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a preschool FOR CHICAGO'S NEXT GENERATION

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Our Team

Our staff is reflective, full of passion and downright creative. We are here to create daily meaningful experiences for your child.

We are always looking for exceptionally talented, qualified and enthusiastic educators to join our team! Please send a resume and cover letter to faculty@urbanchild.org if you are interested in applying. No phone calls, please.

Directors

  • Laura Bianchi Eikenmeyer, Ph.D. is fulfilling her dream of opening a preschool in Chicago with her husband, David. She earned her doctorate in Educational Psychology from Loyola University in Chicago. Laura contributes to the Academy as both an Owner and Curriculum Director, focusing on providing the best possible early education experience for each child based on contemporary research. As a Chicago Mom herself, Laura has personal insight into the preschool scene. She and David have survived the tedious and frustrating process of finding a high quality preschool for their own young urban child. This first-hand experience has shaped Urban Child Academy’s mission through every stage of its development and growth.
  • David Eikenmeyer, J.D., M.B.A., a native Californian who has adopted Chicago as his home, earned his law degree from the University of Notre Dame and his M.B.A. from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Professionally, he has experience in litigation, intellectual property, manufacturing and information technology. At Urban Child Academy, he is responsible for developing a physical space worthy of the school's educational goals. He makes sure the school runs smoothly and remains true to its educational mission of creating a nurturing and fun environment for the children, their families and teachers.
  • Kelly Nance, M.A.T, ECE., earned her Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from National Louis University. In addition, she holds her Bachelor of Business Administration and ESL Endorsement. Kelly loves teaching and learning with young children. She believes that early childhood is a magical moment full of discovery and endless possibility. Kelly previously taught Pre-K, Kindergarten, and Second Grade. Kelly joined our team in 2016, and she is thrilled to be working with the wonderful families and educators at Urban Child Academy. Kelly is passionate about high quality Early Childhood curriculum and loves watching it come to life everyday at UCA. A child’s first years leave a big impression on their hearts and minds and for life!
  • Melissa Gilroy, M.A.T. El. Ed is a graduate of Montclair State University. She was born and raised in New Jersey where she completed her Bachelor’s in Psychology and continued her education in the Master’s program in Elementary Education. Melissa moved to Chicago in 2009 and enjoys every aspect of the city. She joined the UCA team in July 2013 and loves being around the kiddos. Melissa was a lead teacher in the Eager Einstein classroom for two years and feels that this specific age group has an eagerness to learn like no other! She loves to watch each of them explore and grow! Melissa joined the director team in 2015. She loves welcoming new families to UCA as our enrollment director. When Melissa is not at UCA she enjoys spending time with her husband Tim and her two boys Brady and Andy. Melissa loves being a mother and director!
  • Travis Monroe Neese, B.A., is a 2014 graduate of Millikin University of Decatur, Illinois and currently earning his Masters in Guidance and Counseling from the University of West Alabama. Travis was born in Iowa, but spent most of his youth in North Carolina. Travis earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services as well as two minors in Psychology and Sociology during his undergraduate. After graduating, he worked as an Infant Toddler Developmental Specialist through the Early Head Start Home Visitor program. He joined the Urban Child Academy team in the summer of 2017 and loves working with teachers and children alike. In his free time, he is involved in the theatre community of Chicago and enjoys going for walks along the lake, playing with his dog, spending time with friends, and going to the movies.
  • Katie Quackenbush, B.A. El. Ed., is a 2011 graduate of Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Illinois. An Illinois native, Katie grew up in the suburbs and moved to Chicago in 2014. Katie's interest in child development and love for spending time with children fueled her decision to become an educator. She joined the Urban Child Academy team in July 2017. Prior to coming to UCA, Katie was a director of a church-based preschool program, led reading interventions groups for 3rd - 5th grade students, provided in home developmental therapy through Early Intervention and one-on-one ABA therapy for children with special needs. A long time preschool veteran, she views each child as an unique individual with specific learning styles and is excited to bring her ability of creating individualized, play based lessons to help children with diverse learning needs to UCA. In her free time, Katie loves exploring the neighborhoods of Chicago, reading, gardening and simply being outside.
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Leads

