ChiCeLaCu! teachers are native Spanish speakers and seasoned educators possessing between 15 and 25 years of classroom experience in schools, colleges, and universities in the United States, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Nicaragua, and Cuba. At a minimum, teachers have bachelor’s degrees in education, early childhood education, special education, technology, and visual and performing arts. As an official Fairfax County Public Schools vendor, all ChiCeLaCu! staff must be fingerprinted and pass the National Criminal Background check. In addition, all staff receive CPR /First Aid training and undergo TB screening.

Ms. Maureen Santamaria
Founder and Director

A native of Nicaragua, Mrs. Santamaría founded the Children’s Center for Language and Culture, Inc. (ChiCeLaCu!)  in 2007. A teacher by vocation and training, she is also part of the teaching staff with over 35 years of experience in Latin America and the United States. She worked as an elementary and high school Spanish teacher in Maryland and Virginia and as director of the Spanish reading program at Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences. In Latin America, she worked as an international consultant for UNICEF for seven years and authored and co-authored six books on curriculum development, statistics, and child poverty. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education and master’s degrees in urban development and demography. An active member of Fairfax Public Access, Ms. Santamaría is an amateur camera operator and certified radio producer. She loves traveling with her family to islands, natural parks, and caves in the U.S., Central America, and Mexico. Ms. Santamaría enjoys reading, walking, photography, gardening, and recreating habitats for bees and butterflies in her backyard. She volunteers at animal shelters and organizations that work with youth addiction and Native American children.

Administrative Team

Mr. Yurii Goncharov
Administrative Director

Originally from Ukraine, Mr. Goncharov is a multilingual business professional with experience in international consulting, the service industry, and education. He holds an MBA and MIT from Virginia Tech. He received his bachelor’s degree in education from Kharkiv National Pedagogical University in Ukraine and another bachelor’s degree in business administration and economics from Marymount University. He joined ChiCeLaCu! in 2017 as administrator and has been responsible for all administrative, financial, and logistical matters related to the Center’s day-to-day operations. A  patient and friendly professional with excellent interpersonal skills, he is now the Administrative Director overseeing business operations in both the Vienna/Tysons and Fairfax locations. Mr. Goncharov is fluent in Ukrainian, Russian, and English. He has a working knowledge of German and Chinese and is proficient in Spanish. An expert traveler, Yurii enjoys exploring the world with his wife and dog Tito. He often wows his friends and family with expertly and elegantly crafted fruit platter creations.

Ms. Monica Marini
Communications Consultant

A native of Peru, Ms. Marini is a bilingual communication professional with over 15 years of experience developing and implementing educational, training, and communication initiatives. For over a decade, she worked in international public health, providing communication and training support for reproductive health research and program initiatives. In her capacity as a communication consultant for ChiCeLaCu!, Ms. Marini serves as the Center’s primary point of contact with potential clients, ensuring that families expressing interest are left with the most honest and best representation of ChiCeLaCu! as a premiere learning center. She works closely with administrative and teaching staff either individually or in training to ensure that internal and external communications are of the highest quality and consistent with ChiCeLaCu!’s mission. She works to establish ChiCeLaCu!’s brand, raise its online visibility, and expand enrollment. She received her Bachelor of Arts in international affairs from the George Washington University, a Master of Arts in public communication from American University and a certification in training from Georgetown University. Ms. Marini spent one wonderful year abroad in Spain with her husband and children and continues to enjoy exploring new places and sharing the experience with her family and new kittens Maxwell Bartholomeow and Ignacio Montague (Nacho).

Mr. Cesar A. Lazo-Zuniga
Financial Consultant

Mr. Lazo brings to ChiCeLaCu! over 18 years of experience as a banking executive in Peru’s financial sector. He worked as assistant manager to the vice president of the country’s Department of Foreign Operations. Bilingual in English and Spanish, he has many years of managerial and leadership experience in customer service. A meticulous and competent financial professional, ChiCeLaCu! welcomes his expertise as we move towards expansion. Mr. Lazo received his associate’s degree in accounting from Strayer University. He loves to cook and explore his culinary interests cultivated from his many years in the restaurant industry and exposure to Peruvian, French, and Italian cuisines in his free time. Most importantly, he loves spending time with his two grandchildren playing with them, and working on puzzles.


