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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.



Teaching a child how to think, not what to think



Setting the stage for developing future critical thinking skills



Modeling respect and helping children problem-solve


Our Team Members

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John Sears


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 three.

Ashley Funkhouser

Assistant Director

Hello, Newport families and friends. My name is Ashley Funkhouser, and I am very excited to be the Assistant Director of Newport Children’s Academy. I went to National Louis University and studied Early Childhood Education. Throughout my years in ECE, I have enjoyed working with all different ages. I love to see the growth and excitement children have in their education. I find great joy helping in all of our classrooms. As the Assistant Director, I look forward to interacting with all the children and families and getting to know everyone. During my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family (and my two yorkies!) and playing sports.

Dominique Monks

Preschool Program Director

Hello, Newport Children’s Academy families and friends! My name is Dominique Monks. I am very excited to be a teacher at NCA. I grew up in the Los Angeles area and graduated from California State University, Chico with a B.A. in Liberal Studies and a minor in Business Administration. After graduation, I continued my education in Chico, receiving my Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. I started teaching preschool in 2009 and fell in love with the amazing, unique hearts and personalities of every child. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my friends and family, going to the beach, and playing soccer. I can’t wait to get to know all of the families at Newport Children’s Academy!

Raina Bucci

Twos Program Coordinator

My name is Raina Bucci and I earned my B.A. in Religious Studies at the University of Denver and have since continued my education in Early Childhood Development. I am a certified yoga instructor, avid reader, and excellent tree climber. I enjoy cooking, hiking, dancing, painting and spending time outdoors. I have been working in Early Childhood Education classrooms for over five years. I love spending my days with your toddlers and twos! It is such an important age as children are learning and earning their independence through speech and new skills. I love to  engage students with storytelling, songs, movement games and dancing. Since joining the Newport community two years ago, I have had my own child who also attends the school. We are so happy and proud to be a part of this wonderful community.

Abby Huster

Infant/Toddler Program Director

Hello! My name is Abagail 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 second grade in CPS alongside a mentor teacher. After that, I became a Lead Infant Teacher in Lincoln Park, then helped open a Twos classroom and became the Lead Teacher for that room. I enjoyed teaching in my own classroom, but I decided I wanted to be able to work with more than one age group. You may see me in multiple classrooms at Newport, as I move around throughout the day!

Outside of the classroom, I love to cook and travel. So far I’ve been to Italy, France, Spain, Thailand, and Mexico! I can’t wait to get to know all of the Newport families and friends!

Cindy Nunez

Infant Teacher

Hello Newport families! My name is Cindy and I’m so excited to meet you all. I graduated from Northern Illinois University with my bachelors in child development. I’m a certified parent-Infant specialist, infant sleep specialist, and a child life specialist. I have worked with children of all ages for about 10 years now and have specialized with infants for the past 5 years. I have completed a internship at Northwestern hospital and at a child development center in DeKalb working with parents and children of all ages. I am very much intrigued and enjoy being apart of children’s gross motor, fine motor, language, cognitive, emotional, and sensory development. I look forward to meeting you all and starting this amazing journey with your little ones.

Kelley Garth

Infant Teacher

My name is Kelley Garth. I have my Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education. I have been working with young children for 5 years. In my time of working with children I have reached the conclusion that Children thrive in an environment in which they are free to explore and experiment through play and hands on activities. I am dedicated in providing a safe loving and nurturing environment for children and families.

Stefanie Teixeira

Assistant Teacher

Hi Newport friends & families! My name is Stefanie Teixeira, and I am so thrilled to be a part of the team here at Newport Children’s Academy. I just recently moved to Chicago after spending the majority of 2018 in my hometown of Toronto. I received my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Arizona State University, with coursework in Early Childhood Education & Development. I’ve had multiple opportunities to work with children of all ages through babysitting and volunteering. I’ve also worked in an Elementary school’s front office, I was able to assist in the classrooms, on the playground, and in the nurses office. I have a passion for children that makes me truly enjoy playing with and teaching them. I believe this is the most crucial time in children’s lives and it’s important they feel safe and supported to discover their own personality. I can’t wait to get more hands on teaching experience with your kids, as well as spend my days getting to know their little minds.

Jacey Battaglia

Assistant Teacher

Hello families! My name is Jacey Battaglia and I am so excited to be a part of the team here at Newport Children’s Academy. I was born and raised in Ft. Collins, CO where I began my career in early childhood education by volunteering to help young children in the community. Six years ago I moved to Atlanta, GA and began teaching English as a second language to children around the world. Recently, I moved here to Chicago and I am absolutely falling in love with this city. I look forward to getting to know you and your precious little ones soon.

