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Meet the Team


Richard Lawson

Center Manager

 Richard is an experienced programs manager with a coaching and youth counseling background.                                                                 

Prior to Academia, Richard was a Site Director for the Apollo after-school program. He has an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice and is currently completing a Bachelor’s degree in Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies at DePaul University.

Alma Montes de Oca

Spanish Preschool Instructor 

Alma joins us from teaching Spanish at an elementary school in Arlington Heights where she has enjoyed working with children from preschool to fourth grade.  She gained her degree at Cuernavaca college in Mexico. Her priority is creating a joyful space for children to explore language and culture and likes to bring as much creativity to her teaching as possible.
Alma also leads our after-school Spanish language classes.

Shuheng He

Mandarin Preschool Instructor

Shuheng is a Mandarin instructor and curriculum developer. She was born and raised in Xi’an, China, a modern city with over 3,000 years of history. Chicago became her hometown after moving here a couple of years ago.

Prior to Academia, Shuheng taught and developed a K-8 Mandarin program in Wisconsin for three years. She also has experience teaching adults and college students in the Chicago area and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Shuheng encourages interactive, communicative cultural understanding and interest-driven learning, and loves bringing technologies and multimedia to her classes.

Dolly Bates

Preschool Support & Early Childhood Coordinator

While originally from Chicago, Dolly has resided in Berwyn for the past five years. She has worked with all ages of children including infants and preschoolers for over twenty-one years. Ms. Dolly has worked as a site director at Sunny Days Kids Academy, where she was employed for over fourteen years. Dolly has an associate degree in Early Childhood Education from Morton College.  She states that she enjoys working with children as they are our future. 

Magaly Cordero

Music Instructor/Spanish Preschool Substitute 

Magaly Cordero is an active performer and educator in Chicagoland. A trained classical/ opera singer, she has performed roles with the Cedar Rapids Opera Theater, Evanston’s The Savoyaires, and Chamber Opera Chicago. She has also sung with the South Shore Opera Company, Music Theater Works, and Wisconsin’s Music by the Lake Festival. Magaly is a proud member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus.                                                                         
As an educator, Magaly has several years’ experience teaching music and Spanish. She has previous experience as a Spanish teacher with Language Stars, and also provided Spanish lessons in people’s homes. Magaly has had a vibrant, private voice studio for the last ten years and is the founder of the Pop-Up Music School which provides music and ethnomusicology classes in people’s homes.       
Currently, Magaly is assisting with the choral music program at Chicago’s St. Procopius School. Magaly also has a Bachelor’s degree in Music from Northwestern University and a Master’s degree in Vocal Performance from Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts.


Erin Young

Professional Educators License Learning Behavioral Specialist type 1 pre-K to 21

Endorsed English as a Second Language teacher

Erin is a veteran Special Education teacher with fifteen years’ experience teaching in the Chicago Public Schools. After earning her Bachelor’s degree in Special Education from Bradley University and ESL endorsement from the University of Illinois, she taught in the northwest side of the city. She has worked with the Low Incidences Disability Cluster Program for the past eight years as well.

Erin helped create and administer the After-Schools Minor Science Club program through the Museum of Science and Industry. Additionally, she is the site coordinator for the Young Athletes Special Olympics Program with 140 students, and was the head coach for youth athletes in the Special Olympics for many years.

Currently, Erin is an After-School Team Lead at Academia.

Taneisha Vilma

After-school Coordinator

Taneisha is an After-School Coordinator at Academia. She is originally from Boston, MA, and currently resides in the Chicago area. She has several years of experience working with children from pre-school through the elementary years. Taneisha previously worked with an after-school program where she assisted in the planning and implementation of activities.        

Currently, she is a graduate student studying developmental psychology at Northern Illinois University. Her research interests include early childhood learning, reasoning, and social-cognitive development.


Qi Guo

Mandarin Instructor

 Qi is a native of China and currently resides in the Chicago area.  Before moving to the Chicago area, she lived and worked in Kobe, Japan, for three years where she learned to speak and write Japanese.  Qi has experience teaching both adults and children in a small group environment and believes that “A different language is a different vision of life.”  She obtained her Master’s degree in Bilingual/Bicultural Education from Columbia University.  Qi also trained to teach an immersion program in the New York City public school system.

Qi also supports the after-school team as a coordinator. 

Chryssa Papacosta

Greek Instructor

Chryssa is a native of Greece and now resides in the Chicago area.  She currently teaches Greek Language and Culture with an emphasis on the “Ellinomatheia” test (Certificate of Attainment in Modern Greek), of which she is a certified examiner.  As a teacher of Greek (Modern and Ancient), Chryssa has had the opportunity to instruct students in secondary educational settings in Greece.  For ten years, she was also an adjunct lecturer and field supervisor of teacher training programs at the University of Athens, Greece. 

Chryssa earned her Bachelor’s degree in History, Archeology, and Greek Language teaching. Her graduate studies were focused on Curriculum, Instruction, and Teacher Education.  

Erin Marie Higgins

French Instructor

 Erin is an educator with twelve years of classroom teaching experience in all levels of French.  Erin is fully credentialed in K-12 French in both IL and CA.  She currently teaches French at Proviso Math and Science Academy in the International Baccalaureate program. 

Erin received her BA in French from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and spent a year studying abroad in Montpellier, France, at the Université de Montpellier.  She has a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and a Doctorate of Education from UCLA.

Erin has spent the past year working on a project for the University of California creating online courses in French.

Guadalupe Dominguez

Spanish Instructor

Guadalupe Dominguez was born and raised in Chicago and is mother to five children. She is currently a student at Trinity Christian College. Guadalupe’s major is Elementary Education with a science minor and ESL/Bilingual Endorsement. She has worked with preschool children, and tutors children ages 3-15. 

Guadalupe is proud of her Mexican heritage, and being a Bilingual/Spanish teacher will enable her to instill the importance of self-value and culture in her students. She wants her students to look forward to learning and understanding that making mistakes is okay.

Guadalupe wants her students to become curious risk-takers and to connect their experiences to their lessons. Mostly, she wants her students to feel safe and loved, and is eager to support them.


Christian Castillo

Human Resources and Training

Christian is a native of Belize and currently resides in the Chicago area.  He transports children to and from local schools to Academia, and can often be found playing board games and reading to the children during the afterschool program.  Christian is an excellent cook and in his spare time loves to prepare food from his native Belize.  He also enjoys taking his children for nature walks at Thatcher Woods. Christian speaks Belizean Creole, a pidgin language of Belize.  

Andria Billman

Customer Services Manager

Andria is a native of Belize who grew up in Oak Park and now resides in Champaign.

Andria supports the Academia staff with billing, HR, and customer service. Andria graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a degree in Anthropology and a minor in Greek Studies.


Kaycee Lindeman

Curriculum Advisor

Kaycee is a Curriculum Advisor at Academia.  She is also a clinical assistant professor at Illinois State University.  Before moving to higher education, Kaycee taught for Chicago Public Schools, 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 and Linguistics from the University of Illinois.

Casey Gallivan

Customer Service

Casey grew up in Orlando, FL before joining the U.S. Navy at age 18. She now resides in Ivesdale, IL. Casey supports the Academia staff with billing, customer service and is an Excel guru. 
Casey graduated from Colorado State University – World Campus with a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership and from Parkland College with an Associate’s degree in Office Professional.  

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