Katy Kessler-Rinck: Curating Students’ Passions
Before arriving at Slate School, Katy Kessler-Rinck was a classroom teacher for nine years, including at another school with a progressive education model similar to her current workspace. At a certain point, she decided she wanted to take a different role at a school than a teacher and happened upon the website for Slate. Interested and understanding of its approach, she applied.
“What attracted me is that it sounded both like the style of education that I had my graduate work in and my own childhood,” says Katy. “It was really important to me growing up. I had really important experiences outside in nature, just making things with what was around me.”
Katy describes being a classroom teacher as “the most beautiful and most complex job.” She says she finds joy in working with children and their families but says there are also difficulties associated with connecting closely with all families of students and the long nights of emailing them at 2 a.m. about certain notices. Now at Slate, Katy no longer worries about making too many connections to count in and out of the classroom and is still able to work with its students.
“Now, in my role as curator, I get to be in all the classrooms,” she says.
Katy is a believer in that “if education comes from the child, it’s the most beautiful and successful form of education.”
She likes that Slate considers an individual student as “a 360-degree human” where their interests lead the way for their education.
“Maybe too often in schools, the grown-ups think they know best what, exactly what the kids should be doing, and it’s a lot of top-down,” Katy says. “Here we’re first asking, ‘What are you interested in?’ Then my job is ‘How can I help you answer your questions?’”
As the curator of Slate’s books and artifacts, Katy assists students in discovering their passions, following their curiosities, and providing the right written or hands-on resources to help them bloom.
“I get to be there kind of supporting them along the way,” she says.
It all starts with evaluating the many questions students are encouraged to write down in their notebooks on particular topics of interest. After getting “this wonderful window into their brains” regarding what appears to be the most interesting, Katy’s curation commences.
“If they say, ‘I want to study the Kakapo,’ which is a bird from Oceania….my job is to then look through our collection, see what we already have that would enhance this person’s study, then also order things that are missing or go to the public library and find things that are missing, and create this constellation of books around the student that directly addresses the questions they have, but could also give them exciting new opportunities for study.”
Artifacts take shape as “natural artifacts,” such as a recently acquired giant pine cone, or student-made artifacts like Mayan-inspired weaving and sewing projects, which also sit in Slate’s library collection to enhance student education. The latter creation is related to Katy’s part in bringing Spanish education to Slate alongside her role as curator.
“Part of my role as someone who brings some Spanish to the school, we studied Mayan weaving, and we created a loom in the style of Mayan weavers…that loom is one of the artifacts in our collection. So if weaving or interest in Mayan culture comes up, that’s something that we can pull out.”
Katy is a co-leader in Spanish-language morning meetings held once a week in all classrooms, where students can learn about the language and relevant cultures both today and yesterday.
“I am really interested in pre-Columbian civilizations in Latin America…[third and fourth grade] was showing a big interest in numbers systems…they were really hungry for more math challenges. So we started exploring the Mayan number system, which is a base 20 system, so it’s completely different from our system. That was still [a] Spanish morning meeting because it’s really about not only learning the Spanish language but an appreciation for the many Spanish-speaking cultures.”
Katy is prepared to further facilitate the curiosities of more researchers at Slate this upcoming academic year with the addition of a sixth-grade class at the school. She looks forward to seeing conversations on many different topics flourish in the classrooms, everything from the Colorado River to identifying varying species of fruit.
“There’s just the layer of excitement that every teacher and child who’s here really loves being here,” says Katy. “Each room is very buzzy, and it’s so fun to get to just walk into this room, and they’re having some fantastic conversation about the Colorado River, and I can just slip in and be like, ‘Oh, we just got a book on rivers and weather,’ or whatever it is in the library, and bring it over and kind of weave myself into the conversation.”