Our Staff

A successful program requires an exceptional team. Our enthusiastic teachers are experienced and have a deep knowledge of elementary education, and also possess the passion, commitment, and imagination to make Saturday Place a special program for the students.

Ms. Herrera – Program Director
Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education in 2005 from National Louis University
Master’s Degree in Administration and Supervision of Education in 2007 from National Louis University
Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Bilingual Education in 2010 from UIC

Maribel Herrera was born and raised in Chicago’s South Side. As a young girl, she dreamed of one day becoming a teacher. Ms. Herrera recalls the day her mom came home from a yard sale with her first desk and chalkboard, she felt like she had won the lottery. Her first students were her parents as she would sit them every evening to teach them how to speak English. Her parents worked hard to provide for her two brothers and her. They always stressed the importance of education. As a result, she worked hard in school and graduated from Jones College Prep High School as a junior. She enrolled in National- Louis University the same year.

She currently works at Burroughs Elementary. The school and community have become part of her extended family. As a mother, she knows that education begins at home. However, as an educator, she has learned that many students need a classroom to call home. Maribel feels that teaching is a selfless career, but the rewards are endless! Saturday Place is very special to her for many reasons. The most important being how close to her heart it is. She was born and raised in Back of the Yards until the age of 10. When she joined Saturday Place in 2015, she was elated to be able to provide support to students from a community in which she grew up.

Ms. Guzman –  SubDirector

Anali Guzman was born and raised in Pilsen and grew up the middle child with two brothers. She completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree at UIC and started student teaching at Burroughs during her senior year. She teaches at Burroughs Elementary. Ms. Guzman loves Saturday Place because she loves witnessing the students’ growth, academically and socially. Saturday Place is special to her because all the teachers are a strong team that shares the same vision in helping the students.

Mrs. Rocha – Subdirector

Esmeralda Rocha has been teaching at Saturday Place since 2015. She grew up in the Back of the Yards neighborhood and attended Chavez Elementary School like some of our students! She is also a UIC alumni. Mrs. Rocha is very passionate about giving back to the community by working with kids growing up with a similar background as hers. She feels grateful to be able to contribute to their educational success in any way possible. She believes Saturday Place is a special place in large part to the partnership and commitment among the principals, teachers, parents, and students.

Ms. De La Riva – Math Teacher
Bachelors in Elementary Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago

Marissa De La Riva graduated from UIC with a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education in 2011. She started her teaching career at Burroughs in 2012. She worked at Burroughs as a teacher aide, librarian, a SECA and a substitute teacher. Currently Ms. De La Riva is a 5th grade teacher at Burroughs. Ms. De La Riva believes Saturday Place is unique and gives her a different teaching experience because she gets to focus on one subject and teach in a small group. She feels this structure allows her to do some intensive work with the students. Since she is working with 5th Graders this year it is nice to see which students she may be getting and what to expect when some of the current Saturday Place students come to her.

Ms. Zhen – Math Teacher
Elementary Education – Loyola University

Huanyi Zhen graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with endorsements in ESL and Bilingual Education in Chinese. This is her first year at Saturday Place and fourth year teaching Kindergarten as a classroom teacher. She cannot wait to continue her teaching journey here. She believes in creating a positive, fun learning environment for her students.

Ms. Ruiz – Word Study Teacher
Bachelors in Early Childhood Education from DePaul University

Cynthia Ruiz grew up on the South Side of Chicago near Midway Airport. She is the oldest of four children. An interesting fact about her siblings is that they all have graduated from or currently attend DePaul University. Ms. Ruiz went to Jones College Prep High School in the South Loop. She attended Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island for a brief time to study baking and pastry arts. She then moved back to Chicago where she discovered her passion for teaching young children and graduated from DePaul University in 2013. When she’s not teaching, Ms. Ruiz enjoys reading, writing, and baking. Ms. Ruiz has been with Saturday Place since 2017 and is excited about her third year with the program. She believes that Saturday Place is special because of the commitment from the students and their families. She is grateful for the enthusiasm and positive attitudes that the students bring every Saturday. Ms. Ruiz is also appreciative of the dedication of her fellow colleagues who help make Saturday Place a successful, enjoyable, and rewarding place to be.

Ms. Perez – Word Study Teacher
Elementary Education
Benedictine University

Melanie Perez grew up in the Gage Park neighborhood and now currently resides on the East Side. Being the eldest of three kids has taught her patience and accountability, something that has helped in her teaching career. She’s excited to work at Saturday Place because it gives her an opportunity to be in the classroom, spending quality time with students and enhancing their learning experience. She works at Burroughs as a Bilingual Teacher and is currently working towards her masters in Bilingual Education through American College of Education.

