After School Matters in Action: Instructors

October 2013

Jourdon Gullett, Skateboard Design and Mixed Media

Jourdon Gullett joined After School Matters straight out of college in the summer of 2006 as an intern for former instructor Michael Goro’s Graphic Design program. He had just received his bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, with concentrations in illustration and design, from Chicago’s American Academy of Art. It only took a few weeks for Jourdon to learn about the valuable opportunities After School Matters provides to Chicago teens and decided he wanted to further the opportunities available to high school students by creating his own program.

He started his Skateboard Design and Mixed Media program in 2009, which incorporates the practice of critical art proficiencies, such as color theory and geographical shapes, with art history. The teens work on a variety of projects while in the program, including a self-portrait and skateboard deck designs, illustrated and painted by the teens as original creations or renderings of their favorite artwork.

Jourdon remembers his time as a teen artist, specifically the enjoyment and ease of creating artwork. These memories influence the delicate balance he maintains in the instruction of his program to foster creativity and refine the skills that will prepare the teens for a career. He hopes the teens in his program “will be able to look back and think about these days at After School Matters and how they enjoyed the process of creating, as I did at their age.” From his own experience as a professional artist, Jourdon knows that continued practice, constant creation of new work and confidence are the best strategies to keep such a delicate balance in place. 




August 2013

Marcia Brenner and Josh Alletto, Columbia College Creative Writing

The teens in Marcia Brenner and Josh Alletto’s Columbia College Creative Writing program experience the equivalent of a college-level introduction to fiction course in what Marcia refers to as a “mini-college semester.”  During the eight-week program, co-instructors Marcia and Josh work with their teens on various writing exercises and peer-written stories, while encouraging them to focus on what works in their writing instead of what doesn’t.

Marcia began working with After School Matters in 2005 as the Columbia College Creative Writing program’s assistant instructor and eventually became the lead instructor. Marcia met Josh when he was a creative writing college student at Columbia. Knowing Josh’s passion for youth outreach and his interest in possibly pursuing a teaching career, she asked him to join her After School Matters program in 2008 and he became her co-instructor.

Both Marcia and Josh have clear goals for their teens. They hope that by daily working together in groups to provide one another feedback on their short stories, the teens will learn to confidently communicate with others. Josh wants the teens to know, “they have the skills to express what they need and want to say.” Similarly, each morning the instructors take “creative attendance,” during which teens are prompted to tell the group a story, such as an experience they had on the CTA or their favorite line from a movie “to capitalize on the teens’ ability to share their voice with the group,” explains Marcia. Participation is an integral part of the Columbia College Creative Writing program and supports the instructors’ focus on developing the teens’ public speaking skills.   

As the teens move on to college and beyond, Josh and Marcia encourage them to never forget what brings them joy. Marcia explains, “What is so great about After School Matters is that the education the teens gain in our program comes from their passion and true enjoyment of the skill.”





July 2013

Sharon Metzger and Anne Comeau, Senn Arts Team

Sharon Metzger and Anne Comeau met as community volunteers in Edgewater before collaborating as instructors for the Senn Arts Team program. In their program, teens write and illustrate original short stories or children’s books. For the first time this summer, they also began partnering with Misericordia, a Chicago residence for people with developmental disabilities on an art project teens in the program and residents collaborate on.

Before joining After School Matters, Sharon had worked as an interior designer. She learned about After School Matters while volunteering in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood, and actually wrote a grant for After School Matters to start a program in Edgewater where teens could help with a community garden project. As she learned more about the organization, she was impressed with the programming it offered teens—so much so that she decided to create the Senn Arts Team program

Anne graduated college with a degree in English and spent her career working in the corporate world. She retired in Edgewater and became an active volunteer for the community. Through her volunteer work in Edgewater, she met Sharon, who asked Anne to co-instruct her After School Matters program.

Sharon and Anne have been After School Matters instructors for the past few years and love working with their teens. Their professional experiences not only influence their program’s curriculum, instilling in their teens career readiness skills such as public speaking, teamwork and project completion, but also inform how they hope teens will perceive themselves and the world around them. As Anne puts it, “each teen is unique and they can all be successful as long as they keep focused on their best qualities and strive to reach the goals they set for themselves – at work, home or in the community.”




June 2013

Andy and Rahmaan, Kenwood Mural Program

Summary of Expertise:

Andy and Rahmaan are full-time working artists who also teach After School Matters Kenwood Mural Program. Their programs teach teens how to create murals with different materials, including stained glass, spray paint, wood, acrylic paint, stencil work and wedi board.

