Our Educational Philosophy

Academia’s belief and educational philosophy is that each individual student learns through new experiences and social interaction with others. Our custom designed courses follow the best practices of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and the World-Readiness for Learning Language Standards—Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.

Academia’s educational philosophy resides on the belief that learning is a social endeavor, and that we learn through new experiences and through interactions with others. Courses are designed to focus on what an individual can communicate as a result of learning, rather than on rote learning to achieve memorization.

We also believe that learning is a lifelong venture and that through seeking to understand, students come to learn the process of questioning and making meaning of the world around them. We follow best practices in teaching the foreign language, as the “5 C’s” (World-Readiness for Learning Language Standards) are the goals that guide our engaging lessons and interactions. These are Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.


  • When focusing on communication, interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational skills are explored to prepare better the learner to communicate for a variety of purposes.
  • Cultures. Learners acquire knowledge and understanding of other cultures. A practice of making connections to previous knowledge helps them make meaning.
  • Connections involve learning about other disciplines and diverse perspectives by acquiring information useful for problem-solving and critical thinking.
  • By using comparisons, learners can develop insight and competence into the language and culture they are studying as well as their own.
  • Communities relates to using language in both class and home to interrelate in the community as well as globally.

Meet the team

Kaycee Militante

Director of Children’s Curriculum Development and Educational Standards

Kaycee Militante is the Director of Children’s Curriculum Development and Educational Standards at Academia. She is also a clinical assistant professor at Illinois State University. Before moving to higher education, Kaycee taught for Chicago Public Schools in several roles and settings, primarily as a special education teacher, but also in general education, ESL, and bilingual education. She holds master’s degrees in both curriculum and instruction from the American College of Education, and educational leadership with a focus on linguistics from the University of Illinois. Kaycee emphasizes the importance of teaching lessons that promote discourse and social interaction, are highly relevant to the learner, and applicable beyond the classroom. She lives in Oak Park with her two children and enjoys biking.

Jenna Leving Jacobson

Spanish and Cuban Studies
Jenna Leving Jacobson received her PhD. in Romance Languages and Literatures from the University of Chicago where her research focused on 19th, 20th, and 21st century Cuba and its diaspora. Jenna has taught Spanish literature and language courses at the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan, where she also worked as an academic advisor for undergraduate students. She earned a certificate in University Teaching and Second Language Pedagogy from the University of Chicago’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

Jenna volunteers as a Spanish interpreter at CommunityHealth, a free clinic on Chicago’s West side, and has eight years of experience in medical, as well as legal translation and interpretation.

Jennifer Solheim

Creative Writing
Jennifer Solheim is a freelance writer and editor. At Academia she teaches Creative Writing. She holds a PhD in French from the University of Michigan and is an MFA candidate in the Bennington Writing Seminars. She has taught at the University of Illinois—Chicago, Université de Paris VII, and at StoryStudio Chicago.

Jennifer is a Contributing Editor at Fiction Writers Review, and her short stories and essays have appeared in Akashic Books’ Mondays are Murder series, Conclave: A Journal of Character, Confrontation, Inside Higher Ed, and Poets & Writers. Her novel-in-progress about a Chicago indie rock band in family therapy was a semi-finalist for the 2015 James Jones Fellowship.

You can read more about her work and writing life at www.jennifersolheim.com.

Stefanie Faye Frank

Stefanie Faye Frank’s research and graduate degree from New York University focused on the cross-section of neuroplasticity and social-emotional intelligence. At Academia Stefanie teaches The Neuroscience of Social Justice. Her counseling and teaching work in countries all over the world combine science research with insights from mindfulness, transformative education and social justice. She is currently a consultant and guest speaker for K-12 teacher development programs and various organizations across the US, Europe and Canada, including Google, Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design Thinking in Berlin, Northwestern and Northeastern University, Illinois State University and the University of California San Diego, School of Medicine. Before her graduate work, she enjoyed an award-winning career as a French teacher for diplomats, before becoming a linguist and intelligence analyst for the Department of Defense.

