At times, it seems like Jessica Killo is at the center of every new initiative and cross-grade collaborative project on campus. In fact, with as many hats as Killo wears, it's quite possible. Officially, Killo, now finishing her 16th year here at GA, is the Lower School Art Coordinator, PreK-12 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Coordinator, Co-Director of Art Across the Academy, and the lead blogger of the ED21 Blog (READ & SUBSCRIBE!). Killo teaches third-fifth grade art students and also leads an After School Activities Program (ASAP) teaching students how to create products using a 3D printer. She has also been instrumental in planning a number of Design Days. On top of all of that, Killo, who held the Barness Chair of Visual and Performing Arts from 2012-2015 and directed Art Quest in the summers from 2005-2015, will manage all of the Lower School makerspaces next school year, where she will partner with teachers on creating curriculum for each of those spaces, including the Nature Nook, Tinker Lab, and Maker Cottage.
Even as her calendar fills up quickly, Killo wouldn't have it any other way. She loves teaching here at GA.
"I have always felt like GA is a second family. My closest friends are here," said Killo. "I feel so supported by the administration and other community members and parents to do creative work and pursue ideas and take risks—that is where the greatest things happen. I love that we're a school that wants to keep pushing and growing. I need to be in a place like that. It's really about moving and growth and learning. I think this is a place where I can always learn and I am encouraged too. I always tell my students that we're in this together."
In regards to Lower School art, Killo feels like students are diving into projects that are much more innovative and creative than ever before.
"We have access to technologies that we didn't have before," said Killo, who, along with Lower School Art Teacher Alia Tahvildaran and Lower School Art Assistant Teacher Kevin Hetzel, has worked hard to seamlessly weave new technology into her curriculum. "There are always projects that will never go away, like the clay character busts—there are kindergarteners that come up to me and tell me what they will make when they are in fifth grade."
Killo also feels like it's important for her students to tap into the theme of the school year, much like Art Across the Academy does, and for students to make artwork that make connections to real life outside the classroom.
On the Art Across the Academy front, Killo, along with Co-Director Sara Krupnick-Ritz plan to coordinate a campus-wide build of a paper playground in Connor Quad. In the past, Art Across the Academy has partnered with a number of teachers and departments on campus to create memorable projects like Dip 'n Dance Day, the Sounds of Self Exhibit, the Sand Mandala Project featuring Losang Samten, Hair Stories featuring Sonja Clarke, The Memorial Garland Project, Poems in Trees, and the Isaiah Zagar Mosaic Mural.
In the GA world of STEAM, Killo has been partnering with all divisions this year to assess where STEAM might already be happening on campus and to look at where teachers can naturally weave STEAM curriculum into their classrooms. In the Lower School, she and her colleagues are already looking at ways to create "smart recombinations," which take two completely unrelated things and force them to work together. She's also having teachers revise their curriculum to see where they can gain some time by combing a current discipline with STEAM-based work.
This is also the second year Killo, along with Lower School Science Teacher Craig Newberger 1760, has led the 4th Grade STEAM Studio, where students use design thinking to create products that solve a problem. Killo and Newberger came together before the start of last school year to develop STEAM Studio as a student driven, inquiry based, experiential and project based program. Homeroom teachers join each session, modeling collaboration and supporting and encouraging the work of innovation.
"There is no limit to what the kids can design," said Killo. "They come up with such creative ideas and its completely student driven. They are forced to collaborate a lot and forced to collaborate in a way that benefits them. They get really into it and sometimes want to work on it during recess. There are open-ended answers to these problems and lots of inquiries along the way. It's a great combination of creative thinking and collaboration."
For Killo, the art room is much more than paint brushes and smocks and STEAM-based work; rather it's a place where students can learn persistence, grit, and teamwork.
"The art room can be a place to connect with all the important work we are doing at GA—empathy, identity, technology, and much more," said Killo. "I am always trying to connect what they are doing in this room to the real world, whether that's empathy or trying to make connections to math. I connect with what they are doing in the classroom all the time, providing them with meaningful work instead of learning a skill or copying an artist. There is always a connection to themselves."