“Through this fellowship, I want to understand more about what programs and policies would be most beneficial to children and families, both at the neighborhood level and within the context of a larger population.”
Bessie Alcantara has nearly 10 years of experience serving economically disadvantaged families in racially and ethnically diverse communities in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Throughout her career, she has been instrumental in designing and evaluating evidenced-based program models, many of which have been taken to scale both locally and nationally. She has spearheaded evaluation efforts that have led to various designations and awards, and she has remained ahead of the trends to diversify funding streams, build internal development capacity, and build financially sustainable programs. Her expertise includes research, program design, evaluation, professional development, data collection and analysis, and staff leadership development. She has a master’s degree in social work from Loyola University Chicago.
Blaine Elementary School
Chicago Public Schools
“I would like to develop policy that results in integrated services for youth and families — including health and nutrition, early childhood educational programming, and parent education. These services are crucial for families and children from birth through the early primary years, particularly in underserved communities.”
Angela Brito’s extensive experience in early childhood education spans three states and 15 years. Working in five different schools in Madison, Brooklyn, and Chicago exposed her to a variety of families and other educators, as well as the perspectives they brought to her classrooms. As a result, she developed a deep appreciation for the issues impacting early childhood education. She has worked as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, and school administrator, and co-interim principal at Blaine Elementary School, one of the Chicago Public Schools. In her previous role, she managed teacher development and led supports for academic interventions. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Wisconsin, a master’s degree in reading education from Concordia University, and an education specialist degree in administration and supervision from National-Louis University. In 2012, she achieved National Board Certification as a middle childhood generalist.
Tiffany R. Carter
Children’s Home and Aid Mitzi Freidheim Englewood Child and Family Center
“My mission has always been to improve early education and the quality of life for children and families.”
Tiffany R. Carter has always had a special love for children that has led her to work in educational settings since 1997. Throughout her career, she has used her leadership skills to help children and families reach their fullest potential. While attending graduate school, she ran the day-to-day operations of Tabernacle Child Development Center in her native Detroit. She moved to Chicago in 2003, with the goal of working in urban neighborhoods to improve early education and the quality of life for children and families. She served as director of an inclusive child care center with Jewish Children’s Bureau and program director at Olive-Harvey Child Development Center. She is currently the site manager for Children’s Home and Aid in Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood. She holds a bachelor’s degree in child development and hospice education from Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan, and a master’s degree in educational administration with a focus in leadership and curriculum development from Marygrove College in Detroit.
Talina Carter Bowie
Early Childhood Director of Programs and Operations
Chicago Youth Centers
“Throughout my career in early childhood education, I’ve always sought to build a strong community of parents, teachers, and children.”
Over the course of two decades in early childhood education, Talina Carter Bowie has worked as a teacher, director, and coordinator — always following her belief that education should be inclusive of all children and maintain a philosophy of intentional teaching practices. In her role as early childhood director of programs and operations for Chicago Youth Centers, she works to ensure that the organization’s early childhood programs provide high quality experiences in communities across Chicago. As a leader, she is deeply committed to serving those who in turn serve families and children, while maintaining program compliance and standards in this important work. She has a master’s degree in social work and a bachelor’s degree in sociology, both from Chicago State University.
Director of Early Learning and Health
Logan Square Neighborhood Association
“As a community organizer working at the grassroots level, I bring a non-traditional perspective to the early childhood education field. I also bring nine years of experience working to address childhood obesity.”
Lucy Gomez’s work impacts the lives of her own neighbors. As director of early learning and health for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association in Chicago, she serves the families and children of the community where she lives. In her role, she works closely with local stakeholders and peer educators to develop a framework for how a community can work together to help children and their families be better prepared for kindergarten. For nine years prior, she was dedicated to child obesity prevention work. She served as project director of the Chicago “Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities” Partnership, which aimed to improve access to and increase healthy food options in parks, and managed a five-year partnership, Active Living by Design, focused on improving the built environment in Logan Square to support walking and bicycling. She also is a founding member of Northwestern University’s Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities, a steering committee promoting Community-based Participatory Research, and serves as commissioner on the Illinois Latino Family Commission. She holds a bachelor’s degree in urban planning from the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Former Director of Early Childhood Education
Teach for America-Chicago
“Change doesn’t happen overnight, and the best decisions are made when stakeholders with diverse perspectives collaborate.”
