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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 seven.

Ashley Funkhouser

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!

Abby Huster

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!

Raina Bucci

Toddler/Twos Program Director

My name is Raina Bucci and I have been working in early childhood education since 2014. 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’ve come to Newport Children’s Academy with the goal of applying my enthusiasm and passion for early education and child development. I recognize and appreciate the unique qualities of each child I encounter. I seek to encourage education and growth by presenting new challenges to build confidence. I am excited and proud to be a part of the dedicated team that is Newport Children’s Academy. As a parent of two students at the school I am invested in this amazing community and look forward to meeting you and your child.

Caitlin Habley

PreK Teacher & 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!

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.

Jacey Battaglia

Infant 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.

Jessica Moctezuma

Infant 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 multiple 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.

Nichol Burrell

Infant Teacher

Hello Newport Families! I’m Nichol Burrell and I am excited to be apart of the infant team. I’ve worked with infants for 7 years now and have truly enjoyed it. Before infants, I worked with mentally and physically disabled adults. My experience also spans to being a mother and grandmother. Working in an early childhood setting means we must work closely with the parents to help ensure each of their child’s needs are met. I work hard to build positive relationships with each parent to form a team of caregivers advocating for success. As infant teachers, we’re the first interaction the babies have with school so we leave an impression on them. I think it’s so amazing being a part of an infants first year!

Kristin Wurm

Infant Teacher

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!

Myrel Logsdon

Infant Assistant Teacher

Hello! My name is Myrel Logsdon and I am excited to be a part of the infant team. I am a mother of two young boys and I have worked with kids for many years.  I also have an associate’s in General Studies and I am currently pursuing my Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education at National Louis University.  I have worked with kids from 8th grade all the way to infants and I have found my place among the younger kids. I am very excited to be at Newport and have the opportunity to learn and grow with all of your children!

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!

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!

Yanira Trejo

Toddler Teacher

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 working with children for 6 years as a nanny and paraprofessional at elementary schools. I enjoy working with children as everyday is another day to celebrate all the little things in life. Kids are always learning and discovering new things everyday. I am excited to be a part of that learning experience!

I love cooking and making arts and craft; I am confident your little ones will too while in my classroom. I am overjoyed to be a part of your child’s journey here at Newport!

Spencer Kenney

Toddler 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!

Lauren Halloran

Toddler 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!

Mattie Foley

Toddler Assistant Teacher

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!

Maire O'Malley

Toddler Assistant Teacher

Hi Newport Families! My name is Maire (Mary) O’Malley and I’m so excited to be spending my days with your little ones! I graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2018 with a BS in Animal Science and I moved up to Chicago to research Animal Behavior and Welfare (part-time) at the Brookfield Zoo. I started caring for children at a young age as a Sunday school teacher and track coach. I began nanny-ing as a teenager  and continued throuhgout college. My favorite thing about early childhood education is the watching young children’s rapid development; it’s amazing to see what they can accomplish over a short time. In my free time, I love all things outdoors, running, reading, and spending time with my family and dogs. I’m very excited to nurture and watch your little ones grow!

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!

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.

Vickie Pang

Preschool Teacher & Music

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.

Sam Delgadillo

Preschool Assistant Teacher

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!

Christyne Sapp

Preschool 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.

Kelly Nugent

Preschool 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.

Evangelia-Maria Anninos

PreK Assistant Teacher

My name is Evangelia-Maria Anninos. I was born and raised in Greece, but I have been living in Chicago, Illinois for the past six years. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and a Bachelor of Arts in Classical Studies with a minor in History from the University of Illinois at Chicago. I am currently pursuing my Master of Education in Secondary Education. My experience in teaching includes working as a preschool and kindergarten teacher at the Greek School of the National Hellenic Museum, tutoring Modern Greek to children of different ages, and also teaching piano and music theory to both children and adults. In my spare time I enjoy playing the piano, reading, solving puzzles, cooking, baking, and working out. I could not be happier to be a part of the community at Newport Children’s Academy. I feel honored to have the chance to be a teacher for children at such a young age because I consider it a privilege to contribute to their very first learning experiences. I see everyday spent with them as a gift and look forward to making their early education fascinating.

Abby Tierney

Assistant Teacher

Hello Newport community! My name is Abby Tierney. I received my Bachelor of Arts in Dance and a minor in Education from Columbia College Chicago in May 2019. During my time there, I realized how much I love working with children. Whether I am teaching in a dance studio or a classroom, I love being able to see how children grow and develop. It is always fun to see the many “Aha” moments that children have during early childhood. At Newport, I want to ensure that the teachers I assist feel supported and that the students feel they have a safe space to learn and grow. Outside of the classroom I love to dance, spend time outdoors, and have game nights with friends.

I am very excited to be here and I look forward to meeting all the families and friends of Newport Children’s Academy!

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.

Kirsten Linder

Assistant Teacher

Hello! My name is Kirsten Linder and I am so excited and grateful to be joining the Newport team this year. I graduated from William & Mary in 2018 with a B.S. in Health Sciences 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. I am thrilled to be 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!

Caroline Limbo

Assistant Teacher

Hello, Newport families! My name is Caroline Limbo, also known as Little Limbo, and I am so excited to be working at Newport Children’s Academy. I received my Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from The University of Illinois – Chicago with a minor in Psychology, and I am currently pursuing a Master of Occupational Therapy degree from Elmhurst College. I have experience in working with children of all abilities and ages, ranging from newborn to 16 years old. I first started as a volunteer at a KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now) and pursued further volunteer work at a child and family development center while in college. I loved working with kiddos so much and decided to become a behavioral therapist after graduating from UIC. I learned that children flourish in a supportive, yet explorative environment where they can express themselves in many different ways. Through these experiences, I’ve come to value the creativity, curiosity, and independence each child brings, and I hope to promote these qualities in the classroom while supporting the amazing teachers at NCA. When I’m not working or in class, I enjoy playing indoor or beach volleyball, trying out new food spots, experimenting with new ways to make coffee, and going to events around the city!

Amanda Brunell

Assistant Teacher

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!