In Karin's experience planning and executing curriculum for Key School's youngest students, she is keenly aware that what can sometimes appear as play is much more. "We know play is important to children’s work, but it's never a free-for-all kind of play," Karin says. "The classroom environment is designed to lead children through sequential steps. As we sit with them and guide them, we provide them with language, ideas and suggestions that encourage and support individual growth. It's setting something out that they're going to be interested in and curious about, encouraging them to learn how it works and what it's called, and then helping them understand why it's important."
Gifted in facilitating deliberate learning experiences, Karin also brings these skills to her role as coordinator for the science curriculum for Key's Pre-School and to teaching science to Key's Kindergarteners. Whether planting seeds alongside seniors from Key's advanced biology class or asking questions about the living creatures in their classroom, students in Karin's classes participate in strategically planned lessons that highlight the interconnectedness of the world around them.
"Children are natural scientists," Karin says. "They ask questions, they manipulate things in their environment, they observe the results, and then they ask more questions. In fact, all of their work on the playground is an exercise in physics, whether it's their own bodies in motion or the manipulation of the materials around them."
Perhaps it's no wonder then that fourteen years after accepting a job at Key School, Karin is sustained by the transformations she sees, from September to June each year, in Key's youngest students.
"With the three and four-year-olds, the developing brain is fascinating," Karin says. "To take them from being dependent to a place of increasing independence, and to lay the groundwork for their burgeoning academic skills is both interesting and gratifying."
"The self-confidence and the power children feel when they can do things for themselves is incredible," she adds. "For example, in our class of three and four year olds, they can get their own snack supplies and pour their own water, they clean up after themselves, and put on their shoes and coats when it is time to go out. When they can do things for themselves, they gain a different sense of confidence. They don't always have to wait for a teacher to help and they are quick to offer to help each other."
"Mastery is very empowering, no matter in what area," Karin says after a thoughtful pause. "I mean, we know that for ourselves."
Much like Key's youngest students, Karin's own commitment to her work has been built upon an empathetic world view and an innate curiosity.
The daughter of an Austrian mother and an American father who worked in the State Department, Karin grew up abroad, attending international schools in Western Europe in the 1970s. She recalls her time in then-West Germany as formative in sensitizing her to the realities of life in Germany in the decades following World War II. To this day, she places high value on experiences that allow children and adults alike to get outside of themselves, develop an awareness of the wider world, and inform their understandings of their communities.
After graduating from Worcester State University in Massachusetts, Karin moved to New York City, where she worked in the admissions office at New York University. Again, she was influenced by what she witnessed around her, both inside and outside of the office.
"I thought it was interesting to interview and study the applications of all these young people – to think of where they had gone to school and how that influenced what they wanted to be and what they wanted to study," Karin says. "I was curious to get to the root of it." At the same time, Karin was drawn to works of progressive educators John Dewey, Jane Addams and Lucy Sprague Mitchell. Inspired to be living and working in the very neighborhood that had sparked the progressive education movement at the turn of the century, Karin decided to explore the nearby Bank Street College of Education, where she soon enrolled and earned her master's degree in education.
Given her background and educational philosophy, it's no surprise that Karin found Key School’s commitment to intellectual curiosity and experiential learning a good fit for her daughter Taylie, who enrolled at Key as a Kindergartener and graduated in 2009. A parent here herself before joining the faculty, Karin places great value on the partnerships she builds with Key parents and on the strong sense of community at the School. She credits the Key community for encouraging her daughter, now a junior at Smith College, to explore disciplines beyond her comfort zone and become a curious, well-rounded adult.
"She's studying engineering, but she has this tremendous appreciation and love of the arts, and her work-study at school is in the theater department, the technical end of theater," Karin says. "She's been able to combine her love of math and science and her technical abilities with the creative arts, and I think that's such a nice gift. I think too often our education leads us in just one direction. I don’t think most scientists and engineers get to have the experience that Taylie did."
Karin also appreciates Key's support of professional development that bolsters her own education, and seizes opportunities to collaborate with others in the field, most recently attending a science education conference in New Orleans and a Learning and the Brain conference in Baltimore. By incorporating recent educational findings into effective practice, Karin and her colleagues successfully keep the Pre-School curriculum dynamic.
"For me, Key School is a really good fit as well," she says. "It's stimulating. It's a very nice community. It doesn't feel institutional. I like the farm-like feel of the campus. And when I was a prospective parent, I was particularly impressed that the Pre-School was in the center of campus – central to the life of the School."
Indeed, now herself at the heart of campus, Karin maintains a steady hand and a calm demeanor as she guides Key's youngest students through their first school experience. "People often say, 'You're so patient', but in reality I have very high expectations for the children. I really believe they can accomplish most anything," she says. "They learn to work collaboratively and to think independently. They master skills in math, reading, writing, and science, and they have fun while doing it. They learn to like school and to enjoy learning. I also believe they can treat each other well and that they can manage themselves, and I think when you believe that, the children know it, and as a result, they believe it, too."
Karin exemplifies the type of motivated educator that Key School is fortunate to attract. Her capacity to combine teaching expertise, high standards, warmth, and humor in creating an engaging learning environment for Key’s youngest charges has earned her accolades from parents, year after year.