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Helping students find their personal path

From The Caller magazine, July 2017
As she steps into the role of Head of Upper School, Aline Garcia Rubio brings to the task nearly two decades of professional experience at top-tier educational institutions, and the unique perspective of a Catlin Gabel student, teacher, department chair, administrator, and parent.

Her deep connection with the school began when Aline was a high school student in Mexico City and accepted a foreign exchange scholarship to study for a year at Catlin Gabel in 1991-92. "Suddenly I was here in a cohort of people who really wanted to be doing school," she recalls. "And I loved it. I loved that stimulus. And the depth of engagement of teachers, and the expansion of school into the lives of students—that was new to me." After returning to school in Mexico City, she says,

"I always had Catlin Gabel as that standard measure of really deep learning and joyful learning, and an authentic one hundred percent engagement of the community as a whole."

The idea of becoming an educator took hold. As Aline worked her way through medical school at Universidad La Salle Mexico City, she gravitated towards the peer teaching aspects of the program. After receiving her medical degree and entering the field of clinical research, she took a job teaching high school Algebra on the side. She was recruited by Punahou School in Hawaii to teach high school courses in Biology, Human Anatomy, and Physiology, and after several years in the classroom, she committed herself fully to the education profession. She returned to Catlin Gabel in the fall of 2006 as a teacher of Advanced Biology and Integrated Science. 

Over the past 12 years, Aline has played increasing leadership roles at Catlin Gabel with a focus on instituting best practices and school policy that reflect the changing nature of education, and the changing needs of students. Starting in 2011, she served for two years as Science Department Chair for the Upper School and Science Curriculum Leader for the entire school. In 2012, while still teaching Upper School courses, she took on the dual roles of Upper School Assistant Head and Dean of Students, assuming a wide range of responsibilities that included supervision of learning specialists, counselors, the health team, and first-year teachers, and tracking and supporting the academic, social, and emotional development of all Upper School students. She has been active as a Catlin Gabel parent as well; her son Alec is a rising 9th grader, and her daughter Olivia enters 6th grade in the fall.

Her years as educator, she says, have convinced her that almost every student is inclined to be a lifelong learner if given the opportunity, space, time, and resources. And she is committed to maintaining a school environment where that is the cultural norm, with teachers leading the way. Teacher modeling, she says, "generates an environment in which there is high intellectual capacity, curiosity, and insight. And the kids feel that."

"Once we have experienced that we want more of it," she adds. "I think that that's human nature. And I truly do believe that that's what matters in the end, especially in this modern world where careers are shortened. It's our capacity to continue to learn—having the mindset of being able to pursue anything."

Aline values Catlin Gabel's ability to provide students with a series of skill sets that are applicable to almost any setting, such as building a good argument, reasoning clearly, thinking mathematically, and articulating themselves in writing. But just as important, she says, is helping students develop a strong sense of self-awareness. In fact, it's one of her top goals for the Upper School.

"It's important for kids to get clarity on who they want to be as human beings, and to clarify what they value. Because we're most satisfied when we find that intersection of what we're motivated to do and we care about, and have vocation toward, and we're really good at. And when we can find the center point of all of that, then were going to find the right path. This may shift over time, but our values are less likely to shift."

Aline is also committed to leading a cultural shift in the Upper School that puts empathy at the center of the Catlin Gabel experience, a move toward what she calls "a more deliberate culture of kindness and responsibility." She wants students to bring to their daily lives the same level of ethical concern they show for people and events across the world.
"I mean turning around and looking at their peer and asking, 'How are you doing?' Being curious about that other life next to them, developing that kinship, and also having the empathy and compassion that actually will generate a cohesive community. I think that can be done if we're all trying to do this all the time. And hopefully that would have this global effect in people being more joyful, and more engaged with one another, and taking care of one another and their physical environment in a more responsible way."

A healthy culture, she says, also requires that adults recognize and appreciate students' developmental stages—keeping in mind that "We're working with children who need to be children."

"School, and then high school, is life itself," Aline says. "It's not just a springboard onto something else. For the students who are here between the ages of 14, 15 and 18, this is what they're doing, and it's perfectly valid for them to be adolescents, teenagers, high schoolers. They're definitely getting prepared for the next stage of life, but they get to be children. That's part of what we're doing: We're not just preparing them for the next stage, we're also doing this stage very well. We're creating an excellent environment for them to be in while they navigate this stage of their life."