Tag Archives: meet our teachers

Meet Our Staff: Tanuja Rathi

Tanuja Rathi - Morgan Park Academy

Please help us welcome our new Director of College Counseling, Tanuja Rathi!

Mrs. Rathi combines the business skills developed in her previous career as a management consultant with her experience as a college counselor for Chicago Scholars, where she helped underserved students with the college application process.

A member of the Illinois Association of College Counselors, the American College Counseling Association, and the National Association of College Counselors, she holds an MBA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and earned her college counseling certificate, with distinction, from UCLA.


Why did you choose to work at Morgan Park Academy?

I strongly believe in the MPA education and how it helps prepare students for the future. My husband and my two oldest daughters are MPA alumni and I have one more daughter who will graduate in 2018. I have seen the value of the MPA education and how it has prepared them for college and beyond. I am excited to be a part of this wonderful faculty.
Continue reading

Meet Our Staff: Mary O’Malley


Welcome to our new Director of Admissions, Mary O’Malley!

A native of Morgan Park and graduate of Latin School of Chicago, Knox College, and Northwestern University, Ms. O’Malley has spent the majority of her career in independent schools, working to help students find the next phase of their education.

As Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at La Lumiere School, she built enrollment strategically across three diverse populations: day students, boarding students, and international students. She also worked as the Assistant Director of College Counseling at Latin School of Chicago and most recently served as a College-Persistence Counselor at Chicago Jesuit Academy, a full scholarship school for African-American young men on Chicago’s west side.


Why did you choose to work at Morgan Park Academy?

It doesn’t take long to see why MPA is so special. I’ve been familiar with the school for my entire life; I grew up right around the corner, on Lothair Avenue, where my parents still live. I sought out this opportunity because I wanted to work at a school that was committed to educating the whole child. In today’s society, it’s easy to get ahead by taking others down. I firmly believe that a school community should stand for and teach a set of core values: integrity, respect, responsibility, diligence, kindness, cooperation, and service. Morgan Park Academy does this in spades. Continue reading

Meet Our Teachers: Thomas Malcolm


When we decided to create an award to recognize members of our community who volunteer their time selflessly, there was little question but that it would be called the Thomas Malcolm Volunteer Award. For more than three decades as a Middle School science teacher and now also our Dean of Student Life, Mr. Malcolm has helped define the MPA experience by embodying our ideals of service on a daily basis.


What do you like best about teaching here?

The community of students, faculty, staff, and parents past and present are committed to education as an essential part of a meaningful, fulfilling life. I like the excitement and energy I feel at the beginning of each school day. I like running into former students and hearing about their progress through their academic careers and life experiences. I like being a part of Morgan Park Academy’s long history of education.

What are the most important life lessons you want students to learn in your class?

Ideas of respect, compassion, and service are important to me. Without values, subject matter is lifeless.

What do you think about the Thomas Malcolm Volunteer Award? Why is service to others an important value for you to model for our students?

Being publicly honored, having an award established in my name — it’s a little embarrassing. The point of volunteer service is getting beyond ourselves to focus on the needs of others. That’s why it’s important to show — not just tell — our students how to promote the greater good. I really love to hear stories of our students taking their care for others into the world beyond the Academy.

How did you come to teach here?

It was mostly a happy accident. I came to Chicago and needed a job. Somehow I found Morgan Park Academy, got an interview, and was hired. It’s worked out very well. The Academy is where I’ve found my calling.

Why do you teach in the Middle School? What do you like about working with students at that time in their lives?

It’s never dull! Students at this age are between two worlds, child and adult, with such rich potential. It’s where I feel most needed and where I can contribute most effectively.

What about MPA has changed, and what has stayed the same, since you first began working here?

The technology used in education is very different, but the needs of students and the mission of the school to meet those needs are essentially the same now as in the past. Education is the product of a real encounter between people. Every day at Morgan Park Academy, I bring myself, with my flaws, weaknesses, and doubts looking for authentic human interaction and learning.

What experiences or people had the most influence on you?

Winnie Theodore, Principal of the Lower and Middle Schools from 1965-1997, was a real inspiration to me. Her ability to guide students, parents, and faculty, her fairness, and her sense of justice made me aspire to bring these things to my workday. Vickie Hovanessian, Lillian Mackal, David Jones, Carol Riha, Judy Thorsen, Barb Tubutis, Mary Gerlich, Lillian Delaney, Martin Wolf, Jeff Heilman, and countless other colleagues have had a positive impact on me. But most of all, my immediate family — the acorns do not fall far from the tree.

What do you want your students to take away from having known you?

If they grow into being their own best selves, if they’re well-adjusted, compassionate, respectful, and do the best they can in life, then I can sleep at night.

Meet Our Teachers: Lisa Camastro


Lisa Camastro teaches Spanish II, III, and IV in the Upper School and is our curriculum leader for World Languages. Now in her third year at Morgan Park Academy, she holds a Master’s in Hispanic Studies from Saint Louis University and a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Notre Dame.


