Mrs. Barb Labotka


The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six.  For that is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed.” —Dr. Maria Montessori

Mrs. Barb Labotka is a product of Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic schools. She attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Glenview for grade school, St. Louise de Marillac High School in Northfield and Loyola University Chicago for undergraduate studies. She holds Montessori certification from Seton Montessori Institute in early childhood.

She holds a Masters degree in Teaching and Learning with a specialization in teaching literacy and language and a second Masters degree, M.Ed in Educational Leadership with a concentration in Catholic School Leadership with Principal Endorsement from DePaul University. Mrs. Barb has experience opening Montessori classrooms and has taught pre-k, kindergarten and elementary students for 14 years before becoming a principal.

Mrs. Barb enjoys spending time with her husband Tom, to whom she has been happily married for 26 years. They have two children in college, Hannah and Charlie. A fun fact about Mrs. Barb is that she was confirmed by Cardinal Bernardin in eighth grade!

Anupama (Anu) Kripanidhi

Director of Operations

“The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” – Maria Montessori

Ms. Anu is our Operations & Finance Director, she has an extensive background as an operations strategy consultant with over 7 years of experience with IBM at various international opportunities and locations. She has completed her Masters in Business Administration and also is an AMI certified Assistant Teacher (Primary 3-6 year olds). Anu lives here in Lakeview area of Chicago with her dear husband and 2 lovely daughters.

The Montessori way of teaching speaks to her and to be in the field of education, to be able to make a difference in the community especially the future generation motivates & inspires her. It is deeply ingrained with her passion to work with kids. In her spare time Ms.Anu enjoys spending time with her family, listening to music and dancing.

Liana Giannoni

Directress 0-3 Programs, Educational Coordinator for Enrichment Programs

Ms. Liana Giannoni has a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and an Infant-Toddler Specialist certificate from Erickson Institute. She was honored to receive one of five Kohl-McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Awards in 1998 for her dedication and service to children and their families. Ms. Liana also had the privilege to go to Italy to study the Reggio-Emilia philosophy.

In her spare time, Ms. Liana loves to try looking at the world through children’s eyes and create welcoming environments that inspire children to explore. Her other interests include swimming, crocheting, reading mystery books and picking blueberries.

Ms. Liana serves as our Directress for the infant-toddler programs and transition classes.

Nikki O'Neil

Transitions Aide

“Joy, feeling one’s own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.” -Maria Montessori

Ms. Nikki holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Communications from Florida State University, where she also studied for one semester in Florence Italy. Her minor is in Psychology. She holds her Montessori Para Professional from Seton Montessori.

Ms. Nikki first discovered the Montessori method when considering preschools for her own children, who have both been students at Cardinal Bernardin Montessori Academy.

A Chicago native, Nikki spends her free time with her family riding their bikes, going to Montrose Beach, attending Cubs games whenever they get a chance, and all that Lakeview has to offer.

Joan Cahill

P2 Primary Directress

“We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit.” —Maria Montessori (Education for a New World)

Ms. Joan attended Lakeland College in Wisconsin and earned her AMS Montessori Certification from Seton Montessori Institute in 1987. Ms. Joan has held a plethora of academic positions. She was the directress at the Montessori School of Western Springs at the Grace Lutheran Church of Westchester Preschool, served as a social and play therapist at Giant Steps Autistic Center, and worked for several years in District 103 as support staff for special education students.

When she’s not in the classroom, Ms. Joan enjoys spending time with her six grandchildren. She also loves traveling the world, reading, crocheting, knitting and quilting. Ms. Joan is also an active member of the PEO, which is a philanthropic organization in which women celebrate advancement of women through education.

Ms. Joan joined the Academy in 2004 and is Primary Directress for Primary 2. Ms. Joan is dedicated to the children and the Montessori theory, and she looks forward to helping the children grow each and every day.

Rhae Maribao

P2 Teaching Aide

“Now, what really makes a teacher is love for the human child; for it is love that transforms the social duty of the educator into the higher consciousness of a mission.” -Maria Montessori

It is with this quote above that Ms. Rhae has been driven. Being born in the Philippines allowed her a different point of view and different way of playing, learning, and interacting with nature and her environment. Music was a big part of her every day life from get-togethers with family, up to her neighbors who stayed up late playing guitars and singing in harmony.

