Our Faculty

Teaching Faculty

Molly Simmons

Pre-Kindergarten Teacher (she/her)

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Excited to use her passion for a nature-focused and play-based learning experience, Molly is eager to begin another year at Bennett Day. Originally from the Finger Lakes of NY, Molly found her love for Reggio-inspired education while attending Syracuse University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Following graduation, Molly helped pilot one of the nation’s first voter-funded preschool programs in San Antonio, Texas, deepening her love for quality, responsive education. As Molly enters her fifth year at Bennett Day, she will also be pursuing her graduate degree from Erikson Institute in Early Childhood Education with a focus in Leadership and Advocacy. She can be found outside of school in West Town training for the marathon or tracking down the city’s best restaurants.

Meghan Bonfield

Pre-Kindergarten Assistant Teacher

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Meghan received her B.A from Michigan State University in Kinesiology. After undergrad, she began working with students with autism spectrum disorder and developed a passion for teaching. She is actively pursuing her master’s degree in special education from Northern Illinois University (grades PreK-12). She has been working with early childhood learners for three years now. Meghan loves working with children and watching them grow and learn. She also teaches cycling in Wicker Park during her spare time and is very dedicated to health and fitness. Meghan values teaching her students through learning opportunities of interest to them through exploration and play. She is looking forward to this upcoming school year at Bennett Day School where she can learn and grow as an educator along with her faculty and students!

Kasey Dahlberg

Pre-Kindergarten Teacher

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Kasey has 10+ years of experience working with children. She first became interested in providing therapy for children with Autism and worked as a therapist for a year. After graduating from college, Kasey joined a preschool team and fell in love with early childhood education. She has been a preschool teacher for over 7 years now and it has become a great passion of hers to continue working with kids throughout her career. Kasey graduated from Illinois State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, where she researched teacher satisfaction in special education classrooms. She has always been interested in working with children and knew she was meant to teach in a classroom setting. She loves to be silly, creative, loving, and patient with all of her students!

Tim Tsurutani

Pre-Kindergarten Assistant Teacher (he/him)

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Tim or “Mr. T,” found Bennett Day whilst working as a substitute teacher and fell in love right away. He has been a camp counselor at Bennett as well as a member of the AfterCare team. In 2020, Tim helped support the JK Nearpass/Okuda Green Cohort and learned a lot. He is so excited to apply what he learned in PreK this fall! Tim majored in Germanic Studies at the University of Illinois in Chicago in between taking time off as a traveling musician. He lived in Asheville, NC for 5 years and returned to his hometown of Chicago in 2017.

Marissa McDonald

Junior Kindergarten Teacher (she/her)

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From an early age, Marissa always knew she wanted to work with children. As she entered college at North Park University, she decided to major in Early Childhood Education. After graduation, Marissa began working at an Early Childhood Center in a two-year-old room, which is where her passion for Reggio-inspired education began. After working with that age group for a year, she moved to a Kindergarten Prep classroom and carried her knowledge of education over to 4 and 5-year-olds. Since joining the Bennett team in 2018, Marissa has learned so much throughout each passing day. With a passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion work, Marissa has grown in her career as she advocates to continue this work both in her personal and professional life. She loves being a part of the Early Childhood team and appreciates the opportunity to work with faculty that has the same passion for education as she does!

John Bannon

Junior Kindergarten Assistant Teacher (he/him)

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John graduated from Beloit College in 2017 with a degree in Psychology. Soon after, he started at Bennett in a JK classroom and has since taught in a PreK and SK class. He is very excited to return to JK and to get back to school! In his spare time, John coaches high school lacrosse at Northside College Prep and some sports at Bennett as well. John plans to get his degree in School Psychology sometime in the near future.

Nate Nearpass

Junior Kindergarten Teacher (he/him)

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Nate is a Chicago area native who grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago. After completing undergrad at The Moody Bible Institute, he spent 5 years working in Los Angeles in the non-profit sector as a coordinator for a summer day camp and an after-school program. In 2015, Nate moved with his wife back to Chicago and decided to shift his focus to teaching. He worked for a few years as an assistant teacher at The Latin School of Chicago. While at Latin, Nate also worked as a volunteer coordinator for the summer day camp. In 2018, Nate received a Masters of Arts in Teaching from National Louis University. Nate has been teaching at Bennett in the early childhood program for a couple of years now. He has a passion for helping students develop their social-emotional skills and bringing equity and inclusion to the classroom. He loves to promote curiosity, creativity, and inquiry to a classroom of young learners. When he is not teaching, Nate enjoys hiking, birding, and exploring the city with his wife and daughter.

