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ENC Nature Preschool Team

Vanessa “Nessie” Sener ENC Nature Preschool Director

email me | 949-629-1044 ext. 201

Vanessa is a native to Orange County who grew up as an outdoor enthusiast, swimming off the shores and roaming the suburban wilds of her beloved hometown, San Clemente.  She holds a BA in Early Childhood Education from Pacific Oaks School of Education and brings over twenty years of experience as an inclusive Early Years Educator to the Nature Preschool.

Vanessa has been with the Nature Preschool since its inception, first as an ENC member and Camp Naturalist, continuing on as our Curriculum Coordinator and Lead Nature Teacher in the Bear Classroom.  She is a dedicated and passionate advocate for children.  She has spent her career teaching and sharing her compassion, love, and respect for all living things nurturing a connection with the natural world.  Vanessa has constructed lasting, impactful relationships with children by helping them build a strong sense of self and offering unconditional acceptance, inspirational learning experiences, independence, and reflective engagement developed through a play-based, child-led philosophy.

Vanessa came from a play-based program where she served as a staff representative on their Board of Directors, participated in the Irvine Pre-K/TK/K Articulation Committee and has been a longstanding member of National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and Orange County Association for the Education of Young Children (OCAEYC) where currently is currently serving on the OCAEYC Social Media Committee and will be the committee’s Board Chair for the upcoming 2022-23 term.

Devan Upchurch Nature Preschool Assistant Director

email me | 949-629-1044 ext. 202

Devan has been working in the field of Early Childhood Education for over 10 years and has also been an Early Childhood instructor at Orange Coast College for over 5 years. She has a BA degree in Child and Adolescent Development and a MA degree in Leadership in Early Childhood Education. She strongly believes all children actively learn through messy, hands on explorations of their natural world and through the strong relationships with their caregivers and peers. She strives to help children develop a love and appreciation for the natural world around them. Growing up in Orange County allowed her to develop a fond love for the ocean and hiking.  In her free time, she enjoys reading, camping, cooking and swimming.

Kathy Satchell Enrollment and Program Administrator

email me | 949-629-1044 ext. 200

Kathy has been in the field of Early Childhood Education for over 30 years.  She has worked with children from Toddlers to Pre-K and has spent the last 20 years in administration. She earned her BS degree in Early Childhood Education with a minor in Sociology from California State University Fullerton. She feels very fortunate to be working with an amazing group of nature and child loving people.  Kathy grew up in the small mountain community of Wrightwood, where she spent a lot of time in all kinds of outdoor activities. Kathy loves to spend time camping with her husband and 2 daughters, walking her dogs and doing creative crafty projects. Her favorite camping spot is Refugio State Beach where her family spends almost every Thanksgiving.

Garden Specialist at ENC Nature Preschool

The Garden Specialist at ENC Nature Preschool spends time with children daily. Children work directly in the soil and garden, strengthening their connection and understanding of the physical world around them. The seasonal transformation that happens in a garden sparks immeasurable learning. Children engage in hands-on experiences, developing a genuine understanding of cause and effect, growth, living, dying and decay. They also develop an insightful understanding of life cycles. This is seen in both plants and animals – from seed to eating or composting, or from egg to larva to pupa to adult. Children learn which plants and animals can be garden helpers or garden harmers and are dutiful with protecting the garden from what might cause harm. Children experience the colorful world of fruits and vegetables by planting, transplanting, harvesting, preparing, and tasting the foods that they’ve helped to grow. Our Garden Specialist bridges connections from home to school by asking children about their home experiences with gardening, cooking, and composting. Through these conversations, children grow a profound respect and love with not only the garden, but the entirety of nature. Nothing is more magical than seeing children explore the meaningful dynamics of a garden! “If kids don’t touch and experience nature, why would they want to save it?”

Amanda Wilson Nature Teacher, Class 3 “Bears

Amanda has loved every minute of her 6 years of teaching! She attended Orange Coast College and received an Associates in Science degree in Early Childhood Education. She has a Child Development Teacher Certificate and Permit, and her added experience helps her feel confident in guiding and teaching young children. Amanda is heavily art influenced in multiple medias, specifically in ceramics which she loves bringing into the classroom. She has a love for animals, enjoys being in nature, and is excited to share its beauty and importance with children.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” -George Bernard Shaw

Kelsey Defeo Nature Teacher, Class 3 “Bears

Hi, I’m Kelsey! I enjoy hiking, the beach, being active, and good food! I have completed my Teacher Permit and I am currently continuing my education to get my Master Teacher Permit and BA in Early Childhood. I have worked with children in various capacities for over 15 years and have been working in a Preschool setting for the last 5 years. Nature is my happy place and teaching young children is my dream job. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to bring those two things together!

Kaylee Hoff Nature Teacher, Class 3 “Bears

Kaylee is an Orange County native and currently lives in Huntington Beach with her husband and their dog. She has worked with children in some capacity for the last 15 years. She coached youth sports during high school and after high school she coached high school basketball for 2 years. She then went on to work with people with disabilities and enjoyed that for several years. Kaylee now is finishing her BA in Early Childhood Education at National University and will graduate May 2022. Over the last two years Kaylee has worked with children who are on the autism spectrum and has experience in ABA. She has a passion for working with our newest members of society and enjoys being outdoors. She believes hands-on experiences are the best way for children to learn. She also believes nature is the best learning environment for young children and is excited to be part of the ENC community. Kelsey compares her teaching strategy to that of a gardener. Seeds will be planted, and we must create the best environment for each individual child to grow. In her spare time, you can find Kaylee camping, cooking, gardening or at a concert. She is excited to be at the ENC Nature Preschool in the Bear Classroom, supporting each child on their education journey.

