Highly Trained Childhood Teachers
It takes a big heart to shape little minds. Our teachers are highly trained in a variety of early childhood development modalities. Just as importantly, we require our teachers and aides to guide with warm, responsive care and total devotion to a secure learning environment. Our teachers understand that relationships experienced during the first five years of a child’s life have an enormous impact on future development; every caregiver, from our teachers to our administrators, honors the privilege to nurture our children with warmth and positivity.
Our Team MembersSchedule a Visit
John Sears is the founder and Director of Newport Children’s Academy, located in the Roscoe Village neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. In 2008, Sears opened his first preschool, and by 2014, under Sears’ direction, the school grew to accommodate two hundred children. Sears helped to design the school, drawing on an extensive family background that spans over five decades in child-care, preschool, after-school, and summer camp programs.
The Newport Children’s Academy building was carefully scouted and chosen by Sears to provide a solution to many of the issues facing parents in the Chicagoland area, such as long waiting lists for quality care, confined spaces, and unsafe locations. Sears was thrilled to source a self-contained location that offers safety, security, and ample learning space.
Sears is a licensed daycare director, holding certifications that include training programs approved by the Department of Children and Family Services. Sears is an advocate of lifelong learning. He remains current by continuing his education within the evolving field of Early Childcare Development. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in Speech Communication.
His main philosophy is that the most important aspect of the preschool experience is a child’s happiness. He hires teachers and staff who are genuinely enthusiastic about helping kids to grow and learn. “If the children light up when their teacher walks into the room, then we’re doing things right.”
Sears has been married since 2004. He and his wife Angela are proud parents of two children, ages five and seven.
Director of Enrollment
Hello, Newport families and friends. My name is Ashley (Harris) Funkhouser, I am the Director of Enrollment at Newport Children’s Academy. I grew up right here in Chicago. I currently live in Woodridge, IL with my husband Ryan and our son Collin. I went to National Louis University and studied Early Childhood Education. I was lucky enough to start working here at Newport before it was even open in 2016. I began as a teacher, shortly after I became the Assistant Director and then moved to my current position. As the Director of Enrollment I am I looking forward to interacting with all the children and families and getting to know everyone, a little more. I will work hard to continue to welcome new families and help our Newport family grow. During my free time, I enjoy spending time with my husband Ryan, our son Collin and our two yorkies!
Infant Program Director
Hello! My name is Abby Huster, and I am very excited to be a part of the Newport family. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and have always enjoyed working with kids. I graduated from Indiana University with a B.S. in Early Childhood education, then moved to Chicago in my final semester of college to be a part of an urban education program. This program allowed me to teach in CPS alongside a mentor teacher. After that, I became an infant teacher in Lincoln Park, I then helped open a two’s classroom and became the lead teacher for that room. I started at Newport June of 2017 and found myself drawn to working with infants once again!
Outside of the classroom, I love to cook and travel. So far I’ve been to Italy, France, Spain, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and Mexico! I can’t wait to get to know all of the Newport families and friends!
Toddler/Twos Program Director
My name is Raina Bucci. I began working at Newport at the end of 2016 while expecting my first child. Over the years my family has grown and so has our school community. I am delighted and honored to be part of such an amazing school. I earned my B.A. in religious studies at the University of Denver and have taken extensive course-work in Early Childhood Education since I began working in the field in 2014. I love working with toddlers and two year olds because their enthusiasm for new experiences matches my own! Watching children master skills and recognize their accomplishments is so rewarding. I am a certified yoga instructor, avid reader, and excellent tree climber. I enjoy cooking, hiking, dancing, and spending time outdoors with my family.
PreK Teacher & Preschool Program Director
My name is Christyne Stephenson, and I have a passion for helping kids flourish in multiple domains. I initially set out for a career in mental health, receiving my Bachelor’s in Psychology at Loyola University Chicago, then continuing on for a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy at Kansas State University. Through my journey, I developed a love and energy for children, which led me to acquire certification in Play Therapy.
After graduation, I realized that I wanted to work with children in a deeper capacity and watch their development beyond the emotional realm. I decided to become a teacher and have loved every moment of connecting with each special child and helping them continue to grow not only intellectually, but emotionally and socially as well.