Katie Bodendorfer Garner

Gender Studies
After graduating from an all-girls high school and then Illinois Wesleyan, Katie B. Garner worked at a magazine and later in sales at a web development firm. With neither being a good fit, Katie went back for her MA in English Ed and found work in which she could contribute her creativity, passion for knowledge, and optimism for a more egalitarian world for young people and adults alike. Katie left high school teaching to start a family, while also completing a PhD in English. Her dissertation examines how class and race affect the development of empathy in the mother/nanny relationship. Katie now adjuncts at North Central College in addition to working on a book tentatively titled The Catch-22 of Childcare: How Culture, Ambivalence, and Neoliberalism Prevent Mothers from Being Greater than They Already Are.

Corinne Moran

Director of Adult Curriculum and Seminars
With specialization in the Greco-Roman world, Corinne Moran also co-develops Academia’s children’s Greek and Roman curriculum. Corinne began her career in museum education at The Art Institute of Chicago followed by a faculty position at Harper College. She holds a master’s degree in art history from Columbia University in New York. With over ten years’ experience teaching and developing post-secondary curriculum, she relishes Academia’s progressive philosophy as it encourages innovative studies. Corinne works to develop courses and seminars that encourage the learner to think both broadly and independently, concomitantly mentoring them to engage in the subjects both civically and globally.

Rebecca Deeb

Archaeology and Anthropology
Rebecca Deeb is an anthropological archaeologist focusing on ancient Mexico and Central America. She earned her Bachelors in Anthropology from Oberlin College, her Master’s from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and is nearing completion of her Ph.D. dissertation. For over a decade, Rebecca has educated students on global cultures, human evolution, and how digging in the dirt can tell us many things about ancient civilizations. She has taught at several area colleges and managed the cultural collections of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Her archaeological work deals with the Maya and has taken her to Honduras, Guatemala, Belizean caves, and Mexico. While living in a Maya village, some of the subjects Rebecca studied included trade, pottery, obsidian and metal.

Isaiah Clark

Spoken Word Courses
At Academia, Isaiah Clark teaches spoken word courses to middle school and high school aged students, including the ‘Atelophobia’ course where students use music and poetry to overcome self-doubt and anxiety about public speaking.

Isaiah has a B.A. in communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago where his project won the Outstanding Oral Presentation Award at the Illinois Summer Research Symposium.

He successfully piloted his innovative curriculum at Roosevelt University and UIC and recently completed his teaching artist residency at Percy Julian Middle School in partnership with the Oak Park Education Foundation. Here, Isaiah co-designed curriculum, taught spoken-word poetry, emceed the seventh-grade Poetry Slam, and co-facilitated the Spoken Word Club.

16th and 17th Percy Julian Symposium Guest Performance (2015, 2016)
Kennedy King College Workshop Presenter (2016)
UIC Trio Urban Academy Guest Speaker (2016)
Roosevelt University Education Guest Lecturer (2016)

Maria Storm

Music Appreciation
Ukrainian-born Maria Storm is an award-winning violinist. Maria conducted her studies at Mannes College of Music, Chicago College of Performing Arts, and Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where she received her Master’s Degree.

Maria made her solo début at age fourteen with the Odessa Symphony Orchestra in the Ukraine. While living abroad, Maria established herself as a soloist and chamber musician, performing with the Torun Chamber Orchestra and the A. Rubinstein Symphony Orchestra.As first violinist of the Petar Jankovic Ensemble, Maria performs regularly in the Chicagoland area. She also appeared with the CUBE Ensemble and the International Chamber Artists. Maria has also performed as a soloist with the Waukegan Symphony, Northwest Symphony, Northwest Chicago Symphony, and the Chicago Composers Orchestra.

Dima Ali

At Academia, Dima is responsible for the Arabic courses. Dima was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. She received her Master’s degree in family law from Babylon University in 1997 and immigrated to the US in 2002. Dima is trained in English-Arabic translation and is a Middle Eastern culture and religion expert.

Dima is the mother of two girls. After deciding to become a teacher, she enrolled at Triton College where she has a GPA of 4.00 and Dean’s list honors.

Dima is active in the Oak Park community; she is a volunteer lawyer with the West Cook Pro Bono Network, and a human rights activist.

Nunki Osuna

Community Outreach Director
Born and raised in Venezuela, Nunki received her law degree from the Universidad Bicentenaria de Aragua in 2002. Following that, she completed diverse postgraduate studies to further her career. However, her political affiliations resulted in her leaving the country in 2008 to seek asylum in the United States. After some hardship, she is currently a business administration student at DeVry University and works in the insurance industry. In her free time, Nunki is an advocate of refugees from Venezuela through her Facebook page “Auxilio al Venezolano en Chicago.” At Academia, Nunki supports our charitable efforts, focusing on connecting newly arrived immigrants in need of clothing and furniture to local residents offering donations.

