Our Faculty

Teaching Faculty

Molly Simmons

Pre-Kindergarten Lead Teacher

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Excited to use her passion for a Reggio Emilia, play-based learning experience, Molly is excited to be returning to Bennett Day this year. Molly found her love for Reggio education at Syracuse University’s child care center, where she received her bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. While spending a brief time in San Antonio, TX, Molly helped pilot one of the nation’s first city-funded preschool programs in the country. The challenge of working with the underserved community of San Antonio only deepened her love for quality, responsive education. In this time, Molly realized the importance of a social and emotional focus on preschool learning.  Molly is from the Finger Lakes of NY and has been living in Chicago for just over a year, most recently in Lakeview. Molly can be found out running with her dogs at the lake and picnicking at movies in the park.

Morgan Johns

Pre-Kindergarten Apprentice Teacher

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Morgan’s experiences teaching kindergarten through second grade in Chicago, Tanzania, Thailand, and Colombia, S.A. have helped shape her understanding of how children are wonderfully capable and innately curious about their world. During her time at Columbia College, her cohort visited Reggio Emilia, Italy to further learning of the Reggio Emilia approach. Over the last five years, Morgan has implemented this child-centered and collaborative philosophy into her teaching. Like her students, she too is curious about the world; Morgan loves traveling and creating art! She brings this enthusiasm to create and think in diverse ways into the classroom. Morgan is inspired by Bennett Day’s commitment to children and their respective, unique learning journeys. She looks forward to being on these journeys and guiding children to fully express themselves, connect with one another, and gain insights into our community and our world! Morgan is a proud Chicagoan and graduate of Columbia College with a degree in Early Childhood Education.

Amber Powell

Pre-Kindergarten Lead Teacher

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Amber is a dedicated educator with a passion for children’s learning and care. Amber has 15+ years of experience with families and children. Her experience has been in both educational and home environments, with children aged birth through second grade. Amber has a Bachelors in Early Childhood Education from Kendall College. She also attended Lewis University, where she completed her Masters in Organizational Leadership. She is creative, enthusiastic, and sensitive to children’s individual needs. She believes that the quality of education and care a person receives in the early stages of life, is essential in bringing out that child’s potential and that all children should have access to quality learning and care. Amber is thrilled to be returning Bennett Day School and she looks forward to working with other passionate educators and families as well.

Kennedy Jordan

Pre-Kindergarten Apprentice Teacher

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Kennedy is a certified ESL Teacher who has always been passionate about education and learning new methods/approaches that will help her guide children towards success. After working as an English tutor in Las Vegas, she relocated to Chicago and continued tutoring and also became a swim instructor. After teaching swimming, she realized that she wanted to further her teaching career and searched for a community with the same vision as her own. Finding the Reggio Emilia approach in the Bennett Day School community has inspired her. During her free time, she enjoys volunteering at 826CHI, reading, and writing short stories and poetry. Kennedy is currently studying creative writing at the College of Southern Nevada.

Kasey Dahlberg

Junior Kindergarten Co-Lead 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!

Marissa McDonald

Junior Kindergarten Co-Lead Teacher

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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. As Marissa moves through her career, she has learned so much throughout each passing day. She loves being a part of the Bennett Day School team and appreciates the opportunity to work with faculty that has the same passion for education as she does!

Nate Nearpass

Junior Kindergarten Co-Lead Teacher

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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 three 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. More recently, he received a Masters of Arts in Teaching from National Louis University. Nate is so excited to be back at Bennett, where he can share his passion for progressive education and the Reggio Emilia philosophy. He loves to bring curiosity, creativity, and inquiry to a classroom of young learners.

Cheryl Okuda

Junior Kindergarten Co-Lead Teacher

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Cheryl graduated from Columbia College Chicago in May 2014 with a B.A. in Early Childhood Education, Type 04 Teaching License, and a minor in dance. She’s also taught dance classes in various styles to children and adults of all ages for over 10 years all over the Chicagoland area. It was in the dance studio that she realized her true calling was to teach! During her time in a Reggio Emilia Approach-focused program, she was taught to thoughtfully integrate art and nature into all aspects of the classroom. This was further inspired when she traveled to Reggio Emilia, Italy and attended conferences and school tours with Italian Early Childhood Educators. When Cheryl is not teaching, she’s rehearsing and performing with a Chicago-based hip hop dance company and keeping up with her teaching blog/Instagram.