In my spare time, I enjoy cooking, crafting, playing games with my husband and our puppy, exploring the world, and learning new languages, including French and Mandarin.
Assistant Program Director
Hi, there! My name is Caitlin Habley, and I’ve been teaching preschool-aged children since 2013, when I completed my undergraduate degree at Western Michigan University. Since graduating from WMU, I have taken courses at Kendall College in Early Education. I am originally from the suburbs of Chicago; I moved to the city after my graduation in 2013. I have had the pleasure of working in two different early childcare centers prior to starting at NCA, and I am looking forward to continuing my teaching career here at Newport. Outside of teaching, I am all about being outdoors and in nature. I really enjoy running, playing beach volleyball, and being with my friends and my dog. My family is extremely important to me, and I love to get together with them at our cabin in Door County, Wisconsin as much as I can. I am so excited to meet all the families and children at Newport Children’s Academy!
My name is Jacey, I am originally from Colorado. I spent a few years in Atlanta, GA before moving here to Chicago in July of 2018. Shortly thereafter, I was introduced to NCA and joined the infant team. With support from Newport, I completed my CDA Credential and now work as a lead teacher in Infant One. I love working with the entire team to create fun and educational activities for the babies. Assisting families and their children meet new and exciting milestones has proven to be a very rewarding experience. It really does take a village!
My husband and I got married in May of 2019. We spend our free time exploring the city and volunteering in the community. Our favorite things about Chicago are the fantastic food and the incredible friends we’ve made here.
I look forward to getting to know your family as we work together to create a nurturing, supportive and healthy environment to take the best possible care of your little ones.
Hi, Newport Families! My name is Jessica Moctezuma and I’m from Chicago, IL. I joined Newport Children’s Academy two years ago and it has been a wonderful experience being part of this team. Prior to Newport I was working as a nanny in the suburbs. I began working with children in Chicago during my first semester of college in 2012. Since then, I have worked with infants – 8th grade. I believe that children are our future and I love building relationships with the families to help children reach their full potential. During my free time, I spend most of my time at home with my dog, plants and family. I love photography, traveling, digging through old vinyls and visiting museums.
Please feel free to ask any questions! I look forward to meeting all of you and watching your children reach new milestones!
Hi Newport families! My name is Kristin Wurm and I am thrilled to be joining the Newport community. I have been passionate about working with children since I was young, and have spent most of my life helping young children grow and develop. I spent many years as a nanny throughout high school and college and then worked with families creating and developing nutrition plans that worked for each parent and child. I recently moved to Chicago and have loved exploring the city. I have a knack for adventure and enjoy traveling, hiking, running, and spending time with family and friends. I look forward to meeting you all!
Infant Assistant Teacher
Hi! My name is Amber Forbes and I am so excited to be a part of the Newport Community! I was born and raised right here on the Northside of Chicago. I have always been a creative person which led me to get my Bachelor of Arts at Columbia College of Chicago. I love sharing my creativity, passion for teaching, and art skills with the infant room at Newport. I make it my mission for your little ones’ to learn different colors, explore their fine motor, and sensory skills with fun activities! Outside of work, I love to read, cook, go shopping, dining out for brunch with girlfriends, and finding something good to watch on Netflix. I look forward to meeting all the families and watching your child learn and grow!
Infant Assistant Teacher
Hello Newport Families! My name is Dennisse Quiridumbay, I was born and raised in Chicago,IL.
Before embarking on this new journey with Newport, I was in the healthcare field. Shortly after graduating high school I joined the dental field as a dental assistant in several specialties such as orthodontics, oral surgery, general dentistry and pediatric dentistry. Driven by my passion to help others I transitioned from a dental assistant to patient coordinator. This allowed me to interact one on one with patients and help them. I took the plunge and joined a pediatric dental office, and it was there where I realized my passion wasn’t only helping others it was helping parents care for the oral health of their little ones. I authentically enjoyed going to work everyday knowing that I would help a two year old that was scared of a dental cleaning or a 11 year old that maybe ate too much chocolate and now had a cavity! I loved teaching them how to brush their teeth and floss and tell them the importance of it. It’s when I realized I wanted to do more than just teach young ones about their oral health I wanted to be part of their early development growth and hold their little hands as they learned new things, which is why I decided after 5 years to leave my established dental career and join the Newport family!