Andy has a Master’s degree in education from Northeastern University. She has been working with youth for the past 15 years and with After School Matters teens for the past five years. As an instructor, Andy has found a way to balance instilling education, art and a strong work ethic into her teens. She believes that finishing a project is a great accomplishment for teens and hopes that they will continue to try new things and learn new skills.

Rahmaan began his artistic career at Gallery37 Center for the Arts! In 1995, he was an apprentice in the furniture making program and has been working as an instructor with After School Matters for the past nine years. Rahmaan believes that to become a great artist, you must consistently produce artwork and experiment with different mediums and techniques.

Rahmaan’s advice to graduating teens:

Develop and complete a portfolio of your own art projects—not ones that were assigned to you in school. Be open-minded and creative. Great art happens from making an abundance of art—practice makes perfect. 

Andy’s advice to graduating teens:

The most important thing is to practice working hard and following through on the goals you set as a thriving student, community member and program participant. All the hard work you put into your After School Matters programming and education will result in success in other areas of your life as well.  



March 2013

Gloria Hafer, Advance Culinary

Summary of Expertise:

Fifteen years ago Chef Gloria started to see her neighborhood take a turn for the worse. Things were getting rougher and there weren’t enough after school programs for teens to be involved in, so she decided to start one. Chef Gloria is the instructor of the Advanced Culinary Arts program on the East Side of Chicago. Her teens learn what Chef Gloria calls “survival cooking.”

“I want my teens to be able to look in their refrigerator and cook a healthy and satisfying meal,” Chef Gloria said. “My cooking class gives them an alternative to junk food and the choice to make an inexpensive homemade meal.”

Teens also get to be creative in Chef Gloria’s program by participating in cake-decorating and culinary competitions throughout the city. Recently, Chef Gloria’s teens have participated in the For the Love of Chocolate Gala, the James Beard Dinner and are scheduled to work with Dominick’s Grocery Store assisting at their booth in the Taste of Chicago festival.

Chef Gloria works hard to give her teens these once in a lifetime experiences because she wants them to expand their horizons. Chef Gloria always encourages her students to pursue a secondary education, whether that be college, job training or interning and she believes that if her teens commit to a task or job and give it 100 percent, they will succeed.

Many of Chef Gloria’s former students have gone from dishwashers at the local diner to line chefs at prestigious downtown restaurants. She always encourages her current and former students to continue advancing and setting goals in whatever career they choose.



February 2013

Tanji Harper, Hip Hop Dance 

Summary of Expertise:

Tanji Harper went to Chicago Academy for the Arts and started her dancing career after graduating high school. After touring with many hip hop and R&B groups, she decided it was time to settle down. Her friend from the Chicago Park District told her about After School Matters, so she decided to start a hip hop dance program at a high school on the south side of Chicago.

Today her program runs out of the Downtown Gallery location and brings teens in from all over the city. Her program has been through some changes over the last 13 years, but the dedication of her teens has stayed constant.

“Starting this hip hop program is probably the best thing I ever did,” said Tanji. “I love my job and I meet the coolest kids and I can honestly say that they make my life better.”

Tanji wants her teens to know that they can be whatever they want to be. Just because they are from a rough neighborhood in Chicago does not mean that they can’t go out and accomplish their dreams. Maybe they won’t be dancers, but they will have the skills they need to succeed such as showing up on time, keeping their promises and accomplishing goals.

Tanji believes that After School Matters exposes teens to new experiences that help them find their future.



January 2013

Gene Honda, Sports Broadcasting

Summary of Expertise:

While transitioning between jobs in 2001, Gene Honda’s friend at the Chicago White Sox suggested he become an instructor for After School Matters. Gene pursued that idea and created a Sports Broadcasting program that he continues to lead today.

As a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1975, Gene discovered his passion for radio broadcast—an art form he is happy to share with teens at Curie Metropolitan High School.

In his Sports Broadcasting program, apprentices learn announcing and reporting techniques while also developing confidence in their public speaking abilities. The teens use their newly acquired skills to produce a weekly video program about Curie’s sports teams that is broadcast throughout the school.

“I’ve been working in broadcasting for a long time, but having to go back to the basics in order to teach the teens has made me appreciate my craft and fall in love with it again,” said Gene.

In addition to his work with After School Matters, Gene serves as an announcer for about a dozen organizations, including the White Sox, Blackhawks, DePaul Basketball and the NCAA Final Four, which gives him a lot of credibility with the teens because they can see and hear him in action at their favorite Chicago sporting events.

Several of Gene’s alumni have gone on to study broadcasting at Columbia College and University of Illinois. But even if his apprentices decide to pursue a different career path, Gene believes his program equips teens with critical life skills that will greatly benefit them down the road.

