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.
Dana Marini received his B.A. in Business Administration from DePaul University and his Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction, including a multi-subject credential, from University of the Pacific. He most recently served as a second-grade co-teacher, as a first-grade teacher, and as a remote learning coordinator at a Next Generation School in Champaign. Prior to that, he taught second grade in Chicago and both kindergarten and third grade in San Francisco.
Mr. Marini has supervised overnight outdoor education trips for 4th – 8th graders including multi-day bicycle touring, rock climbing, and camping expeditions in national parks. He enjoys both yoga and long-distance bike touring. Fun fact: He has been a member of the Screen Actors Guild.
Arin Cox has taught at Countryside for twenty 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.
Tabitha Dunn comes to us from Champaign Unit 4 schools where she served as the K-5 Computer Science Program Director, overseeing the only elementary computer science program in the district. Prior to this position, she served as a 2nd/3rd grade gifted and talented classroom teacher for six years. She was also named the 2023 Illinois Digital Educator’s Alliance Educator of the Year.
Ms. Dunn received her Bachelor of Science in Education from Illinois State University, majoring in Elementary Education, and her Master of Education in Educational Policy and Organization Leadership from the University of Illinois.
Outside of school, Ms. Dunn can be found training and testing her fitness through CrossFit and endurance sports, including triathlons and half marathons. At home, she enjoys doing puzzles, baking and tending to her vegetable garden. A true foodie, she travels frequently with her husband on the quest for the best donuts, burgers, and unique food items. Chorizo gravy atop cornbread is a recent favorite.
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 taught 7th and 8th grade science for five years at Blue Ridge Junior High in Mansfield, IL before joining us at Countryside. 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 also owned and operated a daycare.
Mrs. Barker is the proud parent of a Countryside student. She spends time playing games with family, painting, and making custom cakes. She also enjoys welding and has even driven in a demolition derby!
Gabe Bielenberg graduated magna cum laude from Eastern Illinois University with his B.S. in Elementary Education. He spent two years as our fourth-grade teacher, prior to moving to Middle School Social Science. Mr. Bielenberg 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. Fun fact: He plays five instruments - trumpet, French horn, mellophone, piano, and ukulele.
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 enjoys yoga and teaches it locally. She is in her tenth 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 eighth 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 eleven years and is the mom to three Countryside alumnae.
Stacy Kirby takes on the role of Associate Head after spending over 25 years as our 1st grade teacher! Mrs. Kirby graduated Magna Cum Laude with her B.S. in Elementary Education from Valparaiso University and is a Reading Specialist.
As one of our founding teachers, Mrs. Kirby played an essential role in creating the basis of the curriculum and community on which Countryside stands today. She became our Elementary Team Leader in January 2020, supporting elementary faculty and working closely with the Middle School Team Leader to write a comprehensive K-8 curriculum for the school.
She and her husband are the proud parents of two Countryside alumni who are now in college. She enjoys spending time with her only "child" left at home, her beloved Border Collie. She enjoys dining out, walking, reading, gardening, and spending time with friends and family.
Kristin Feddersen has served as our Director of Communications and Alumni Relations for over fifteen years. She received both her bachelor’s and Master of Architecture degrees at the University of Illinois. In addition to photographing school activities, handling the school website & social media, and organizing admissions events, she also coordinates alumni events and alumni publications.
Mrs. Feddersen is a licensed architect and serves as an architectural advisor to the school, and she previously served as a trustee on the Countryside board of directors. In addition, she is the proud parent of two Countryside alumnae. In her free time, she enjoys downhill skiing, photography, and cheering on her college swimmer.
Leslie Gascoigne graduated from Aurora University with her Bachelor of Social Work and received her Master of Social Work from the University of St. Francis. She comes to us from Piatt County Services for Seniors where while serving as the Program Director, she managed the Senior Information Service Program and assisted clients applying for services.
Previously, Ms. Leslie worked as a therapist providing diagnostic and therapeutic services to children, adolescents, and adults. In addition, she has worked in client scheduling, case management, and agency referrals. She loves spending time with her greyhound, Maisie, as well as her cats Memphis and Chan. She also enjoys reading and creating digital art. Fun fact: She is our first alumna to work full-time for her alma mater!
Melissa Hartman holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Management Information Systems at the University of Illinois. Prior to coming to Countryside, she worked as an academic records coordinator in the University of Illinois’ registrar’s office and as an admissions and records officer. She began her career at Countryside as a substitute teacher before taking over the chaos of running the front desk.
Mrs. Hartman enjoys photography, reading, and travel – especially to the beach or Disney. Fun fact: Her favorite subjects to photograph are the beach at sunset or fireworks around the castle at Disney World. She is also the proud parent of two Countryside students.
Judy Kaplan earned her Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry from Harvard University and graduated from Harvard Medical School. Now, as a former pediatrician, she has been our Admissions Director for over 20 years. Mrs. Kaplan helped with the founding of Countryside School back in 1992 and served as a trustee on the Countryside board of directors for several years. She is the proud parent of two Countryside alumni.
Mrs. Kaplan enjoys needlepoint and world travel. Fun fact: She loves learning world languages – in particular, French, German, and Chinese.