The daughter of a lifelong educator and recipient of early intervention services herself for a visual impairment, Kate Haffner found her calling in early childhood education. She began her teaching career at the community-based organization Casa Central and, while working there, she earned her master’s degree in early childhood education from Dominican University. She is was most recently in the position of director of early childhood education development at Teach For America-Chicago, where she coached early childhood teachers and designed professional development trainings.
Program Manager for Policy and Customer Service
Illinois Department of Human Services
Office of Early Childhood, Bureau of Child Care and Development
“I’m always looking for opportunities to collaborate across a broad range of systems and sectors to support quality early care and education and to promote children’s mental health and social emotional development.”
Throughout her career, Roselyn Harris has served in both policy and direct service roles, and regardless of her position, she always works for the benefit of children and families. In her current role with the state of Illinois, she defines Child Care Assistance Program policies and exercises critical oversight of program communication and resource management. She has served as part of the core team for the Work Support Strategies Project, a national- and state-level initiative focused on streamlining and aligning social services to increase families’ access to the full range of benefits as they move along the path to self-sufficiency. In addition, she has more than 15 years of clinical experience working in the field of mental health providing direct counseling and early intervention consultant services. She is a licensed professional counselor in Illinois, and she holds bachelor’s degree in psychology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Roosevelt University.
Senior Director of Academic Programs and External Affairs
Big Shoulders Fund
“As an advocate for quality education opportunities for all students, I want to deepen my understanding of the public and private resources available that can help improve access and equity.”
Working with the Big Shoulders Fund, Rebecca Lindsay-Ryan uses her education background and nonprofit management experience to help improve communities and prepare students for lifelong success. For nine years, she has overseen significant growth of the fund’s academic programs in order to increase access to high-quality, developmentally appropriate education. Her work impacts thousands of Chicago children enrolled in the fund’s preschool and kindergarten programs, many of whom come from low-income backgrounds. Previously, she was an educator at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and Francis W. Parker School. She has bachelor’s degrees in history and secondary education and a master’s degree in nonprofit management from DePaul University.
Juanita A. Rodriguez
Office of Language and Cultural Education
Chicago Public Schools
“My strong belief in additive bilingual programs stems both from my work experience and my upbringing as an English language learner.”
Juanita A. Rodriguez has a long history with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), beginning with her own education. Growing up in the predominantly Mexican-American community of Pilsen, she was enrolled in a bilingual program in her neighborhood school. As an adult, she began her career as a bilingual educator for CPS in 1995, and has served the district as an expert on bilingual special education in various administrative positions. Currently, she is an instructional manager in the Office of Language and Cultural Education at CPS, collaborating with staff to develop guides and rubrics that articulate clear criteria for high-quality language education programs for English learners and using criteria to support implementation of consistent practice across the district. She supports the development and implementation of appropriate instructional programs and approaches for English learners that adhere to federal, state, and local policy and education initiatives.
Director, Referrals and Outreach
Illinois Action for Children
“To effectively implement change, we must partner with families and allow them to have a voice and advocate for themselves.”
Marquinta Thomas is passionate about educating parents of young children on the importance of positive early learning experiences. For nearly a decade, her work has focused on ensuring that families are connected with resources to help them overcome challenges associated with poverty, specifically barriers to accessing quality education and community resources. She has worked in various positions in Chicago that focused on family and community engagement, parent leadership, family advocacy, infant and toddler education, and family literacy. In her previous role with Illinois Action for Children, she managed teams that provide referrals to quality early learning programming and consumer education for families. She also has worked to influence and implement changes that ensure adequate resources are available and that barriers that prevent families from accessing them are eliminated. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education and a bachelor’s degree in psychology/child and family studies, both from Roosevelt University.
Director, Child Care Assistance Program
Illinois Action for Children
“I’ve worked in almost every facet of Illinois’ Child Care Assistance Programs for 15 years, and I want to continue my growth in the early childhood field, particularly in regard to policy and advocacy.”
Chris Tokarski is interested in using policy to remove barriers that prevent eligible families from easily accessing child care assistance and other public benefits. Formerly, as director of policy and practice management in the Family Resources Department of Illinois Action for Children, he managed the organization’s work of administering the state of Illinois’ Child Care Assistance Program in Cook County. In March 2016, the program helped 34,000 families in Cook County pay for child care. In his 15 years with the organization, he has held many roles, from front-line work with families to quality assurance. His wife, Kelly, is a school librarian for pre-kindergarten through second grade, and he has two children. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in business communication from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.