“Teens in my program are developing skills that will give them an advantage in any college or profession—the ability to comfortably and confidently speak in public.”



December 2012

Jason Seymour and Elisha Brown, Ray Graham Drumline

Summary of Expertise:

Jason Seymour and Elisha Brown have been playing music together since 2004 when Elisha became Jason’s drum line instructor at Curie High School. They began honing their musical talents in high school band classes, but really started to feel a sense of purpose when they joined the Kaotic Drum Line, an organization created to give youth in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood a positive outlet to express themselves.

Jason and Elisha were inspired to become After School Matters instructors because they wanted to pass on the confidence and discipline they learned through their own drum line experience.

“Our program gives teens an opportunity to express themselves and provides them with a stable environment where they can learn and excel,” said Jason.

Both instructors have an insatiable passion for playing the drums, which they want to instill in their teens. Jason began working with After School Matters in 2008 and Elisha joined him at the Ray Graham Training Center in Fall 2012. Together they lead the After School Matters Ray Graham Drum Line program, which is one of the first After School Matters programs to be offered to cognitively disabled teens.

“We teach our teens respect, discipline and team work. We want our teens to participate in the community in a positive way and drum line allows them to do that,” said Elisha.

This spring, teens in the Ray Graham Drum Line program will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform at the Opening Ceremonies for the Chicago Special Olympics in May.



November 2012

Tammera Holmes, AeroStars Aviation Exploration Program

Summary of Expertise:

At the early age of 16 years old, Tammera Holmes was first introduced to the world of aviation by the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Young Eagles Program. Her first flight with the program was a life-changing experience and it was then that Tammera decided to pursue a career in aviation.

She enrolled at Southern Illinois University to major in Aviation Flight Management and Spanish. After only four weeks of flight training, she was one of the first in her class of more than 200 students to fly solo.

In 2008, she launched AeroStar Consulting Corporation in an effort to pave the way for tomorrow's leading organizations in the aviation industry. Tammera has volunteered countless hours as a motivational speaker addressing topics from careers in aviation to successful leadership and management in the industry.

She launched the AeroStars Aviation Exploration Program for After School Matters teens in March 2012 at Air Force Academy High School with a mission to expose more young people, particularly minorities and girls, to the world of aviation and science.

“It’s my dream to educate Chicago youth about the rich history and industry of aviation and then inspire them to pursue education and careers in this promising field,” said Tammera.

Teens in the program have had the opportunity to grasp hold of real world practical applications of science and take on projects to discover the history of aviation through hands-on experiments and activities from building model airplanes to flying flight simulators and designing their own airports. Apprentices frequently meet with industry professionals and take field trips to places like Midway, O'Hare and Gary-Chicago airports, aerospace businesses and museums and the Chicago Air and Water Show.


October 2012

Angela Morano, Hats, Headbands & Beyond

Summary of Expertise:

Almost every minute of Angela Morano’s day is dedicated to the world of hat making—sculpting new designs, unveiling a new line at a trunk or fashion show, or inspiring After School Matters teens through her role as instructor in our Gallery Hats, Headbands & Beyond program.

Having first gotten interested in fashion as a student at Whitney Young High School in Chicago, Angela made her first hat five years ago as a student at the School of the Art Institute in 2007. Since then, she has gone on to start her own successful business and in Fall 2010, started teaching the Hats, Headbands & Beyond program at After School Matters as a way to give back to her community.

“The most rewarding part is hat making is a brand new skill for most, but they bring a lot of passion to the program,” says Angela. “I get a chance to watch them grow.” Teens in Angela’s program learn the proper language to discuss art and fashion, develop basic sewing skills and work up to expert couture techniques, and gain a sense of design related to color, shape and form. Each teen in the program produces two pieces of varying styles and displays their work in a fashion show.

Click here to check out photos of Angela and the teens in her Hats, Headbands & Beyond program in action!

Note: Angela’s profile picture features a hat made by one of her teens, Jasmine Moore. Photo courtesy of MJ Design/Photography.


September 2012

Sue Coombs & Helga Dangel, Mosaic Collaborative

Summary of Expertise:

When guests sit down to dinner at After School Matters 10th Annual Gala on October 1, their tablescape will feature a beautiful, handcrafted flowerpot designed, sketched and painted by teens who participated in our Gallery Mosaic Collaborative program this Summer at the Chicago Mosaic School.

The new program, offered for the first time during Spring 2012, is a labor of love for longtime friends and co-instructors, Sue Coombs and Helga Dangel, who met when they were both teaching at the Chicago Mosaic School. Sue is a self-taught stained glass and mosaic artist. Helga, moved to Chicago from her native Germany 13 years ago, started her artistic career as a sculptor and later earned a master’s degree in art education from the School of the Art Institute.

