Meet Our Faculty
Ashley Whitley earned her B.S. in Early Childhood Education and M.S. in Elementary Education with a Reading Specialist Endorsement from Eastern Illinois University. She served as both a Reading Specialist and Director of Next Generation Preschool in Champaign as well as a Reading Specialist and 2nd grade teacher at Rantoul City Schools. Most recently, Mrs. Whitley has worked at the University of Illinois as an assistant registrar. She loves to read and travel.
Stacy Kirby has taught at Countryside for over 25 years. She graduated from Centennial High School in Champaign and received her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Valparaiso University. Mrs. Kirby minored in Reading and is a Reading Specialist. She has completed Gifted Levels I and II training and is a Certified Junior Great Books Leader. She and her husband are proud parents of two Countryside alumni.
Arin Cox has taught at Countryside for nearly 20 years. Before switching to teaching 2nd grade, she spent five years co-teaching 1st grade with Mrs. Kirby and twelve years as our kindergarten teacher. Mrs. Cox is from Champaign and received her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Illinois State University. Mrs. Cox leads our extremely popular summer camp and after school club, Book Nook, which focuses on the love of reading.
Mrs. Cox enjoys a “simple life” which includes her grown boys, her dogs, Ellie Mae and Bo, her husband, Neil, and a cup of coffee on her back deck. Mrs. Cox also loves the feeling of sand in her toes and a chapter or two of a good mystery book before bed. Her passion is literature in the classroom and the power of a good picture book - at any age.
Amena Saleem has a B.S. in Elementary Education from Millikin University and both a B.S. in Marketing and a Master’s degree in Learning Design and Leadership from the University of Illinois. In addition to her teaching certificate, she holds an endorsement in English as a Second Language. Before teaching at Countryside, she student-taught at Stratton Elementary in Champaign. Ms. Saleem volunteers for the DREAAM House, has been a volunteer tutor at The Refugee Center, and a volunteer Sunday School teacher at Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center. Ms. Saleem loves history and watching musicals. She has a son attending Countryside and a daughter who is an alumna.
Gabriel Bielenberg-Gilbert graduated magna cum laude from Eastern Illinois University with his B.S. in Elementary Education. He grew up in Central Illinois and spent most of his young life in his grandmother’s library (Vance Township Library) in Fairmount reading his favorite genre: historical non-fiction. He then served nearly eight years as a part-time librarian's assistant there where he found purpose in reading to children and developing activities based on literature. Mr. Bielenberg learned German as his first language and speaks both Spanish and Swedish in addition to English. He also plays five instruments - trumpet, French horn, mellophone, piano, and ukulele.
Jeff Butler has taught locally since 2008. He received his Master’s in Education from University of Wisconsin-River Falls and is American Montessori Society certified to teach 1st through 6th grade. In addition, he holds a B.A. from Eastern Illinois University. Mr. Butler has taught preschool through 6th grade using a variety of approaches, including project based, lab based, Reggio Emilia, Montessori, and traditional. He implements aspects of all these approaches into his teaching. He has experience with curriculum development, implementing Science Technology Engineering Art and Math (STEAM) curriculum, and providing differentiated instruction for gifted and talented students. Mr. Butler also enjoys dog training and has trained his dogs to turn off the lights.
Chris Antonsen has a B.A. in English (Illinois), an M.A. in Folk Studies (Western Kentucky), and a Ph.D. in English and Folklore Studies (Ohio State). Prior to coming to Countryside in 2010, Mr. A. has been a college professor, editor and publisher, projects manager and grants writer, database developer, and scout leader. He currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Folklore and Education.
Mr. A. loves travel and has lived briefly in England on two occasions. He would go back in a heartbeat so long as his students could visit a lot. In addition, he is the proud parent of two Countryside alumni.
Amber Barker joins Countryside after teaching 7th and 8th grade science for five years at Blue Ridge Junior High in Mansfield, IL. She graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a B.S. in Education, and she holds three endorsements - Middle School, Science, and Language Arts. She previously substitute-taught in grades pre-K through 12 and has owned and operated a daycare.
