Karen Kriegel has been working with Democracy Prep (DP) scholars for eight years and recently received a congressional recognition from the House of Representatives for her outstanding service to the New York community. One of DP’s unique curriculum components is its Korean program. High school scholars take three years of Korean language and are required to pass the Language Other Than English (LOTE) exam if they live in New York City. What you may not know is that in addition to studying the Korean language, scholars also have the opportunity to learn Korean dance. This is where Karen Kriegel– dance teacher and mentor– comes into play.
Karen Kriegel is affectionately called ‘Ms. K’ or ‘Kriegel Seon Sang Nim’ by her scholars. She is trained in classical and folkloric Korean dance, and she coaches three types of scholar groups: K-Pop, Sijo (Korean poetry), and Korean traditional dance. K-Pop is scholar-led, which allows them to choose their own music and choreography. The K-Pop and traditional groups routinely have small performances throughout the city. Scholars have opportunities to study with master teachers from Korea. The KPop group was the opening act at the 2016 New York KCon Convention.
Ms. Kriegel doesn’t want to limit her teaching just to Korean dance. She also develops her scholars into young professionals by mentoring them in a variety of internships. She has cultivated a relationship with The Korea Society, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting greater understanding between the people of the United States and Korea. Democracy Prep scholars have had the opportunity to intern at The Korea Society in positions that are usually reserved for university students. Three DP scholars recently interned at a policy summit discussion. You can read about their experience here.
In addition to internships in the political sphere, she also has her scholars complete internships teaching dance on Long Island. Destiny Hernandez Diaz traveled to Long Island over her summer break for an internship where she learned to teach young girls how to dance. Destiny says that the internship helped her develop the skills she will need to have a successful career as a dance teacher.
“I learned how to teach dance and choreography to other students, even if they are little kids,” said Destiny. “It helps me with what I want to do in the future. It has really pushed me as a dancer.”
Destiny recently received a $1,000 grant to study at the Martha Graham Dance Company, the oldest dance company in America.
Beyond teaching her scholars Korean dance and how to succeed professionally, Ms. Kriegel also plays a major role in her scholars’ social and emotional development. This becomes obvious when speaking to any of her scholars, regardless of how long she has been their teacher.
“Even though I haven’t been dancing for that long, she’s helped me get on a path where I’ve learned to love and respect myself and the things that I do,” said Collin Getton, a beginner dancer.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Diavionne Robinson has been dancing since she was a little girl. She has participated in the Korean dance program all four years at Democracy Prep Charter High School.
“Ms. Kriegel has been a very big influence on my life,” said Diavionne. “A lot of the things that I’ve learned over the last four years, I’ve learned from her, not only dance but also about the world. We have had a lot of political and social conversations that I wouldn’t have had anywhere else,” she added. “She is a very big part of my life. She is like a second mother to me. Being here is kind of like my safe place and my home.”
Ms. Kriegel’s scholars cannot wait to tell you how much they love her.
“She cares a lot about us, and she works really hard to make sure that we are comfortable here and that we have a place where we can all be happy,” Diavionne said.
“She is the wisest, nicest, most influential person I know,” said Destiny.
“Ms. K always cares about our well-being,” said Oliver Lopez.
One thing is for sure, Democracy Prep is incredibly lucky to have Ms. Kriegel working with our scholars.
Be sure to check out their performance at the 5th Annual Korean Street Festival this Saturday, May 19th.