Cris Lovendahl, M.A., CCC-SLP/L
Speech Kids Director
Crisler Lovendahl is a speech language pathologist and child development specialist. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Wellesley College and the M.A. degree in Speech Language Pathology from Northwestern University.
Cris began her career in Waukegan Public Schools in 1983 and remained there 12 years. Highlights of these years include the development of the district's in-house Birth to Three Program, and the creation of a model Headstart Preschool Language Classroom. Methodologies and Tools included: The Battelle Developmental Inventory (7 domains), High Scope, and B right Start. These models are currently incorporated into Clinical Connections Programming.
Cris also worked at the Pediatric Alternatives in Creative Therapy (a clinic of Condell Hospital) where the benefits of working side by side with physical and occupational therapists proved invaluable. Highlights of these years include the acquisition of oral-motor and feeding strategies as well as postural and respiratory training from a supervisor certified in Neurodevelopmental Treatment (NDT).
She began her private practice in 1995, with a focus on children with Sensory Integration Dysfunction and related disorders. She has had personal family experience with children who had difficulties with regulation, eating, sleeping, toilet training, tactile defensiveness, movement, proprioception, and relative thinking. Currently, her practice also includes many children with PDD/Autistic Spectrum Disorders. She is also the mother of two boys.
Kari Becker, M.Ed., LBS I Certified
Kari Becker is a special education teacher, educational consultant and academic supervisor. Kari received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Theatre Arts from Illinois Wesleyan University and her Master of Arts, in Special Education at University of Illinois at Chicago. She began her work with Clinical Connections in 2000 as a Play Partner providing social-emotional support in the home environment. Since then, Kari has assisted in the development of the Classroom Connection model, founding the Classroom Connection Day school and providing teacher support and mentoring. She also works closely with families and school staff to create effective and successful educational programs for children with special needs. In addition, Kari provides trainings for teachers and parents on such topics as: visual organization and scheduling, curriculum development for special needs children, independence in the learning environment, adaptations and modifications in the classroom and IEP development. Kari is proud to work at Clinical Connections with a staff that is truly devoted to the children and families they serve. Kari is the mother of two wonderful and active boys.
Adam Nikkel, CTRS, MOTR/L
OT Kids Director
Teen Center Director
Adam Nikkel is a licensed Occupational Therapist and has been part of Classroom Connection Day School since December, 2012. He also works at a pediatric outpatient clinic. He graduated from The University of Iowa with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and leisure studies with an emphasis in therapeutic recreation. Adam then graduated from Midwestern University with a Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy. Adam’s career trainings include MNRI (Musgatova neuro-sensory-motor reflex integration), Therapeutic Listening, Handwriting Without Tears, The Alert Program, and the Assessment of Motor and Process Skills (AMPS). Adam is a credentialed Illinois Early Intervention Provider. His true passion is helping children be as independent as possible. Outside of CCDS, you will find Adam playing golf, spending time with his wife, daughter, and dog, Cooper, and cheering for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Taylor Parks, B.S. School of Education- Intervention Specialist
Classroom Connection Teacher
Taylor has been a teacher at CCDS since 2017, and currently teaches grades 4-8. She graduated from the University of Dayton's School of Education with a degree as an Intervention Specialist. After student teaching at Brantwood Elementary School in Dayton, Ohio, she returned to her native Mt. Prospect, IL with a resolute purpose of working in the special education field. She thrives on seeing her students achieve academic success and gain strides in their real-world problem-solving skills. She is currently pursuing her Masters' degree in Special Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), and she is excited to bring new ideas back to CCDS. Outside of school, she loves to spend time with her friends and family, especially her niece, born in 2019.
Lizzie DiMatteo is one of the speech-language pathologists at Classroom Connections Day School and Clinical Connections. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Jacksonville University, and a Master of Health Sciences in Communication Disorders from Governors State University. She began her career in special education services while in graduate school, where she worked in a special education district and a pediatric clinic for children with learning, emotional and behavioral disabilities. It was during these experiences that she developed her passion for working with and advocating for children. With a strong interest in American Sign Language and a lover of music, Lizzie brings compassion and calm to her work and her students every day. She also loves seeing how aided language input with AT services can benefit children with AAC. When she is not at Clinical Connections, she enjoys skiing and spending time with nephews and nieces.
Tracy Grant, J.D.
Tracy joined the Clinical Connections Business Department in 2019. She received bachelor’s degrees in both English and Linguistics from the University of Michigan, and her juris doctorate from George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. Tracy previously owned Leona Agency, Inc., a literary agency and consulting company for aspiring authors. Her experience managing Leona Agency, as well as her eight years of experience at two area law firms, prepared her for her current role at Clinical Connections. She appreciates the opportunity to collaborate with such an exceptionally dedicated staff. The proud mom of six children, Tracy spends her free time cheering them on in basketball, fencing, swimming, high school band, Girl Scouts and all activities in between.
Kellie Klasen, M.Ed.
Administration and Supervision CCDS Principal
CCDS happily welcomed Kellie back to CCDS in April 2021. She had previously served as
Program Director from 2012-2016. Kellie received her bachelor’s degree in special education
from Eastern Michigan University in 1998. She began her first year of special education
teaching at a therapeutic day school for children with emotional and behavioral disorders. She
then taught for CPS for seven years at Jenner Academy (in Cabrini Green) as a self-contained
special education teacher for students in 4th-7th graders.
She earned her Masters Degree in 2005 from Loyola of Chicago in Administration and Supervision. Over the past sixteen years, she has worked as an Administrator in a variety of roles supporting students with disabilities. In addition to CCDS, she has worked for the Illinois State Board of Education (district offices), and District 25 in Arlington Heights, IL.
Kellie’s teamwork philosophy shines through daily – she is very supportive of the staff and works hard to make their days run smoothly. As a special educator, she is a wonderful resource for all academic and therapeutic questions, as well as the students’ day to day needs.
Kellie’s hobbies include cooking, reading, and attending live music events. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two daughters, two dogs and two cats.
Zoe Mittman, LSW
Zoe is a Licensed Social Worker at Classroom Connection Day School and Clinical Connections.
Zoe has recently moved to the Chicago area after spending six years in Ann Arbor, Michigan where she received
her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Masters in Social Work from the University of Michigan. While completing
her MSW, Zoe spent extensive time with K-12 grade school children during her field placement where she gained
experience working with school age children, making individualized lesson plans, adapting to challenges and
needs of the children and helping them become better versions of themselves. Zoe’s experience working with
children with special needs started long before her current role at CCDS. She has worked with children at
New York's Blythedale Children's Hospital, New York Presbyterian Hospital and Westchester Medical Center, as
well as a camp counselor and she herself is one of four siblings! Zoe believes that when children are provided
with the necessary support and toolbox of skills early on in life, then they will have the ability to draw on
their own strengths and navigate life to reach their fullest potential. She enjoys incorporating the child as
an equal partner in the growth process, furthering their capacity to achieve goals. During her free time, Zoe
enjoys spending time with family and friends, working out, and traveling.