Meet Our Team
Founder and Executive Director
Born in Rome, Italy, Anna Bernanke and her family emigrated to the United States when she was a baby. In first grade, Anna would frequently be found play-acting as a teacher with her younger friends as willing students. This childhood pastime sparked a lifelong career in education. Anna’s family always valued education, seeing it as vital for a fulfilling and well-rounded life. Now a seasoned bilingual education leader, Anna holds 30 years of diverse and varied teaching experience ranging from pre-kindergarten to the collegiate level.
After many years of teaching Spanish in private and public charter schools from Stanford, California to Princeton, New Jersey, Anna developed an educational philosophy that focused on equitable access to quality learning for all families. Thus the seed of Chance Academy was planted.
Chance Academy, which incorporated in 2007 and started operations in 2009, is an education program dedicated to equitable access for all families who seek an exceptional, hands-on, experiential, and arts-integrated education with small class sizes and a dedication to family engagement.
Anna’s strong commitment to social / restorative justice has become one of the foundational pillars of Chance Academy. Along with the belief that the arts provide a universal language of hope, peace, and love, Anna is proud of Chance Academy’s program and staff, which fulfill her mission to be a space for a safe, joyful, and peaceful learning experience.
Issa Lara Combs
Director of Finance and Administration
Issa Lara Combs is Chance Academy’s Director of Finance and Administration. In this role, Issa works primarily on the business end of Chance Academy – that is, interfacing with accountants, auditors, lawyers, insurers, and human resources. Issa is also the assistant secretary to Chance Academy’s Board of Directors.
Issa grew up in the Philippines and moved to the United States in January 1989. In September of that year, she started attending Ohio University where she would complete a Masters of Science in Journalism and a Masters of Arts in Communication and Development. She worked at a local alternative newspaper in Athens County, The Athens NEWS, as Special Projects Editor for seven years. While completing her studies, Issa met her husband, Bob, and, through his work, in 1998, relocated with their then-one-year-old son, Wil, to Washington, D.C.
Issa’s first job in D.C. was Director of Communications for a national nonprofit, Social Compact, whose mission was to help strengthen neighborhoods by stimulating private market investment in underserved communities. She would later work for Bloomberg, Inc. as a sales auditor, before working full-time at Chance Academy starting in July 2014.
However, Issa met Anna much earlier – sometime in 2006 – where, unbeknownst to her, Anna was already percolating the idea of Chance Academy. Issa started working in earnest with Anna part-time with the Chance Academy’s inaugural class of two students in 2009, and was one of the founding board members of the program.
Issa enjoys working for the program and is committed to Chance Academy’s mission to be a facilitator of environmental stewardship, wellness, peace-building, cultural literacy, and community and belonging. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with her husband, her two youngest young-adult children, Ian and Noah, and their pet cats, Blackjack and Norman, and pet snake, Basilisk.
Dr. Elizabeth Estabrook, Director of Program and Planning & Science Educator, (Administration, Educator)×
Dr. Elizabeth Estabrook
Director of Program and Planning & Science Educator
Dr. Elizabeth Estabrook is proud of her Alaskan Native, Dene people heritage. Her grandmother was born in Circle City and her family is part of the Athabaskan Language group. Known affectionately as Dr. E, she became part of the Chance Academy community via a circuitous route from the southwest in 2012. She has a Ph.D. in molecular biology from New Mexico State University and worked in various research laboratories in the southwest and west coast in her early career, producing many publications on gene expression and studies on RNA.
In 1996, Dr. Elizabeth transitioned from her research work to teaching students who were majoring in biology. She developed a passion to share her love of science with children, and started homeschooling her own children, both of whom now enjoy successful careers.
Beginning in 2009, Dr. Elizabeth started Discovery Academy Tutoring services, teaching elementary- through high-school students to understand that science is a verb – not simply a comprehension test on vocabulary words or textbook paragraphs. She has worked hard with many students over her 25 years of teaching, helping them put to action their curiosity and honing their reasoning skills to understand the various phenomena they are surrounded by each day from all fields of science.
Over the last 11 years with Chance Academy, she has continued to work with students in the classroom. She became the Director of Program and Planning in 2016. In her current role, not only does she continue working with students in their science classes, but she also oversees all staff and provides mentoring to the teachers, all while working to build a strong community between students, parents, and teachers.