During my spare time I enjoy working out and traveling. I love spending time with my friends and family (that includes my 4 dogs!).
Thank you for allowing me to be part of your child’s life and a part of their growth. I look forward to meeting all of you and your little ones!
Risa Van Helden
Infant Assistant Teacher
Hi Newport families! I am so happy to have joined the infant team. After graduating from high school in Minnesota, I moved to Chicago to attend DePaul University in 2014. Since then, I have worked as a babysitter and nanny for many families across the city with children of all ages. I fell in love with the developing stages of toddlerhood as it is full of so many “firsts!” I especially enjoy building a long-term relationship with parents to be consistent in meeting their child’s unique needs. Watching children reach new milestones at their own pace is an absolute privilege. Outside of my passion for kids, I enjoy cooking, traveling, and spending time outdoors. I’m thrilled to be part of such a loving, respectful, and creative community!
Infant Assistant Teacher
Hello, My name is Elizabeth Lagunas and I’m very happy to be an infant teacher at Newport! I love getting to meet and know new little friends. One of my favorite parts about working with kids is helping infants learn and develop skills in many different ways. Seeing them smile and enjoy themselves warms my heart. Each day they help me grow as an educator and caregiver. I can’t wait to watch your child grow, learn, and reach early milestones!
Hello, Newport Children’s Academy families. I’m so excited to start this new journey. I was born in Chicago, Illinois, and I recently graduated from the University of Dubuque with my B.S. in Psychology. My hobbies are dancing and walking alone on the beach. My favorite quote is by B.F Skinner: “Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” I am passionate about helping children reach their full potential. I can’t wait to meet each and every one of you. Welcome to the family!
Hello, my name is Emily Latz! I graduated from the University of Wisconsin Whitewater with a B.A. in Social Work and a minor is Family, Health, and Disability Studies. I have been teaching toddlers here at Newport Children’s Academy since 2017. I have always loved working with children. I have previously worked in child welfare as a foster care caseworker, and I have also worked with children with Autism in a school setting as a paraprofessional. I enjoy working with toddlers specifically because toddlers are in a stage where they are learning so much. They hit so many milestones at this age. From verbal and social skills, to fine motor and gross motor skills. There is so much to teach them, and it is never boring. I love being able to see how much they’ve grown and learned from the time they enter my room to the time they leave!
Hello NCA Families! My name is Yanira Trejo. I graduated from Northern Illinois University with my Bachelor of Science degree in Communicative Disorders and Minor in Deaf Rehabilitation. I have been a part of Newport’s incredible staff since 2019 as a toddlers teacher. I enjoy working with this age as everyday is another day to celebrate all the little things in life. I love introducing new and exciting things and see how their faces light up. My favorite things to do is arts and crafts in the classroom. Apologies in advance for any art stains, we love making masterpieces here.
I am very proud of every single little one that enters my classroom and I feel very lucky to be their teacher. I have loved every second being a part of your child’s journey here at Newport!
Assistant Toddler Teacher
Hello Newport friends, I’m Hope, or Ms. Landberg! I’m an assistant teacher here, and a student at Harry Truman College where I’m pursuing an Associates Degree in Child Development. Prior to working here, I’ve babysat for various families and age groups for over ten years, starting early with 3 little brothers to help watch! Outside of classes I take care of my cat, spend time with loved ones, brew kombucha, go on runs, and practice an assortment of arts from plant-based cooking to mixed-media painting.
My biggest passion outside of artistic practices and early childhood care is yoga! Yoga follows me off the mat into everyday life, including Newport. I practice Svādhyāya, or self-reflection, daily; believing every moment’s a learning experience, which I bring to class by helping children learn from their actions in a compassionate way. Patience and kindness are so important to helping kids grow, it lets them know they’re supported! I’m looking forward to integrating both mindfulness and yoga into the school day with your children!