Jordan Zelvin

Junior Kindergarten Assistant Teacher (she/her)

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With a fervor for play-based learning and an educational philosophy that no child is unteachable or unreachable, Jordan is excited to join the Bennett Day school community. Jordan’s love for teaching and learning spans way back to her own elementary education days when she decided that everyone deserved an appropriately challenging curriculum and helped her teachers differentiate the assignments within her classes. Jordan is a recent graduate from Denison University with a B.A. in Educational Studies and Theatre. When not teaching at Bennett Day, you can find her teaching dance classes and directing children’s theatre around the Chicagoland area.

Nathan Gygar

Senior Kindergarten Teacher (he/him)

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Growing up on Meanjin country, under the governing present-day colony known as Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Nathan’s own education has always had a strong connection to environment and community. After graduating from Griffith University with a Bachelor of Leisure Management in 2003, Nathan spent years involved in community development organizations, event coordination, and service-related industries, while pursuing a personal passion for creative arts. During this time, Nathan worked alongside diverse groups of people, sharing and learning from a variety of interests, backgrounds, and cultures. It was when he moved to Thailand in 2011 that he discovered the rewards of teaching. Based in Bangkok, Nathan first trained to support ESL students and quickly understood the importance of incorporating play into learning and building rapport through shared experiences. Transitioning and drawn to instructing within early childhood classrooms, he spent several years as a kindergarten teacher with Singapore International School of Bangkok, completing a Graduate Diploma in Teaching & Learning in the Early Years through the Association for Early Childhood Educators Singapore (AECES). Since Immigrating to Chicago in 2016 to start a family of his own upon Potawatomi land, Nathan has remained engaged with educators and practices responsive to children’s developing sense of identity and informing an evolving understanding of a world filled with experiences outside of their own.

Nathan looks forward to another year of SK learning at Bennett Day School driven by the creativity, curiosity, passions & talents within his team. Built upon strong, smart community partnerships and connections, Nathan aims to help empower his young scholars to pursue inquiry through physical exploration, making the process, co-construction, and languages of our learning a visible foundation for future collaboration.

Alex Brockman

Senior Kindergarten Assistant Teacher (she/her)

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Growing up in the Chicago suburbs Alex had the opportunity to attend a Progressive elementary school that instilled in her a lifelong love of learning and curiosity in the world around us. This curiosity led Alex to the mountains of Washington state where she graduated from Whitman College in 2020 with a degree in English and Creative Writing. Through experiences interning in local elementary schools and later working at an education NonProfit, Alex found her love for working collaboratively alongside students and creating supportive classroom environments. In her free time Alex can be found cooking meals with friends, reading a good book by the lake, or exploring a new art medium. Alex is excited to join the Bennett community and get to know and learn alongside the kindergarten class!

Caitlyn Milazzo

Senior Kindergarten Teacher (she/her)

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Caitlyn received her B.A. in Elementary and Special Education from Seton Hall University and was a member on the SHU Women’s Soccer Team. After graduating in 2012, she began working as a Substitute Teacher and fell in love with Early Childhood Education through her time spent in Kindergarten classrooms. In 2014, Caitlyn received an opportunity to be a Preschool Lead Teacher in Boston, MA in a diverse classroom setting working with English Language Learners before making her way out to CA in 2016. During this time, Caitlyn continued her career in ECE as a Preschool Teacher/Co-Lead working with 2.5 to 5-year-olds. It was here where she developed a deeper connection to Reggio Emilia practices teaching a Studio/Outdoor Lab program designed by her director.

In 2020, Caitlyn received her Masters in Early Childhood Inclusive Education & Curriculum and Instruction with a focus in Constructivism. Caitlyn values the opportunity for children to explore a wealth of diverse materials as they give life to what they think and feel through expressive art. She enjoys fostering children’s natural sense of inquiry, wonder, and joy in learning through experimentation, social interaction, and play! She looks forward to her third year at BDS where she can continue to learn and grow with children, families, educators, and faculty.

Rachel Trisch

First Grade Teacher (she/her)

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Rachel is a graduate of Grand Valley State University, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and English. While completing her degree, Rachel gained invaluable experience in a variety of classrooms, with ages ranging from Kindergarten to 5th grade in both urban and suburban environments. Additionally, she spent time in The Netherlands working in a 1st Grade classroom at United World College. This experience helped shape her passion for project- and play-based learning in an environment that celebrates diversity and child-directed teaching styles. She is excited to continue bringing her passion for the Reggio Emilia approach to 1st Graders at Bennett Day!

Sarah Acklen

First Grade Assistant Teacher (they/them)

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Sarah is originally from Austin, Texas, and moved to Chicago to attend DePaul University. They graduated from DePaul with a degree in International Studies and a minor in French. Sarah has worked with youth for 6 years now in various positions: swim coach, tutor, summer camp counselor. They enjoy singing, dancing, and being silly with the kids. Sarah joined the Bennett Day team in 2020 and has since then been inspired by the staff and students to continue their path into education. Bennett’s focus on emotional and social learning has deeply resonated with Sarah and they are excited to take part in that learning process. In their free time, Sarah enjoys bike rides and reading books at Humboldt Park.

