by Alyssa Chen, Features Editor
photo by Bella Ishanyan, graphic by Lynn Kim
Whether she’s incorporating her dogs’ names into word problems or fully committing to a Halloween costume by painting herself green, mathematics teacher Karen Kinel has created a name for herself over the last 20 years while teaching freshmen, sophomores and seniors alike.
In the 2021-22 school year, South introduced mixed-level accelerated and honors math classes to the incoming freshman class for the first time. Current sophomore Udaii Abu Amara, a student in Kinel’s mixed-level class last year, said that her expectations of the work for the two levels were fairly assigned.
“[There would be] the same amount of work, but it was just a different level of problem,” he said. “I felt like the honors students weren’t getting more practice, [but that] they were given math that was good for their level.”
Ben Nir, a student in Kinel’s sophomore honors class, said that Kinel emphasizes the importance of understanding the reasoning behind mathematical steps.
“She values teaching students how to derive formulas and methods of solving problems as opposed to just giving the method [outright] and telling the students to figure it out,” he said. “I’m glad that she does that because that’s something I really value as well.”
Longtime colleague of Kinel’s and DaVinci mathematics teacher Hayley Donati said Kinel’s enthusiasm for teaching mathematics is apparent both inside and outside of a classroom setting.
“Because most of my classes are across the hall from her, when we’re teaching at the same time, I can hear the energy and the passion that she has in her voice,” Donati said. “She’s been a great resource for me when we’ve taught the same course. We share information with each other and talk about different ways that we might teach a topic.”
Kinel’s expectations for her students have motivated Donati to reflect upon the content in the math courses she teaches, Donati said.
“She likes to hold really high standards for her students. Some of the problems in the courses that she teaches really make you think, and knowing that these are problems we should be challenging our students with and holding them to high standards has helped me,” she said. “There have actually been some problems [where I go] ‘oh, that’s a cool way to solve that.’”
Since she was in high school, Kinel’s passion for teaching mathematics exists alongside her love for dressing in vibrant clothing and jewelry. Kinel said that she has used styling as a means of self-expression throughout her day-to-day life.
“[Fashion is] just a way of being an individual and showing my personality that I might not be able to do otherwise in front of a classroom, or just in life,” she said. “I actually make a lot of my own jewelry to make sure everything matches. Rings, earrings, about 80 percent of the jewelry I wear, I made myself.”
Abu Amara said that Kinel’s lively outfits were a surprise every time he walked into class last year.
“[Her outfits] were beautiful. They were an inspiration. You would walk into class and she’d have some different, color coordinated, beautiful outfit on every day, and you never knew what to expect,” he said. “Some days it’d be bright yellow, some days it’d be bright green, bright blue.”
Donati said that Kinel’s shoe collection is impressive both in quantity and in organization, as the shoes are separated by style and recorded in a meticulous, yet brilliant system.
“She loves shoes. She tries not to repeat shoes that she wears to work, and she has them organized and categorized. It’s like a real life ‘Clueless’ reference, with Cher’s digital closet,” Donati said.
“She’s logged [and numbered] which shoes are in which boxes. She has pictures [of the shoes] on her iPad… and then she finds the picture she wants and it tells her which box the shoes are in.”
Sophomore class officer Clio McAneny said that Kinel’s dedication to matching with the themes for spirit days has been greatly motivating and reassuring.
“Being a class officer, I look for people that have the spirit during Spirit Weeks, [and] when I see her I’m like, ‘wow, someone actually saw our post [and] someone actually listened to it,’” she said. “I really appreciate her for that.”
Sophomore Noah Huckman, a student in Kinel’s sophomore honors mathematics class, said that her creative outfits transform the class atmosphere.
“When she’s sitting over there in the corner, dressed as a dragon, the environment in the room is definitely much lighter.”