About Our School and Teachers


Young children hold a unique and inspiring level of empathy and love. We want to nurture that precious gift to the fullest degree with the introduction and later practice of holding space with people outside of the family experience. We believe no child is too young for the wonderment of connection with humans and the flora/fauna of the earth and honoring our native surroundings.

With the practice of presence, acceptance and nurturing while a child experiences new levels of human emotion, a safe environment in our school’s early education program is created so children may freely express emotions. Social-Emotional intelligence education and benchmarks are the core component to the school’s peace development curriculum.  We are focused on expanding the child’s love of self, others, earth and learning. Children are encouraged in a nurturing method to actively explore the world at his/her own pace. Klahanie is the Native American meaning, “enjoyment of the outside world” and that is exactly what we encourage for human enrichment; the appreciation, love and respect of the world we are offered in order to further the growth of self and greater world care. Our intention is to instill a love of life and the confidence necessary to explore our ever-changing world.

The Montessori philosophy foundation is “Follow the child”.  Using the interests and needs of the children as a guide, a learning environment is created. The environment is prepared to be developmentally appropriate and interesting while nurturing the creative and problem solving methods. The prepared environment encourages children to move about at will, making choices and building skills toward independence.

Our Peace-Building curriculum is founded on the Compassionate Listening, Antibias and Emotional Intelligence models and practiced daily and throughout the day. Our additional education is offered through movement (dance, yoga, safe climbing exploration), music, language (English, Hawaiian, French and Spanish vocabulary introduction), exploration of the earth (introduction to plants and the care of them) and exposure to compassionate listening/ communicating.  Peace work through Mindfulness and Social Emotional supports introduction practice is focused on daily. 

With a world full of disconnect and extended family many times living far away, we feel committed to offering an environment where children and guardians can experience sincere levels of support.  Teachers at Klahanie School maintain high levels of training in varying social-emotional support oriented fields.  Our work to support youth is incredibly important.  Children are facing larger societal obstacles daily during growth transitions from early informative years to early adulthood.  Family education and support is essential and offered through our Montessori Peace-Empathy programming in ways of parent education nights in Social Emotional benchmarks/ Brain Development, Mindfulness and Compassionate Listening introduction and practice while using our “Follow the Child” foundation to build from.  The intention is to offer consistent and sustainable support and learning for the entire family.  

Over the years Klahanie School’s growth in community showed repeated residual benefits for the health within families and youth being supported in growth transitions.  Children who graduate and participate in Vashon Klahanie School programming find empowerment opportunities in continued community and mentorship outreach opportunities.  The practice of prevention in furture possible sexual harassment, sexual assaults, and sexual abuse, lack of self-esteem later in life is a focual point for Klahanie School team to offer youth healthy skills sets to use when life becomes more complicated and impacting.   A thriving society supports all individuals in achieving their full potential and in being fully valued.  We have witnessed the power of our Klahanie School Montessori Peace-Empathy programming centered on Circle work, one of the central components of our work with our island youth.  These Circles are a safe place for youth varying in ages of Early Education, Elementary, Middle School and high-school to share, to be supported, and to learn incredibly valuable social-emotional skills.  In these Circles connections are built and fostered between varying ages from all social and popularity groups, all ethnic and racial backgrounds, and all socio-economic classes.  Everyone is welcome and accepted.  In addition, the young people and families receive ongoing mentorship and support from trained and skilled Teachers. 

Klahanie School admits students of any race. Klahanie School does not discriminate against applicants or students on the basis of race, color, religion, ethnic origin or financial abilities.

Klahanie School staff completes yearly ongoing education through various trainings in Early Education learnings: Trauma Informed, Mental Health First Aid, Gender Inclusion, Anti-bias in Early Education, ongoing Brain Research based trainings and Montessori Special Needs.

