Building Excellence in Future School Social Workers

Education is critical to an individual and a community's success. However, if children are not available to learn due to emotional, psychological, or environmental problems they will not succeed. Social workers play a pivotal role in both defining those barriers and intervening to eliminate them to enable a child to learn.

Lori Greifer Kaufman BS '82, MSW '83, knows this first hand. A social worker with more than 25 years of experience and a background in maternal-child health and communications disorders, Greifer Kaufman wanted to give back to the Silver School of Social Work both financially and by providing mentorship to future school social workers.

"We wanted to support these students to both foster their dedication to staying in school social work and motivate them to become future leaders in this field," she explained.

Established in January 2010, the Lori Greifer Kaufman Fellowship in School Social Work is open to second-year MSW students working in school or school-related field placements. It has provided 20 recipients with financial support towards tuition and mentorship by Greifer Kaufman and Phil Coltoff, the Katherine W. and Howard Aibel Visiting Professor and executive-in-residence, during regular seminar sessions throughout the year. The seminar provided an opportunity to meet and share field placement experiences with the other fellows, who share similar professional goals and interests, and seek advice from both Greifer Kaufman and Coltoff.

"Being able to ask questions, debate difficult issues, and explore possible new interventions all made me a better professional to serve schools," said John Dufour, MSW '10, a school social worker at Williamsburg Charter High School in Brooklyn. He said having a mentor in his future field of work was a "once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Past recipients of the fellowship have cited the seminars as being as much of a reward of the program as the financial assistance, as they benefit directly from Greifer Kaufman's experience. Students are able to discuss a wide range of topics, including integral issues at the intersection of social work and education; questions that arise in their field placements; and learning disabilities in young people, a specialty area of Greifer Kaufman.

Kathryn Scheirer, MSW '11, an associate program manager at Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC's Corporate Mentoring Program, said she enjoyed getting to know the other fellows during the seminars and hearing about their experiences. Scheirer, also noted, "I gained a greater understanding of networking and the importance of forming relationships while looking for employment and working in the field."

Talia Halperin, MSW '10, a mental health clinician at the Institute for Family Health, came back in the spring to speak with this year's fellowship recipients during the final seminar. Halperin said she wanted to contribute to the guidance she had received in the program. "The transition of graduating or moving to the next phase of graduate school is exciting and challenging, and it was a great opportunity to pass on a bit of the support that I had received."

Assistant Dean of Field Learning and Community Partnerships Helle Thorning, who got to know Greifer Kaufman's professional commitment to social work in schools as the fellowship developed, noted the critical demand this program helps meet. "There is a big need for social work services in school settings, but not all schools have dedicated social work staff. This fellowship encourages students to work in these settings and develop the particular skills needed."

Greifer Kaufman also became a certified field instructor in fall 2010, and supervised a first-year MSW student at a Harlem public school. This allowed the Harlem school to provide a placement for a Silver School student that might otherwise have not been available. This also enabled her to further help her fellowship students by gaining first-hand knowledge of some of the problems school social workers experience.

A member of the Silver School's Dean's Council, Greifer Kaufman called herself a "very hands-on-person." She never even thought of establishing a scholarship without meeting and selecting the recipients. This unique mentorship concept may serve as a model for future scholarships at the School. "To be able to impart knowledge at this point of my life is the greatest gift I can give, and it gives back," she said. "Each of these students will go out in the field and will work with thousands of clients. The fact that I can do anything to help them is extremely gratifying."