Kari Camacho

Senior Kindergarten Lead Teacher

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Kari has 9 years of teaching experience in various early childhood settings which have solidified her passion for early childhood education. Before moving to Illinois from central Wisconsin, Kari worked in a Reggio Emilia inspired school; this experience altered her career path from traditional education to progressive. Kari received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin Platteville in Elementary Education with an Early Childhood minor.

John Bannon

Senior Kindergarten Apprentice Teacher

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From coaching to nannying to camp counseling, John has been working with children for much of his adult life. After an au pair position took him to Hamburg, Germany, he returned to the summer family camp in upstate Vermont where he had worked previously. John then came to Bennett Day where he utilizes his childcare experiences in the unique and rewarding educational approach that the school offers. John also has a special interest in school psychology. He was born and raised in Oak Park, IL and recently moved to the Uptown neighborhood in Chicago. John is a graduate of Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and anthropology.

Caitlyn Milazzo

Senior Kindergarten Lead Teacher

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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. 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! 

Caitlyn is in the last year of her Masters Program at Portland State University where she is studying Early Childhood Inclusive Education & Curriculum and Instruction with a focus in Constructivism. She is thrilled to be part of the BDS community!

Kyra Termini

Senior Kindergarten Apprentice Teacher

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Kyra’s work with Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education, as well as with the Children’s Literacy Initiative, gave her the tools to pursue her career as a teacher while utilizing the arts to encourage literacy, help children better develop their fine motor skills, as well as find their own voices. She has worked with several artists such as Island Press in St. Louis, Joan Hall, and Theaster Gates. She is very excited to be a part of the Bennett Day team, and Kyra is looking forward to creating, playing, reading, and getting to know all of her students. Kyra received her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts: Printmaking, Textiles, and Art History from the Kansas City Art Institute.

Nathan Gygar

First Grade Co-Lead Teacher

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Growing up in and around Brisbane, Australia, Nathan had ample access to the great outdoors, making the natural surroundings a formative part of his own learning and lifestyle. After graduating from Griffith University with a Bachelor of Leisure Management in 2003, Nathan went on to spend many years involved in community development organizations, events coordination and service related industries, while pursuing a personal passion for creative arts. During this time, Nathan’s work involved diverse groups of people with a variety of interests, backgrounds and cultures. It was when he moved to Thailand in 2011 that he discovered the rewards of teaching, completing a Graduate Diploma in Teaching & Learning in Early Years through the Association for Early Childhood Educators Singapore (AECES) in 2015.

Nathan has spent the last 7 years working in kindergarten classrooms. Following the creativity and curiosity of his students, he has a strong belief in the incorporation of physical exploration in spaces where children’s thinking can be visible. He continues to support children’s opportunities for inquiry based learning, drawn to the ideas and values fostered in progressive learning environments. Since arriving in Chicago in August of 2016, Nathan has remained engaged with educators moved by similar forces.

Rachel Trisch

First Grade Co-Lead Teacher

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Rachel graduated from Grand Valley State University with a degree in Elementary Education and English. Her time at Grand Valley allowed her to gain invaluable experience in a variety of classrooms, with ages ranging from kindergarten to 5th grade in both urban and suburban environments. Rachel loves to travel, and last summer had the opportunity to work in a 1st-grade classroom at United World College, an international school in The Netherlands! This experience helped shape her passion for project and play-based learning. Rachel is originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, but is so excited to have the opportunity to now live in her favorite city in the world! Some of her hobbies include writing, reading, running, and spending time with her family and friends. She also loves music, attending concerts, and has gone to some big music festivals in the past two years. She enjoys a pretty wide variety of music, but if she’s being honest, one of her favorite bands is One Direction! She is also a big fan of musical theatre, and can’t wait to check out some shows here in Chicago. Rachel is so excited to be part of the team at Bennett Day School! The unique approach to learning through progressive education is something that she is deeply passionate about. She is sure that she will learn as much from her students as they will from her. She is eager to meet everyone and for the school year to begin!