Dr. Elizabeth is grateful that Chance Academy’s mission empowers teachers to master their skills so that each student can grow in their academics and social-emotional strengths without the imposition of artificial constructs like those based solely on ages or test scores. She believes that each child can improve, with the goal of making leaps and bounds, while avoiding being disheartened by a bureaucratic educational system.
Oneyda Perez, a recent graduate From DuVal High School, has been working at Chance Academy since 2022 as an administrative assistant. Compared to her recent public school experience, she sees some of the major differences between Chance Academy and public schools. She agrees with, and is passionate about, Chance Academy’s mission, is a strong believer of Chance Academy’s core values and loves working with the students. Oneyda currently teaches a Spanish language class for the two youngest cohorts at the program. Oneyda is motivated every day to help the students become the best version of themselves. She says that when she is at Chance Academy, she “looks forward to seeing and engaging with the students.
“I love teaching them the Spanish language. It’s rewarding seeing them learn and grow.”
Robert (Bobby) Butler
Visual and Culinary Arts
Bobby Butler is a proud native Washingtonian. He attended Archbishop Carroll High School and graduated with honors in Art and English. He later attended the first private historically black college / university – Wilberforce University in Ohio – where he completed a bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts. After returning home to Washington, D.C., he became an elementary school English Language Arts teacher for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) for 11 years. During that time, he earned a master’s degree in Elementary Education from American University, graduating in 2003. He left DCPS in 2011 to begin a custom-design bakery and catering business called, Caked Up N’ da Buff!, based in Gaithersburg.
In 2015, his love for art and teaching overpowered him, and he returned to the teaching profession as a teen mentor and visual arts aftercare instructor. Bobby continued teaching by creating after-school and summer camp culinary arts programs.
In 2018, he brought these skills to Chance Academy, where he has found an educational home and sanctuary. At Chance Academy, he feels part of an exemplary body of staff and a fully encompassing community, which enables him to become a lead mentor in visual and culinary arts.
Shawn Dixon (Ali Shaheed Aleem)
Physical Education and Music
Shaheed Aleem is a Navy veteran who served in the Gulf War. After receiving an honorable discharge, he went to Virginia Commonwealth University where he pursued a History degree that focused on African Studies.
Like many of the staff at Chance Academy, Shaheed is a lifelong teacher who has worked with students from pre-K through high school on many diverse subjects, including the Afro-Brazilian martial art of Capoeira, as well as Tai Chi, poetry, music, and human sexuality. He also has had experience as a crisis counselor for children with special needs and their families, youth counselor, and camp counselor.
Shaheed has had a wonderful teaching experience at Chance Academy since 2018. As his role expanded over time, he has been enriched on a personal and professional level. His teaching focuses on physical education, music, and martial arts – in particular, Capoeira Angola and Tia Chi 24, which both align with another Chance Academy foundational pillar, the value of mindfulness.
Although Shaheed has taught since 1998, Chance Academy was the first school where he felt genuinely at home. He appreciates the environment that Chance Academy provides for the students and teachers, where he shares that the support from administrators and other staff is genuine.
Virginia (Ginny) Fabio
Social Studies and Restorative Practices
With a passion for cultural awareness with a historical context, Ginny Fabio has been privileged to work with students and other teachers in K-12th grades in the subjects of history, geography, and social studies as a lead teacher. A graduate of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, Ginny also attended Montgomery College in Rockville and American University in London, England.
Before working at Chance Academy, Ginny owned and operated the Giant Steps Family Childcare Center, where she enjoyed caring for young toddlers and teaching pre-K students.
Ginny joined Chance Academy in 2013. Aside from creating curriculum for and teaching geography, social studies, and history, she is also the Restorative Practices Coordinator, leading Chance Academy’s unique approach to behavior and discipline. Important to being the coordinator, she is a member of the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice and regularly attends their conferences for continued training and development of skills.
Ginny appreciates Chance Academy’s professional passion in working with students and staff to build authentic relationships and disciplinary action through a restorative approach.
Physical Education and Student Government
Originally from Connecticut, Jhovan Galberth now resides in Hyattsville, Maryland. Jhovan has been in the education field for over 10 years and has been with Chance Academy since 2021 in various roles, most recently focusing on health and physical education.
A graduate of Virginia State University, Jhovan has also been a residential counselor, special education teacher, and anger management facilitator. Because of these many skills, besides teaching his classes, he contributes in many ways to the broader Chance Academy community by also being a teacher assistant, working with the students on developing positive behaviors, and most recently helping them to implement a student government organization.
