When Kevin Karimi (’99) returned to Sycamore School last fall to be a part of the TalonTED Talks that featured four alumni of Sycamore, he came armed with a presentation called “Conversations With My Middle School Self.” Karimi, who served as a Marion County Deputy Prosecutor before starting his own law practice (Gemma and Karimi), was admittedly, a student who excelled in places in which he enjoyed the subject and could struggle to find inspiration in the places that held less academic interest to him.
Oddly, it was some of the situations where Kevin may have rebelled against the teaching that had the most profound impact on his adult life. “Sycamore had a large focus on vocabulary, and it was so big when I was in middle school,” he says. “We had something called Word Within a Word, and just I hated it. It was the toughest, most strenuous pressure and stress-inducing time in 7th and 8th grade.” The pain of the game came in the gain later. “The words that I learned in spelling and vocabulary from this school have been immensely important to me. You can't go back and do that again. Things are given to you, probably against your will, at a young age that you're thankful for later.”
As a lawyer, Karimi is realistic about the pieces of his education that slipped into place. “Sycamore School pushed Spanish to me and my older brother. It was part of the curriculum from Mrs. Hollander and other great teachers. I had no idea how important what we did here in Spanish class would be. It was a foundational building block to my language skills. It's so important today to know Spanish, especially in my field.” Karimi ended up majoring in Spanish in college, and still speaks fluently today, as does his older brother.
He says he also benefitted from the less traditional academic opportunities that were available to him at Sycamore. “I loved the after-school activities - I really did,” he says. “Drama Club was so important to me. I loved the after-school activities because it was such a relaxed environment.” While the school day gave Karimi his circle of friends, it was the late afternoon options after the classroom teaching was complete, that he relished. “The kids you’d hang out with were ones you don't usually hang out with during the day. There's an immersion of different people that you get to know,” he says. “Sycamore School is not a very large school. There are 40 kids in each grade, and you tend to stick to your friends. Everyone knows everyone, but you have four or five friends or maybe another little circle of friends. But when you go to after-school activities, you meet new people and by the end everyone knows everyone in a different way and for different reasons. I enjoyed that a lot.”
With the benefit of hindsight, the conversation with his middle school self-led him to the understanding that, though he may have questioned being gifted, or how he got to Sycamore, in the end, it was a one-of-a-kind place for a young student. “To be taught in a manner that tailors to however you wanted to define gifted proved very important as I got older. Our families put us at Sycamore. We didn't ask to come to Sycamore. Being called gifted at a young age can be a confusing thing, especially if you're here from kindergarten through 8th grade.”
Karimi knows it is Sycamore that ultimately played a part in helping him define who he is.
“Some kids are gifted even though they may not realize what that means until they are older,” he says. “A school like this that focuses on gifted children and allows them to have the open-mindedness and have the curiosity from a young age is irreplaceable.”