Mrs. Barker enjoys spending time playing games with family, painting, and making custom cakes. She also enjoys welding and has driven in a demolition derby! In addition, she is the proud parent of a Countryside student.
Sarah Christensen grew up all over the world. She lived in Japan, attended high school in Germany, and served as an ambassador at Model United Nations conferences in Prague, Czech Republic. Mrs. Christensen graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.S. in Middle Grades Education with endorsements in Middle Grades Social Studies and Literacy. She has worked as a teacher’s assistant for both middle and high school math in Germany and has local experience at both Urbana and Edison Middle Schools. She completed her student-teaching at Jefferson Middle School.
Ikro Joe received his B.S. and M.S. in Biological Sciences and a PhD in Molecular and Integrative Physiology from the University of Illinois. As a research scientist at Kim Laboratories, a biotech company, he worked on pathogen detection sensor development, and he founded biotech firm EnvirGen Inc.
For the past several years, Dr. Joe has tutored students in all levels of high school math. In addition he teaches test prep for the SSAT, ACT, SAT, SAT Subject tests, and the calculus, biology, and chemistry AP courses.
Tara Santiago has a B.S. in Computational Mathematics from the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras and an M.S. in Applied Mathematics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Before joining Countryside in 2016, she was a teaching assistant for undergraduate math courses, an SAT instructor, and a math tutor. Ms. Santiago speaks Spanish and is learning French. She enjoys reading, cooking, and playing video games. When she isn’t teaching, she is probably at home playing with her cat, Luna Victoria.
Gloria Arizaga is a native speaker of Spanish and originally from México. She received her bachelor's degree in Journalism from the journalism school "Carlos Septién García" and her associate degree in Public Policies from the Instituto Nacional de Administración Pública de Querétaro. She has a certification for Teaching Spanish as a Second Language to Children from the Rey Juan Carlos University. Before moving to the United States, Mrs. Arizaga worked as journalist and editor for several newspapers and magazines and had the honor to work under the direction of Nobel Prize in Literature recipient, Gabriel García Marquez.
In the United States, Mrs. Arizaga has worked as consultant for publishers Editions Larousse and Chambers Harrap. She worked nine years at the University of Illinois Extension where she developed a listening course for AP Spanish. She has taught Spanish at St. John Lutheran School, and she currently teaches Spanish online to students in Beijing, China, and is a Spanish tutor. Mrs. Arizaga has taught at Countryside since 2015.
When not at school, Mrs. Arizaga volunteers in different organizations in town and enjoys gardening, cooking, hiking, camping, and reading. She loves to watch history and science documentaries, and she is rediscovering chemistry in her kitchen and garden. Her daughter is a Countryside alumna.
Eileen Chen is a native speaker of Mandarin Chinese and also speaks English and Japanese. She completed her B.A. at Tamkang University, Taiwan, and holds an M.S. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from Nazareth College in Rochester, NY. She earned a Certification of Advanced Study and an M. Ed. in Human Resource Education from the University of Illinois, and she earned a Master of Arts in Multilingual Education from the University of Northern Colorado. Mrs. Chen is a K-12 Certified Chinese Language Teacher in both Illinois and Colorado. In addition, she holds a certification of TESOL from the University of California, Irvine.
Mrs. Chen taught Chinese in Chinese schools in California, New York, and Illinois, and she taught English as a foreign language at schools in Taiwan. Mrs. Chen has twice been awarded an excellence in teaching award by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office. She enjoys participating in many professional development conferences to bring new knowledge to the classroom.
She enjoys cake decorating and teaches our wildly popular Sugar Paste summer camps where students create amazing edible treats from rolled fondant icing. Mrs. Chen also loves travel, yoga, and trying new international recipes. She is the proud parent of a Countryside alumnus, and she hopes to go back to teach languages in underprivileged areas of China after she retires.
Brooke Kim received her B.A in Art Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She taught art at Robeson Elementary School and has been a summer art camp leader at the Urbana Park District. In addition, Ms. Kim student taught at schools in Mahomet, at Centennial High School in Champaign, and at the Saturday Art School at the University of Illinois. Ms. Kim’s volunteer experience includes teaching bible study and volunteering with the homeless in Osaka, Japan, and leading weekly bible study discussions for college and graduate students locally.