Kari Camacho

First Grade Teacher (she/her)

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Kari’s 11 years of lead teaching experience in various early childhood settings have solidified her passion for early childhood education. These experiences with children ranging from ages 2 to 7 formed her expansive perspective on the development of children, motivating her to build strong relationships with her students and nurture their social and emotional growth. Before moving to Illinois from central Wisconsin, Kari worked in a Reggio Emilia-inspired school which altered her career path from traditional education to progressive. Kari is thrilled to return to Bennett this year where she enjoys embedding crucial academic content throughout projects inspired by children’s interests to create meaningful learning experiences which instill a lifelong love of learning. Kari received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin Platteville in Elementary Education with an Early Childhood minor.

Susan Wingerter

First Grade Assistant Teacher (she/her)

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Susan is very excited to be entering her third school year at Bennett Day! She began her journey into Reggio Emilia-inspired education with Bennett’s Early Childhood program, and continued on while helping to teach in the Intermediate School with the 3rd Grade. Her previous fifteen years of experience in creative instruction includes numerous summer and arts camps for local independent schools and as a member of many children’s theatre companies in and around the Chicagoland area. Originally from Atlanta, GA, she relocated to Chicago to attend Roosevelt University for a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre. She also holds a Conservatory Certificate from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City.

Shay Phee

Second Grade Teacher (she/her)

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Prior to joining the Bennett Day team, Shay taught First Grade for six years, assisted in executing summer programs, tutored children of various ages, and ran the Fundamentals of Soccer after-school program. Shay has been a part of the Bennett Day community for the past six years and has taught in grades First through Third, in addition to serving as a Cohort Lead to support her fellow teachers. Shay’s love and passion for social-emotional learning has always been in the forefront of everything she does both in and outside of the classroom. Working in a progressive and collaborative school environment has allowed her to develop strong relationships with her students to instill confident lifelong learners.

Shay is entering her thirteenth year of teaching and is excited to teach second grade again as this is her favorite age. Shay is also looking forward to having her daughter join the Bennett Day community in PK. Shay’s biggest accomplishment within the classroom was being recognized with the 2012 Symetra Hero in the Classroom Award for Outstanding Leadership and Instructional Skills, presented in association with the Chicago Bears. Shay graduated from National-Louis University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and a Minor in Psychology.

Derry MacDermott

Second Grade Assistant Teacher (he/him)

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Derry first joined Bennett Day five years ago. He first found his passion for education while directing children’s theater companies in Maryland. After earning a degree in Elementary Education and Theater from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, he moved from the east coast to Chicago and began working at Bennett Day School. He has been lucky enough to work with a variety of ages and grades at Bennett Day, exploring the Reggio Emilia model and incorporating fine arts when possible. When not teaching, Derry often can be found directing youth theater around Chicago or (more often) playing with his dog, Bean.

Allison Marsh

Second Grade Teacher (she/her)

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Allison (Ally) is entering her sixth year of teaching at Bennett Day. Upon graduating from Indiana University where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with a Reading License addition, she returned home to Ann Arbor, Michigan to begin her teaching career. After some time spent there, she decided to move to Chicago to expand her horizons and continue on a path in the elementary education field.

She feels very lucky to have found Bennett Day along with a coaching position as the Whitney Young HS Girls Lacrosse head coach. Both opportunities allow her to share her passions with students and have provided her with a strong, loving community in a big city. Each school year is an adventure and she looks forward to a new year of learning and growing with her students.

This year, Allison has welcomed a son, Casey, into her and her husband’s lives and they feel extremely fortunate to have this exciting new adventure to be a part of.

Amanda Konkol

Second Grade Assistant Teacher (she/her)

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Informed by her background in museum education, Amanda embraces a multidisciplinary approach aligned with Bennett’s Reggio Emilia-inspired curriculum. For three years, Amanda facilitated various learning programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Collaborating with educators, artists, and students she advocated for k-12 museum programming which reflects our ever-evolving, contemporary world. Amanda then went on to coordinate the docent program at the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. She mentored adults and adolescents as they shared Chicago’s rich architectural history.

Eager to continue her work at Bennett, Amanda strives to foster an enthusiastic and compassionate environment as an Assistant Teacher. Amanda finds great joy in encouraging creative problem solving, curiosity, and collaboration among students. She is thrilled to join the 2nd Grade team for the 2021-22 school year! Amanda holds a Bachelors of Fine Art in Art History & Studio Art from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She currently serves on the Associate Board for Teacher Supporting Teachers; a non-profit which provides mentorship and professional development to Chicago educators.

