Rachel Kovar ’20 ’23MS Draws on Social Work Background as a School Library Teacher
What brought you to Simmons to study Social Work?
I wanted to be in Massachusetts. I fell in love with the area, then discovered all of the women-centered colleges and toured the schools. When I visited Simmons, I loved that I could be in a city but also have a campus. And I found the idea of a women's-centered education appealing - not having to worry about men overstepping boundaries or shutting women's voices down.
I knew that I wanted to work with children. In my sophomore year, when it was time to sign up for a Learning Community, I registered for a course about creating equity in the school system, taught by a professor from the School of Social Work. That class made me fall in love with social work - how it looks at behavior, at things going on in a person's mind and in their environment, which lead to inequities, and then it goes about addressing those inequities. That was inspiring for me.
Tell me about your switch from Social Work to LIS. How do you think your social work background will support your LIS work?
I was slated to start my Master in Social Work at Boston College in 2020, right after graduation. Then COVID-19 happened, and I ended up deferring. I moved home to New Jersey in July 2020, unemployed and waiting for graduate school to start. My mom is a teacher and she heard about school-age kids meeting in "pods" to do their online school work together. Those pods were established but needed supervision. I became a "pod leader" for four second grade students doing online learning.
The students had an online library class with their school librarian. The librarian was wonderful, and they were so excited about the class. These kids had vastly different interests, but the library was something they were all so excited about. The librarian read the Mercy Watson series, and the students would talk about the books during lunchtime. There was a lot going on, mentally, for them - to see them so engaged and happy showed me how important books are. I was telling my mom about the librarian and said, I wish I had her job!
The idea of changing from social work was off-putting, but I learned about the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons. I was at my friend Kat's grandma's house with a couple of my friends from Simmons when I received the email of acceptance. Both my friend and her grandma are Simmons alumni so, I thought, this has to be a sign!
Did you have internships while at Simmons? If yes, how did they impact your studies?
My junior year field placement was at 826 Boston [a nonprofit offering tutoring and writing support to grades K-12], interning in their writer's room offering academic tutoring and support for students using social/emotional and strengths-based learning approaches.
My senior year I worked at the Department of Children and Families (DCF) in a unit that responds to a family within the first 72 hours of an incident being reported. It was very intense work, made more challenging to navigate by not being able to meet with clients in person during the pandemic. My field placement class met once per week, offering a space for us to debrief with the class and get guidance from the professor and our peers. Our social work cohort supported each other, and their advice, guidance, and reflections were foundational to my success at DCF and all in all things social work.
How did Simmons prepare you to become a leader in your field?
I started student teaching this September at Morse Elementary School in Cambridge. It's evident that the children have been heavily impacted by COVID. A lot of young students don't know how to regulate themselves, which creates some challenging behaviors. Having a background in social work has given me insight into why these behaviors are there, and how to de-escalate children, to help them feel validated, and still do what we need to do in a school context.
One of my School of Social Work professors said that the student is not giving you a problem, they're having a problem. I think about that a lot. I'm trying to teach these students how to use the library catalog, which is difficult if a child is unable to sit still. From a teacher perspective, you want to figure out how to get the child to sit and pay attention. A social work perspective says, this child clearly has a need for movement right now or there is something else going on — their brain is not able to pay attention when they have this other unmet need. By building relationships with students, I can help figure out and address their needs so they are able to pay attention to learning.
What are you looking forward to as a School Library Teacher?
I'm aiming to work with elementary age students. My current practicum is at Brookline High School. It's been an adjustment but I am looking forward to getting more comfortable working with this age group. Experience has taught me that my mind can change!
My favorite experience has been doing read-alouds. I've taken three courses with Melanie Kimball, Associate Professor and Director of the School Library Teacher Concentration, and I feel so well-prepared to read and recommend books to students. One course was Collection Development for Children and Adolescents, and it was incredibly helpful when I redid the early reader section during my practicum. The class readings and Kimball's personal beliefs have really guided me in selecting books.
Social work is still incredibly fundamental to who I am. That part of me isn't going anywhere. It's opened my eyes to the inequities in the world and given me the tools to help combat them.