Mission & Core Values

Our mission: Empowering Hispanic/Latino youth and their communities to become bilingual, global citizens through innovative heritage language and cultural immersion programs.  We are a 501(c)3 organization.


Our purpose: 

Give primarily low-income, Spanish-speaking students the opportunity to gain literacy skills in their native language of Spanish

Lessen the academic achievement gap between Hispanic/Latino and non-Hispanic/Latino students

Support students as they learn about their Hispanic/Latin American cultural heritage and navigate their own unique multicultural experiences 

Support students as they learn about their Latin American cultural heritage
and navigate their own unique multicultural experiences

Provide Spanish-speaking parents access to resources to raise happy, healthy, bilingual families

Bridge the gap between Hispanic/Latino and non-Hispanic/Latino communities through a shared interest in the Spanish language

Cultural Education
Community Involvement
Academic Success
Inquiry and Exploration

OUr educational philosophy

Why Spanish Immersion 

  • Latino and Hispanic students consistently score 25-30 scale points lower on state math and reading exams and have the highest high school drop-out rate of Whites, Blacks, and Latinos.

  • Hispanic and Latino students now make up 25% of all elementary, middle, and high-school students.

  • Hispanic and Latino parents often have difficulty communicating with their children’s teachers, administrators, and school systems because of their English language ability.


As if these barriers to success were not enough, many Hispanic and Latino students in North Carolina face discrimination on the basis of their skin color, culture, and linguistic background. Many of these bright, passionate students begin to internalize these external prejudices and see their bilingualism and multiculturalism as something that makes them different or inferior, not as the rich and important parts of themselves that allow them to succeed in ways that English-only speakers cannot. 


Addressing these concerns requires that we look at our students as whole people that deserve social, cultural, and familial support as much as they do academic support. 


Studies have shown that literacy skills gained in Spanish are actually transferable to English and any other language a child speaks. This is the crux of ISLA’s unique mission – not only are our students becoming bilingual and discovering the value of their native language and culture, but each week they gain crucial literacy and science skills that can carry over to English and help them reach their full potential. We know that when ISLA students become confident in who they are, where their family is from, and what they can do, then there is no limit to the ways they can impact their world.

Our staff


Jenice Ramirez

Executive Director

Jenice began working with ISLA in July of 2013. She has more than 7 years of experience in the public education system and the non-profit sector. Her passion for education and social change began when she was a high school student. She began to work at a tutoring center for kids with autism and followed this passion to University of North Carolina in Greensboro. Throughout college, Jenice worked with various community organizations to develop a list of resources for Latino/Hispanic families and kids with different capacities. She continued this project at the high school where she worked  as a special education teacher from 2010 to 2013. She carries her passion for education and ISLA's mission in her heart.

Lady Johana Gasca

Director of ISLA Los Sábados

Lady Johana has been involved with ISLA since its beginnings in 2012. With family roots in Colombia and Mexico and younger siblings attending ISLA’s heritage language classes, she grew up speaking spanish like the students at ISLA. Lady was in the first group of older students in the secundaria classes. Her motivation and enthusiasm for helping kids learn and retain bilingual skills led to her role as Programs Operations Director. She is now attending Durham Technical Community College, and as a result of her work with ISLA recently changed her career path from nursing to Business Administration.  

Pavelid Castañeda

Curriculum Administrator

Pavelid is the ISLA curriculum director, as well as being the third grade teacher. He is Colombian and has lived in the United States since 1992. He has worked as a teacher since 1975. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts and Musical Pedagogy at the National Pedagogical University in Bogotá, Colombia and is studying for his Master's Degree in Music Education at Five Towns College, Dix Hills, NY and teaching Spanish as a foreign language with the Ibero-American University Foundation (Universidad del Atlántico) Barcelona, ​​Spain. Pavelid likes to include music and popular traditions in teaching Spanish. Currently, Pavelid is also a music teacher at the Santo Tomas More church in Chapel Hill and a harpist at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, NC.

Casey Strange

Project Manager

Casey is the primary contact for ISLA’s grant-writing and evaluation activities. She has experience in the formative and summative evaluation of educational intervention programs, as well as non-profit and academic grant-writing. She holds a BA and MA in Sociology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at North Carolina State University. In her recreational time, Casey enjoys bike races with her son Sebastián and salsa dancing with her husband Camilo.

Lucinda Smith

Community Relations Director

Lucinda has been a part of ISLA since her children began attending the heritage language school in 2017. Half Bolivian, she grew up speaking spanish in a bilingual household and much like the students at ISLA, attended a Saturday spanish immersion school as a child. She studied Business Management at North Carolina State University and worked in the Financial Services industry for over 6 years post grad. She shifted her career to marketing and was the Communications Specialist for a local coffee roaster in Hillsborough, NC before joining the ISLA staff. Lucinda is proud of her cultural heritage and loves using her language skills creatively to share ISLA’s mission with the community and its supporters.

Isla Los Sábados Staff

Julia Arriaga 

Pre-K (3) Lead Teacher 

Indira Crespo-Bautista 

Pre-K (3) Assistant 

Guillermina Lara

Pre-K (3) Assistant 

 Patricia Gomez

Pre-K (4 Lead Teacher


Miriam Guerrero 

Pre-K (4) Assistant 

Maria Jaime-Ledesma 

Kindergarten Lead Teacher 


Aminta Salgado 

Kindergarten Assistant 

Gloria Rocio Sachica

1st Grade Lead Teacher


Bryan Ramirez

1st Grade Assistant 

Ingrid Caudle

2nd Grade Lead Teacher


Marcela Calderon

2nd Grade Assistant

Evelia Brenis Escamilla

4th Grade Lead Teacher

Maria Guadalupe Franco

4th Grade Assistant

Claudín Mangum

5th & 6th Grade Lead Teacher

Melissa Smolski

5th & 6th Grade Assistant

Kendell Doyle

3rd Grade Lead Teacher


Jenny Rendon

3rd Grade Assistant

Lisset Garcia

7th & 8th Grade Lead Teacher

Jacqueline Salazar

7th & 8th Grade Assistant


Cindy Salazar

9th-12th Success Coach & Executive Assistant 

Susana Benites

SEPA Director & Lead Teacher 

Gladis Castañeda

SEPA Assistant

Board of directors

Aerin Benavides 

President and Founder

Jennifer de Lima


Kasia Jarmolowicz

Board Member

Jenice Ramirez

ED/ Vice President

Chessa Rich

Board Member

Mary Jones

Board Member

Kimberly Grainger


Ingeborg Andrews

Board Member

Julia Richardson

Board Member

Dayson Paisón

Board Member

Advisory board


Daniela Amortegui

Board Member

Ye He 

Board Member

Max Henderson

Board Member

Main Office

3326 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd, Suite A100, Durham, NC 27707

Mailing Address: P.O Box 16278 Chapel Hill, NC 27516 




Monday: Closed

Tuesday - Friday 9-5pm

Follow us!

  • Facebook - White Circle
  • Instagram - White Circle
  • YouTube
  • Twitter - White Circle

ISLA is a 501(c)3 organization.

© Copyright 2019 ISLA