Ms. Ivette Reyes
Preschool and Spanish Teacher

A native of Puerto Rico, Ms. Reyes received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and her teaching certification from the University of Puerto Rico. With over 20 years of classroom experience (9 of which as a preschool teacher), she brings to ChiCeLaCu! a passion for molding young minds and fostering creativity. She incorporates her theater and dance expertise when teaching preschoolers at ChiCeLaCu! and FCPS students through the At Your School Program. Ms. Reyes has a strong background in dance, theater, and elementary and early childhood education. She is a member of the Puerto Rican Accreditation Board of Theater and received special recognition from Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives for her outstanding work as an educator. A seasoned teacher, she prides herself in being both flexible and dynamic, which are instrumental in meeting the challenges and ever-changing demands of the  teaching profession. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, dancing, the outdoors, playing with children, and her three little dogs Mia, Bella, and Cuqui!

Ms. Guadalupe Pedernera
Preschool and Spanish Teacher

Ms. Pedernera is an Argentinian native with over 16 years of experience teaching Spanish to adults and children. With a specialization in teaching Spanish as a second language and a degree in psychology from Argentina’s National University of Córdoba, Ms. Pedernera brings to ChiCeLaCu! her talent for stimulating academic and emotional growth through fun, creative, and challenging experiences. A cultural exchange enthusiast, she has worked with foreign exchange students for years. Having first lived and worked in Argentina, she moved to the United States and lived the second language experience first-hand. A warm, nurturing and creative educator, she teaches preschool at ChiCeLaCu and also contributes to the At Your School Program. Ms. Pedernera enjoys traveling, spending time with her family, dancing, reading, and taking walks.

Mrs. Melissa Fúnez Larios
Spanish Teacher

A native of Honduras, Mrs. Melissa Fúnez Larios is a dedicated educator with over twenty-one years of experience teaching children, young adults, and working adults. A graduate from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, she received a bachelor’s degree in legal and social sciences, with a minor in international law and a master’s degree in human rights and development. She received her teaching certification from the National Pedagogical University in Honduras and Laureate International Universities. She is currently finishing Montessori Foundations, a professional development course from the Center for Guided Montessori Studies. She has worked and received training for migrant care, working closely with governments, and international organizations such as the United Nations. At ChiCeLaCu, she teaches in the Preschool, Saturday and At Your School Programs. Melissa´s greatest accomplishment is being a mother. She enjoys spending time with her family, her Chihuahua Minnie and likes reading, and taking walks and bicycle rides with her husband.

Mr. Braulio Mayorga
History and Geography Teacher

Mr. Mayorga, ChiCeLaCu’s youngest instructor, is the lead teacher of the Geography and History Program in the Saturday School. He graduated from George Mason University with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and archeology. His students are drawn to his patient and calm style as well as his very interactive and interesting topics, fueled by his passion for the social sciences. He was part of ChiCeLaCu!’s first graduating class after participating in the program for four years. While finishing his associate’s degree in science at Northern Virginia Community College, he worked as an assistant teacher for the After School and At Your School Program. A member of Fairfax Public Access, he frequently volunteers as a camera operator and floor director. He is a certified producer and video editor. His interests include photography, film, art, history, and fitness. In his free time, he enjoys running and volunteers at animal shelters and  plays video games.

Ms. Lucero Arcos
Coding and Math Teacher

A talented mathematician, Ms. Arcos brings her passion for teaching and knowledge to her students via ChiCeLaCu!’s online Mathematics and Programming classes. With over ten years of experience in software and quality management, she strongly believes that the best way to transmit knowledge, create impact, and foment passion and creativity is through fun activities and real-life applications. Of Mexican nationality, Ms. Lucero earned a degree in Applied Mathematics and Computing with a specialization in Quality Systems from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM,  ranked one of the two top universities in Latin America. She received her Project Management Degree from the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores of Monterrey, considered one of the world’s top 30 private universities. In addition to spending time with family and friends, she enjoys walking her dog Brisa, reading, and going to the movies. An avid traveler, she loves exploring Mexico’s majestic natural landscapes and indulging it is diverse and delicious cuisine.

Ms. Diana Cabanillas
Spanish Teacher

Born in Peru, Ms. Cadenillas received her degree in accounting from the Ricardo Palma University of Lima.  Upon her arrival in the United States in the year 2000, she focused her professional efforts towards her true passion– elementary education. Currently teaching kindergarten at FCPS, she is continuously honing her skill set through various courses in Special Education and Behavior Analysis.  She joined  ChiCeLaCu! in 2019 and teaches advanced and intermediate Spanish for language learners and native speakers. She loves teaching and is passionate about helping her students become better Spanish speakers. A very dedicated and committed teacher, she prepares innovative lessons and makes unique connections with each of her students.  In her free time, she volunteers to help the poor and homeless and currently serves as secretary for The Lord of Miracles in Washington, DC. She enjoys traveling and exploring new places.