Jacki Loewenstein is the artistic director and owner of Class Act, a Champaign-based performing arts studio. Since 1992, she has worked professionally as a theater director, instructor, and private acting coach in Chicago, NYC, and Austin.
Over the past decade, Ms. Jacki has directed local productions for Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company (CUTC), Urbana’s Station Theatre, and CUTC’s Penguin Project, a program featuring young people with disabilities paired with peer mentors.
She received her B.A. in Journalism from UNC–Chapel Hill and her MFA in Directing from Illinois State University in Normal, IL. Prior to joining Countryside, Ms. Jacki was our guest director for Countryside’s 8th grade production of Into the Woods, Jr. back in 2016.
Whitney McComas graduated from the University of Illinois with both her B.S. in Classics with a concentration in Latin and her M.A. in Classics with a specialization in Latin. While pursuing her master's in teaching, she was recognized by her university students for excellence in teaching. Ms. McComas student-taught at Victor Andrew High School in Tinley Park, has tutored Latin, and has taught summer language camp for children ages 9-12 at the University of Illinois. Ms. McComas is in her ninth year teaching at Countryside.
Gail McWilliams is a veteran high school and middle school teacher of French, English, and Spanish. She earned both her B.A. in French and her M.A. in English at the University of Illinois. For almost ten years she and her husband explored the East Coast, Caribbean islands, and South America while living aboard a sailboat. In addition, she taught English while living in Venezuela.
In 2014 Mrs. McWilliams retired from Countryside after teaching Spanish here for eight years. She returned as one of our regular substitute teachers and now also teaches Travel Customs - a short course on international travel customs and languages to our middle schoolers. Mrs. McWilliams has also taught our wonderful Bead Craft & Jewelry Making summer camp for years.
Erika Mennig has a Master of Music Education from the University of Illinois. In addition, she has a Bachelor of Music Education (choral), a Bachelor of Music in Open Studies (music business), and a Bachelor of Music in Fine Arts (piano performance) – all from the University of Illinois. Ms. Mennig previously taught music and directed the choir both at Edison Middle School in Champaign and in Rantoul. She also owns her own music studio giving private lessons in both piano and voice. Ms. Mennig was the head volleyball coach at Urbana High School and currently coaches at Countryside School.
Shane Woodcock earned his B.S. in Physical Education from Eureka College and M.S. in Sports Administration from Eastern Illinois University. This is Mr. Woodcock’s seventh year at Countryside. Through his creativity and enthusiasm about physical education, he has grown our program with several new activities. Mr. Woodcock established our archery program, archery summer camp, and the First Tee Golf program. He founded our ever popular annual Color Run and our annual Countryside Golf Outing. In addition to serving as our Athletic Director, Mr. Woodcock coaches Countryside’s boys’ basketball team and archery club. He is also a Middle School Advisor and teaches our middle school wood shop class.
Krystal Young holds a B.A. in English literature and M.Ed. with a focus on Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She has served as a substitute teacher in a variety of schools and content areas at Champaign Unit 4 Schools. While earning her M.Ed., she gained familiarity with and contributed pieces to the curriculums of several local area schools. Krystal maintains her teaching license and completes professional development, mostly focusing on dyslexia.
Prior to her current position, Mrs. Young was a co-founder and managing partner of Codagami, a Champaign-based technology company that develops web and mobile applications for some of the most recognized brands in the world. During her tenure, Krystal was responsible for marketing, human resources, finance, employee development, and operations. Mrs. Young has been a member of the Countryside community for ten years, and she has one daughter currently attending Countryside and two Countryside alumna.
Chris Antonsen – Middle School Team Leader
Vivian Carpenter – Business Manager
Kristin Feddersen – Director of Communications & Alumni Relations
Melissa Hartman – Administrative Assistant
Judy Kaplan – Director of Admissions
Stacy Kirby – Elementary School Team Leader
Susan Richardson – Associate Head of School
Krystal Young – Head of School