 

Sara Violante

First Grade Co-Lead Teacher

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Through a strong desire to provide children with a loving and caring environment to learn and play in, Sara joined the Bennett Day School team as an SK Teacher in the fall of 2015. Sara is a graduate of Santa Clara University in Northern California where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications. During this time, she worked at the University’s Daycare and Preschool center where she was an assistant teacher and helped provide meaningful experiences while learning alongside her students. After graduating, she lived and worked as an Au Pair for a French family in Paris. While there she enjoyed traveling and spending time with the family she worked for. From her experiences, she realized her dream of becoming a teacher and moved back to Chicago in 2011. Soon after she enrolled at Erikson Institute and earned her Master’s in Early Childhood Education with specializations in both ESL and Special Education learning. Sara is looking forward to working with her co-teacher in the first-grade classroom, collaborating with her students and families, and facilitating experiences that spark her students’ natural curiosities and inspire them to be lifelong learners.

Brittney Washington

First Grade Co-Lead Teacher

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Working with children has always been Brittney’s passion. She began lead teaching after earning her Master’s Degree in Education from Park University.  She spent three years teaching in an elementary classroom in Kansas City, Missouri where she previously completed the Kansas City Teacher Residency Program. She then moved to Chicago with her husband and has loved learning more about the city of Chicago and engaging in progressive learning and the Reggio Emilia approach at Bennett Day. Brittney was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. She is also a graduate of The University of Toledo where she earned a Dual Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology and Women’s Studies. Outside of teaching, Brittney enjoys music, arts and crafts, and exploring the city. She is very excited for each yearly journey Bennett Day School brings!

Ally Marsh

Second Grade Lead Teacher

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Ally is a graduate of Indiana University where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with a Reading License addition. After time spent substitute teaching in Ann Arbor, MI 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 her coaching position as the Whitney Young HS Girls Lacrosse head coach where she can share her love of lacrosse with high schoolers in the city. 

Shay Phee

Second Grade Lead Teacher

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Prior to joining the Bennett Day team, Shay taught PreK, 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 five years and has taught in grades first through third. Shay’s love of social-emotional learning came to fruition when working within a progressive and collaborative school environment. Shay is entering her twelfth year of teaching and is excited to teach second grade. 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.

Charle McRoberts

Second Grade Apprentice Teacher

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Charle grew up in the private education system, where she gained an appreciation for independence and the freedom to explore through her own education. Charle is very passionate about assisting in the success and personal development of children and students, and previously worked as an ABA Therapist for children with Autism. For a brief period of time, she moved to New York City to explore another passion of hers, being a chef, and worked in one of the best restaurants in Manhattan. Once she moved back to Chicago, she continued honing in on her skills as an advocate for children, which led her to Bennett Day School. Originally from St. Louis Missouri, she moved to Chicago for college and attended North Park University, obtaining a B.S. in Psychology. She also has a Master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Ball State University.

Kim Schofield

Third Grade Lead Teacher

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Kim graduated from the University of Illinois in 2009 with a BFA in dance and minor in Spanish. Since then, she has lived and taught in New York City, Madrid, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Prior to starting at Bennett Day School, she worked as a collaborating teacher at GEMS World Academy Chicago and an Assistant Teacher at The Mirman School for gifted children in Los Angeles. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Teaching Elementary Education at National Louis University. 

Heather Shawaluk

Third Grade Lead Teacher

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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 spent the past 5 years teaching Kindergarten, First, and Second Grades at a Reggio inspired charter school on Chicago’s West Side. Heather believes children are capable of being leaders in their education. She is excited to bring 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.

Ginny Eber

Third Grade Apprentice Teacher

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Ever since she was young, Ginny knew she wanted to be a teacher and has always had a strong passion for helping others. Upon graduating from Southeastern Louisiana University with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, Ginny moved from New Orleans to Chicago to pursue her dreams of becoming an educator. Ginny discovered her love for progressive education and inquiry-based learning through one of her professors while at Southeastern. When she found Bennett Day, she knew that this would be the perfect opportunity for her. She can’t wait to learn so much from her students and get to know each and every one of them! In her spare time, Ginny loves visiting the museums around Chicago, exploring the city, and going back to Louisiana to visit her family and her dogs, Lucy and Millie. She is looking forward to a wonderful school year!

Ayesha Sumbal

Fourth Grade Lead Teacher

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Ayesha is thrilled to be entering her fourth year at Bennett Day as the 4th-grade lead teacher. Ayesha is an alumnus of Michigan State University, as well as Northern Arizona University. She has been teaching for 13 years in various teaching contexts, as well as locales. She began her teaching career in Phoenix, Arizona where she spent 5 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 2 years focused on learning the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme at an International School. This is where Ayesha’s love for an inquiry-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. She is looking forward to a school year that will surely not be like any of the previous ones!