With this, and after growing up in the States, she went on to graduate from Roosevelt University with a bachelors Degree in Opera Performance and a minor in Music Theory and Pedagogy. After graduating, Rhae spent much time on stage and on the road, recording radio ads as well as her own songs in her hometown of Detroit, singing in a band, and also traveling for Dodge and Toyota in auto shows. Science and technology was another love and once retiring from the road, she pursued a nursing degree at Chamberlain University before putting it on hold to be a full time mom to her son, Patrick. It was in staying home and reading up on how best to help her son’s overall development that she discovered a love for the Montessori philosophy.

Guidance from Ms. Liana Giannoni when going through the parent-toddler program with her son, and further guidance from Ms. Joan Cahill while her son was in her pre-k classroom was her main catalyst in pursuing a Montessori teaching career. Soon, she became Ms. Joan’s teacher’s aide and this summer, she hopes to pursue her certification at Seton Montessori Institute in Clarendon Hills to officially and eventually be qualified as a lead teacher.

With the knowledge she has gained with her experiences, Ms. Rhae hope to be able to inspire her students with a zest to always keep learning and to experience as much as life brings them. Some of her hobbies include teaching Zumbini (a Montessori-based music and movement program for children 0-4 and their caregivers), and Zumbini For Schools (up to grade 2), singing and making up silly songs with her 4 yr old, baking and cooking while teaching her son art, running, painting, and spending time on long walks with her Jack Russell Terrier.

Jessica Santiago

P3 Primary Directress

“It is my belief that the thing which we should cultivate in our teachers is more the spirit than the mechanical skill of the scientist; that is, the direction of the preparation should be toward the spirit rather than toward the mechanism.” —Maria Montessori

Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Ms. Jessica relocated to Chicago in 2012. She earned her BS in English from Rutgers University in New Jersey and then continued her education by obtaining her MS and Illinois State license in Early Childhood Education from Dominican University. She also retrieved a Leadership Academy certificate from the Archdiocese of Chicago and obtained her Montessori certification at the Midwest Montessori Training Center.

Ms. Jessica began her journey interning at Nickelodeon and went on to work for Simon & Schuster, Inc. in New York City after college. She then decided to pursue working with children in Chicago. She has taught enrichment classes at Catholic schools and gained experience working in a Montessori school in Oak Park. In addition, she has taught Sunday school for a few years.

In her spare time, Ms. Jessica loves hiking and traveling the world. In May 2017, she hiked the Camino de Santiago trail, extending from France through Spain. She’s also participated in several mission trips in Kenya, Israel and El Salvador. She is hoping to visit family in Dubai on her next trip! Jessica enjoys going to the beach and writing fiction.

Ms. Jessica joined the Academy in 2016 and is Primary Directress for Primary 3. She looks forward to working with the children and is grateful to be a part of such a wonderful school community.

Kathy Spreitzer

P3 Teacher Aide

“The child who concentrates is immensely happy.” —Maria Montessori

Ms. Kathy Spreitzer received her Para Professional Montessori Certificate from Midwest Montessori. Prior to that, she earned her BS in Elementary Education from DePaul University and her MS in Human Resource Administration from Spertus Institute. Kathy is licensed in the state of Illinois for grades K-9.

In her spare time, Ms. Kathy enjoys traveling the world.

Ms. Kathy has been with the Academy for five years and has been with the Archdiocese of Chicago for 35.

Mrs. Kayla Copsey-Mazur

P4 Primary Directress

“Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.” —Maria Montessori

Mrs. Kayla Copsey-Mazur received her Michigan teaching certificate and holds a B.S. in Elementary Education with a major in Child Development from Central Michigan University. She has been with Cardinal Bernardin Montessori Academy for 2 years.

Her personal teaching philosophy has always centered around a child’s boundless potential. Even before she discovered the Montessori Method, she believed it is her duty as a teacher to help guide each child to their greatest potential. Her goal is to share the joy of learning and prepare each child to be a lifelong learner.

When not in the classroom, she spends most of her time with her husband and dog, Bane. She loves to travel, cook, read, garden and be with friends and family.