Heather Shawaluk

Third Grade Teacher (she/her)

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Heather graduated with a Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education from Columbia College Chicago. Her time at Columbia was spent studying the Reggio Emilia approach to education, and in 2015 Heather was lucky enough to participate in a study tour of schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. This experience helped kick start her love for progressive, whole child-focused education. She has taught Kindergarten through Third Grade and loves getting to know each of her students individually. Heather believes children are capable of being leaders in their education. She is excited to continue bringing her passion for creating independent thinkers to the Third Graders at Bennett Day School. When not in the classroom you’ll likely find Heather walking along the river with her dog, Kona.

Kim Schofield

Third Grade Teacher (she/her)

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Kim graduated from National Louis University in 2020 with a Master of Arts in Teaching Elementary Education. She also holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance as well as a minor in Spanish from the University of Illinois. In 2009, Kim began her career in education by teaching English to students of all ages in New York City. She continued teaching English for three years in Madrid, Spain. Upon returning to the United States, Kim spent three years working at The Mirman School for gifted children in Los Angeles before returning home to Chicago. Kim is excited to begin her fourth year at Bennett Day School. She takes great pride and joy in the invigorating work she gets to participate in with students and faculty and is looking forward to another wonderful year.

Sam McKinney

Third Grade Assistant Teacher (he/him)

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Sam could not be more thrilled about returning to Bennett Day for another school year! Last year, he served as an auxiliary staff member for the fourth grade and the creativity and drive of both the students and the faculty were a huge inspiration for him to turn toward teaching. He received undergraduate degrees in Creative Writing and Psychology from Drake University in Des Moines. While there, he worked on the editorial staff of multiple community publications. He returned to Chicago to continue his education, receiving an MA in Writing & Publishing from DePaul University. During this time is when Sam first began to consider teaching as a larger part of his career path. While at DePaul, Sam served as the editor-in-chief of the university’s literary magazine while also working at their writing center, tutoring college students in countless topics and forms of writing and leading several writing camps for visiting local high school students. He is eager to bring this knowledge to Bennett Day and looks forward to another fantastic school year.

Ayesha Sumbal

Fourth Grade Teacher (she/her)

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Ayesha is thrilled to be entering her fifth year at Bennett Day as a lead teacher. Ayesha is an alumnus of Michigan State University, as well as Northern Arizona University. She has been teaching for 14 years in various teaching contexts, as well as locales. She began her teaching career in Phoenix, Arizona where she spent five years teaching primarily 2nd and 5th grades, in addition to some instructional coaching on best teaching practices. Her next teaching position took her to Shanghai, China where she spent two years focused on learning the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme at an International School. This is where Ayesha’s love for a project-based, student-centered approach was realized. With a desire to repatriate back to the United States, Ayesha decided to return to the Midwest. She spent 3 years working within the Chicago Public School system where she further tinkered with how to make her instruction more student-centered and project-based. Ayesha is incredibly passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion work and will be serving as the Diversity Advocacy Team’s Internal Systems Chair. Ayesha’s favorite thing about teaching the Intermediate grades is the amazing discussions and conversations that students engage in as they build a greater sense of who they are in the greater context of the world.

Sarah Smith

Fourth Grade Teacher (she/her)

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Sarah is excited to be joining Bennett Day this year as a 4th-grade lead teacher. She is a Chicago native, happy to be home after many years of living away. Sarah attended Hobart and William Smith Colleges in NY, receiving a BA in Studio Arts and Arts in Education, and has been teaching for 14 years. She began with teaching 1st grade in New Canaan, CT, followed by some time teaching in an early childhood setting. After that, she settled into teaching 3rd grade for 5+ years in Denver, CO. During this time she worked to pilot and implement new math and language arts curriculums into her school, while mentoring and supporting her colleagues through these changes. From there, she moved to El Cerrito, CA where she taught 1st, 3rd, and 4th grade. Sarah is a passionate educator who is dedicated to the lifelong learning journey of being a teacher in progressive educational communities.

Over the past few years, she has attended numerous professional development workshops focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion work, as well as training with Mindful Schools. She feels connected with Bennett Day’s commitment to project-based learning, and cannot wait to support her students’ creativity and unique interests. Sarah is a mother of two wonderful kids and a rambunctious pup, and when not at school can be found outside adventuring with her family or getting messy with her latest creative endeavors. She is incredibly grateful to be joining the Bennett Day School community and looks forward to being in the classroom with her new students! 