Hello! My name is Lauren Halloran and I’m very excited to be teaching at Newport Children’s Academy! I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and moved to the city two years ago. Growing up I worked camps and cheerleading clinics which is where my passion for working with children began. The last 4 years I have been a nanny for two different families in Chicago. In my free time I enjoy trying different work out classes and going to as many Chicago sports games as I can. I can’t wait to work with and meet all the families at Newport!
My name is Olyvia Puente and I was born and raised in Chicago! I’m so excited to be joining the Newport team. I have my associates degree in child psychology, and I am planning to finish my BA in Human Development and Family Sciences with a concentration in Child Life. In 2016, I started my teaching adventure with preschoolers, and I’m beyond excited to see and explore the toddler age group. Aside from teaching, I am also a bedside volunteer at Lurie’s children’s hospital. I love making arts and crafts that have a sensory element to them! I also love to visit cool new places in Chicago with my camera! I can’t wait to get to know your children and meet you all.
Hello, my name is Evangeline Rubio! I am appreciative of the opportunity to teach at Newport Children’s Academy! I have a Bachelor of Science in Communicative Disorders with an emphasis in Speech-Language Pathology/Audiology from Northern Illinois University. I was a Behavioral Therapist for 2.5 years, am an advocate of all children and individuals with disabilities, and a reading/math tutor. My various academic and professional experiences have contributed to the characteristics I acquire as a teacher. I respect and admire all of the work done at Newport Children’s Academy and I appreciate that we share common professional interests of providing a safe environment for individualized instruction to each student. In my spare time, I enjoy going on walks with my dog, playing softball, cooking new recipes I find on Pinterest, and listening to podcasts!
I am so delighted to meet the Newport families and especially grateful to be part of the momentous journey of your child/children!
Hello Newport families! My name is Chestine Limbo and I’m thrilled to be teaching here at Newport Children’s Academy. Throughout high school I had my counselors telling me I’d make an excellent teacher and I never thought it was for me until I tried it. I now have two years of experience nannying and about four years of experience teaching in classrooms throughout the Chicago land area. I am also in the process of obtaining my BA in Early Childhood Education at National Louis. When I’m not teaching, I enjoy working out, attending dance classes, and hanging out with my Yorkipoo named Sawyer.
Learning through play is my approach in education because it keeps the child interested in grasping new concepts. I promise to make sure the children are having fun and have them excited to step foot in the classroom!
Hello Newport families & friends! My name is Amanda Brunell and I’m from sunny Orlando, FL. I feel very fortunate to join the team at Newport Children’s Academy. I received my Bachelor’s degree in 2018 from the University of Central Florida in Health Care Administration #goknights!
My experiences with children include interning at Advent Health for Children, volunteering at Nemours Children’s Hospital, nannying/babysitting, substitute teaching, and working as a teacher aid at another facility. Over time, I realized how passionate I became working with children. They have a joy and zest for the little things in life. Their minds are ever changing and full of so many questions waiting to be answered. I love coming to work every day and seeing the growth that each child is capable of.
In my spare time, I enjoy being active outdoors, cooking, tending to my plants, and traveling to new places! I feel grateful to have made so many wonderful connections with the staff, children, and families already. I can’t wait to continue making memories with the Newport Children’s Academy community!
Hi everyone! My name is Vickie, and I am so honored to be a part of this flourishing community here at Newport Children’s Academy! I bring with me a love of children, music, creativity, community, art, and learning. I have earned my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, with minors in Sociology and Music, as well as a Master of Education: Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. I also completed my 200 hour yoga teaching certification (and extensions) program at Core Power Yoga. I was born and raised in Chicago, and have taught and cared for children all over the Chicagoland area. I’ve worked in a wide array of educational environments, including Chicago Public Schools, private schools, youth nonprofit organizations, camps, and after school ministries. Prior to joining Newport, I served as the Music Specialist at another preschool in the city, where I was responsible for crafting and teaching music classes centered around monthly investigations and tailored for children ages 15 months to 5 years. I organized the school wide holiday pageant at both branches of the school, and performed and sang with my classes for the families. I am grateful to be at Newport, where I can share my love of music with children every single day. I believe in the importance of helping children to develop a love of learning that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. In my free time, I serve as the worship leader at my church in Naperville, and face paint and balloon twist at corporate events and kids’ birthday parties. I also enjoy juggling, traveling, and spending quality time with my friends, family, and two adorable kitties.