Jackie Lazaro

Operations Manager
Jackie Lazaro is Academia’s Operations Manager, supporting human resources, class facilities management, and marketing campaign execution. Her varied work history includes roles in nuclear security to being a navy firefighter. She is also a certified roller derby instructor! Jackie graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.A. in psychology. She enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, who she teaches Spanish to in her spare time.

Vipanchi Raghu

Indian Mythology
Vipanchi Raghu is a freelance learning designer and consultant with over 12 years of experience in designing learning solutions. She holds a Master’s degree in English literature with a focus on Indian writing from Bangalore University, India. She also teaches Hindu philosophy to children in an Indian spiritual organization. At Academia, Vipanchi designs and teaches open-minded, theme-based explorations of classical Indian mythology and culture through interactive stories, activities, and fun engagements. As a parent, she believes passionately in raising global citizens and enjoys contributing to the interconnected cultural learning of Academia.

Nancy Fret

Spanish Teacher
Nancy Fret is a Chicago native who grew up in Little Village. She obtained her undergraduate degree in Secondary Teaching of Spanish at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She then attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and obtained a Master’s in Spanish Linguistics with a personal focus on Heritage Spanish. After her degree, she wanted to impact the heritage Spanish field through direct interaction with Latino high-school students. She worked at Bolingbrook High School (BHS)for three years where she restructured their Heritage Spanish program. While at BHS, she also taught a dual-credit Heritage Spanish course as an adjunct professor for the College of Dupage. Nancy has also presented on Heritage Spanish language issues at the Illinois Council of Teaching of Foreign Languages (ICTFL) and the Network of Illinois Educators of Spanish for Heritage Languages (NIESHL). She is currently a board member of NIESHL and in 2015 she also received the ICTFL Award for New Teachers of Foreign Languages. Currently, Nancy is also working on her second master’s degree in Language, Literacy and Learning at UIC. In the future, she aspires to enroll in a PhD program to conduct further research in the heritage Spanish field. When she has free time, Nancy loves to run and travel.

Qi Guo

Mandarin Instructor
Qi was born and raised in China. She obtained her Master’s degree in Bilingual/Bicultural Education from Columbia University. She also trained to teach an immersion program in the New York City public school system. Before moving to the Chicago area, Qi lived and worked in Kobe, Japan, for three years where she learned to speak and write Japanese. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling with family, reading, and learning different languages. She believes that “A different language is a different vision of life.”

Erika McCombs

English Literature Instructor
In addition to teaching at Academia, Dr. Erika McCombs teaches courses in the English departments at Elmhurst College and Loyola University. Having taught high school English and ESL, Erika returned to school to complete her PhD in English; her dissertation looks at representations of masculinity in abolitionist and African American literature. With over fifteen years of experience in the classroom at a variety of levels, Dr. McCombs enjoys engaging with students and helping them think critically about what they both read and write. Her literature courses connect literature with the historical moment in which they were created while her writing courses help authors to develop their own voice within the context of a particular genre. She loves discussing literature, history, writing, and pedagogy from a variety of different perspectives; she also loves travel and cooking shows. Erika lives in Berwyn with her husband, son, and rescue pup.

Beth L Dougherty

Sociology of Religion
Beth L Dougherty is a sociologist focused on religion, popular culture, and embodiment in the US and abroad. Currently completing her dissertation at Loyola University Chicago, her research incorporates both survey data and ethnographic research.  Focusing on sensory experience as a gateway to better understanding religious experiences, her dissertation questions the roles of individual life histories and group memberships in ritual practices.

Beth has written book and film reviews for several academic journals, such as Sociology of Religion.  In 2005, King’s College London awarded Beth the Shelford Prize for Excellence in Research on Religion for her 2004 master’s dissertation on an international new religious movement. Other research work currently under revision addresses membership in online role-playing game communities. Beth is currently collecting data for a project focused on religious and political movements in public discourse online and in the media.

Beth’s teaching experience ranges from social psychology to cultural sociology, with a heavy focus on the intersection between popular culture and social structures. Beth particularly looks forward to exploring how to unpack big data and media representations with Academia students, as well as examining the complexities of religion in American popular culture.

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