Tiffany Besana

Assistant Teacher

Hello there, families! My name is Tiffany; I am a Chicagoland native excited to be joining the Newport team. By spring of 2019, I’ll have earned my BA in Human Development & Learning at UIC, which is also where I’ll be pursuing my Doctorate in Physical Therapy. I have spent the last few years teaching health education in Chicago public high schools and working in pediatric physical therapy settings. I’m eager to bring together my past experiences to help promote healthy development for your little ones! Outside of the classroom you can find me spending time with my two precious dogs Delilah, a bichon frise, and Sage, a maltipoo. I also enjoy playing the piano, dabbling in photography, discovering new music, and exploring the wonderful city of Chicago.

Jessica Moctezuma

Assistant Teacher

Hello Newport Families! My name is Jessica Moctezuma. I’m excited to be part of Newport Children’s Academy. I grew up in Chicago and a few years ago moved to Cicero. I’ve been working with children for the past five years. I’ve had the opportunity to work with children of ages and I love working with infants because they’re so much fun and always put a smile on my face. I believe that learning should be fun, either through play, projects, storytelling or songs. In my free time I enjoy doing crafts and projects, reading, photography and exploring this beautiful city. I believe children are our future and I look forward to working with all the families at Newport Children’s Academy as we care for that future together.

Quinese Murphy

Toddler Teacher

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!

Emily Latz

Toddler Teacher

Hello, my name is Emily Latz! I am very excited to have joined the team here at Newport Children’s Academy. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater with a B.A. in Social Work and a minor in Family, Health, and Disability Studies. I have a variety of professional experience working with children of all ages. I have worked in child welfare as a foster care caseworker at One Hope United, and I have also worked with children with disabilities as a paraprofessional at a therapeutic day school specializing in autism. I have always loved working with children, and I feel I have found the perfect fit for me at Newport Children’s Academy. I look forward to meeting all of you!

Spencer Kenney

Assistant Teacher

Hi Friends! My name is Spencer Kenney. I first got my start working with children as a gymnastics coach. I competed in club gymnastics for 8 years and continued to coach until age 23. I’ve coached toddlers all the way up to high school students and love working with kids of all ages. I love working with the toddlers at NCA because they’re constantly learning new things and impressing us! I spend my free time thrifting, going to concerts, and seeing my family and friends. I graduated from North Central College with and English Writing bachelor’s degree in 2014.

Tess Mikolajczak

Toddler Teacher

Hello! My name is Tess Mikolajczak otherwise known as Ms. Zak. I received my Bachelor of Arts in Human Development from Connecticut College. I am a strong advocate of autonomy of the individual, therefore I make sure to give children time to express their feelings and thoughts during activities. I strive to facilitate an environment that helps children learn to be advocates for themselves, others, and gain independence and confidence early in life. In my classroom you will hear and see a lot of action based songs. Action based songs are a fun way to allow children to move around, learn control over different parts of their bodies, as well as practice their listening and memory skills. I look forward to dancing and singing with all of my students!

Carly Belle Cason

Assistant Teacher

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.

Lauren Halloran

Assistant Teacher

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!

Evangeline Rubio

Twos Teacher

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 from Northern Illinois University.

I’m currently a Behavioral Therapist, an advocate of all children and individuals with disabilities, Youth Group Leader, and 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. I am so delighted to meet the Newport families and especially grateful to be part of the momentous journey of your child/children!

Chestine Limbo

Twos Teacher

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!

Debjani Singha

Assistant Teacher

Hi my name is Debjani Singha Roy. I received my Bachelors in Arts and Postgraduate Diploma in Yoga Therapy from India. I am also a certified Yoga teacher. I love painting, dancing and poetry. I worked as a lead teacher for almost 3 years in India prior to joining Newport Children’s Academy. I really love working with young kids. Their innocence really empower my thinking and brighten my day. That is one of the biggest reasons I want to work with kids. Swami Vivekananda, an Indian philosopher, once said about education, “Education is the manifestation of perfection already in a man.” I believe in that. I will try to help the students to reach their full potential. I am truly excited to be part of the family of Newport Children’s Academy.

