most of my life playing along the Pacific coastline or skiing and hiking in the Sierras, the nature has always been my happy place. I've learned the importance of prioritizing these roots, as slowing down and grounding in the wild helps me to not only see, but truly relish, in the blessing of each precious moment.

However, despite my own daily need for nature, I found myself like most people, living in a land of concrete, where time in the wild was rigidly scheduled into my day. I knew that if my (then) 4-year-old daughter was to ever allow nature to fill her soul, she needed to fall in love with its wonders, and it wasn't going to happen between appointments. I knew she needed unstructured time to create, invent and immerse herself in the wonders of the natural world.

Deep down, I yearned for us to exist in a space free from constraints and to allow wonder and curiosity to guide her educational process. I wanted to teach kindness and resilience alongside shelter-building and shifting weather patterns. I wanted to do science experiments in the elements followed by making picture frames out of fallen twigs. I knew I was being called to create this space where childhood was preserved. And so, Nature Rangers was born. As I have grown and matured in my own journey, my deep desire is to pass on this love to the families we serve.

I am a certified Forest School Teacher, a public speaker, and a board-certified holistic nutritionist. I hold degrees and certifications in Emotional Development, Elementary Montessori, Wilderness First Aid, Leadership and have a Master's Degree from UC Santa Barbara. When I'm not serving families in our local outdoor programs, you can usually find me skiing or backpacking in Mammoth or Park City with my daughter (aka Nature Rangers' favorite little program critic!) 


Lauren Beattie

REGIONAL DIRECTOR: SANTA BARBARA

Hello, I am Lauren, a devoted and enthusiastic educator with a deep love for the outdoors and steadfast commitment to nurturing young minds. Raised across New York, Toronto, and London, and having traveled the world to experience the wonders of nature, I have found home in picturesque Santa Barbara. Though my career began in the fast-paced realm of event planning, my heart always yearned to work with children.

The joy of motherhood and the invaluable experiences gained from teaching my own son inspired me to embrace my true calling as an outdoor educator. My son and I attended preschool at The Oaks Parent-Child Workshop, where my passion for teaching blossomed as I engaged with children and delved into child development. I find immense joy in witnessing children immersed in nature, exploring, discovering, and growing, knowing that I am helping to shape responsible and compassionate citizens. My belief in open communication, understanding, and empathy enables me to forge meaningful connections with both children and their families. My goal is to ignite a lifelong love for learning within each child. With training in Early Child Development and Forest School, I strive to create a serene and secure environment where children can learn and thrive. Additionally, I hold a certification in Wilderness First Aid ensuring the safety and well-being of every child under my care.


Elle Tevebaugh

REGIONAL DIRECTOR: SAN ANTONIO

Hi, I'm Elle, a mom and partner, as well as a nature enthusiast and lifelong learner. I am passionate about personal development, connecting with people, and exploring the natural world. When I am outside, I feel my truest self shine.

My childhood in the mountains outside of Albuquerque, NM, was filled with outdoor adventures — running, digging, climbing trees, and exploring with my dogs. I always dreamed of being a teacher. I studied elementary education in college, but traditional classrooms didn’t align with my vision for fostering a love of learning. This led me to diverse roles, including being a preschool teacher and a painting party instructor.

Becoming a mother has filled my heart and my time. I have had the privilege of homeschooling my two sons for 3 years, embracing all the opportunities, challenges, and joy that homeschooling provides! I feel grateful for the kind and courageous community of kids in Nature Rangers. These kids teach each other and me daily through their deep curiosity about all things science and nature!

I am a certified Forest School Teacher, and I bring my artistic passion to our crafts as well as to our natural exploration. I’m honored to be entrusted with these kids as they grow, learn, and thrive!


Haylee Sonnier

grant specialist / SUPPORTING facilitator

Hello, I’m Haylee. I was raised by outdoor adventurers. My dad ran the outdoor education program at Montreat College for 12 years and my mom accompanied him leading students into the woods for weeks on end. Exploring creation has been a legacy and a lifelong journey that I have enjoyed immensely. My childhood was spent in many different locations living at camps where I got to experience the joy nature brings to children and how it touches their lives. I lived on Catalina Island for 5 years in a remote cove with no cell service. It was the best experience of my life, igniting my passion for disconnecting people from the constant call of our busy world and connecting them to the call of the wild.

I lived in many different places after that, including the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. I finally found my home here in Santa Barbara. My passion for the outdoors and its wonders was not fully fulfilled until I began surfing which uplifts my spirit and leaves me humbled and in awe. I love having the opportunity to learn everyday as I observe the weather and wave patterns that influence the quality of the surf. I cherish every opportunity I get to teach others what I have learned. 

