Marco POlo Team

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Administration

Ginger Liess, Director


Ginger has been in the education field for over 23 years teaching, coaching, and mentoring in various roles, including toddler teacher, elementary teacher, high school teacher, to administration.  She has multiple degrees, with her latest being a Master’s in Early Childhood Education. She holds a Child Development Program Director Permit from the California Department of Education and has been a program administrator for seven years for the National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), an active member of the San Diego Reggio Roundtable, and currently a director mentor for the California Early Childhood Mentor Program.


Ginger thinks that having the opportunity to watch children learn and grow is one of the best parts of her job. She believes all children deserve to have a nurturing, quality educational program to learn and develop in. Together with a team of amazing and creative teachers, Ginger is committed to providing families with a loving and developmentally sound foundation for a lifetime of learning. Understanding that play is a child's most important work, Ginger strives to create and maintain an environment, through the Reggio Emilia philosophy, where all children in her program can grow and thrive while exploring the world around them.

Sailor/Toddler Teachers

Ami Liang, Toddler Chinese Teacher  


Ami was born and raised in Taiwan. She graduated from Oda Design College in Japan and has always had a love working with young children. To pursue this passion, she started her career as a preschool teacher with children between the ages of 3 to 5 years old after she relocated across the country from Taiwan to the United States. She further completed core units in Early Childhood Education in California and joined Marco Polo Children’s School in January 2019 as one of the opening/founding teachers. Her dedication as an Early Childhood educator is to encourage children to explore who they are and create a healthy and positive image of themselves. For Ami, the greatest moment as a teacher is to demonstrate and teach children new things, watching them grow, learn and develop. She enjoys reading, cooking and traveling with her family.


Natasha Hu, Toddler Chinese Teacher


Ms. Natasha has been in the field of education for nearly 20 years. She received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English as a Second Language Education in China. After her family immigrated to the United States, she continued professional pursuits and obtained her Early Childhood Education permit in Irvine Valley College. She worked with students from Kindergarten to 1st grade in the Chinese Immersion Program in Bergerson Elementary School. She also worked as a proctor to conduct assessments for students from preschool to 6th grade for Renascence International School. 


She sees her mission as a teacher to nurture the worth inside of hearts and heads of the next generation and the thoughts and feelings of the future. She wishes to be a co-learner and co-explorer in every unique child’s life. It is the best gift for her to be able to see the purest faces, eyes and smiles of the children every day here in Marco Polo. Being inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, she applied its principles into her parenting with her own children. Besides her passion in education, Ms. Natasha enjoys outdoor activities with her family in her spare time, such as hiking, skiing and cycling. She also enjoys cooking for her family every day. She likes to engage her children in cooking whenever possible, because she believes that cooking is a special way for them to explore various cultures around the world.


Lanxin Mi, Toddler Chinese Teacher  


Lanxin Mi started her dream of being a teacher very young because of the influence of her grandmother, who was a director in a public children’s school in her hometown, Ma’ anshan, China. With a great passion in education passed on by her family, she came to the United States in 2009 to pursue her degree in Early Childhood Education at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, New Hampshire. During her four-year study, she had completed over 800 practicum hours in the college laboratory school and local public elementary schools. Working with children at a wide range of ages, she finally found that her passion and dedication fell in teaching toddlers. After graduating, she moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and taught in a toddler room for one year. In 2016, she had her baby and became a stay-at-home mom. In 2019, Lanxin’s family decided to immigrate to Irvine, California and started a new chapter of life. Now she is truly in love with southern California life with her family. Lanxin loves her walks on the beach and barbeque at the pool with her family. From Chinese Northeastern skewers to American cheeseburger, she loves them all!


Michelle Liao, Toddler Chinese Teacher 


Michelle was born and raised in Taiwan. She has been living in Irvine for the last ten years. Having a passion and love to work with young children, she pursued and earned an associate’s degree in child development from Irvine Valley College. She holds a current California teacher’s permit for Early Childhood Education. Michelle loves teaching little children because patience is her best attribute. She enjoys helping kids conquer their problems as they develop their social and academic skills in their early years of life! She found her favorite age group to be the young toddlers. Working with this age group gives Michelle a lot of joy and a sense of fulfilment. Her hobbies include traveling and spending time in nature on a hike.


Cindy Estep, Toddler English Teacher


Ms. Cindy has always been a caregiver even to her younger siblings, which she believes instilled in her a life-long love for all children. She feels that creating a safe and nurturing environment for children encourages them to thrive and learn. Ms. Cindy has been in the education field for 30 plus years, teaching from infants to 8th grade, including science, ESL, and physical education.

