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Meet the Team


Baby Bookworms

(2 to 4 years old)

Group Leaders


Morgan Cunningham

Phunda Garner

Phunda graduated in 2017 with her BA in Psychology. She has been working with children for the past 20 years. She was a lead teacher at the Kinder Care learning center. She loves helping children learn and grow. Her favorite things to do would be to spend quality time with her family, travel, and go out to eat. Her favorite children's books are by the author Pongee Barnes Sierra The Salon Owner and Ben the gamer.

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Morgan is a Northern Illinois University graduate. As a child growing up, She knew she always wanted to work with young children. She is currently the Director of Smarty Pants Early Learning Center and has been in the Education field for the past 12 years. She values the importance of early literacy and therefore, believes it is important to help young children develop a rich vocabulary, self-expression, and reading comprehension tools they need to become successful readers and lifelong learners. She believes that reading is the key to lifelong learning, and if you can instill a love of reading at an early age, then a commitment to lifelong learning is sure to follow. 


Favorite Book:

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom 

Bubbly Booklovers

(Kindergarten to 2nd grade)

Group Leaders


VictoriiJoi Sims

VictoriiJoi is currently studying to attain her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). In addition to that, she works full-time at SmartyPants Early Learning Center as an Assistant Teacher. Her love for reading began at the tender age of three years old when her mother would frequently take her to their local bookstore which is where she purchased her all-time favorite children's book "Corduroy". She is beyond excited to combine her love of children and reading in hopes of fostering a newfound appreciation for literacy.

Daphne Williams

Esteemed educator and community leader, Daphne Williams has dedicated the last 2 decades to the education and progress of Chicago's youth. Her unceasing commitment to children and families in her community resulted in the establishment of 2 early childhood facilities. Smarty Pants Early Learning Center not only provides high quality care and nurturing for young children but has also propelled over 90% of its students to obtain enrollment into the top gifted and classical schools of CPS. She is currently expanding her center to serve even more youth. She is an educational trailblazer and someone you should know!


Favorite Children's Book:

Not Quite Snow White 

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The Brainiacs

(3rd to 5th grade)

Group Leaders

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Mariah Newsome

A multifaceted educator with experience in teaching in low-income schools of need, Mariah Newsome possesses a comprehensive background in literacy, curriculum and instruction, emotional maturity, and building healthy and positive relationships with students.

For 6 years Mariah has been committed to serving at Stagg Elementary School in the southside neighborhood of Englewood. She has served on numerous leadership teams but she found her niche in teaching English Language Arts, whetting learners’ appetites for literacy through the lens of critical thinking and self-discovery. Mariah’s vibrant personality and creativity compel students to have fun while learning. She engages students through the lens of optimism, positive intent, and personalized learning which empowers students to put their best foot forward in their endeavors.

Favorite Children's Book:
The Book With No Pictures

Natalie McKnight

Natalie's classroom experience ranges from elementary education to high school Theatrical Arts programs for 10 plus years. Also, she has served for countless years as a Sunday school teacher within the church. She serves as chairperson for her school science fair as she loves all things related to creation and innovation. She truly treasures her childhood sport of double-dutch and she's a huge advocate and participant for it as well as health/wellness and fitness overall.


One of her favorite children’s books is “The Watson’s Go To Birmingham-1963” By Christopher Paul Curtis as it embodies culture, history, and humor in an everyday text and context that both children and adults can enjoy. She felt forever blessed to work with Burst Into Books as it gives me the privilege to serve children in and out of the classroom.

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Book Brigade

(6th to 8th grade)

Group Leaders

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British Reynolds

British Reynolds is a Chicago native, and educator with a belief that reading can transform the world. She has been an educator for over 10 years, with experience teaching elementary school and high school Psychology. She is currently pursuing graduate studies at University of Illinois at Chicago. Her passion for reading and literacy motivates her to share that with young readers. 
Favorite Children's book: 
Where The Wild Things Are

Safa Muhammad

Safa is a former Reading Interventionist and loves to read in her spare time. She currently, teaches, tutors and mentors. She holds a Bachelors Degree in English and a Masters in Secondary Education. She gains enjoyment from helping youth achieve their highest level of potential. 


Her favorite children's book is Anne of Green Gables. She used to watch the TV series as well. The book printed more than 50 million copies worldwide!

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