ChiCeLaCu teachers are native Spanish speakers and seasoned educators possessing many years of classroom experience in schools, colleges, and universities in the United States, Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua, Honduras, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico, among others. Teachers have degrees and strong backgrounds in education, Spanish immersion, early childhood education, technology, and the 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 and first aid training and undergo TB screening.

Mrs. Maureen Santamaria

Founder and Director

A native of Nicaragua, Mrs. Santamaría founded the Children’s Center for Language and Culture, Inc. (ChiCeLaCu), the first Spanish immersion center in Northern Virginia, in 2007. A teacher by vocation and training, she is not only the director and owner but also part of the teaching staff, with over 35 years of teaching experience in Latin America and the United States. She worked in the Virginia public school system as a lead Spanish teacher, worked with special education students in Maryland, and was 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 the United Nations Children’s Fund for seven years and authored and co-authored books on migrant and homeless children, curriculum development, statistics, the census on child poverty, and child labor. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education and has completed extensive master’s-level coursework in urban development and demography. Mrs. Santamaria enjoys exploring natural wonders in the U.S., Central America, and Mexico. Her passions include reading, photography, gardening, and recreating habitats for bees and butterflies in the backyard of her cozy 1950s home, where she loves spending time with her granddaughter and children. Mrs. Maureen continues to lead ChiCeLaCu while also focusing on building ChiCeLaCu Publications, her “new baby,” as she affectionately calls this new venture!

Administrative Team

Mr. Yurii Goncharov

Administrative Director

Originally from Ukraine, Mr. Goncharov holds an MBA and an 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 since been responsible for all administrative, financial, and logistical matters related to ChiCeLaCu’s day-to-day operations. As Administrative Director, he is the lead in business operations and human resource management and ensures that ChiCeLaCu complies with all regulatory requirements. He is fluent in Ukrainian, Russian, and English and is proficient in Spanish. An expert traveler, Mr. Goncharov enjoys exploring the world with his wife and dog, Tito. An avid coin collector, he has thousands of coins from every country in the world! A man of many talents and interests, he often wows his friends and family with expertly and elegantly crafted fruit platter creations.

Ms. Monica Marini

Communications Manager

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 programs. In her capacity as a communication consultant for ChiCeLaCu, Ms. Marini serves as the center’s primary point of contact with potential clients and partners, ensuring that those 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 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 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 while also sharing her time and home with her darling felines Maxwell and Ignacio (Nacho).

Teaching Staff

Preschool Team

Ms. Ivette Reyes

Preschool & Spanish Teacher (Saturday School)

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, she brings to ChiCeLaCu a passion for molding young minds and fostering creativity. 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. An exceptionally creative teacher, she prides herself on being both flexible and dynamic, which are instrumental in meeting the challenges and ever-changing demands of the teaching profession. She has taught in all ChiCeLaCu programs and is currently focused on preschool and Saturday School. 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 Teacher

Ms. Pedernera is an Argentinian native with over 16 years of experience teaching Spanish to children and adults. She has a specialization in teaching Spanish as a second language and a strong academic background in psychology from the National University of Cordoba. A kind and nurturing teacher, Ms. Pedernera brings to ChiCeLaCu Preschool her talent for stimulating social, emotional, and academic growth through fun and dynamic learning experiences. As 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 firsthand. Ms. Pedernera enjoys traveling, spending time with her family, dancing, reading, and taking walks.

Mrs. Melissa Fúnez Larios

Preschool & Spanish Teacher (At Your School)

A native of Honduras, Mrs. Fúnez is a dedicated educator with over 15 years of experience teaching children, youth, and adults. She received her teaching certification from the National Pedagogical University in Honduras and is trained in the Montessori method as well as  social and emotional screening, and competencies. After earning a bachelor’s degree in legal and social sciences and a master’s degree in human rights and development from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, she worked closely with governments and international organizations on migrant issues, specifically relating to children’s welfare. At ChiCeLaCu, she teaches Spanish in the At Your School and preschool programs. Mrs. Funez proudly shares that her greatest role is being a mother.  She enjoys spending time with her family, her Chihuahua Minnie, reading, and taking walks and bicycle rides with her husband. 

