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The Earth Tortoise School

A Montessori Community for Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, and their Families

The Earth Tortoise School Vision

Community is very important to us. We hope we have created a place for families that feels like an extension of their home, a network of support that begins during pregnancy and extends out until your child is ready to move into the larger world. We serve children from 3 months to 6 years of age. Infants and toddlers thrive on free exploration while developing a sense of self. Infants are just learning about their own bodies and developing the abilities they will need for all later learning. Toddlers are coming into their own. They are learning their place in the world, developing and refining their skills, and asserting their independence. Preschool aged children are looking outside of their immediate community to understand their larger world, refine the skills they developed in the previous years, and challenge themselves as they move from the concrete to the abstract. The classroom is the children's space - child-sized, beautiful, and completely accessible to their need for doing things on their own. It is a peaceful place that gives them the chance to choose what they want to work on within a routine that is predictable and limits that help them feel secure. Learning develops the whole child - physically, cognitively, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. There are no "right" answers but only more exciting questions. And we love to share their enthusiasm with them in an attitude of acceptance, patience, and love.

Our goals are:

* to provide child care from 3 months through 6 years of age with classrooms dedicated to the needs of each stage of development

* to support the whole child through a school experience that values art, music, nature and gardening, cooking, culture, personal contributions, a love of learning, and each child as a unique individual

* to support each child based on their individual needs, abilities, and goals regardless of race, gender, economic background, developmental level or learning differences.

* to support the family beginning at pregnancy - with resources for doulas, pre-natal massage and yoga, and help with preparing your home for a new baby,- and throughout early childhood - with parent groups, parent education, home-visits, family resources, and a community network

* to create a community meeting place with parent-child activities - children's yoga, music classes, a community garden are just some ideas

* to develop and maintain a staff that is vested in the early childhood education field - sees this time of life as the highly important in one’s development and in the development of a positive society, has a desire to strengthen self-esteem and help to provide a program that shelters independence and builds strong social structures – and is committed to furthering their education and making this field their life’s work.

* to support the staff, valuing them for their education, experience, and contribution, with health benefits, paid time off, continuing education assistance and by developing the school vision with their needs, ideas, and goals. 

The Loowit Teachers

Erin Tooze

Lead Infant Guide

After working for 10 years in early childhood education, from your typical childcare setting to substituting in special needs classrooms, I found Montessori! - realizing how it empowered the youngest of children. I quickly adopted a love for the Method and felt it was so much like the home I grew up in. My mother understood the importance of making me a part of our community and letting me grow in my own personal interests. I worked in a Montessori School as a lead guide for 4 ½ years, before finding the desire to open my own school in my neighborhood and community. The Earth Tortoise School spent a year in my home, before expanding its doors to a community of 16. And here we are today in a new space, being able to welcome even more!

Chandler Torsch

Assistant Infant Guuide

Hello! My name is Chandler and I’m new to the PNW from Utah! I’m having a great time exploring the mountains, beaches, and trying all the delicious local food! I started working in a Montessori setting in 2019 and quickly fell in love while I watched how the children at all ages lead with curiosity and empathy. I’m looking forward to continuing my child development and psychology education at Clark College this fall as well as from the guides and children here at the Earth Tortoise School. I strive to be a life learner and a great friend to everyone I meet!

Marisol Paredes-Torres

Assistant Infant Guide

I have been working with children for over 7 years now and I've enjoyed every second of it! I am fluent in Spanish and enjoy speaking/singing to the children I care for in Spanish. My passion for working with infants and toddlers began when my youngest sister was born and I was able to care for her while my parents worked full time. After realizing I really enjoyed caring for and watching my sister grow, I pursued a career in Early Childhood Education. I graduated from Mount Hood Community College in 2017 with an Associates' Degree in Child Development and Early Education. Throughout my career, I've worked in childcare settings with various philosophies. But the one that I truly believe and apply when working with infants and toddlers is the RIE Approach. RIE and Montessori go hand in hand and I am excited to learn more about Montessori while working at the Earth Tortoise School!

The Wyeast Teachers

Jessica Calabrese

Lead Toddler Guide

I moved to Oregon in 2005 and quickly grew to love the Pacific Northwest. I approach each day as a new beginning loaded with possibilities. Every person and every child is unique and I embrace this variety. At fourteen, I enrolled in a Child Development class in high school and it wasn’t long until I realized working with children was my true calling. Since then, I have had the opportunity to work in several childcare settings, each one bringing something different to my growth as a teacher. I have been working at The Earth Tortoise School for 5 years now and itis the perfect fit for me. I am currently enrolled in the Heart and Hand Montessori Teacher Education Program to obtain my Montessori credential and I look forward to years of building relationships with our young toddlers .

Miranda Helm

Lead Toddler Guide

My decision to build a career around early education started back in high school when I began volunteering at David Douglas’s preschool on a whim. I thrive off the joyful energy of childhood and the intrinsic validation I get from working within a helping profession. Just a week after I graduated in 2013, I was hired as an aid in Earth Tortoise’s toddler room and settled into the Montessori pedagogy. In the following years, I juggled working at Earth Tortoise with volunteer trips abroad, completing the Heart and Hand Montessori Teacher Education Program, and finishing a bachelor’s degree in Child, Youth, and Family Studies at PSU. I’ve always had a love for learning and trying out new things. Now I’ve moved up into a co-lead position in the

toddler room and am working hard to blend my experience with my

education to set these kiddos up for happy, productive futures. 

