Meet Our Guides

Karen Almanza CUEVAS

Head of School and Toddler Program Guide

Ms. Karen is a seasoned educator and Montessorian with over a decade of experience teaching in both public schools and Montessori schools. In addition, she has four years’ experience in Montessori school leadership, most recently as Assistant Head of School of one of the largest authentic Montessori schools in Southern California.  

After earning a bachelor’s degree in child and family development from California State University, Dominguez Hills, Ms. Karen’s interest in Montessori was piqued when she saw how it prepares children for life through independence and curiosity and quickly realized that Montessori was her calling. She earned her Montessori certificate in infant and toddler programs at the Montessori Institute of San Diego.

Ms. Karen is convinced that “children grow through respect, consistency, and understanding their environment,” adding that she “loves helping reveal to children their capabilities through hands-on experience and guidance.”

A native of Southern California, Ms. Karen grew up in Palos Verdes along the same vast ocean that surrounds Lāna’i. Since moving here with her fiancé, Ricky, she has come to love her new home, awestruck by the natural beauty that abounds on Lāna’i as well as the kindness of its people. 

Jackie Johnson

Assistant Toddler Guide

Ms. Jackie is an experienced infant and toddler Montessori assistant guide, highly skilled in addressing the growth and development needs of very young children. She joins us from an authentic Montessori preschool in Southern California where she was part of the founding team of educators.

Ms. Jackie graduated cum laude from Howard University in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. While also minoring in human development, she became intrigued by the Montessori approach which prompted her to direct her career to Montessori education.

Consistent with her belief that life is about learning, Ms. Jackie finds joy in observing children learn and grow. She considers Montessori the ideal method to nurture the whole child by encouraging curiosity and fostering independence. Helping children become confident, well-rounded global citizens is among Ms. Jackie’s most ardent passions.

A native of Southern California, Ms. Jackie is a sports fan, foodie, and lifelong learner. In her leisure, she enjoys spending time with family and cooking. Avid travelers, she and her husband, Chadwick, are thrilled to experience adventures on Lāna’i, having fallen in love with the beauty of the island and its strong sense of community.

“The teacher has two tasks – to lead the children to concentration and to help them in their development afterwards.”

Susan Book

Primary Program Guide

Hailing from a family of educators, Ms. Susan is an accomplished Montessorian with almost 20 years’ experience as a Montessori guide, teaching at both the primary (ages 3 – 6) and elementary levels (grades 1 – 5). She also founded a Montessori school where she served as Montessori guide and led as Head of School.

While in college, Ms. Susan discovered Montessori and marveled how it fits children’s natural developmental learning style so well. This prompted her to broaden her studies and pursue an interdisciplinary degree in Montessori education, art therapy and psychology from Marylhurst University in Oregon in addition to a Montessori Primary certificate from Montessori Institute Northwest.  

Ms. Susan also holds certificates in ashtanga yoga and maya yoga and integrates yoga and mindfulness into her classrooms. A devotee of life-long learning, Ms. Susan is currently working on graduate level work in educational psychology, dyslexia, and language-based learning disabilities.

Ms. Susan called the Northern Mariana Islands home for 16 years before moving to Lāna’i with her family, including two children. In her free time, Ms. Susan likes to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of Lāna’i while taking part in some of her favorite activities including hiking, camping, and paddleboarding.


Assistant Primary Guide

A passionate educator with a big heart for kids, Ms. Carmen has worked with children from birth through high school.

Ms. Carmen holds a bachelor’s degree in child development with minors in family studies and American Indian education from Humboldt State University. While in college, she worked in a preschool and explored educational approaches including Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf. Later, she launched her career with the Boys & Girls Club where she designed and implemented programs before advancing to program manager.

While working with older children was rewarding, Ms. Carmen chose to redirect her career to serve younger children. “I’ve seen first-hand the benefits children gain by developing a strong foundation in their first six years. These are the years I want to impact.”

Humboldt inspired more than Ms. Carmen’s passion for children. With its sparse population, cultural diversity, and breathtaking landscapes, Humboldt sparked Ms. Carmen’s appreciation for small towns and wide-open spaces. She feels as though this experience prepared her to adopt Lāna’i as her home and appreciates everything that makes Lāna’i unique.

Always up for new adventures, Ms. Carmen loves photography, hiking, and being near the ocean. She often combines these interests by photographing the outdoors and showcasing her work through scrapbooking.

The Apprenticeship Program at Hala Kahiki

Hala Kahiki seeks to strengthen and enhance early childhood education on Lāna’i by providing families with a high-quality preschool that ranks among the world’s best. But this goal can only be achieved with a team of caring educators who are highly trained and experienced.

Designed for residents of Lāna’i who wish to pursue careers in early childhood education at Hala Kahiki, our apprenticeship program trains the next generation of preschool educators, assistants, and Montessori guides. Through a combination of college-level coursework and on-the-job observation and practice, program participants develop the skills and experience necessary to fulfill Hala Kahiki’s mission while developing local talent and providing meaningful employment.

Apprenticeship Program Participants

Alyssa Locquiao

Ms. Alyssa enjoys working with children and is eager to make a difference in young lives as well as influence future generations so they get off to a good start and develop independence and a life-long love of learning.

Born and raised on Lāna’i, Ms. Alyssa enjoys exploring the islands from the mountains to the ocean and everything in between – experiences she shares with her fiancé, Pali, and their three children.

Rachel Sheets

Ms. Rachel has dedicated her entire career to supporting the social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health of children within educational settings. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Valparaiso University and a master’s degree from University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Ms. Rachel has called Lāna’i home since 2021 when her spouse, Ben, became pastor of Lāna’i Union Church. Along with their two children, the family has grown to love life on Lāna’i and all it has to offer.

Professionally Run.

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Hala Kahiki is powered by Xplor Education which partners with America’s most innovative companies to provide distinctive Montessori early childhood education that leads to more capable individuals, happier families, healthier organizations, and stronger communities.

xplor education logo

Professionally Run.

Hala Kahiki is powered by Xplor Education which partners with America’s most innovative companies to provide distinctive Montessori early childhood education that leads to more capable individuals, happier families, healthier organizations, and stronger communities.

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254 Houston Street

Lāna‘i, Hawaii

Licensing & Accreditation

Hala Kahiki is licensed by the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services. The third year of its Primary program (kindergarten) is also licensed by the Hawaii Council of Private Schools (HCPS). Additionally, the school is approved by the State of Hawaii Department of Health to provide limited food service.

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