She has worked with all ages, but finds the one year to two years old to be the most fascinating age for her. She believes that everything they see, touch, and explore becomes a learning experience. Ms. Cindy is excited to be using the Reggio-Emilia Philosophy, because it embraces natural, child-directed exploration, and encourages a multitude of diverse experiences. Ms. Cindy holds a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies from Fresno Pacific University, as well as a California teaching credential for K-8th grades. She obtained her Tennessee Teaching license for K-4th grades in 2012. Each of these credentials holds a supplement for ESL for K-12th grades. Ms. Cindy looks forward to exploring and learning alongside your children.

Explorer/Preschool Teachers

Yilin Ye, Preschool Chinese Teacher 


Ms. Yilin was born and raised in Beijing, China. She came to the United States in 2011 to further her study in Early Childhood Education and received her master's degree from California State University East Bay. Ms. Yilin has long been interested in children's development. The arrival and fostering of her two little girls further reinforced her faith that it is particularly important to understand children's behavioral characteristics and the underlying physiological, psychological and social principles. Through her systematic study and training, she not only knows the principles behind, but also masters many methods to put those principles into action. Based on children's physiological, psychological characteristics and their social needs, Ms. Yilin successfully implemented integrated curriculums in her classes in the Children Center of Diablo Valley College, Kidango Preschool Goss Center and CKIS Preschool in the Bay Area. In addition to her other qualifications, Ms. Yilin is good at drawing comics. She always makes her classes attractive to her students, as most young children are natural artists. She loves playing together with young children and teaching them Chinese language and culture in a fun and creative ways.


Caitlin Burleson, Preschool English Teacher


Caitlin loves working with preschool-age children and is having fun exploring and learning together with Marco Polo Children! She grew up all around the country, even Germany, though Colorado is where she calls home. She graduated from Colorado State University with a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies in 2015. She spent a few years teaching in both a typical Pre-K setting as well as Special Education. Her strength is to create a collaborative class environment for children to foster interpersonal skills and creativity. She just became a newlywed this year and she is very excited about it. She has two dogs with her husband, Oreo and Sienna that they love to spend their time with exploring beaches, mountains and parks! 

Captain/PreK Teachers

Yuequan Zhang, PreK Chinese Teacher   


Teaching for Yuequan is about focusing on the well-being of children, their learning interests and educational success. With over eight years of experience working with Pre-Kindergarten, preschool children and toddlers, Yuequan has grown to be a very creative, loving and fun teacher. Besides working with young children, she is also a piano instructor who helps children play piano and advance their piano studies. She has a bachelor's degree in Child Development from California State University, Los Angeles and possesses a Child Development Site Supervisor Permit of the California State.


Maddison Estrin, PreK English Teacher & Afternoon Care Site Supervisor


Maddison has been working with children over thirteen years since her first job as a reading and math tutor. She attended California State University, Fullerton and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Child and Adolescent Development. Her roles in Early Childhood Education has evolved from an associate teacher to a lead teacher, then to a site supervisor during the past few years. She has worked with children from all over the world, traveling to Thailand to work with the villages and locally with international programs. While she has worked with all age groups, her passion is in early childhood and loves to watch children learn and explore their environments. In her free time Maddison enjoys being very physically active at the gym or going for long hikes.  She also enjoys taking her dog Titus to the park to play. Maddison is an avid lover of music, art and reading. She is very excited to bring her passions into the classroom and create a diverse atmosphere of learning and exploration.

Assistant Teachers

Mamta Sharma (Mattie), Assistant English Teacher


Mamta has been working with children for the last twenty-five years. Born and raised in India, she started on her journey of living around the world with her husband when she was younger. They traveled to several countries and lived in Sri Lanka, Singapore and England before she fell in love with California and finally settled down in the Orange County. In addition to Mamta’s Early Childhood Education credential and master’s degree in Human Development from Pacific Oaks College, Pasadena, she also holds a master’s degree in English Literature and a certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Prior to joining the Marco Polo team, she worked as a Master Teacher with Rancho Santiago Community College District, as an Early Childhood Education Lead Teacher with Irvine Unified School District and as a Child Development Specialist with Irvine Valley College Child Development Center. She is an avid reader, a nature lover, cook and decorator. Having lived in five different countries, Mamta loves experiencing different cultures and working with families from around the world.