Grace Hepworth

Fourth Grade Apprentice Teacher

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Gracie grew up in Boise, Idaho where she attended a Reggio Emilia inspired elementary school that garnered her passion for lifelong learning and progressive education. Gracie graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2020, where she majored in Early Childhood Education and ESL Education. During her time in Madison, she spent two years working as a practicum student and student-teacher in the Madison Metropolitan School District. She also worked with the Madison Schools and Community Recreation as a lead soccer coach for children aged 3-13. Gracie started her journey at Bennett Day School as a member of the auxiliary team in June 2019, and excitedly returned this past summer for a second round of summer camp. Gracie is ecstatic to be joining the teaching staff as a Fourth Grade Apprentice Teacher and beginning her career as an educator. 

Jose Aguayo

Fifth Grade Lead Teacher

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Jose is a California native and graduated from UCLA with degrees in History and Political Science. As an undergraduate, he worked with preschool students to develop language and literacy skills, which convinced him to enter teaching. Jose came to Chicago with Teach for America to work with third grade students and developed an interest for skills-based learning. Jose believes the learning process should be an empowering experience that is driven by student interest and is excited to support students as they discover their intellectual passions. Prior to Bennett Day, Jose taught high school science at a Chicago charter school, where he still continues to teach summer school. Outside of the classroom Jose enjoys running, cooking, and biking along Lake Michigan.

Marybeth Moore

Sixth Grade Lead Teacher

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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. Marybeth also works as a children’s yoga instructor and teacher trainer with the gender equity organization Mission Propelle, and she loves bringing in 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.

 

Sarah Baatile

PBL Curator and Middle School Teacher/Upper School Adjunct Teacher

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Before coming to Bennett Day, Sarah specialized in K-8 STEM and English-Language Arts instruction at St. Mary of the Angels School and at the high school level with The Noble Network of Charter Schools. Sarah began her career coordinating for the Teach for America Chicago Institute. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Geosciences from Denison University and her Master of Arts in Teaching—ELA Instruction from Relay Graduate School of Education here in Chicago. Having been a student in progressive schools herself, she deeply values its impact on her life and loves bringing her experiences to Bennett Day School.

Frances Judd

Early Childhood TESLab Teacher/Special Projects Leader

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Frances Judd teaches TESLab 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’s JK. 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.

Bridget Lipke

Physical Education Teacher

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Bridget has taught Physical Education and Health in Chicago K-8 schools for the past 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 help Bennett Day students use their creativity to explore individually and in a team environment while building confidence to become lifelong movers.

Olenka Bodnarskyj

Art Teacher

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Olenka Bodnarskyj joins Bennett Day School as the Atelierista for Early Childhood and Visual Arts Teacher for grades 2 through 6. Olenka is an artist and arts and museum educator. She received her BFA in Printmaking from the State University of New York at Buffalo and her MFA in Studio Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. For almost twenty years now, she has been teaching art for non-for-profit organizations, museums, and private schools including The Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Spertus Museum, and Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School. She was the Family Coordinator in the Department of Museum Education at the Art Institute of Chicago where she facilitated intergenerational arts experiences for families.

Olenka’s great interest in the Reggio Emilia approach and constructivist educational pedagogy led her to Bennett Day School. Since visiting Reggio Emilia, Italy years ago, she has incorporated elements of the approach into her teaching and learning. Additionally, she has incorporated routines and strategies from various Professional Development opportunities including Project Zero at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), Responsive Classroom, and the National SEED Project.

Most recently, Ms. Bodnarskyj lived abroad and taught in Taiwan, Vietnam, and virtually to her students in Beijing, China from the States. Olenka’s passion for travel comes from a desire to see, observe, and understand how people around the world live, play, and think, and to see what we share in common as global citizens and what differences make us unique and beautiful. During those travels, she often captures special moments through the lens of her camera. She is delighted to be back in Chicago after a few years away and is excited to share her enthusiasm for the arts and learning with her students!