Hello Newport families! My name is Samantha Delgadillo, better known as Ms. D by the students. I received my bachelors from DePaul’s College of Communications in June of 2017. Throughout college I would nanny full time in the summers and part time during the school year, giving me a total of two years of nannying experience. Through my experiences, I believe effective communication is key in early childhood and I strive to bring that into the classroom with both the students and the parents. While at DePaul, I also pursued a minor in creative writing and I believe everyone should express themselves creatively through whatever medium they choose. My goal is to give each student the tools necessary to feel comfortable with their interpersonal communications while creating a safe environment for each student to express themselves creatively. I’m thrilled to be a part of the NCA team and I look forward to meeting all the Newport friends and families!
Hello! My name is Ariana Davis and I am excited to be a part of the Newport family. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resource Management and have completed several credits in Early Childhood Education. I’ve worked in classrooms with infants through preschool-aged children. I’m so excited to teach Preschool at Newport and help my students fall in love with learning. I hope to use my creativity and easy going personality to help me connect with my students and help them grow as individuals. In my free time I enjoy being an aunt to my two nephews, hanging out with family and friends, and trying out new restaurants in the city.
Preschool Assistant Teacher
Hello, my name is Jessica Althouse! I am very happy to be a part of the team here at Newport Children’s Academy. I graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a B.A. in Classics and a minor in English. I have been working with children for many years, in the past as a City Year Americops member, as substitute teacher, and as a paraprofessional aide for a child with autism. I am a strong believer in the importance of helping children develop a love of learning and I believe that making the school environment a fun and engaging place to be is one of the best ways to do so. In my spare time I enjoy reading, writing, traveling, and spending time with my friends and family
Hello! My name is Taylor Baker and I am very excited to be part of Newport Children’s Academy. In 2016, I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.S. in Human Development and Family Studies and a Certification in Education and Education Services. In college, I worked at a care facility as an Assistant and Co-Lead Teacher for two summers and was a long-term nanny for a wonderful family. I have worked with children of various ages for many years, and one of my favorite experiences was being able to use my degree internationally in another country working with children from 3-18 many of whom had difficult personal lives. Recently I’ve worked as a Lead Teacher here at Newport for 3 years now and love the community that Newport Children’s Academy brings to its school. It has been a wonderful experience to watch children grow academically, socially and behavioral in my classroom each year. I am always excited to start a new school year and watch new students develop.
What I enjoy doing personally is cooking, reading, working out and I love many different music genres so concerts and shows are some of my favorite things to do. I also am a sports fan and love to watch Wisconsin football! I’m an avid traveler as well and have been to many countries in Europe. I hope to continue to travel to more countries and experience more amazing adventures.
Hello Newport families and friends! My name is Sammi Zhu, I’m from China and I moved to Chicago with my husband two years ago. In 2020, I graduated from University of Illinois at Chicago with my masters in early childhood education. At the same time, I also received my Professional Educator License in early childhood education and special education.
In the past 2 years, I worked in a preschool classroom with students who were 3 to 4 years old. It was an amazing experience for me to grow together with the children in a safe and caring environment. I came to understand that it is also critical to provide our children with opportunities to learn through challenges and struggles. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the youngsters develop their language and social-emotional capability in the classroom. My teaching philosophy is to always remember to embrace the inherent beauty in our children and never forget to create learning opportunities beyond the classroom by ensuring strong communication with the children’s caregivers.
During my spare time, I like reading, cooking and taking my dog to the park. I also enjoy talking with my family who are still in China. I’m very excited to teach at Newport Children’s Academy and I’m looking forward to learning and growing with all my students and families!