Mr. Alvaro Umana
Art Teacher, Illustrator, and Designer

A native of Nicaragua, Mr. Umaña, began developing his artistic ability at a very young age. While his professional endeavors as an architect for the past 18 years focus on technical design and drawings, his true passion lies in drawing as an artistic expression. As ChiCeLaCu!’s Principal Illustrator and designer, he has developed a series of educational materials currently in use across several programs. He recently joined ChiCeLaCu!’s online teaching staff, where he finds great enjoyment and fulfillment imparting his knowledge and expertise to a new generation of learners with basic tools– paper and pencil. He believes that in a world full of computers, selfies, and social media, a bit of art can help refresh young minds weary of digital bombardment. Mr. Alvaro has taken many pencil portraits and art courses and loves to draw by hand, mainly in graphite. He completed high school in Cuba in 1991, graduated as Naval Construction Technician from La Habana, Cuba’s Instituto Politécnico Naval Aracelio Iglesias Díaz. In 1998, he received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the Universidad Nacional of Engineering in Managua, Nicaragua. He loves to spend time with family and drawing landscapes and portraits of friends and family in his free time. A talented, resilient, and optimistic individual, he has been an active member of the National Association of Multiple Sclerosis in Nicaragua for the past  25 years.

Mr. Marlon Umana
Art Teacher and Illustrator

Born in Nicaragua, Mr. Marlon Umaña graduated with a civil engineering degree from the Universidad Autónoma de Chinandega, Nicaragua. He has participated in many housing,  school, and street infrastructure projects. His interest in drawing began at a very early age. By age 16, he enrolled in Nicaragua’s School of Plastic Arts, where in addition to honing and perfecting his drawing skills, he learned sculpting with clay, oil, charcoal, and paper mache.  As part of  ChiCeLaCu!’s design and illustration team, he is involved in developing educational materials, including the Center’s first children’s picture book. He currently teaches ChiCeLaCu!’s online Cartoon Workshop, where he finds great joy sharing his skill with students ages 7 to 11.  He is a dedicated teacher who prepares daily resources for his students and makes his classes enjoyable and engaging, instilling in his students the love of art.  Marlon likes to read historical novels, draw, and spend time with his 3 daughters, wife, and mother.  He enjoys cooking traditional food for his family but, most of all, riding his motorcycle along the Pacific Ocean. 

Mrs. Alina Bravo Aghdasi
Spanish Teacher

Mrs. Alina Aghdasi, originally from Mexico, comes to ChiCeLaCu with close to a decade of experience in the telecommunications industry as a bilingual secretary. While in the industry, she perfected her English competencies and broadened her skills base to include some software programs. An independent learner with a genuine passion for education and cognizant of the power of the internet to make education more accessible, she immersed herself in the study of open secondary education. She began studying visual communication design upon her arrival to the United States some 20 years ago and quickly thereafter decided to devote her time and energy fully to her family and community. She has years of experience working with children and youth in civic and moral education. Her favorite pastimes include baking, crocheting, dancing, listening to audiobooks and podcasts, and playing with her adorable 9 year old Yorkshire Terrier named Chewy.

Milena Flores
Spanish Teacher

Ms. Flores has over 25 years of experience in education. A native of Venezuela, she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from the University of Carabobo. In addition to excelling as a classroom teacher, she has served in the Venezuelan Ministry of Education as teacher training coordinator, preschool director, and district-level educational supervisor. A strong advocate for children’s rights, Ms. Flores received several awards at the local, regional and national levels in her native Venezuela. An experienced researcher in the area of creative learning, her published works include: “Development of Creative Strategies”, “Education and Creativity” and “Creative Education.” Since her arrival in the US, she has made an effort to learn everything about the educational system, and has worked as assistant and Spanish teacher in different educational centers, including as a volunteer at ChiCeLaCu. She loves to read, travel, camping, meeting new people, and most of all, spend time with her daughter. In addition to being a Spanish teacher at ChiCeLaCu, she works as instructional assistant at FCPS.

Elvira Sandoval
Spanish Teacher

Born in Peru, Mrs. Sandoval brings 14 years of valuable experience in education. With a degree in Business from the Peruvian Institute for Business Administration and a true knack for the visual arts, she engages her students with fun traditional classroom activities and, most importantly, with creative and unique art projects involving painting, drawing, and construction art. With ChiCeLaCu she began as Instructional Assistant and was later promoted to Lead Teacher for the At Yours School Programs and Spanish Saturday School. Mrs. Sandoval also manages after care programs and serves as substitute teacher at a private school in Northern Virginia. In her free time, she enjoys painting, drawing, taking long walks and hot yoga!