“I’ve always been very interested in working with and educating teens,” says Sue.

Helga agrees saying, “Being an instructor for Mosaic Collaborative has been an awesome experience.”

This summer, the 30 teens participating in the Mosaic Collaborative program developed their technical and artistic mosaic skills through the use of tools and materials, working together on designs and concepts for the 128 flower pots they created for the Gala,  spending up to 16-20 hours on each one!

The flower pots created by Coombs and Dangel’s students, which feature designs including flowers and landscapes, will be available for purchase October 1 at the Gala, as well as at the After School Matters Retail Store, located at 66 E. Randolph St. and at the online retail store. Proceeds from the sale of the flower pots will benefit After School Matters teens and programs.

August 2012

Justin Butler, THA Music Lab

Summary of Expertise:

Justin, who developed the concept for the Gallery THA Music Lab program, is in his seventh year as an After School Matters instructor. He has been inspired by his own experience in teen music programs while growing up on the South Side of Chicago and wants to give back his knowledge of music.

Teens in THA Music Lab, which meets in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, gain a real-life understanding of the challenges of the music business as they learn how to put together a professional portfolio, how to mix and record a CD, and are introduced to music theory and copyright law. To listen the CD featuring THA Music Lab, visit their website here.

Justin’s co-instructor, Jabari Rayford, is a former After School Matters apprentice who was inspired by Justin’s mentorship to continue to work with teens through After School Matters. Check out our latest CEO Update to read about Jabari’s recent musical success.

Last year, Justin performed at the White House Easter Egg Roll and previously provided back-up vocals for Mariah Carey during her appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” In 2005, he was the winner of the Chicago Idol contest sponsored by “American Idol.”

July 2012

Jeremy Wilson, Word Choice, Words

Summary of Expertise:

When teens walk out of Jeremy Wilson’s After School Matters Word Choice program they leave having learned the important lesson that every writer has a unique voice and that voice is valuable. This simple, but critical lesson provides a sense of self confidence teens will carry throughout their life—to the workplace, college and beyond.

A third year instructor in this Words program, Jeremy encourages teens to write about neighborhoods and people, creating memoirs, works of short fiction and poetry that they self-publish in chapbooks that are distributed at teens’ schools and presented in an end-of-program reading for friends and family. For many teens, this is their first experience in having their writing published and presented. Jeremy helps teens conquer the fear of sharing their work with others and enjoys seeing how proud they are of their accomplishments.

Teens in Jeremy’s Word Choice program also have the opportunity to develop their talents and discover their potential by entering their work into writing contests, where they receive valuable feedback and recognition.

Recently, Jeremy was selected as the recipient of this year’s Nelson Algren Award for his work of short fiction “Everything is Going to Be Okay.” This annual contest is run by the Chicago Tribune in honor of the iconic Chicago author Nelson Algren. Jeremy’s short story about a man who lives in Humboldt Park with his pregnant wife and their pit bull Brick, will be featured later this year in the Tribune’s “Printers Row” publication. His fiction has also appeared in Carolina Quarterly and Third Coast, and was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.


June 2012

Miriam Socoloff, Painting, Illustration, Benches, Furniture, Experimental Objects and Beyond, Gallery

Summary of Expertise:

Miriam Socoloff has been an instructor with After School Matters from its founding more than 20 years ago under large white tents Downtown on then-undeveloped Block 37.  Now an instructor in our Downtown Advanced Painting and Drawing, Bench and Furniture Painting programs, she continues to dedicate herself to designing and delivering high quality, hands-on, project-based opportunities that support teens growth and development in an intentional and meaningful way.

Teens who have participated in Miriam’s After School Matters programs have gone on to win national honors, including the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts Award, and have been featured in publications, such as College Board, Scholastic and Young Arts. One of her more recent program participants, Tamir Williams, also happens to be our featured After School Matters in Action teen this month.

Over the years, Miriam has been recognized numerous times for her innovative teaching techniques. In 1998, she was awarded both the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Oppie award for educational leadership by the Oppenheimer Family Foundation. In 2011, she received the U.S. Presidential Scholars Teacher Recognition Award. An accomplished professional artist in her own right, mosaic murals created by Miriam in collaboration with Cynthia Weiss brighten many buildings throughout Chicago and have been featured in A Guide to Chicago Murals and Urban Art Chicago. You can view her work at

This summer, Miriam will teach our Bench and Furniture Painting program under the tent on Chase Promenade South in Millennium Park, much as she did 20 years ago on Block 37. Visitors are welcome to observe her helping teens to explore and develop their talents as they learn painting skills on three-dimensional surfaces of varying sizes and shapes, including folding screens, jewelry boxes and Gallery’s renowned painted benches, examples of which can be seen on display throughout Chicago at ‘L’ stations, O’Hare International Airport and many Chicago Public Schools campuses.