Ms. Herrera – Writing Teacher
Bachelors of Arts in Elementary Education and Psychology
Lake Forest College

Luz Herrera was born and raised on the northside of Chicago. She is an only child but is grateful to have a big family with lots of cousins! She graduated from Lake Forest College and has had the special opportunity to teach English in Brazil and Spain. She is currently teaching 4th grade at Jamieson Elementary. At the moment, she is working towards her ESL endorsement and Bilingual endorsement through Brandman University.

Mr. Tomás Lobato – Writing Teacher

Tomás grew up on the Northside of the city of Chicago in the Ravenswood neighborhood. After graduating high school from CPS, he attended the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and pursued a degree in International Relations and Portuguese. He then went on to work abroad for five years as an English teacher in South Korea, Spain, and France. After returning to the United States, Tomás began working at CPS as a special education classroom aide while he completed his master’s degree in Early Childhood Education at North Park University. While at North Park, Tomás also completed coursework for endorsements in Special Education, English as a Second Language, and Bilingual Education. Currently, Tomás is in his third year as a Blended Pre-K teacher on the Southeast Side of Chicago. Tomás thinks that what makes Saturday Place is the commitment that fills the organization. Commitment not only from the teachers and staff who are committed to helping their students succeed, but the commitment from the students to show up every Saturday for a day of learning and growing experiences. However, there is great commitment from the families of the students at Saturday Place, and lastly but equally important is the commitment from all the donors and supporters who help make the work that is achieved at Saturday Place a reality.

Ms. Lonis – Reading Teacher

Amanda Lonis grew up in the northside neighborhood of Andersonville in Chicago. She attended Jones College Prep High School before pursuing a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts at the International Academy of Design as well as a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Phoenix. She began her teaching career as a special education classroom assistant with CPS in Brighton Park at Columbia Explorers Academy. She taught 2nd grade for two years at Ravenswood Elementary and now teaches 4th grade at Jamieson Elementary in the West Ridge Neighborhood. She has been teaching at Saturday Place since 2014. She is excited to continue exploring new reading topics and meeting new students from Chavez and Burroughs. Ms. Lonis feels Saturday Place is really a special place because students and teachers from different schools and parts of the city come together to create a community where they get to grow together.

Mrs. Gibson – Reading Teacher
Northern Illinois University; Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Minor: Child and Family Studies
University of Phoenix: Master of Arts in Elementary Education

Kim Gibson was born and raised in Chicago. After first working in child services and the mental health field after college, she decided to obtain her Master’s in Elementary Education. Mrs. Gibson comes from a family of educators: her father is a retired Special Education teacher. Mrs. Gibson is currently a fourth grade math teacher at Asa Philip Randolph School in West Englewood, Chicago. Mrs. Gibson is a huge advocate and cheerleader for her students. She wants to give them the tools they need to thrive as individuals in society – and she can’t wait to do the same with the Saturday Place students.

Ms. Carrasco – Reading Teacher
Elementary Education – The University of Illinois at Chicago

Karoline Carrasco grew up as the eldest of three and lived in multiple demographics as a child. Living in Chicago, Cicero, and Orland Park all taught her various lessons, and she is excited to learn more as she takes each new step in her career. Both of her siblings were diagnosed with ADHD, which taught Karoline the effects of labeling a person. She guided both her siblings through school and continues to do so as they get older. Karoline is reaching the end of her education at UIC and looks forward to teaching in CPS within the upcoming school year of 2021-2022. Ms. Carrasco believes Saturday Place is special because of the community teachers have developed with the students. She feels that the community a teacher builds within a classroom is fundamental for the students’ learning. Without a safe environment, students could not learn or develop who they are as people.

Leslie Totaro – Reading Teacher/strong>
Bachelor of Science in Education – Illinois State University

Mrs. Totaro has been an educator for over 20 years, and she views every day in the classroom as a new adventure. She has taught in Arizona, Mt. Prospect, Illinois, and Chicago Public Schools. Currently, she teaches 2nd grade at Yates Elementary School. When she is not in the classroom, she loves spending time with her family and watching her daughters play sports. While in college, she studied in England for a semester. She still enjoys visiting and learning about new places. Mrs. Totaro enjoys being part of Saturday Place because she feels that Saturday Place is more than reading and math lessons; it is a community that supports and takes care of each other. I am inspired by the students’ dedication and teachers who work hard on Saturdays to improve their skills.

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