Karen Pierre-Louis is a school social worker at the East Boston Early Education Center, a Boston Public School serving children in Pre-K through first grade. As the school’s first full-time social worker, Karen collaborates closely with the school psychologist, teachers, and administrators to support students’ social-emotional needs. She conducts group and individual counseling, works with students with individualized education programs (IEPs), responds to students in crisis, and visits classrooms to help teach students about their feelings. Karen also connects families—many of whom are recent immigrants—to resources and external programs. Such work offers “an additional support for children and families,” she says. “We also ensure positive reinforcement and psychoeducation, especially for Latin and immigrant families. There is often not a lot of knowledge around mental health, and it can be stigmatized.”
On choosing Simmons
After dropping out of school in 10th grade, Karen completed her GED and an associate’s degree before graduating from Lesley University with a BA in psychology in 2019. A native Spanish speaker, she worked as a kindergarten paraprofessional in Chelsea Public Schools but realized she needed an MSW to advance her career—and to fulfill a personal mission. “I wanted to help families advocate and use their voices in a way that my family didn’t have because they didn’t speak English,” she says. As a parent who planned to continue working, Karen found the part-time option at Simmons Social Work appealing. She also appreciated the program’s focus on recruiting students from diverse backgrounds. “I could commit to the Simmons program,” she says.
How Simmons prepared her
Karen describes the program, and the preparation she received, as “very, very empowering.” In her first semester, she says, the Racism and Oppression course gave her language for discrimination she had experienced, as well as formed a building block for other learning. Faculty, she says, were “open and direct,” to create a supportive environment for discussing challenging topics. In addition, she cites the substance use and clinical practice courses as highly valuable. For her first placement, Karen gained experience counseling students and supporting families at Greater Egleston High School, a Boston Public School. Karen completed her last internship at JRI Children’s Friends and Families Services, a comprehensive human services agency north of Boston. Working with clients of all ages, she identified diagnoses and appropriate interventions and provided trauma-informed clinical support. The Simmons program, she says, felt like “a dream.” As she explains, “I was doing the work that I’ve always talked about.”
Why the work is meaningful
“I love the children’s joy for life,” says Karen, who grew up in Chelsea. “Schools can be intimidating,” she adds, “so it’s important to have staff who resemble the students and identify with them. I’m now part of a community that welcomes in children and families, documented or undocumented, and lets them know they are important and that we are here for them.”