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.
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.
Originally from Ukraine, Mr. Goncharov is a multilingual business professional with experience in international consulting, the service industry, and education. He holds an MBA from Virginia Tech and is currently pursuing a second master’s in information technology. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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. Mayorga, ChiCeLaCu!’s youngest instructor, is the lead teacher of the Geography and History Program for the Saturday School. His students are drawn to his patient and calm style as well as his very interactive and exciting classes. 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. Currently, he is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in anthropology and archaeology at George Mason University. A member of Fairfax Public Access, he frequently volunteers as a camera operator and floor director. He is a certified producer and video editor and is proficient in Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Photoshop. Mr. Mayorga has filmed, produced, and edited many of ChiCeLaCu!’s promotional videos. Fluent in English, Spanish, and French, his interests include photography, film, art, history, and fitness. In his free time, he volunteers at animal shelters, plays video games, and runs along natural trails.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mr. Galindo holds a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and English from Universidad Pedagogica Nacional, the only University in Colombia specializing in education and teacher training. A native of Colombia, he has studied languages in London and Boston and is completing a master’s degree in foreign language education. With over 12 years of teaching experience, Mr. Galindo has taught business Spanish and English at embassies, non-governmental organizations, private companies, and language schools. He has also taught Spanish at the university level and provided his editing expertise to the journalism department at CUN university. An excellent writer, Mr. Galindo, is also a freelance journalist and contributor to the Movie Critics and Reviewers Association of Bogota. In 2011, he received an award for his article Mucho mas que un achis. Mr. Galindo taught advanced Spanish in ChiCeLaCu!’s After School and Saturday Programs and is working to develop and implement the Center’s adult Spanish and English online language programs. He loves cinema and the fine arts and is excited to use these as vehicles to engage his students and make learning Spanish effective and fun!
A native of Mexico, Ms. Miriam Benavides is an outstanding educator who is continuously improving her approach with the latest technology and teaching innovations. Prior to relocating to the United States in 2017, she taught middle and high school, managed a kindergarten school, and founded a support group for adults with special needs. In addition to developing and implementing training and leadership programs, she taught Humanities at the Seminary of Monterrey. Currently she is a bilingual teacher and supports special needs education programs. Ms. Benavides joined ChiCeLaCu! as a volunteer teacher in 2019 and is currently teaching Intermediate Spanish with stimulating, fun, creative, and challenging classroom activities. She holds a bachelor’s degree in educational sciences from the University of Nuevo Leon and is completing a master’s degree in education administration at the International University of La Rioja. An avid traveler, she has visited Europe, Canada, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and many places in the US and Mexico. She is one of 7 siblings and enjoys spending time with family and friends, cooking, listening to music, and playing with her three cats and dog.
Miss Mayorga’s diverse experience makes her teaching style unique. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Biology from the University of Mary Washington and a Master’s of Public Health (MPH), with a concentration in Epidemiology from Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS). Currently a Lead Research Analyst at the Center for Vascular and Inflammatory Diseases UMBC of the University of Maryland, she does research in clinical trials, surgery and epidemiology. A certified EMT, she tutored high school and college students in Spanish and biostatistics while completing her degrees. She taught Spanish to children ages 2 to 12 at the Montessori Academy and was ChiCeLaCu!’s administrator and kindergarten teacher. Miss Mayorga also has experience working with young adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. Originally from Mexico, she enjoys traditional Mexican cuisine and preparing dishes that combine European and indigenous ingredients. A talented individual with diverse interests, she loves crocheting, drawing caricatures of friends and family, riding her bike, exploring new hiking trails, and taking care of her cat Miss Taco.