Marybeth Moore

Middle School Teacher (she/her)

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Marybeth joins Bennett with 10+ years of teaching experience. For the past six years, she taught English at Josephinum Academy of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls International Baccalaureate (IB) institution. In her last year at Josephinum Academy, she also took on the administrative leadership role of Health & Wellness Coordinator to establish school-wide social-emotional learning programming. She also works as a children’s yoga instructor and teacher trainer with the gender equity organization Mission Propelle, and she loves bringing movement and mindfulness into the classroom. Marybeth was drawn to Bennett Day School’s innovative and holistic approach to education and is eager to craft personal and purposeful project-based learning experiences for her students. She received her Master of Arts in Teaching, Secondary Education from National Louis University, a Master of Arts in Humanities from University of Chicago, and a Bachelor of Arts in English & Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Bradley University. In her free time, Marybeth loves to dance, do yoga, and walk her dog, Bob Barker. 

Kelsey Karlson

Middle School Teacher (she/her)

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Kelsey is thrilled to be joining the Bennett middle school team! Kelsey brings 5+ years of teaching experience, as well as a passion for math instruction. She earned her BA in political science and Spanish from DePauw University. Her journey in education began as a Teach for America corps member in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There she taught math to students in grades six through eight while obtaining her master’s degree in Educational Policy and Leadership from Marquette University. After her time in Milwaukee, Kelsey made the move to Chicago where she continued to teach math to middle school students, as well as coach other teachers on utilizing data-analysis and differentiation practices in their classrooms. Outside of math, Kelsey also has a love for all things music, and has coached students in both dance and vocal training. Kelsey is dedicated to helping students feel confident in their math skills, curious about learning, and excited about their success. 

Lauren Vander Pluym

Middle School Teacher (she/her)

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Lauren has been teaching in both Illinois and Colorado progressive schools since 2007. She received her BA in Secondary Education, Social Sciences from Millikin University and her MA in Anthropology from The University of Chicago. Prior to her time at Bennett, Lauren served as Technology Coordinator at The Logan School for Creative Learning in Denver, CO—a project-based, PK-8 school. She began her career teaching grades 9-12 history and coaching Model United Nations at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School. She then taught grades 6-8 humanities and served as a Team Leader and Technology Leader at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School. Outside of school life, Lauren is passionate about acting, photography, music, and writing.

Grace Krueger

Middle School Teacher

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Grace is excited to join the Bennett Middle School Team and follow her passions for project-based and service-learning as well as mentoring young minds to become citizens of the world. Originally from Minnesota, she completed her Bachelors in Education at North Park University in Chicago then spent four years teaching middle school abroad at an International Baccalaureate school in Sweden. This international experience is what sparked her love and passion for progressive education that prepares students for the real world. During this time she also held many leadership roles including Head of the English Department, Service-Learning Coordinator, and Exchange Trip Coordinator (facilitating yearly trips to Spain, France, Uganda, and more). She is looking forward to getting involved with various programs at Bennett and building meaningful relationships with the students, families, and her colleagues. 

Emily Fields

Upper School Teacher (she/her)

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Emily Fields, a native Evanstonian, is a graduate of New York University with a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and a master’s in Mathematics Education. Prior to joining Bennett’s Upper School, Emily was the STEAM Creative Director at The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria – an all-girls public school in New York City where she taught math and computer science for 9 years. She is a proud National Center for Women & Information Technology Educator Award Winner, and former Processing Foundation Fellow and Math for America Master Teacher. As an educator, Emily is dedicated to finding creative opportunities for students to learn and explore their passions and believes deeply in the power of self-directed learning. As a lifelong learner, she loves integrating her own passions – travel, dance, and food – into her classroom. Emily is thrilled to once again be connecting to her Chicago roots and joining the Bennett community.

Angela Jaeger

Upper School Teacher (she/her)

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Angela Jaeger is a National Board Certified Teacher and a graduate from The University of Chicago with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English Language and Literature. With 13 years of teaching experience in secondary schools, Angela is passionate about learning and believes that school experiences influence how we navigate the world; therefore, the things we want to see in our world, we must model in our classrooms. As an Upper School lead teacher and a Chair of the DEI Advocacy Team at Bennett Day, Angela works to deepen student curiosity and compassion for others. Angela is a wife and a mother. She loves theatre, dance, and spending time with her family. Angela has had a wonderful journey around the world and is thrilled that it has brought her to Bennett Day’s Upper School.

Bridget Lipke

Physical Education Teacher (she/her)

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Prior to Bennett Day, Bridget taught Physical Education and Health in Chicago K-8 schools for seven years while coaching and developing a variety of after-school programs. An accomplished athlete, Bridget was the Captain, MVP, and all-time season assist leader of her collegiate basketball team at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, where she earned a B.A. in Communications and a Public Relations minor. Earlier in her career, Bridget worked in advertising but realized she was missing her true passion for health, fitness, and sports, and she felt motivated to share that passion with others. She then earned a B.S. in Physical Education from DePaul University as well. Bridget enjoys being active with her students in class and works together with her students to create a fun, positive, and energetic environment. She is excited to continue to help Bennett Day students use their creativity to explore individually and in a team environment while building confidence to become lifelong movers.