Chavely Morales Martinez Nature Teacher, Class 3, “Bears”

Chavely Morales Martinez received her Associates degree in Early Childhood Education while working in childcare. During her 5 years of teaching she has worked with children between the ages of 2-5. After finishing her degree she transferred to Humboldt State and is now studying Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Community Organizing. When she is not working she loves to spend time with her family that lives in Northern California. She also loves to spend time on the road exploring new places.

Emma Ripplinger Nature Teacher, Class 2, “Coyotes”

Emma is thrilled to be a part of the Bear Classroom! She has been teaching preschool in various capacities for the last 7 years and has loved and learned from each experience. Emma received her BA in Education Sciences, with minors in Psychology and Social Behavior and Philosophy, from UC Irvine in 2018 and she has a M.A. in Early Childhood Development from Pacific Oaks College of Education. Working with children is, in her opinion, the most rewarding occupation out there! She strives to be her best self for her students, at all times. Both teaching and nature are fundamental passions of Emma’s, and she attributes this to her parents – her mom the educator and her dad the hiker. Emma was quite literally raised hugging trees, searching for bears in the mountains, and in wonderful classrooms all over! When she’s not teaching, she can be found hiking, splashing in the ocean, or playing rugby! Emma is very excited to be a part of our incredible school and its mission.

Anne Schupak Nature Teacher, Class 2, “Coyotes”

Anne has been working in the early childhood field for over 25 years and can’t imagine doing anything else. She has a BA in Psychology from Sonoma State and completed her early childhood units at Orange Coast College. Working at the ENC Nature Preschool is a dream come true for Anne. She grew up in the area and is a Newport Harbor High School graduate. “I have very fond memories of visiting the ENC and taking my children there,” said Anne. “I love being outside and learning about nature and then sharing that knowledge with the children.” Anne’s hobbies include sailing, hiking, gardening, skiing, kayaking and playing pickle ball.

Ingrid Mariano Nature Teacher, Class 2, “Coyotes”

Ingrid is a Southern California native who has worked in theme park operations and management for over 15 years including Disneyland, Boomers, and Knott’s Berry Farm.  Her love of working with children led her to transition to the field of early childhood education and she earned an AS in Child Development from Irvine Valley College.  She has a background in biology, geology, and business management from first attending Cal State Fullerton prior to her theme park career. In her free time, Ingrid enjoys taking her six nieces and nephews on educational adventures, hiking local trails, traveling to National Parks, playing video games with her husband, and solving her way through escape rooms with her super sleuth friends.

Devon Kate O’Connor Nature Teacher, Class 1 “Tortoise”

Devon was born and raised in Ireland where she completed her Bachelor of Science degree before moving to the United States. She has been working with children ages 2-5 for 8 years and has a passion for language development and nurturing independence. When she’s not in the classroom she can be found playing on multiple sports teams, trying out new vegan recipes, or learning something new!

Emily Pavlik Nature Teacher, Class 1 “Tortoises”

Emily has been in the Early Childhood Education field for 4 years. She graduated from Orange Coast College with an associate degree and a certificate in Early Childhood Childhood education. She is currently working on her BA at Cal State Fullerton as an Early Childhood major. While at the Nature Center, Emily enjoys hiking in the redwoods, creating music, and engaging in art and paint activities. In her free time Emily loves reading, traveling, going to spin, and doing yoga.

Dahlia Alony Nature Teacher, Class 1, Tortoises

Dahlia has had a blast working with preschool aged children for the past 8 years and is currently pursuing an AA Degree in Early Childhood Education at Orange Coast College. She began her teaching career while living in South Lake Tahoe, at a school that focused on fostering development by connecting children with nature. She’s elated to be continuing that philosophy here in Orange County and teaching in an environment that encourages children to build a deep awareness and appreciation of nature, our planet and animals. Dahlia volunteered for Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care for 4 years while living in South Lake Tahoe, where she assisted in rehabilitating orphaned and injured wildlife, and releasing them back out into the wild. While she’s not in the classroom or attending classes, Dahlia enjoys painting and writing, as well as exploring out in nature, hiking and camping.

Araceli Martinez Nature Teacher, Class 1, Tortoises

Araceli graduated from California State University, Long Beach with a BA degree in Child Development and Family Studies. She has over 18 years experience educating young children. Araceli enjoys being part of children’s growth and development. Her hobbies include hiking, scrapbooking, traveling and all things Disney.

Dani Vuksich Nature Teacher, Class 1, Tortoises

Dani has an AA in Early Childhood Development and Psychology from Orange Coast College and is pursuing a BA in Psychology form Cal State Long Beach. Dani’s 6 years of experience working with children has allowed her to discover her passion for teaching. She loves witnessing and being a part of the transformations that come with the day to day of preschool teaching. The amazement of observing children and their developing minds and documenting the exceptional social and emotional growth that happens at this age is magnificent. Dani loves being in nature and using it as a guide to help teach children is something that she is truly passionate about. When she’s not at ENC Nature Preschool, you can find Dani swimming in the ocean, hiking, camping, painting, or reading!

Gabriela Alexia Hernandez (Lexi) Nature Teacher, Class 1, Tortoises

Lexi received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Child Development and Family Studies with a minor in American Sign Language and Deaf Cultures from California State University, Long Beach. She interned at the Environmental Nature Center during the Summer of 2020 and was immediately a part of the ENC family. Lexi has worked with a diverse age range of children with unique needs, but her passion is working with preschool aged children. Lexi loves spending time outdoors running, snowboarding, and rock climbing. She also really enjoys cheering on her favorite sports teams.
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