Weiru Lin, Assistant Chinese Teacher & After School Program Teacher


Weiru was born and raised in Guangzhou, China. She grew up speaking Mandarin and Cantonese fluently. She graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a major in Education Science. With her passion to work with children, she chose to specialize in two areas, Early Childhood Learning and Development and After-School Learning and Development during her study at UCI. She believes that children learn through engaging in activities in a fun way (defined as playing in children world) and they also learn from what they touch, see and hear. Her teaching philosophy is that children’s own ideas of play has a significant impact on their cognitive development. During the play process, children develop critical thinking skills that allow learning and development to occur. Playing and exploration happen simultaneously in children’s world. She taught various Chinese classes in Karis Academy for one year. In one of the enrichment classes, she taught children language and math, which includes alphabets, addition and subtraction. She also designed craft activities with children to develop their fine motor skills and encourage creativity.

Co-Founders

Josie Kuo, Co-Founder 


Josie has been in the education industry for over fifteen years. After she finished Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, she became a Chinese project coordinator/instructor at the Lauder Institute of the Wharton School, and a Chinese Lecturer at the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilization at UPenn. She also taught at Princeton University and its Princeton in Beijing summer program as a Chinese lecturer during her early teaching years. Throughout her career in higher education, she offered various Chinese courses to college students, ranging from beginning, intermediate to advanced Chinese, as well as specialty courses such as business Chinese and Chinese writing courses. After she became a mother, her passion in teaching Chinese as a foreign language extended from teaching college students to young children.  In 2012, she joined Chinese American International School in San Francisco as an elementary school teacher and worked with children from first grade to third grade. In becoming a mother of three, children inspired her to expand and advance her qualifications in early childhood education as a program director. This pursuit eventually led her to co-found Marco Polo Children’s School and take on the role to build and oversee its Chinese immersion program once the school is in operation. 


She fell in love with Reggio Emilia philosophy during her studies in Early Childhood Education and extensive tours for her own children’s preschools. She finds Reggio Emilia philosophy the most holistic approach to a child’s overall development.  Her belief is that, by honoring children’s innate curiosity and ability to construct knowledge with teachers, children are fostered to be life-long, active learners. With this belief, she is dedicated to integrating the beautiful concept of Reggio Emilia approach with Chinese immersion curriculum. Besides chasing her children around the house to play with them, Josie enjoys keeping an active and healthy lifestyle by making healthy meals and exercising. 


Jack Hwang, Co-Founder    


Born in Taiwan but grew up in LA, Jack has truly embraced the spirit of exploration in today’s global environment.  After spending his formative years in Arcadia, Jack ventured to the East Coast and attended the Johns Hopkins University, majoring in International Relations with a Minor in Economics, followed by an MBA from the Wharton School, and an MA in International Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.  In between, he spent a year as an exchange student at the Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan; he has worked and lived in Los Angeles, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Kaohsiung and Taipei.  As such, if you are speaking a language other than English - such as Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish, or dialects such as Taiwanese or Cantonese - he might just be able to join your conversation!


In his early career, Jack worked primarily in the financial services industry for companies such as Andersen and AIG.  However, the education industry has always been in his DNA, as his parents own and run reputable preschools and elementary schools in China.  At the end of 2007, Jack joined his family and has played an integral part in growing the various schools, as well as expanding the school’s outreach into international programs in the US, Canada, and Australia.  Being part of a language and cultural immersion initiative is nothing new to Jack, as he has personally participated and organized such programs over and over again.  In 2016, seeing that more and more parents are embracing the importance of cultural diversity and language learning, Jack set in motion the plan to bring Marco Polo Children’s School to the Irvine community.  


For Jack, things have come full circle coming back to California, as the major drivers for Marco Polo were to build a school that his 3 toddler boys can enjoy, and a chance to make a positive contribution back to the Southern California community where he grew up. During his spare time, Jack loves to play a game of tennis or shoot some hoops, as he used to play competitively in both sports.  You might also find him with his kids and friends at baseball stadiums (Go Dodgers!) and beaches.  


James Lu, Co-Founder

Having been an architect in the design industry for over 20 year, James has a passion for creating spaces that support discovery and learning, which is what drove the design of the Marco Polo Children School to create its environment the “Third teacher” for the children.  He is also a beneficiary of cross-cultural immersion, fluent in both English and Chinese.  


Born in Taiwan, educated in Canada, James graduated from University of Toronto and later finished his master degree from the Harvard University School of Design.  He has worked in leadership capacities for a number of reputable international firms and was well recognized by the design profession as he was voted as one of the 40/40 (top 40 leaders under 40 years old) in 2014 by the Urban Land Institute.  As a father of two girls, he understands the importance of early child education in how it shapes a child’s future.  He believes that the Reggio program, the language immersion and the exceptional learning environment in the Marco Polo Children School will be a powerful offering for the Irvine community.