Peter Granquist

Music Teacher

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Peter received his Bachelor of Arts degree in musicology from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Moving to the vibrant progressive education community of San Francisco, Peter worked for 5 years as a 3rd grade teaching assistant at The San Francisco School while simultaneously being mentored in the Orff Schulwerk approach to music education. After teaching music at various Bay Area schools, he spent the last 2 years establishing and growing a music program at The Presidio Knolls School, a mandarin immersion, Reggio Emilia-inspired independent school. He has completed all three levels of the Orff Certification Course with the world-renowned teachers of the San Francisco International Orff Course. Peter brings a joyful energy and a firm belief in Orff’s power to develop the mind and uplift the soul. When not teaching, Peter gigs as a professional drummer and vocalist.

Carmen Suarez

Spanish Teacher

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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 7 years and worked on refining the practice of a Lead Teacher and trainer of other teachers in a private school.

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 culture perspectives closely linked to it.

Zak Thompson

TESLab Teacher

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Zak Thompson is excited to be spending another year at Bennett Day School in the Tinker and Engineering Sciences Lab. After receiving a degree in political science from Illinois Wesleyan University and a time coaching youth sports and leading a community center for the Park District of Oak Park, Zak pursued a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was drawn to that program’s focus on urban, constructivist education and emphasis on social justice. Following UIC, Zak accepted a position at an elementary school in Chicago Public Schools. He has been a homeroom teacher for fourth and fifth grade as well as running the school’s technology lab.  Zak is thrilled to be part of Bennett Day School’s commitment to a culture of hands-on making.  There is no learning more powerful than when a child is physically creating something they are passionate about.  Work in the TESLab is all about developing the skills, passions, and mindset for our students to be innovators and creators in school and beyond.

Cameron Pilcher

Remote Teacher

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Cameron developed her passion for working with children as a Program Supervisor within the Park District of Oak Park’s Early Childhood/Preschool department. In this role, she discovered the power of using sensory exploration and play-based experimentation to help children develop and make connections to their surrounding environments. After that, she worked for two local Chicago start-up companies and served as a substitute teacher at Francis W. Parker School. She has a love for finding creative ways to tap into the minds of children while also being empathetic to their needs. Cameron is incredibly excited to be a part of Bennett Day School and each amazing school year! Cameron graduated from Lake Forest College with a B.A. in African American Studies and Studio Art.

Yvonne Villafuerte

Lower School Counselor

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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.

Krystina Roemer

Learning Specialist

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Coming soon!

Lauren Vander Pluym

Upper School Teacher

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Lauren joins the Upper School faculty after eleven years of progressive classroom teaching and leadership in both Illinois and Colorado schools. She joined Bennett Day as a marketing associate in 2018 and continues to work with our marketing team. She received her BA in Secondary Education, Social Sciences from Millikin University and her MA in Anthropology from The University of Chicago. Lauren is a trained diversity and inclusion facilitator through The National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) and has developed SEED groups at two of her previous schools. 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, 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 a passionate photographer, singer, and writer. 

Angela Jaeger

Upper School Teacher

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Angela Jaeger is a graduate from the University of Chicago with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English Language and Literature. Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher and has been teaching high school for 10 years with the last five years spent in Tokyo at The American school in Japan. She is passionate about learning and believes that our experiences in school are deeply important to the way we grow to understand and operate in this world; so the things we most want to see in our world, we must teach our students and model in our classrooms. 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.

Alexie Kolpak

Adjunct Math/Sciences Upper School Teacher

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Alexie received her PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania. She later worked as a professor in the department of mechanical engineering at MIT, where she taught a mix of materials science, chemistry, engineering, and math courses. She led a research group focused on using computational approaches to understand and design materials for renewable energy applications, such as clean hydrogen fuel production from water, carbon dioxide capture and conversion, and solar energy. She hopes to inspire students to think about the impacts of energy use on the environment and on human lives, the possible technologies for renewable energy, and the importance of chemistry in these areas and in daily life.

Jennifer Newberry

Upper School Counselor

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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

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.

Janessa Juarez

Admissions Associate

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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, most recently at the Latin School of Chicago. 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. Janessa is excited to leverage her teaching experience in her role as Admissions Associate at Bennett Day!

Sam Rud

Marketing Manager

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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. 

Sarah Skvara

Academic Administrative Assistant

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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!

Mistey Whaley

Front Office Administrator

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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.

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!

Penny Haynes

AfterCare Associate

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Coming soon!