Jhovan graduated from VSU with a bachelor’s degree in health education in 2013, and has more than five years of work experience in behavior management. He is a true motivator and has a huge heart with a goal of seeing all students achieve at the highest level. Outside of the school system, he has two nonprofits – M.O.V.E. and DadsDoItToo, whose missions are to work at giving back to the community at large.
Early Elementary Education
Carlton Holliday is a native Washingtonian and has been teaching in Washington, D.C. for 11 years. The current program year 2023-2024 will be his second year as an educator at Chance Academy.
In 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, he enrolled in and went back to school to earn his Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from Relay Graduate School of Education. He was motivated to return to school to strengthen his abilities to deliver instructional content to become a better teacher.
Carlton has a varied and unique background. He has worked as a community case manager for Volunteers of America, assisted in conducting accreditation workshops for institutions seeking initial accreditation, and learned how to adopt technological advancements that engaged and empowered children.
Carlton enjoys being an educator within the Chance Academy community because he appreciates the special philosophy and approach to teaching and student learning that Chance Academy embodies. He believes Chance Academy gives students a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience that is aligned with the program’s mission and core values, while focusing on the development of the whole child. He feels strongly that the Chance Academy community of educators is invested in developing well-rounded children and giving the students a remarkable learning experience using appropriate social, emotional, and academic learning experiences.
Susan Spring began her journey with Chance Academy in 2017 starting as a science teacher. Over time, her passion for mathematics shifted her into a math teaching role at the program.
After Susan graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies at Radford University, she started her 15-year-plus professional teaching career, primarily teaching math and science to elementary- and middle-school students in various public school systems in Virginia and North Carolina.
During the recent pandemic and lockdown, Susan not only honed her skills at virtual teaching using the Zoom platform, she was also a mentor to other teachers on how to successfully navigate the new world of online learning. Whether online or in person, her desire is to create a community of learners in a respectful environment that mirrors Chance Academy’s mission.
Susan lives in Virginia, where her hobbies are hiking, paddleboarding, and reading. After teaching in the public school environment, she is most happy now at Chance Academy, where she can connect better with her students and their families.
DeLeon Ware is a native Washingtonian and has been a math teacher at Chance Academy since 2018. DeLeon obtained a bachelor’s degree in economics from Howard University in May 2000. More recently, he is continuing his education and, as he feels, his service to the community at large by pursuing a law degree. He believes that one of the most essential services to render is creating citizens who will build a better world.
Before coming to Chance Academy, DeLeon taught in the District of Columbia Public Schools and District of Columbia Public Charter Schools for more than 15 years. DeLeon is, himself, a product of District of Columbia Public and Private Schools.
DeLeon was a student who struggled in math early for the same reasons many do: lack of a solid mathematics foundation upon which confidence can be built. He aims to ensure his students have the foundation and confidence to thrive in any academic environment. When asked why he chose Chance Academy, he responded that he “did not understand the opportunity given.” He thought he “accepted just another teaching job.” But he now realizes that he has been given a “chance” to be the best educator he can be because he “can teach to where the student is and not to a timeline.”
English Language Arts and Gaming
George Weakley has been the English Language Arts teacher for Chance Academy since 2022. An avid reader, George believes that self expression is one of the most important aspects of life.
George graduated from Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia with a major in English and a minor in Mass Communication.
With nearly a decade of experience with teaching English, George has a knack for breaking content down to a level where students of all skill levels can understand. Utilizing a modified Socratic method, George guides students to learning in a qualitative manner. This means his classes learn in a setting where everyone has a voice, and they do not have to worry about tests. George recognizes that everyone learns differently, and helps students find the ways that work best for them. As a teacher, George has been a world traveler and taught throughout America and even in other countries such as Japan and Korea, where he taught English as a second language. Before teaching, George was a journalist, voice actor, and even a radio DJ at one point.
Charlene Wilburn is a proud graduate of Spelman College, where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Child Development. With more than 30 years as a dedicated elementary educator, Charlene has taught in Georgia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. She presently teaches English language arts, math, and social studies at Chance Academy.
As a proud and serious educator, Ms. Charlene finds joy when she sees her students grow and become confident, and motivated learners. She encourages self-reliance of one’s learning, along with always being a good citizen, who is always willing to be supportive of their fellow classmates. Charlene strives for excellence in academic growth, along with positive emotional development.
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For immediate questions, call 240-746-2550