Jenni Dant

Athletic Associate & Middle School Physical Education Teacher (she/her)

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Jenni grew up in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago and played collegiate basketball at DePaul University. After her professional basketball career ended, she spent over a decade in Higher Ed coaching Division I Women’s Basketball and working in athletics administration and admissions. She loves new adventures and can’t wait to see where this new opportunity as a Blue Jay takes her!

Frances Judd

TESLab Teacher (PreK-SK) / Art Teacher (PreK-SK)

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Frances Judd teaches TESLab and Art classes for early childhood students in PK, JK, and SK. As a Bennett Labs Fellow, her work includes fostering student-inquiry projects, faculty innovation, and unique collaborations between Bennett Day School and Northwestern University’s TIDAL Lab (Tangible Interaction Design and Learning). Frances Judd’s recent Bennett Labs’ projects include the new Tinkering Around series of children’s books, and the coordination of two projects with student co-designers: Story Dealer games for creative thinking, and Osmo Kaleidoscope app with tangible user interface.

Frances Judd’s undergraduate degrees in Elementary Education, Special Education, and Art Education were completed at the University of Texas at Austin. Upon moving to Chicago she pursued training in K-1st literacy instruction at DePaul University, and then attended Erikson Institute for her graduate studies in Early Childhood Education and Child Development. Frances’ connections with Erikson Institute remain strong through her recent collaborations with the TEC Center at Erikson Institute and her founding of the Tangible Tech Collaborative.


Ms. Judd taught for over 25 years at Francis W. Parker School. Frances Judd also served as a freelance designer/consultant with Playskool Toy Company, Arrow Toys, Hasbro Inc., and KBooM! Games (developing the iPad app series “Mrs. Judd’s Games”). Recent research/advisory work in computational literacy includes Osmo Coding Awbie and Osmo Coding Jam.

Zak Thompson

TESLab Teacher (1st-7th Grade) (he/him)

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“I like your class, Mr. Thompson.” “Why?” “Because we get to make stuff!”

Zak Thompson is excited to be spending another year at Bennett Day School in the Tinkering and Engineering Sciences Lab (TESLab). After receiving a B.A. in political science from Illinois Wesleyan University and an M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Zak spent 6 years teaching for Chicago Public Schools, both as a homeroom teacher for fourth and fifth grade as well as running the school’s technology lab. Along that journey, Zak discovered that there is no learning more powerful than when a child is physically creating something they are passionate about. Since 2017, Zak has been in the TESLab, helping students navigate these hands-on experiences as they develop the skills, passions, and mindset to be innovators in school and beyond.

Carmen Suárez

Spanish Teacher (PreK-4th Grade) (she/her)

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Carmen is passionate about Second Language Acquisition and ways to provide plenty of comprehensible input. She feels it is important to do so during her sessions so students rise steadily in confidence and proficiency. She has taught Spanish to children for over 8 years and worked on refining the practice of a Lead Teacher and trainer of other teachers in a private school. She keeps abreast of best practices for language teaching, attending educational conferences, reading for pleasure on the subject, and collaborating with other teachers in the field of world languages.

She earned a BA in Literary Studies from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, in her native Colombia, where she also studied photography, radio, and television. In addition, Carmen has a Master of Arts in Teaching Spanish from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She applied her varied background to a multidisciplinary project for the Colombian Ministry of Culture by spending six weeks living with a tribe in the Amazon region. There she worked as a writer-recorder and photographer of the indigenous dietary traditions of that zone. At times, she has done freelance text editing of Spanish documents. Carmen enjoys not only sharing her knowledge of Spanish but the cultural perspectives closely linked to it.

Carmen finds at Bennett Day School a welcoming environment not only for exposure and exploration of the Spanish language, but also to connect the cultural competence aspect of it. She finds it well worth diving into to continue inspiring innovative students at the school with eyes on the world around them.

Miguel Méndez

Spanish Teacher (5th-11th Grade) (he/him)

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Miguel Méndez is an enthusiastic and devoted Spanish Teacher with excellent communication skills demonstrated by 3 years of teaching experience. He has a high degree of fluency in major Spanish dialects and specializes in managing students and maximizing learning opportunities in diverse classroom settings.

Miguel Méndez was born in El Paso, Texas, and grew up in Cd. Juárez, Mexico. Later, his family moved to Chicago. Méndez attended Northeastern Illinois University and earned a BA in Spanish with a focus on Latin American Literature and a minor in Latin American Studies. He completed a master’s degree in Hispanic literature at Loyola University in Chicago and his research interest focuses on the creative writing of Mexican immigrants in Chicago. He is an active poet and writer and has participated in various poetry events in the city.