Mrs. Cathie O’hara
Spanish Teacher

Mrs. O’Hara received her bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Detroit. Her many years of experience in medical research included positions at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School’s Department of Genetics. Her love of Spanish began in college and her formal training continued with participation in an immersion program at the Harvard Department of Continuing Education, culminating in 5 amazing weeks backpacking through Chile. Her professional focus also includes the care and education of young children, including teaching beginner Spanish at ChiCeLaCu. She served as Lead Caretaker for Toddler Programs and is currently Assistant Teacher for after school programs at St. Joseph’s School. Her talents and hobbies include gardening and growing orchids. Along with spending time with friends and traveling, Mrs. O’Hara also enjoys daily walks and thrifting at antique shops and other sale venues.

Ms. Jacqueline De Villegas Cordova
Preschool Teacher Assistant

Mrs. De Villegas was born in Miami and raised in Bolivia. She received her bachelor’s degree in graphic design from the Universidad Mayor de San Simón in Cochabamba. She brings to ChiCeLaCu several years of experience in graphic design along with a strong background in the visual arts. She enjoys working with children, especially incorporating arts and crafts to develop critical developmental skills and foment their natural curiosity and creativity.  Her creative outlets include polymer clay modeling, scrapbooking and designing party decorations and invitations, which she began when her now 10-year old son was in kindergarten. She loves spending time outdoors with her family, all animals especially her dog Chiwi, playing the piano and composing melodies.

Ms. Katherine Ochoa
Spanish Teacher and Preschool Teacher Assistant

A native of Quito, Ecuador, Ms. Ochoa graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and corporate communication from Universidad Tecnologica Equinoccial. Prior to switching her professional focus to education, she worked in public relations representing large international companies organizing healthcare, science, and educational campaigns. Ms. Ochoa has a strong academic background in teaching Spanish as a second language having received certifications both in the United States and Ecuador. She obtained her New York teacher certification and completed 18 credits in Spanish literature at City University of New York at Lehman College. She joins ChiCeLaCu as Spanish Teacher for the At Your School and Preschool programs. A kind, energetic, and patient teacher, she takes special pride in teaching Spanish and sharing her native language and cultural heritage with her students. In her spare time, she enjoys taking her 2 children to parks and museums, doing crafts and reading to them.

Mrs. Nury Alvarado
Substitute Teacher

A native of Honduras, Mrs. Alvarado has a master’s degree from Universidad Nacional Autónoma in planning and development in addition to a bachelor’s in industrial engineering. She has more than 2 decades of experience in education and capacity development, teaching mathematics, agribusiness, social development, and gender issues, among other subjects. With over 30 years of experience working with children, pre-teens, and youth in civic and moral education, she brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to ChiCeLaCu. Ms. Alvarado’s strengths in leadership across levels, interpersonal skills among various groups, and international development experience will undoubtedly enrich each child’s learning experience at ChiCeLaCu. She enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and her cat Grisha. Reading, listening to music, watching anime, and playing board games are among her favorite pastimes.

Ms. Marisa Lazo
Substitute Spanish Teacher

A graduate of La Universidad Sagrado Corazon de Jesus in Lima, Peru, Ms. Lazo holds a bachelor’s degree in education with a specialization in education and speech disorders. She expanded her knowledge of new teaching methodologies while attending La Universidad de Santiago de Chile. With more than 25 years of teaching experience in Peru and the United States, she has been a great asset to ChiCeLaCu! for over a decade. She currently teaches middle school students in the Fairfax County Public School system. At ChiCeLaCu!, she teaches advanced Spanish to  4th, 5th, and 6th graders. In addition to being a gifted teacher, she is a talented jewelry maker, seamstress, and artist who loves to spend time with her two grandchildren.

Mr. Hugo Torres
Graphic Designer and Webmaster

Born in Lima, Peru, Mr. Torres is a self-taught graphic designer with formal training in design software, including Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop,  InDesign, WordPress, among others. A freelance designer since 2005, he manages a portfolio of Pervuian and foreign clients, including ChiCeLaCu. Mr. Torres manages all technical aspects of ChiCeLaCu’s website and works closely with staff to develop high quality promotional materials for print and online use. His hobbies include cycling, scooting, the beach, and playing with his Scottish Terriers Nala and Sami.