Teachers Austin Merrill, Emmy Graham, Deb Wallace, Toby Liebowitz


Emily (Emmy) Graham: AMS Lead Teacher/Executive Director/ Founder

Emily moved to Vashon Island with her husband Alex (a returning Vashon raised) and sons Finley and Kai in 2008. With the birth and passing of their daughter Nora in 2007, Emily found continued healing through nature, writing and celebration of family. Nora plays an active role in her family’s life and a catalyst for intentional living and practice, as well as an ever-present appreciation for dear Fin, Kai and all children in her care and teaching experiences. Because of these important personal growths, Emily is even more committed to the enrichment of children’s empathy, as well as family and community on-going mentorship connections. Emily is a University of Washington Graduate with an emphasis in Conflict Resolution curriculum development through Comparative History of Ideas and Montessori certified through Montessori Education Institute of Pacific Northwest (MEIPN/AMS certified). Since 2001, she has worked with youth ranging from birth-to-teen and found many happy years working with 3-6 year olds at Montessori Country School (Bainbridge Island, WA.) as Lead Teacher, as well as facilitator/trainer in Teen Talking Circle Project (Bainbridge Island, WA.). Emily has recently co-founded Vashon Sisterhood offering circles in schools, rites of passage, as well as Mentorship programming for Vashon Island School District: CES, McM & VHS.  Emily continues annual ongoing education through varying certifications in professional development specialized focuses through accredited Montessori learning institutions: CGMS Center for Guided Montessori Studies.

Austin Merrill: Class Co-Teacher, Reading Specialist

Outside of Klahanie, I work as a Library Technical Assistant for the King County Library System here on Vashon.  I also volunteer my time in our community with the Journeymen organization in the role of mentor and facilitator.  I participate in their weekly CIRCLE groups for young men in the public school system (5th – 12th Grade) as well as their many programs, retreats and fundraisers. In addition to my time at KCLS, I have spent the last 4 years working at Chautauqua Elementary School in a Reading Support program for students from K-5, and have also assisted teaching english to children in Peru. I have volunteered helping the elderly at the Vashon Community Care Center and in High School I was a counselor at Camp Waskowitz, a youth camp which I also attended in 5th grade. I have been an elevator operator at the Space Needle, made an espresso for David Grohl and have directed a short film for the Seattle International Film Festival. My wife, Jackie and I were both born and raised on Vashon where we live with our 19 year old daughter, Jasper and our 16 year old son, Colby.  They are 7th generation islanders.  Besides spending time with my family; I love animals, kids, watching movies, drawing, listening to music, podcasts, photography, reading, and walking in the forest with our dog. I also practice daily gratitude, meditation and have a great love and respect for nature.  I feel so fortunate to be able to work with and care for your children during this precious time in their lives! 

Deborah Wallace: Montessori Assistant & Animal-Nature Specialist

Deborah (Deb for the kids might be the easiest to say- either is fine with me) is from Arnold, Maryland and moved out to Seattle almost 15yrs ago. She is an avid lover of the outdoors, nature, and animals as well as arts and crafts! She has been on Vashon Island for 2 yrs now. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and 3-D design from Salisbury University located on the eastern shore of Maryland. For the past 4 yrs she’s worked at a large local animal shelter, helping create care and training plans for a multitude of dogs, cats, and small critters, like rabbits and guinea pigs. She’s previously worked with Earth Corp, assisting in forest restoration, and Mountains to Sound Greenway, hiking along the I-90 corridor maintaining trails and repairing trail structures. My other interests include SPACE as well as history. More recently, she has been exploring different forms of movement meditation, such As Tai Chi and Qui Gong. 

Toby Leibowitz: Class Co-Teacher, Arts & Botanist Specialist

I was born and raised in Seattle.  I studied illustration at Parsons School of Design and graduated from the University Washington with a degree in Comparative History of Ideas (CHID). My background is in early childhood development, illustration, farming, intentional communities and the intersections those points of knowledge create. I live with my partner, mom and 2 daughters on a small farm. I love working with kids and creating a supportive and creative environment for them to thrive.

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