Johanna Weisbrock

Music Teacher (PreK-7th Grade)

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Johanna Weisbrock teaches violin, piano, audio engineering, and general music. She began studying viola at the age of 9 and graduated with a BA in Music from Illinois Wesleyan University in 2005. Johanna loves performing both classical and improvised music and she’s grateful to have toured with rock groups and classical ensembles, performing in concert halls, museums, and living rooms across the US and Europe.

Sydney Dean

Art Teacher (1st-11th Grade) (she/he/they)

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Sydney is excited to join Bennett Day as an Art Educator. Sydney brings with them almost a decade of art educator experience that has taught learners spanning from pre-kindergarten to high school. Sydney is a firm believer in social-emotional education that supports each student in becoming a well-balanced member of their community through an appreciation for the arts combined with skills for creative thought processes. Sydney embraces communication to help students balance their mental, emotional, and physical health so they can achieve their own personal bests throughout their academic careers.

Sydney has taught a variety of focuses spanning from art and material exploration in early childhood programs to metalsmithing, ceramics, and comic design at the high school level. Sydney has taught previously at The Frances Xavier Warde School (FXW) in Chicago, New London High School in New London, CT, and most recently at Manchester Public Schools where they held the role of district-wide educator and taught at the Manchester Preschool Center, Bennet Academy, Manchester High School, and Bentley Alternative Education Academy, all in Manchester, CT. Sydney received their BFAAE from The Art Institute of Chicago and called Chicago home for close to a decade before taking time to spend with family in Connecticut. Sydney is very excited to be back in Chicago again and reenter the Chicago arts scene with their personal work. Sydney loves all kinds of art, but their favorites include printmaking, metalsmithing, and songwriting.

Learning Services

Lisa Kennedy

Learning Resources (PreK-4th Grade) (she/her)

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Lisa joins Bennett Day with almost two decades of educational experience in both elementary and intermediate grades in a variety of school settings. Lisa believes in using positive reinforcement teaching techniques to encourage student engagement and growth. She has taught in Chicago Public Schools, abroad at the Walworth Barbour American International School in Israel, Oak Park District #97, and most recently at The Frances Xavier Warde School (FXW) in Chicago. During her time at FXW, Lisa served as a reading specialist, as the English Language Arts Department Chair for grades K–3, has planned and implemented professional development for K-8 ELA teachers, served as a mentor for first grade extended day program teachers, and has experience in supporting FXW’s Admissions Team. In addition, Lisa has provided professional development for the East Aurora School District #131 and with the Greenly Center for Catholic Education at Loyola University in Chicago. Lisa received a B.S. in Business Management from Hampton University, an M.S. in Elementary Education from Chicago State University, an M.S. in Reading, and an M.S. in Principal Leadership from Loyola University. She was drawn to Bennett’s nurturing and innovative environment for learning and their hands-on approach to social justice concerns and community awareness. Lisa is a mother to three children, one of which is a Bennett Day student, and resides with them in Chicago. She enjoys cooking, Chicago restaurants, gardening, and travel.

Krystina Roemer

Learning Resources (5th-11th Grade) (she/her)

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Krystina is excited to be entering her second year at Bennett Day and is looking forward to transitioning her role as Learning Specialist to the Middle and Upper School! Before joining Bennett Day, Krystina worked as the Individualized Learning Program Director at Arete Prep Academy in Los Angeles where she was the lead in developing the learning support program for grades 7-12. She assisted educators in implementing instructional and behavioral teaching strategies to best meet the needs of each student. Krystina is a graduate of Eastern Illinois University where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education. She also holds a Master’s of Science degree in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Krystina is passionate about disability advocacy and inclusion work. She is an avid Cubs and Lakers fan and loves to travel, play with her Golden Retriever and two cats, and find new places to eat!

Yvonne Villafuerte

Counselor (PreK-4th Grade) (she/her)

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Yvonne graduated from Erikson Institute in Chicago with a Masters in Child Development with a Specialization in Infancy and New Language Learning. Yvonne is passionate about working with children and families and specifically worked with bilingual families, children with autism, and other developmental delays. She has experience in various settings such as schools, daycares, and parenting education classes, and has created and implemented early childhood curriculum and parenting workshops. Yvonne believes that family relationships play a critical role in a child’s development and that collaborating with families directly impacts the progress the child makes. She feels that a child’s learning can be enhanced by incorporating therapeutic strategies into daily routines. Yvonne is bilingual in English and Spanish. She is currently pursuing an MSW Specializing in Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health.