Ms. Jacqueline De Villegas Cordova

Preschool TA and Spanish Teacher (Saturday and At Your School)

Ms. 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’s Saturday School, At Your School and preschool programs 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 11-year-old son was in kindergarten. She loves spending time outdoors with her family and dog Chiwi, playing the piano, and composing melodies.

Ms. Yumary Cory Guillen

Preschool Teacher Assistant

A passionate educator from Venezuela, Yumary Guillen holds a bachelor’s degree in education with a specialization in mathematics and physics along with a master’s degree in mathematics with a teaching focus. With over 5 years of teaching experience across various levels, she now brings her expertise to the world of preschool education at Chicelacu. Beyond her teaching role, she is also a skilled sign language interpreter, a proficiency she gained through her unique upbringing as the child of deaf parents. Her remarkable ability to seamlessly adapt to diverse cultures enriches her connections with people from all walks of life. When she’s not nurturing young minds in the classroom, she finds her heart’s delight in the world of music, particularly singing. Her adventurous spirit leads her to explore new and exciting places. A valuable member of the team, she is excited to contribute her extensive skills and rich experiences to ChiCeLaCu’s mission.

Saturday School Team

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 US, she focused her professional efforts on her true passion—elementary education. A very dedicated and committed teacher, she prepares innovative lessons and makes unique connections with each of her students in the Saturday program. An assistant kindergarten teacher at FCPS, she is continuously honing her skills through various courses in special education and behavior analysis. In her free time, she volunteers to help the poor and homeless and serves as secretary for The Lord of Miracles in Washington, DC. She enjoys traveling and exploring new places.

Elvira Sandoval

Spanish Teacher (Saturday and At Your School)

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 classroom activities and, most importantly, with creative and unique art projects involving painting, drawing, and construction art. At ChiCeLaCu, she began as an instructional assistant and was quickly promoted to lead teacher for the At Your School Programs and the Saturday School. Mrs. Sandoval also manages after-care programs and serves as a substitute teacher at a private school in Northern Virginia. In her free time, she enjoys painting, drawing, taking long walks, and doing hot yoga!

Carolina Menjivar

Spanish Teacher (Saturday and At Your School)

Originally from Honduras, Carolina Menjivar is a trained elementary school teacher with experience in preschool and primary education, including multi-level learning. A lawyer with a specialization in commercial law, Ms. Menjibar received her diploma in constitutional law and human rights and a master’s degree in management and public policy from the University of Santiago de Chile. In addition, she has taught at the Autonomous University of Honduras post-graduate level social work and demography. She has held various public management positions in her country and has worked jointly with governments and multilateral and bilateral organizations on projects related to security, migration, and human rights. At ChiCeLaCu, she teaches advanced students in the Saturday School and the At Your School Program. An enthusiastic teacher, she is committed to a student-friendly process and is guided by the key principles of honesty, loyalty, and proactivity. Married for more than 15 years, she is a devoted mother who enjoys serving her community, traveling, dancing, cooking, gardening, and her two dogs, Taco and Molly.

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 and is currently an archeology field technician at a cultural resource management firm. 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 Programs. 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, volunteering at animal shelters, and playing video games.

Ms. Katherine Ochoa

Spanish Teacher

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 and 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 the City University of New York at Lehman College. She joined ChiCeLaCu as an assistant teacher for the At Your School and preschool programs and now teaches in the Saturday School. 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 two children to parks and museums, doing crafts, and reading to them.

At Your School Team

Mrs. Cathie O’hara

Spanish Teacher

Ms. 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 five 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 the lead caregiver for toddler programs and is currently the 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. 

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.

