ABOUTINSPIRING DISTRICT 97 KIDS FOR OVER 30 YEARS
To bring hands-on STEAM opportunities to youth that inspire a life-long love of learning
To develop and support programs that embody these guiding principles:
Equity and inclusion
A sense of belonging
Every child served by OPEF has the opportunity to explore curiosities, dream big and find their passion and purpose in life.
Latonia Baker has over 18 years of professional experience in education programs and operations. Before joining the OPEF team, first as Programs Director, she served as a Regional Operations Manager for iD Tech Camps where she managed a variety of STEAM programs for children ages 7 – 18. Prior to that, Latonia worked as an adjunct professor at the American Academy of Art teaching and creating curriculum for the Visual Studies department. She also ran a digital design firm that focused on creating 3D computer models and graphics for architecture and construction businesses. Latonia loves serving as a volunteer basketball coach and mentor for the girl’s youth feeder teams in Hoffman Estates, IL.
Susan Raphael is from upstate New York, but has lived in Oak Park for the past twenty years with her husband and three kids who are currently in D97. She has been active with Executive Board positions in both the Julian and Irving PTOs. Susan has work experience in the nonprofit sector as well as federal and state government. In here free time, she is a woman’s professional sports fanatic, girl scout leader and AYSO Board Member.
Marketing & Communications
Ellen Riggsbee Maliff has a diverse background in marketing, communications and management. Ellen graduated with a B.A. from UWM. After managing several successful businesses in both Milwaukee and Chicago, Ellen served as both Production and Project Manager for several boutique graphic design, branding and communications firms in Chicago. Ellen also has an extensive volunteer background with Oak Park, IL school districts and nonprofit organizations. She has extensive experience in local grass-roots community communications, helping to spread the word and raise awareness for several Oak Park groups. Ellen is also the Communications Manager for Hephzibah Children’s Association, a local child welfare organization that helps children and families.
Renee was born and raised in Waukegan, IL and received her Bachelor of Music in Music Therapy from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. She worked as a music therapist at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee and the Institute for Therapy Through the Arts in Chicago before moving to New York City to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, where she received Certificate of Performance in Musical Theatre. She most recently could be found working at the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association here in Oak Park. When she is not working with OPEF, Renee works as a music therapist and music teacher with the Chicago Center for Music Education (ChiME). Renee lives in Oak Park with her husband, Kevin two kids, Celia and Thomas, and dog, Edison.
Arts Coordinator (Art Start & Spoken Word)
Joel Javier is an accomplished artist, educator and education program manager. With over 15 years of experience in the museum and art education field, he has a passion for mentoring youth and integrating art into school curriculum. Previously, Joel administered and facilitated education programming at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smart Museum of Art and most recently as Education Manager at Intuit: Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, where he was instrumental in expanding public programming and advancing an award-winning fellowship program for Chicago Public School teachers. Joel earned his MA in Art Education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and BFA from Murray State University. A D97 parent, Joel can be spotted riding his bike through town or making mixed media paintings for exhibitions and collections.
Geared Up Coordinator, Julian VEX Robotics Coach
Gretchen Junker is the community member who proposed Geared Up to the Oak Park Education Foundation during our Call for Ideas to the community in May, 2008. She is the parent of 3 young boys and has lived in Oak Park for 3 years. Gretchen has a B.A. in Comparative History of Ideas from the University of Washington. “Geared Up shows kids that science (and school) can be fun,” she says. “Our family has always had an interest in how things work, and that curiosity has managed to fuel our day-to-day life. For me, Geared Up is a natural extension of what my 3 sons and I have already incorporated into our ongoing family dialogue.”
Science Alliance Co-Coordinator
Seth Baker has been teaching in District 97 since 1994. During his career he has taught students from 3rd – 8th grade. He has participated in Science Alliance as a teacher partner since 1994, and began coordinating the Science Alliance program in 2005. A Golden Apple recipient, he has earned degrees in biology, education, as well as a Master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. He lives in Oak Park with his three children, and his wife who also teaches in District 97.
Science Alliance Co-Coordinator
Beth Sauers is an experienced educator, having taught 7th and 8th grade in Chicago Public Schools for eight years. She lives in Oak Park with her husband and three children. She has spent the last several years serving in several Board positions at Hatch Elementary and Glasser Preschool. She currently helps run the Hatch Patch and is Vice President of the Green Team. She has a B.A. in Elementary Education and Psychology from the University of Iowa with endorsements in language arts, social science, and middle school.
OPEF IS GOVERNED AND MANAGED BY A VOLUNTEER BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Board members establish policy, monitor finances, raise funds, and plan for the organization’s future. OPEF also has an Executive Director and additional staff who manage day-to-day operations. Together, the Board and staff play key roles in support of our free in-school programs through committee work, fundraising, and other activities. For more information about the Board, contact board president Carrie Cotter here.