PreK Assistant Teacher
Hello Everyone! My name is Kelly Nugent and I couldn’t be happier to begin 2019 as a member of the Newport Children’s Academy team. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work in such an amazing and supportive environment. As long as I can remember my greatest desire has been to work with children. My experience caring for children started in my teens and includes teaching Sunday school, being a camp counselor, and assisting a newborn photographer. I can’t think of anything more fulfilling than being a part of a child’s growth and education. It is a special feeling to invest in the life of a child and watch “the light go on.” I look forward to continuing my education and earning certifications that will better equip me to serve the children here at Newport Children’s Academy. When I’m not at NCA, I enjoy camping and spending time with friends and family. I am also an animal lover and enjoy the attentions of my best kitty, Nora.
PreK Assistant Teacher
Hello! My name is Kirsten Linder and I have been a part of the Newport team since September 2019. I graduated from William & Mary in 2018 with a B.S. in Kinesiology and a minor in Theatre. Much of my college career was spent acting, dancing and improvising, as well as teaching improv and theatre workshops at local schools. I love working with kids because of all the imagination and goofiness that they bring about in a positive, encouraging environment. For the past year, I have thoroughly enjoyed being among the amazing staff working to create such a nurturing environment here at Newport.
Other things I love to do include cooking new recipes, picnics by the lake, all sorts of outdoor activities, dancing, and playing games with my family. I look forward to working with all the kids and families of Newport Children’s Academy!
PreK Assistant Teacher
Hi Newport Families! My name is Jasmine Neri and I couldn’t be happier to be joining Newport Children’s Academy. I was born and raised in Chicago, IL. I graduated in 2018 with my Bachelors in Early Childhood, Special Education and English as a Second Language. Since then I have been working in preschool classrooms. I have always had a passion for education, early education especially. Outside of education, I love spending time with my family and 2 dogs. I also love baking, going running, and reading.
Hi my name is Miss. Foley! I have a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education from the University of Dayton and have been working in Early Childhood Education for the past few years, which I absolutely love. It’s amazing to watch the children learn and grow every day and I believe in facilitating that through genuine interactions and meaningful exploration and by providing the children with positive encouragement and support to explore the world around them. I can’t wait to watch your children flourish and please feel free to ask me any questions you might have!
Carly Belle Cason
Hi, there! My name is Carly Belle Cason, and I am from San Antonio, Texas. I recently moved to Chicago from North Carolina, where I was working as a Cowboy and Stunt Actor with a children’s theme park. I spent the last six months riding horses and jumping off buildings for a living, and hanging out and working with your kids every day is just as much fun!
I have degrees in Theatre and Dance from Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi, and also am a Certified Advanced Actor Combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors.
I have had many opportunities to work with children through theater: I’ve taught dance classes, combat workshops, and even directed shows with kids of all ages. This is also not my first time working with a childcare center. While living in Austin, Texas, I was a substitute teacher for the Children’s Discovery Center. I am so thrilled to be a part of the team at Newport Children’s Academy.
Hello there! My name is Taylor or (Ms. Carney), and I am so thrilled to be joining the Newport team! I graduated with my BA in Communication Studies at California State University- Fullerton in 2016, and shortly after earned a 120 hour TEFL certification for teaching English.
I have since traveled to 20 countries, volunteering in Nicaragua with children’s literacy groups, Poland in conversational English, and Peru as an ESL teacher. Most prominently, I lived and worked in Datong, Shanxi, China as an ESL Instructor teaching K-12 students for two years. I have sure learned a lot and have had so much fun!
My partner and I moved to Chicago this summer (2020) and I am so grateful to start my journey here at Newport. My love for teaching and encouraging children to dream big has only grown, and I aim to be a positive influence for the school. I appreciate structure and respect in the classroom all while learning and having fun. I believe communication is an important part in development and most importantly I want my new friends to feel that they have the WORLD in their hands!
Hello Newport Children’s Academy families! I began my journey at Newport a few months after I moved to Chicago in October 2019. I graduated from Oakland Community College with an associates degree in Early Childhood Education. I have over 7 years of experience in the field and I still learn something new everyday. I enjoy all ages because each age is so fun to learn with. In my free time I like to travel, ski, and be with my family and friends. I can’t wait to help foster growth and education here at Newport Children Academy!