The dedication of passionate, committed instructors like Miriam Socoloff are a fundamental element of how After School Matters has impacted more than 100,000 teens over the past 20 years by providing them opportunities to explore and develop their talents, while gaining critical skills for work, college and beyond.

May 2012

Olga Ramirez and Reggie Brown, "Social Documentary," Phillips Academy High School

Summary of Expertise:

Olga Ramirez and Reggie Brown, co-instructors for the Tech Social Documentary program at Phillips Academy High School, are After School Matters veterans with more than 15 years combined experience as program instructors.

An After School Matters instructor since 2005, Olga Ramirez believes in the importance of giving youth the opportunity to explore social issues that impact their lives. She guides our teen participants in looking within their community and themselves to motivate change in a positive manner -- and it works! Ramirez continues to be inspired and impressed by the number of teens who overcome anti-social behavior and begin to explore the world through documentary film.

Reggie Brown has been with After School Matters since 2004. Before coming to After School Matters, he counseled at-risk teens and taught in the City Colleges of Chicago, mentoring teens in a variety of programs. Brown applies these experiences to his current work with After School Matters and attributes the success of his program to a mutual respect he and his co-instructor develop with their teen participants.

After School Matters Social Documentary program gives Chicago teens a voice through opportunities to write, produce and direct their own documentaries on social issues that are important to them.  It is a place where everyone has the chance to be heard, as teens discover their potential and find their path to a meaningful life.

(Pictured below- Left: Reggie Brown, Right: Olga Ramirez)


April 2012

Annie Warnick and Sara Covert, The Art of Skateboard at Sullivan High School, Gallery

Summary of Expertise:

Annie Warnick and Sara Covert are co-instructors for After School Matters Gallery program “The Art of Skateboarding” at Sullivan High School. “The Art of Skateboarding” is a visual arts program in which Chicago teens explore their artistic abilities and study the styles of classic artists for inspiration as they create, assemble and design their own custom skateboard.

In her fifth year with After School Matters instructing “The Art of Skateboarding,” Annie created this unique class that combines two of her passions—extreme sports and fine art. An avid skateboarder, Annie enjoys the opportunity to perform physically spectacular skateboarding stunts while guiding Chicago teens as they explore and develop their talents through her program. Skateboarders dedicate endless hours to the craft, so it’s natural for them to want their equipment to express their own creative style.

Sara is a first-year instructor with After School Matters and a freelance illustrator.

Previously, she primarily worked with more conventional mediums, such as painting on canvas or wood. Sara enjoys being able to apply her traditional skills to a new medium through skateboard art. She finds her work with “The Art of Skateboarding” very rewarding and enjoys guiding teens as they explore their artist skills. You can see her artwork at

(Pictured below- Left: Annie Warnick, Right: Sara Covert)


March 2012

Carol Ika President and Shakeena President-Beckford, Les Enfants Dance (LED), Gallery

Summary of Expertise:

Mother-daughter instructor duo, Carol and Shakeena, team up to bring a unique dance experience to Chicago teens through their After School Matters apprenticeship program — Les Enfants Dance (LED) at Hyde Park Academy. This program provides teens the opportunity to learn the art of dance-theater performance.

Shakeena (the daughter in the duo) was born on the island of St. Lucia and began dancing at the age of 4. She credits her mother, Carol, a former member of one of St. Lucia’s most famous dance duos, for her natural dance ability. Both mother and daughter have performed throughout the Caribbean and the United States. They are thrilled to now have the opportunity to work alongside each other to inspire Chicago teens to discover their potential and become stronger, more disciplined students, professionals and world citizens by exploring the connection between culture and performance.


February 2012

Russell Gilmer, Sports

Summary of Expertise:

With seven years of experience as an instructor for After School Matters Sports programs, Russell Gilmer has developed meaningful relationships with hundreds of the Chicago teens who have participated in his programs over the years. Through the structure of his program, Russell not only teaches teens skills specific to sports officiating and recreational leadership, but also challenges them to develop important life skills they need to build a strong foundation for their future, including teamwork, communication, discipline, leadership, problem-solving and conflict resolution. Following their participation in Russell’s After School Matters program, many of his teens use the skills they have gained to secure summer jobs as recreation leaders for the Chicago Park District, where they serve as mentors for other youth and pass along to them the tools they to succeed both on and off the court.