I hold a bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a minor in Applied Psychology from UC Santa Barbara. Given my understand of society as a whole and my passion for children to get to experience nature as a child like I did, I focus my efforts on grant writing in hopes that we can provide the best program for our little learners. Additionally, I have the privilege of getting to nurture and encourage them in their discovery of the environment and its many wonders every week. 


Heidi Gamez

Supporting facilitator

Hi! My name is Heidi. I have always loved working with children. Before Nature Rangers I was a nanny for 8 years. I think it is the best job to come alongside littles and watch them blossom and grow. I’m passionate about slow wholesome living, which for me includes being outdoors as much as possible, practicing loving communication, cooking from scratch, holistic medicine and authenticity. Charlotte Mason once said, “Never be within doors when you rightly can be without".

I’m passionate about family, childhood, nurturing, child development, homeschooling (as I was homeschooled myself), and being connected to nature. It’s a honor to learn from nature and the little ones as they are so imaginative and curious while in nature. Nature brings a sense of peace, freedom, and creativity. We as adults have so much to relearn from them. The dream for me is to live on a farm, have 6 children, and homeschool them all. So as I am here to nurture and lead your children, I’m also here to learn from you families as well.


Kristina Bautista

Supporting facilitator

Hi there! My name is Kristina. I met Tracy and Lauren when I was brand new to homeschooling and immediately felt their loving and positive energy. All 3 of my girls started in Nature Rangers right after that and it’s been an incredible blessing to work alongside my kids and the whole group! 

I grew up in the Midwest. A lot of my free time was spent exploring the forest preserves in the area, splashing around Lake Michigan or taking off to ski in Wisconsin. Growing up I was heavily involved in my Lithuanian culture - going to school on Saturdays with fellow Lithuanian kids in the area to learn about our roots and also staying later to participate with a traditional Lithuanian dance group and Lithuanian Scouts, first as a land scout then as a sea scout. Summers were spent up in Michigan camping with our scout group - learning how to work with the intricacies of nature and basic survival skills, as well as folk dancing throughout the country. 

When I landed in Santa Barbara, I knew it was going to be my next home. I went to school here (SBCC) and often joke about how I never left as now I teach there! I have my Master’s degree in Kinesiology (CSUN and AT Still University), a corrective exercise specialist certification and also teach PE classes when I’m not exploring our local treasures with Nature Rangers.

I’m passionate about creating change toward healthier lifestyles: the importance of healthy food, movement, grounding with nature and self love/positivity. I look forward to making a positive impact for our next generation.


Mariana Rickard

Seasonal head facilitator

Hello, I'm Mariana and I've been an outdoor enthusiast my entire life. I spent much of my adult life in Colorado and the Washington wilderness, and I am passionate about both the outdoors and about children. I have a young daughter with whom I do many of my adventures. I also have had several art businesses, and I bring my craftiness to Nature Rangers as our arts and crafts specialist. I love to sit in nature with children watching their own creativity take over as they run with their ideas.

I am a Montessori teacher and trained in Early Child Development. I use this to help create a warm a nurturing environment for the children. I also have a B.S. and B.A. from the Claremont Colleges.


Meet Our Co-Founders

Dr. Candace Poindexter

co-founder of education

Hello, I'm Candace and as a lifelong educator, I am inspired when I see the wonder and joy in children’s faces as they experience something new or meet a challenge with impunity.  Likewise, observing students demonstrate positive character traits such as kindness, optimism, empathy and perseverance in their work and play is a delight to me as an educator.  My goal is to inspire children to love learning as much as I have been inspired to teach!

I'm a Professor Emeritus at Loyola Marymount University's School of Education, following my 35 year career serving as Chair of Elementary and Secondary Education Department and Director of LMU's Literacy Lab. I am an author of several books and articles in peer-reviewed journals, a public speaker and I currently oversee national accreditation for schools.


Julie Otero

co-Founder of programs

Hello, I'm Julie. My greatest passions involve exploring the great outdoors and traveling the world to experience different cultures and ways of life. I feel most alive and at peace in places where my cellphone has no coverage, and I think it's important for kids to learn to love the outdoors as well. I believe in the power of play and enjoy creating nature study and wilderness skills lessons for our students.

When forced to move myself indoors, I enjoy working behind the scenes on marketing and business initiatives for the company as well as developing our online curriculum. 

I hold a B.A. in English from Loyola Marymount University and a masters degree from Northeastern University in Nonprofit Administration and Leadership.  Recently I earned a postgraduate certificate in Social and Emotional Learning from University of Colorado, Boulder.

The Santa Barbara Year-Round Team:

From Left to right: Kristina Bautista, Tracy Thomas, Heidi Gamez, Haylee Sonnier, & Lauren Beatty

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