Ana Maria Toro

Spanish Teacher

As a Colombian native, Mrs. Ana Toro is more than honored and proud to represent her Hispanic roots, her culture, and to teach the Spanish language. She joins ChiCeLaCu as a Spanish teacher for the At Your School Programs. With a degree in industrial engineering and a master’s in marketing management, she has over 20 years of professional experience in different industries. Family is extremely important to her, and as such, she is passionate about keeping children safe and cared for, encouraging them to be the best version of themselves, and being willing to discover and learn every day. As a proud mother of two, she is a dance and soccer mom who enjoys watching and supporting her children’s extracurricular activities. In her free time, she enjoys dancing, handcrafting, volunteering, and helping others.

Hemil Garcia Linares

Spanish Teacher

Mr. Hemil Garcia earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Universidad Jaime Bausate y Meza in Lima, Peru, and a master’s degree in Spanish from George Mason University. With over nine years of experience teaching middle and high school, college, and adult education courses, Mr. Gracia is well versed in various teaching methodologies, including Beyond the Classroom, Flipped Classroom, and Social Awareness. He has authored several publications, including Proyecto Usher, Anthology in Tribute to Edgar Allan Poe (2020), Cthulhu Project (2020), and Carrie Project (2021), among many others. He is the founder of the Virginia Hispanic Book Festival and directs virtual short story and novel workshops in Lima, Peru, Tijuana, Mexico, and Virginia. A Spanish teacher and Head of the Language Department at Park View High School in Virginia, he joins ChiCeLaCu as Spanish teacher for intermediate and advanced students in the At Your School Programs.

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. 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.

Illustration, Graphic Design, and Online Team

Mr. Alvaro Umaña

Art Teacher, Principal Illustrator and Designer

A native of Nicaragua, Mr. Umaña began developing his artistic ability at a very young age. While his expertise as an architect for the past 18 years has focused 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. Part of ChiCeLaCu!’s online teaching staff, he finds great enjoyment and fulfillment in imparting his knowledge and expertise to a new generation of learners with basic tools like paper and pencil. He believes that in a highly digital world, a bit of art can help refresh young minds. 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 and graduated as a 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 de Engineering in Managua, Nicaragua. He loves to spend time with family, and in his free time, he enjoys drawing landscapes and portraits of friends and family. 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 Umaña

Art Teacher and Illustrator

Born in Nicaragua, Mr. 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 to sculpt 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. Mr. Umaña currently teaches ChiCeLaCu’s online Cartoon Workshop, where he finds great joy in 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 them a love of art. Reading historical novels, drawing, and spending time with his three daughters, wife, and mother are among his favorite activities. He enjoys cooking traditional food for his family and riding his motorcycle along the Pacific Ocean.

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, and WordPress, among others. A freelance designer since 2005, he manages a portfolio of Peruvian 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, exploring beaches, and playing with his Scottish Terriers Nala and Sami.

Mr. William Santamaria


A young illustrator born in Nicaragua, Mr. Santamaria’s interest in art began at eight years old, when he practiced on any surface available. His formal training began in 2007 at the Rodrigo Peñalba School of Plastic Arts, where he learned and perfected the use of light and shadow on paper and digital media. Two years later, he joined the world of graffiti, using spray paints, bristles, and brushes to further improve his drawing techniques. In 2020, Mr. Santamaria graduated with a degree in graphic design from the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua. Digital illustration caught his interest after graduation, and he independently perfected his craft using Illustrator and Photoshop. Mr. Santamaria currently dedicates a large part of his time to ChiCeLaCu as a member of its team of illustrators, contributing to the creation of images for various educational materials. A patient, dedicated, and creative illustrator, he loves drawing in his spare time and going on long walks with his three charming dogs.

Mr. Cesar A. Lazo-Zuniga

Financial Consultant

Mr. Lazo brings to ChiCeLaCu over 18 years of experience as a banking professional in Peru’s financial sector. He worked as assistant manager to the vice president of Peru’s Department of Foreign Operations. He has many years of managerial and leadership experience in customer service. A meticulous and competent professional, he 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. Most importantly, he loves spending time with his two grandchildren, playing with them, and working on puzzles.