What are your favorite moments with a student?

One of my favorite moments is when my students start to make jokes in Spanish. It sounds like a simple thing, but it actually shows that they have a really good grip on the language. Plus, it makes me laugh and brightens my day.

What experiences or people had the most influence on you?

Living in Spain was an eye-opening experience. As much as you learn in school about a culture, it’s not until you live there that you really start to understand it. Living abroad is also a great way to understand yourself and your own culture. It’s not always easy to do, but I encourage all of my students to spend a semester abroad in college. It will change their lives for the better.

What do you want your students to take away from having known you?

I want my students to inherit my sense of curiosity. I would love for them to speak Spanish well, but the bigger picture to me is an interest in culture and language that they can carry with them through the rest of their life. It’s a big world out there, and I want them to explore it.

Meet Our Teachers: Peter DiLalla


Peter DiLalla is in his third year as a Middle School teacher at at Morgan Park Academy. He teaches fifth- and sixth-grade social studies and seventh- and eighth-grade physical education, and also has taught English and math. After school, he is head coach of our varsity tennis teams and our yearbook adviser.

A Cleveland native, he earned Master’s and undergraduate degrees at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.


How do you inspire students to enjoy learning?

I always try to relate the material that I teach to students’ own lives. For example, we are currently working on creating a fake Twitter feed for George Washington. Giving students the opportunity to take information from history and rework it into something that makes sense to their generation is always a goal of mine. Whether it’s making a rap about history or thinking about which hashtags George Washington would use, this approach gets students excited about learning.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I most enjoy seeing students overcome their fears, whether it’s giving a speech in front of the class or performing for an assembly. Last semester, my spoken word class created original pieces and performed them at our United Nations Day assembly. I was really proud of my students not only for creating their pieces by themselves, but for having the courage to share their work with the entire school community.

What is the most important life lesson you want students to learn in your class?

I want them to learn that it’s important to take healthy risks and chances in life. I remember as a kid being terrified of messing up or doing something that would be embarrassing. As I got older, I learned the importance of putting myself out there and not being afraid of what others thought. You can learn so much about your strengths and weaknesses by overcoming the fear of failure. I try to instill this approach in my students by leading by example and fostering a classroom environment where students feel safe to try new things.

Meet Our Teachers: Shelia Webster-Gray


Shelia Webster-Gray is in her 11th year teaching first grade at Morgan Park Academy, first joining our Lower School as a substitute teacher in 2001 before assuming a full-time role in 2004. She holds a B.S. in Elementary Education from Illinois State University.


What do you enjoy most about teaching?

At the beginning of each school year, I feel such excitement and enthusiasm as I anticipate meeting my new class. I look forward to seeing their smiles, personalities, and eagerness to learn as we start a new adventure together. I love how a young child’s mind works and their inquisitive nature. I welcome their questions because it tells me they are eager to learn.

What do you want your students to take away from having known you?

I want my students to know that I care about them and I have their best interest at heart. I encourage each of my students to keep trying and never give up. I want them to be willing to take risks even if it means that they may not always be right. Making mistakes is part of learning. I let them know, “That was a good try.” I believe positive encouragement is a key component. I know that everything I say has an impact on them and I want that impact to be good, one that they remember.

What are your favorite moments with a student?

One of my favorite moments is watching a student’s face light up when they learn something new. This doesn’t happen at the same time for every student and that makes it even more rewarding. I think with lots of patience, modeling, and guidance, all students can achieve.

Meet Our Teachers: Peggy Bergin

DSC_0082 crop

Peggy Bergin teaches Middle School and Upper School drama classes and fifth-grade English, directs our fall play and spring musical, and moderates our student Arts Council. She is our Director of the Arts and Curriculum Leader for the Fine Arts department.

She holds a Master of Education degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.


What is the most important life lesson you want students to learn in your class?

Last summer, my fifth-graders read a novel called Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. In it there is a precept (or a “rule about a really important thing”) that states: “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” This idea, attributed to Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, is a lesson I hope students take away from all of my classes.

What are your favorite moments with a student?

Without a doubt, my favorite moments are watching student theatrical performances after weeks of rehearsals. I find myself very moved by the commitment, creativity, and talents of the students here at Morgan Park Academy, such that by the end of our final performance, I’m wishing that I could watch it again.

How do you keep current with the subject areas you cover?

I try to see as much theatre and art as possible — and I will truly see anything. We are fortunate that we live in a world-class theatrical city, and I enjoy venturing downtown to the major theaters to see what they’re doing. But I also enjoy watching other schools’ productions and community theatre as well. For me, there is inspiration everywhere.

What traits do you look for in your “ideal” student?

My ideal student possesses a fierce sense of integrity, a willingness to try new things, and willingness to succeed and to fail at those things. My ideal student is supportive of the ideas, successes, and failures of his or her peers and — perhaps most importantly — has a sense of humor.