Jennifer Newberry

Counselor (5th-11th Grade) (she/her)

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Before joining Bennett Day, Jennifer worked as a school counselor at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois for 12 years where she was the lead in developing social-emotional curriculum for grades 9-12. She truly has a passion for restorative practices and mindfulness. She strongly believes that empowering students with the tools to develop an authentic sense of self is her primary job as a school counselor. Jennifer received her B.A. in Education from Rollins College and her M.A. in Counseling from Chicago State University. Outside of school, Jennifer loves to travel and be active. She stays busy with three children of her own, but usually finds time to ride her bike, attend a yoga class, or enjoy a farmer’s market on the weekend.

Administrative Faculty

McKensie Bartz

Family Community Connector/Event Coordinator (she/her)

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Born and raised in Michigan, McKensie is a graduate of Grand Valley State University where she studied Hospitality and Tourism Management. McKensie’s background in Event Management and passion for the city brought her to Chicago in 2017. Beginning her career, McKensie worked on fundraising and development events with the Adler Planetarium. Her time at the Adler showed McKensie the importance of S.T.E.A.M education as well as the difference a valuable educator can have in a child’s life. After her first school year as Front Office Administrator, she is excited to step into this new role. Her diverse expertise, deep understanding of logistics, and ability to thrive in the fast-paced hospitality world bring a smiling face and positive experience to events of all types for teachers, students, and parents alike.

Janessa Juarez

Enrollment Associate (she/her)

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Janessa graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. She followed her passion for equitable education and was accepted to Teach For America upon graduation. Janessa served in New York City from 2008 to 2010 and taught pre-kindergarten at an elementary school in the Bronx. While in NYC, she received her Master’s of Science of Education in Early Childhood Education from Lehman College. In 2010 she returned to the Midwest and spent six years teaching at several elementary schools in Chicago (public and private). Janessa is a certified Reading Recovery teacher and spent a year taking graduate school courses, focused on struggling readers and early literacy intervention, from National Louis University. In 2017 Janessa joined the Enrollment Team at Bennett Day School and was excited to leverage her teaching experience in her role as Enrollment Associate. She is a proud Bennett Day School faculty member and parent.

Sam Rud

Marketing Manager (she/her)

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Sam joined Bennett Day after spending two years as a Senior Marketing Coordinator at LaSalle Network, a high-growth staffing and recruiting firm. She studied Public Relations and Marketing at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to Chicago in 2017 after graduation. During her time in college, she gained admissions experience as a student ambassador and is thrilled to be back in the world of education. As a marketer, she strives to mirror the innovative, adaptive, and thoughtful approach that she grew up watching her mom model as an educator. She believes the mission of Bennett Day is refreshing and so exciting, and she’s so happy to be a part of the team! Outside of work, she loves going to barre class and seeing shows at Chicago’s countless music venues.

Abby Schaudt

School Nurse

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Abby has been in the medical field for 15 years. Her background is in pediatrics. She was in a clinical setting for nearly 13 years and then made the switch to school nursing. She has always worked with children, since her mother ran a daycare for nearly 35 years. She loves music, dance, and theatre which she studied for many years. She also loves spending time with her 6 nieces and nephews.

Sarah Skvara

Front Office Manager

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Sarah holds a B.A. in Communications from Marquette University with a major in Theatre Arts. She spent her early time in Chicago performing with Second City along with various other theatre companies and also helped establish a production company. Sarah then followed her passion for education and became a graduate of National-Louis University with a Master of Arts in Teaching. She was in the classroom for seven years teaching grades from Kindergarten through second grade and doubled as a middle school drama teacher before she made the transition to administration. She has always identified with the mission of collaboration and lifelong learning both in her classroom and personal practices. Sarah loves that she can bring her enthusiasm for education and the arts to Bennett!

Mike Walker

School Maintenance Technician

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Mike has had a passion for “tinkering” with things from an early age, a passion that was passed on from his father. This hobby spawned his career as a maintenance engineer. Prior to joining Bennett, Mike resided in South Bend, Indiana where he worked at Notre Dame University in their Maintenance Department.

He formally joined Bennett Day School in 2019 after a 6-month temporary assignment that began in July 2018. As both a father and in his role at Bennett, Mike truly enjoys interacting with children and showing them some of the tricks of his trade. He especially loves sharing his interests and expertise with students in Bennett’s EC TESLab. Mike’s overarching goal is to show the children that it is okay, and even fun, to get your hands dirty sometimes!

Mistey Whaley

Bennett Labs Administrative Associate

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Mistey is the proud mother of a preteen who believes deeply in the power of parents being advocates for their children. She was previously the Office Manager in a high school environment, where she loved interacting with and supporting students and their families. Mistey has a passion for mentoring and believes that every child deserves someone in their corner. As the first point of contact when people visit our school, Mistey understands the importance of cultivating a positive experience for all by being informative and supportive.