By Madison Gaston
Libby Karow has been part of the Oak Hall School community for more than 20 years. Throughout her tenure, she has taught at all three divisions, with her most recent and current position being at the Upper School. She not only developed a stellar Spanish program at the Lower School but created a lasting partnership with a sister school in Uruguay and established an annual International Festival at Oak Hall.
After moving to Florida from Texas and enrolling her four children at the Lower School, previously known as Martha Manson Academy (MMA), Karow began teaching at MMA as a substitute teacher. During her 10 years at the Lower School, she helped found the Parent Teacher Organization, which has grown into the group that currently organizes and runs Eagle Fest, amongst other things. Karow then worked as a full-time Middle School English teacher with Julie Black and David Pickens, who served as excellent mentors for her.
After six years in Bolivia and Ecuador due to her husband’s job, the Karow family moved back to Gainesville in 2005. It was then when Karow, who is affectionately known to her students as “Señora”, created and began teaching a Spanish curriculum at the Lower School. “Despite the fact that the best time to teach a second language is during the preschool and early elementary years, there was very little curricula for that age group,” she said. Over the next 10 years, after a lot of research, trial, and error, she developed a program of thematic immersion for Lower School students. Her workbooks included units of vocabulary with words like “family”, “home”, “food”, and “clothing”; while the curriculum itself emphasized listening and communicating skills through age-appropriate activities. “The curriculum we are currently using at the Lower School, Hablamos Ya, is one I created and published in 2009,” Karow noted, with this year’s students using the fifth edition. “Our new Lower School Spanish teacher, Nicole Alibrandi, is a very creative person with years of teaching experience who will definitely put her own stamp on that program,” she continued. Furthermore, Karow’s dream job is to create a dual language immersion program in the ECLC that offers students the chance to learn language proficiency by the end of elementary school.
After working at the Lower School since returning to Gainesville from Ecuador, Karow relocated to the Upper School in 2012. “I was excited to move to the high school because of the schedule,” Karow explained. In the Lower School, Karow saw her students only twice per week for 30 minutes, whereas now, she has the opportunity to see them every day, allowing her to teach a lot more within the subject. Her course load originally consisted of Spanish I, Spanish II, and Spanish II Honors. This school year, however, Karow teaches three Spanish II Honors classes, two Spanish II classes, and one US Government class.
More than a decade ago, Karow was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship to teach in Uruguay and continued to work with its Department of Education. After receiving the award, Karow hosted Fulbright exchange teachers and administrators at Oak Hall, which has led to the continuing connection Oak Hall has to its sister school in Uruguay. Alternating years, Karow conducts the exchange of 12 students from Uruguay to visit Oak Hall School and 12 Upper School students to visit Uruguay. This exchange for Uruguayan students is based on academic record, and students work hard to be selected and afford airfare. Karow has students at Oak Hall volunteer to open their homes to Uruguayan students and attend school with them. Last year, Karow took the Uruguayan students to St. Augustine, Universal Studios, the University of Florida, and a kayak trip on a spring-fed river. This year, Karow will be taking 12 Oak Hall Upper Schoolers to Montevideo, where they will take excursions to Colonia (oldest city), Punta del Este (beach resort), and to see the working estancia (ranch). “For our students, it is an important glimpse of everyday life in another culture and a chance to make a lifelong friend,” Karow emphasized.
Karow, along with fellow Upper School Spanish teacher Krystal Serrano, work to help students compete in the state-wide high school Spanish competition, “Conferencia”. She not only teaches students to perform poems and plays in Spanish, but also helps students act and show their character through a poem or play instead of just reading from a script. Because of the dedication of Karow and Serrano, Oak Hall’s Spanish Club is heading into this year’s competition as reigning state champions.
Last school year, Karow was awarded the Teacher of the Year Award, voted by the Upper School students, out of all the Upper School faculty. “I am very grateful to all the students who made that possible,” Karow said. Winning the award was very special for her because she believes it is wonderful when you can see the impact a teacher can have on students. “Don’t forget to thank you teachers!” she said happily.