  • Hannah Solether, B.S, is a graduate of the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. Hannah was born and raised in the western suburbs of Chicago. She earned her Bachelors of Science in Speech-Language Pathology. She has worked in childcare centers since 2014 and has enjoyed every second of it. After living in the suburbs, Hannah moved to Chicago and joined the Urban Child Academy teaching team in the Summer of 2017. She has worked with children of all ages, but has grown to love working with children in their early years. Hannah loves watching children explore their surroundings, expand their imagination, and let their individual personalities shine. She has always loved art and letting children explore their creativity in the classroom. In her free time, Hannah loves volunteering, traveling and going to concerts.
  • Amber Simatic, B.S., M.A., is a graduate of Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. She earned her Bachelor of Science at PSU in Human Development and Family Studies and her Master of Arts from JHU in Museum Studies. She is originally from a small town in Pennsylvania but lived in Washington, D.C. for many years before moving to Chicago a year ago. While in D.C. she worked as an educator in early childhood education and museum settings. She enjoys working with children of all ages and creating fun and engaging learning opportunities for them. She also has fun bringing her love of science to the classroom. In her free time Amber likes to read, hike, travel, and visit museums.
  • Alexandra Duryea, B.A. ECE, is a 2012 Indiana University graduate from Indianapolis, Indiana. Alexandra started her child development career at The WonderLab Museum of Science, Health, and Technology as a gallery assistant, where she implemented educational programs for young children and teens. These programs involved the elements of science, nature, and art, which are her true passions in life. From there, Alexandra pursued a year in AmeriCorps, working at the Women, Infant, and Children’s (WIC) office. Here she read and tutored children in various waiting rooms of the health clinics the WIC office was held in. She believes that a good education and fluency in reading at a young age can build the strongest foundation for a child’s schooling career. She joins the Urban Child Academy team in June 2019 and is excited to contribute her education, passion, and enthusiasm to helping children grow. In her free time, Alexandra enjoys riding her bike, going to musicals, and doing photography.
  • Brittany Rhoads, CERT E.C.E., a Colorado native, moved to the Windy City in the summer of 2018. She has worked with children from birth to age 10 since she was 17 years old. Brittany is currently enrolled in college in pursuit of her Early Childhood Education certificate. What brought Brittany to Chicago? She had been to Chicago a few times in the past and fell in love with the city more every time she visited. In her free time Brittany volunteers at an area animal shelter, spends time with family and loved ones, goes on hikes, and takes her dog on long walks along the Chicago River!
  • Iris Gasca, B.A Elementary Education., is a graduate of Furman University of Greenville, South Carolina. At Furman, Iris graduated with an Elementary Education degree and a focus in both Special Education and Spanish. Following in her mother’s footsteps and motivated by her younger sister, Iris pursued a teaching career. Iris student taught in a 2nd grade, public school classroom in Greenville, South Carolina. Before entering her last year of college, Iris interned at UCA in the summer of 2018. She also taught at the Gold Coast campus at the start of 2020 and cannot wait to be back! In her free time Iris loves to read, watch movies, and go out in the city with her friends and family.
  • Michele Hulyk B.A., is a 2018 graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago where she earned her BA in Communication with a minor in Sociology. Before joining Urban Child Academy in the summer of 2019, Michele spent over 9 years working with children in various settings, such as homes, summer camps, and elementary schools. After nannying young children, she was inspired to become a preschool teacher and bring her diverse experience into a classroom setting. Michele loves watching children discover the world around them and develop their own interests and unique personalities. She is excited to continue helping children grow at UCA and develop a lifelong love of learning. In her free time, Michele loves cooking, going to concerts, traveling, and spending time in nature.
  • Anila Aleksi, BA, AAS, is a graduate of the University of Alexander Xhuvani in Elbasan, Albania, where she completed her Bachelor's Degree in Humanitarian Science. After moving to the states from Athens, Greece, in 2006, she then received her associates degree in Early Childhood Education from Harold Washington College. She is multilingual, speaking Albanian, Greek, Italian, and English. She loves working with little ones and has over 11 years of experience working in an Early Childhood setting. Anila lives in the neighborhood and has two kids in college. In her free time, she enjoys chatting with her family in Greece and listening to music.
  • Amanda Hiles, B.A. is a 2012 graduate of University of Hartford, West Hartford, Connecticut. Originally from New Jersey, she traded the east coast for the shores of Lake Michigan when she moved to Chicago after college. With a background in classical music and psychology, Amanda takes great joy in seeing the learning process up close within the dynamic and creative minds of preschoolers. She has loved working with young learners ever since she was a teenager leading summer music classes. She started her preschool teaching career in 2016 and has most recently worked as the lead teacher in a three year olds classroom in Bucktown. Amanda is thrilled to join the UCA team and share her love of exploration-based learning. In her free time she enjoys baking, sewing, and enjoying the city’s performing arts scene both as an audience member and a participant.
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Specialists

  • Roberta Gasca, B.S, is a graduate of Instituto Politecnico Nacional of Mexico, City with a Bachelor Degree in Business. Roberta started working in Chicago Public Schools 16 years ago as a substitute teacher in a classroom with children who have special needs. Over the next 7 years, Miss Roberta continued to teach first grade, kindergarten and preschool while taking Masters level courses in Education at Northwestern University and Malcolm X College. Her experience at CPS was some of her favorite work of her life! Before joining UCA, Roberta led a classroom of 3 year-olds at Kids Life Center where most of her teaching was in Spanish and in Head Start Programs. Ms. Roberta has been working for UCA since fall of 2013 teaching Spanish to all grades at UCA and also working with preschool classrooms who she considers as her second family.
  • Shannon Netemeyer, B. A., is a graduate of Millikin University. She is originally from Albers, Il. During her education career, Shannon has volunteered with various classroom programs such as Operation Safe Kids and Morning Religious Learning. After finishing college, Shannon obtained her substitute teaching license, which is where she began spending time in preschools throughout the Southern Illinois area. She became fascinated with how unique each child’s learning experience is and how they were willing and excited to learn and grow. In her spare time, Shannon enjoys writing and performing many styles of music, reading good books, and exploring the city. Shannon joined UCA in June of 2020 and is looking forward to being the UCA Music Specialist!
  • Erik Bianchi Eikenmeyer, C.K.@ H. (Certified Kid @ Heart), , is all grown up now! Born and raised in Chicago, he helped his parents create the magic of UCA. Now in college studying engineering, he enjoys running, working out, playing soccer and video games. Many of the original design decisions, toys and creative curriculum ideas came straight from Erik and his own childhood years.
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