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Welcome to Wordstreet Champions and Brave Builders of the Dream, my Poet Laureate second-term project! I'm working with the Chicago Public Schools and the Poetry Foundation, along with dozens of Chicago high school teachers, to teach poetry in new and exciting ways. Below you can find more information on the teachers, from around the country's third-largest school district—they are the builders and champions, and so are their students! The teachers and I are meeting four times throughout the school year, at the lovely Poetry Foundation building in downtown Chicago, and at the end of April we have a big celebration planned with the Chicago Public Libraries—stay tuned for details.
Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2015-2017
Jane Angle

Jane Angle is an English teacher at Von Steuben High School, where she sponsors Slam Poetry Club.

Laura Bailey

After 13 years of teaching English at Schurz High School, Laura Bailey can truthfully say that literacy and teaching are her passion and her vocation. As a child, she was lucky to have wonderful teachers who inspired her to explore the world through reading and writing, and she has used that voice developed over the years to help empower her students to have the same experience. She is participating in Wordstreet Champions with the hope that all students can find poems that speak to them and respond to the world with an authentic and powerful voice. She feels privileged to be part of this endeavor and to have the opportunity to work with Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera as part of this program.

Leah Bravo Johnson

Leah Bravo Johnson is a Spanish and English teacher at Harlan Community Academy High School. This is her fifth year at Harlan, and first year teaching English. She studied English and Spanish literature and language at Northern Illinois University. Leah is very excited to delve into the world of word and creativity with her classes! (Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune)

Kwame Burton is an English teacher at Consuella B. York.

Cassandra Christensen

Cassandra Christensen was born and raised in Wisconsin. She went to college at North Park University, and has been teaching at Amundsen High School for nine years. She is also the head coach for the basketball team. She is an avid reader and loves the Green Bay Packers. 

Matt D'Agostino

Matt D'Agostino has been a literature instructor for the past 10 years. He teaches at an International Baccalaureate Chicago high school named Back of the Yards College Prep. He enjoys teaching the magic of words and is captivated by the imagination of his students. 


Marie Davis

Marie Davis is an IB MYP English II educator at Hyde Park Academy High School.  Poetry is a genre of literature that she appreciates and looks forward to acquiring more knowledge around poetry analysis and composition.


Amy Ellifritz

Amy Ellifritz is a special education teacher at Marine Leadership Academy.  She has earned a master's degree in special education and is completing her National Board certification later this year. For the past three years, she has served as a framework specialist by creating resources and professional development for teachers within the Chicago Public Schools district. Always committed to growing as a professional, she is thrilled to have the opportunity to facilitate and learn from this amazing group of Wordstreet Champions and Brave Builders of the Dream.

Rhonda Gholston

Rhonda Gholston is a high school art teacher, poetry performing artist, and visual artist who currently teaches at Hyde Park Academy High School. Rhonda has been teaching in CPS for 16 years. She was asked by her principal to participate in this workshop and is very glad to participate and be a part of the English teaching community.

Melissa Hughes

Melissa Hughes has taught English for 16 years. She was named a "Coach of the Year" in 2010 for Louder than A Bomb, the world's largest youth poetry festival, and holds a Spoken Word Educator Graduate Certification. She loves how poetry helps her students discover a voice and an understanding that the world needs to hear their stories. She teaches at Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School.

Wendy Hush

Wendy Hush started her career at Solorio in 2012. She earned her bachelor’s in mass communications from Illinois State University, and went on to earn her master’s in writing from DePaul University. She currently holds an MEd from DePaul University as well. Prior to working as a teacher at the Eric Solorio Academy High School, Mrs. Hush was a journalist for the Chicago Tribune. Her professional interests include teaching Shakespeare through performance and incorporating visual and primary sources into her literature instruction.

Sheldon Krieger

Sheldon Krieger is a 9th grade English teacher at George Westinghouse College Prep. He earned his bachelor's degree from New York University in English education; a master's degree in the teaching of English from Teachers College, Columbia University; a master's degree in school leadership from the University of Pennsylvania; and is currently working on his EdD in curriculum and instruction at Loyola University Chicago. This is his seventh year teaching, and he particularly loves helping students craft both their academic and creative writing.

LaTanya Lambert

LaTanya Lambert has been on a journey as an English instructor, along with various other roles in the realm of Chicago Public Schools, for the last 15 years—currently, landed and living at Austin College and Career Academy High School. She is not new to school, English, or Chicago, but is a new mom to a bouncing baby boy (Kaden)!