Taylor Johnson

Twos/Threes Teacher

Hello! My name is Taylor Johnson, 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 care facilities as an Assistant and Co-Lead Teacher for two summers and was a long-term nanny for a wonderful family. Since then, I’ve worked as a Lead Teacher at another facility in Lincoln Park.  One of my favorite experiences was when I was able to apply my degree and knowledge to an internship in Warsaw, Poland, where I interacted with students from three to seventeen years of age, many of whom had difficult personal lives. I had to learn various methods of teaching academics and social/behavioral development to the children in ways where I was able to gain their respect and trust as well.

Some of my hobbies are reading, cooking, visiting museums and exhibits, and just about anything that has to do with music. I am a huge traveler and have already visited many places in Europe. My dream is to visit as many countries as I can around the world.

Christyne Stephenson

Threes Teacher

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.

Caitlin Habley

Threes Teacher

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!

Laura Haigler

PreK Teacher

Hello Newport Families! My name is Laura Haigler, I am from Boston Massachusetts. I attended undergrad at High Point University, in North Carolina. During my Junior year I studied abroad in Rome, Italy and was able to explore many countries in Europe. After college I spent three years in Washington, D.C., two of which I was a nanny for an amazing family! While working as a nanny I knew I wanted to pursue my passion of working with children in the classroom. I moved to Chicago to work with an urban education program where I taught in 4 different CPS schools in Pre-K, Kindergarten and First grade. I was also attending DePaul University and completed my Masters in Early Childhood Education.  

Working with children and their families is a huge passion of mine. I am thrilled to join the Newport team, and look forward to meeting everyone! 

Jacqueline Pojasek

Assistant Teacher

My name is Jacqueline and I’m excited to be a part of Newport Children’s Academy! I am originally from St. Paul, Minnesota. I have received a Bachelor of Arts in Theater Performance from Columbia College Chicago. When I’m not at Newport you can see me acting at the Goodman Theatre and other theaters across the Chicagoland area.

Throughout the years I have had experience working with children from 5 to 17 years old. I started helping in a third grade classroom back in Minnesota and realized that working with children is a passion of mine! Later on I became an Arts and Crafts Camp Counselor and a Bunk Counselor in Greeley, Pennsylvania. After completing college, I started working at a Montessori in the suburbs. I worked with children ages 1 to 5 and loved seeing all the milestones reached during this time in a child’s life.

Working at Newport gave me the wonderful opportunity to help with Infants as well as older children. I love seeing children get excited about learning through art and exploration. I provide a fun and nurturing environment for every child. I can’t wait to see your child grow and develop with you at Newport Children’s Academy.

Emma Barclay

Assistant Teacher

My name is Emma Barclay and I am from Chicago.  I graduated from Carthage College with a studio art degree.  I have worked with children for over 10 years- working camps, working at the library children’s center, nannying and babysitting, as well as previously working at a Montessori school.  In my spare time i like to take yoga classes, go on walks or bike rides, and travel. I am thrilled to be a part of such a fantastic school full of such amazing people!

Kelly Nugent

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.

Alanna Buttita

Assistant Teacher

Hi there! My name is Alanna Buttitta and I am currently a sophomore at DePaul University. I am originally from Bloomingdale, IL, a suburb of Chicago, but fell in love with the city when I moved here for school last fall. When I started working at different park district camps in my hometown, I had no idea I would eventually pursue a career in education. But it wasn’t long before I realized that I love working with children and how fulfilling my time was spent with them. As an art education major, I have an immense passion for arts and crafts. In my free time, I enjoy drawing, painting, and DIY-ing new things that I find on Pinterest. “Craft time” never fails to be my favorite part of my day, there’s nothing I enjoy more than spreading creativity, no matter how messy it can get. I look forward to all the new crafts, friends, and memories that I will make here at Newport.

Bianca Hernandez

Assistant Teacher

Hi Newport Families! I am so excited to be joining the team. I can’t wait for all of the new experiences and opportunities Newport has to offer. I am originally from the Schaumburg area and traveled to Northern Illinois University where I obtained my Bachelor’s in Psychology and minored in Child Development and Spanish. I currently attend Roosevelt University, and I will be graduating this May of 2019 with my Master’s of Education in Mental Clinical Health Counseling! Besides helping in multiple classrooms at Newport, I will also be using my knowledge and education in Spanish to implement daily Spanish lessons for many of the classrooms.

I have worked in various daycare centers along my journey as well as Youth & Family counseling centers. I am excited about the children at Newport because they have such vibrant skills and spirits! My interests include yoga, going to concerts, theatre productions, comedy shows, and pretty much any type of live entertainment! I look forward to working with all of the families at Newport Children’s Academy.