Erinn Toth

P4 Teacher Aide

“The teacher, when she begins work in our schools, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work.” —Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Ms. Erinn received her BA in Psychology from Saint Mary’s College and her MS in Pre-Kindergarten Exceptional Student Education from University of Miami. She also earned her Illinois Professional Educator License.

She has spent the last 18 years working with children with and without disabilities, most of her experience in the early childhood field. In her spare time, Ms. Erinn enjoys spending time with her large family, being outdoors and going to brunch.

She joined the Academy in 2018 and is Primary Directress of Primary 4.

Mrs. Robin Fowler

P5 Primary Directress

“Our care of children should be governed, not by the desire to make them learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within them the light which is called intelligence.” —Maria Montessori

Ms. Robin received her AMS Montessori credential from Seton Montessori Institute in 2006. Prior to that, she earned her B.A. in Art Education, K-12, from Purdue University.

esides “anything creative,” Ms. Robin loves to travel and experience new cultures around the world and spend time with her adult children in Chicago and San Francisco. She is also an avid cyclist.

She joined the Academy in 2018 and is Primary Directress of Primary 5.

Alexis Pomietlo

P5 Teacher Aide

“When people say I wish to lower the teacher in status, that is untrue; I really wish to illuminate her role. To find our correct place is a long road, but if and when we find it, we find that it is smaller than we thought it would be. We are, as it were, waking from a sleep in finding that place where we are…In waking, I am perhaps beginning to do real work, if only a little. That humility is the beginning of work, of accomplishing something, has always been the fundamental principle of the spiritual life. This humility, however, is not humiliation, but it is an elevation and the basic principle of producing anything.”– Maria Montessori

Alexis comes to the Cardinal Bernardin family with a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and Theology from Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, CA. Originally from a family of six in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, she was raised by a teacher and a painter and dabbled in education by teaching catechism during her latter high school years. Ultimately she pursued the aforementioned classical education in California, where a friend introduced her to Dr. Maria Montessori and her philosophy. Initially she opted to take a year off after graduation in 2018 and au pair in northwestern France, but God had other plans in store. A sudden turn of events led to her pursuing culinary–specifically baking–interests in southwestern Wisconsin. Reflecting on her deep regard for education and love for children she returned to a further investigation of the Montessori method and found Cardinal Bernardin Montessori Academy. Attracted to the Catholic character and strong adherence to Dr. Montessori’s principles, she desired to join the team and serve the children in the early childhood environment. Currently receiving her certification from the Midwest Montessori Teacher Training Center in Evanston, IL, she is savoring the process of becoming a well-formed directress. Her interests include an immense love for her Catholic faith, as well as Saint John Paul the Great and Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She loves spending time with her family and friends, baking pies, living an active life filled with biking, hiking, pilates, running, gardening, dancing, along with reading and writing. 

Emily Prill


“We must clearly understand that when we give the child freedom and independence, we are giving freedom to a worker already braced for action, who cannot live without working and being active.” — Maria Montessori

Ms. Emily received her teaching certificate from Oakland University in Michigan. She majored in Elementary education with a minor in Mathematics and Science. She is AMS-certified for ages 6-9 and completed has a year of experience teaching in a 6-9 Montessori classroom. This is will her first year teaching at Cardinal Bernardin Montessori Academy.

She has just moved to the Chicago area from Michigan. She is excited to explore everything that Chicago has to offer. She enjoys being outdoors, trying new foods, and being with family.

Ms. Emily is passionate about the Montessori Philosophy and looks forward to building relationships with the children.

Sarah Makkawy


“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.” —Maria Montessori

Ms. Sarah earned her BA in Elementary Education from Benedictine College in Atchison, KS, and is certified to teach grades K-6. She has been teaching since Fall 2016.

Ms. Sarah loves visual and performing arts—specifically dancing, theatre and drawing.

She joined the Academy in 2018 as the catechist. Her goal is to help the children build personal relationships with Jesus, our Good Shepherd.

Ms. Diane Urgo

School Office Manager

Adelaida Kagan

Parent Education and Virtue Education Coordinator

Ms. Gabriela Weikel

Marketing & Fundraising Director

Mr. Aaron Giannoni

Classroom Aide and Director of Aftercare

Mr. Lester Mosio