Alex Laser

Alex Laser is a 9th and 11th Grade English teacher at Nicholas Senn High School in Edgewater, Chicago. This is his second year in Chicago Public Schools, after a five-year teaching career in DC Public Schools. He loves teaching English, especially, because of the many opportunities it provides for his students to engage creatively with language and construct their identities within the safe and nurturing space of the classroom.

Kimberly Lawrence

Kimberly Lawrence is a proud English teacher at Gage Park High School.  She has been teaching English in various CPS schools since 2002. Her teaching philosophy centers around the idea that learning is reciprocal: “I come to receive, I depart to share.” She deeply values the time she and her students share.  Together, they are teaching and learning from one another every day, thereby crafting bright and promising tomorrows.

Grace Luk

Grace Luk is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She teaches on the well-known East Side of Chicago over at George Washington High School. In her free time, she can be found eating leftovers from others' meals and grading papers. She tries to catch up on YA novels and lesson plan some more as much as time will allow her, but most of the time she's trying to get the latest chisme from her students so she can feel forever young. 

Lynette Mendoza

Lynette Mendoza is a 21-year veteran teacher. She works at Marine Leadership Academy as a bilingual English I and English II teacher. Lynette enjoys reading and spending time with her family. 

Marinda O'Neal

Marinda O’Neal is currently a freshman and sophomore English teacher at Al Raby High School. She has worked as an educator for the past 11 years. Her passions are educating students and traveling the world; she loves to combine the two in order to bring learning to life for her students. 

Allison Ruggles

Allison Ruggles was born and raised in Chicago. She attended CPS schools from K-12, and received her bachelor’s degree from Northeastern Illinois University and her master’s degree from DePaul University. This is Allison’s seventh year teaching and her second year teaching English Language Arts at Morgan Park High School on Chicago’s South Side. Allison is a poetry enthusiast and loves what she does.

Jill Simon

Jill Simon was born and raised outside of Chicago, Illinois (Go Cubs!). She attended Tulane University in New Orleans where she developed an appreciation for jazz, weathered a hurricane, and spent a semester at sea. After moving back to Chicago, Jill continued her education at DePaul University where she received her MA in English literature and professional educator license. She currently teaches at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, a selective enrollment high school in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. 

Jake Spangler

Jake Spangler is an English teacher and co-department chair at Christian Fenger Academy High School in the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. He teaches freshman and sophomore English and Speech. Spangler is an author of several short pieces of fiction, one novel, and a research thesis on 19th Century Poetry. He has been teaching in different classroom settings, from tutoring to high school, for the past five years.

Stavroula Sparagis

Stavroula Sparagis has been teaching English at Kenwood Academy for 13 years. She currently teaches sophomore American Literature and Creative Writing. Stavroula also coaches the Kenwood Academy poetry slam team for this year's Louder Than A Bomb teen poetry competition. 

Beth Starr

Beth Starr has been teaching for five years at Curie Metropolitan High School on the southwest side of Chicago. She currently teaches freshmen English and sponsors the Curie Reverie, her school’s literary and arts magazine. Ms. Starr believes reading and writing help us become more empathic and expressive human beings. 

Jolanta Szefer

Jolanta Szefer works as an English and special education teacher at Steinmetz College Prep High School in Chicago. She is also a translator, journalist, and a promoter of young classical music talents.

Brian Telles

Brian Telles has been teaching English for 15 years at Lane Tech College Prep, a selective enrollment high school in Chicago, Illinois. He teaches creative writing and AP literature and composition, coaches the poetry slam team, and coaches baseball.

Leticia Trejo

Leticia Trejo is an English teacher at Farragut Career Academy. She has been teaching there for five years and enjoys working with her students.  She holds a BA and MA in English from Chicago State University.

Carrie Williams

Carrie Williams is an English teacher/curriculum specialist at Manley Career Academy. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English, a master’s degree in secondary education/English, and a master’s degree in educational leadership.  Since her career in education began in 1999, she has worked in various leadership capacities including English department chair, associate director, curriculum specialist, and staff developer. Her philosophy in life and in education is that to be a teacher, you also must be willing to learn; education requires sweat and tears in order to make a difference. 

Danielle Williams

Danielle Williams is a mother of two and wife of one. She is a National Board Certified Teacher and started her teaching career at an alternative school on the west side of Chicago, where she taught for six years. For the past five years, she has been working at Simeon Career Academy

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