Abigail Banegas

Assisant Todler Gude

I began studying  Kinesiology at Point Loma Nazarene University but as my courses began I had the opportunity to shadow the infant and toddler environments on campus where I quickly realized that I was more interested in learning about the children themselves verses just their ability to move. I made a huge decision to change my major to Child Development. As I began diving into this world I learned how important it is to be a role model in a child’s life and I’ve never been more motivated to leave a positive impact in the lives of children. I am overly excited to have joined such a caring team that I know will help prepare me to be an even better teacher and that will help strengthen my skills in and out of the the classroom when working with young souls.​

Emma Romeike

Assistant Toddler Guide

I have always liked the idea of working in a school but I did not want to work in a traditional public-school setting. I discovered Early Childhood Education when attended Mount Hood Community College. I received my Associates of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education and Development. After graduation, I began working as an Assistant Montessori Teacher and decided to continue working with toddlers in a Montessori school setting while working towards my bachelor’s degree at PSU, majoring in Social Sciences and minoring in Child, Youth and Family Studies. In my free time I like to read and I coach a cheer team in Corbett

The Klickitat Teachers

Beth Pratt-Russum

Lead Primary Guide

I fell in love with Oregon in 2006 while attending a small program nestled in the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument. In 2010 I discovered Montessori and fell in love the instant I stepped into a classroom. It really resonated with the experience I had during that semester in Oregon. I knew immediately this was the kind of educational experience I wanted to share with children! I connected with a Montessori school in Southeast Portland where I became a classroom assistant alongside an amazing teacher who became my mentor for 7 years! During the pandemic I switched my focus to homeschooling my own two children. But I knew I wanted to get back into the classroom and pursue my Montessori Primary training. My own daughter attended Earth Tortoise from infancy through toddlerhood, and I am overjoyed to get to be a part of this lovely community.

Assistant Primary Guide

I was born and raised in Oregon, and I love it here! Currently, I am attending college and will be graduating with a bachelor's degree in education and a minor in psychology here in the next year. I have always loved working with children; I volunteered at schools every chance I got in high school. However, it wasn't until I stepped foot into a Montessori classroom a few years ago that I realized I wanted to teach. I am so excited to be here and to continue growing. 

Michelle Johnson

Assistant Primary Guide

I was born and raised in Oregon, and no matter how many places I travel to I still love living in the Pacific Northwest. I attended Oregon State University for my Bachelors degree in Human Development and Family Sciences. During this time, I started working at the local Montessori school and knew right away this was the environment I wanted to teach in. The accomplishments and independence of the children caught my attention. I eventually moved to Portland to complete my Primary Teacher Training from Montessori Northwest, as well as my Masters in Education from Loyola University, Maryland. I have worked in various positions in Montessori schools for the last 8 years and look forward to being a part of the Earth Tortoise community. In my free time I enjoy being outside, seeing live music, and dabbling in various crafts.

Our Support Staff

Maya Rutkowski-Bowen


When I was nine years old my two sisters were born and I, of course, became their "little mama". Watching them play, interact, and grow definitely contributed to my interest in human behavior. I received my B.A. in Psychology and Child Development in 2000. I discovered Montessori as I was looking for my first professional experiences with children. I fell in love immediately. Here was an approach that values these first years of life and sees children as capable and intelligent. I received my Montessori Infant/Toddler accreditation in 2002. After 20 years I continue to love my relationships with the kids, the families, and the staff. These supportive relationships feed our soul and help us reach our fullest potential. I hope the Earth Tortoise School provides that sense of belonging to everyone here. 

Our Commitment to Inclusion

The Earth Tortoise School is committed to creating an inclusive environment for all children and families. Through our work with the Multnomah Early Childhood Program (MESD) for almost 15 years (as well as with many private specialists) we have been learning, and continue to learn, how to best elevate our classrooms to “Follow the Child”, each and every child – a tenet of the Montessori approach to education. In this work, we have learned how meaningful inclusion is for our whole community -supporting the development of mutual respect, the recognition of everyone’s strengths and challenges, and the importance of supporting one another in our growth. We are striving to both support children with their individuals needs AND to normalize the use of tools to center one’s self as a way to end the stigma around neuro-differences, developmental differences, mobility differences, etc.

To this end, in addition to providing individual supports as may be specified in a child’s Individualized Family Services Plan, we have seen how making universal accommodations available to the whole class supports ALL the children with self-regulation and focus. Lots of different tools are available in our classrooms - to all the children all the time. These include visual schedules, sound-canceling headphones, timers, wiggly seat cushions, sensory chews, additional railings, various types of seating, etc. Children can choose these at will.

These early years are a time when it is developmentally appropriate to explore various tools and strategies that help kids get through their day in a calm and regulated manner so their brains are available for cognitive and social tasks. When a new tool is introduced into a classroom, many kids want to try it. That is perfectly fine. It is the children who truly need/benefit from that tool who will continue to use it once the novelty has worn off. It is important to understand that just because a tool, such as headphones, work well for a child, it does not mean there is a diagnosis that needs to be made. As kids mature, they will find more socially appropriate ways to get their needs met.

"... the teacher's task is first to nourish and assist, to watch, encourage, guide, induce rather than to interfere, prescribe, or restrict." - Maria Montessori