Leadership Spotlight: Krystal Folk
Krystal Folk, LMSW, is a Director of Social Work for KIPP Freedom Middle School in New York. Krystal reconnected with Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW) and works part-time as a Live Support Specialist for the school’s online Master of Social Work program. She has represented the CSSW’s online campus at various conferences. In addition, Krystal is a Field Instructor at NYU Silver School of Social Work, where she is also her Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) cohort’s class representative and the DSW program’s representative for the Social Justice Praxis Committee.
How did you get interested in pursuing social work as a career?
I had always loved volunteering, but never considered it as a career until college. At the University of Albany in New York, I started out as a business major, then in my sophomore year one of my mentors told me that he thought I would be a wonderful social worker. I graduated from University of Albany with a dual degree in business administration and social work. I then went on to get my MSW at Columbia School of Social Work.
What is it about your job that you love?
I love working with kids, especially adolescents. I’m an only child, but I was always looking out for my younger cousins. I love having the chance to be the mentor I never had growing up.
What kinds of challenges are students facing today?
I’m really passionate about dismantling racial injustices. Fundamentally, there are so many challenging things about the systems that are in place. Standardized testing is another system that’s flawed in many ways — it’s non-inclusive at its core and the focus on testing does a disservice to all students. The system around evaluating and diagnosing students for Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) is dysfunctional with a lot of misunderstanding and misdiagnoses, which actually harms these kids instead of helping them. I also have experience working in the juvenile justice system as a therapist in an alternative to incarceration program and as a forensic social worker at a public defenders’ office. This experience really ignited my passion for criminal justice reform, specifically dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline and decreasing its impact on Black and Brown youth. Because of this, I’m now pursuing my Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) at NYU Silver.
What kind of impact has Girls Leadership had on you?
I came to California for the first time to attend the in-person professional development training in 2021. This was the first time since the start of the pandemic that I gave myself the opportunity to do any self-care. It was something that I didn’t realize how much I needed until I experienced it. One of the activities that has really stuck with me was about creating boundaries. I’ve taken this back to my team at KIPP and it was such a valuable activity for everyone.
Given everything that teachers and school staff have been going through, there are more and more people leaving the education field. What are some ways you’ve found to cope with everything that’s going on and continue to motivate yourself to do the work?
The kids are my biggest motivation. Everything that I do, from the day-to-day tasks at work to the reason I’m pursuing my doctorate, is to improve, and where needed, dismantle, the systems in place that are harming adolescents. Specifically, Black and Brown children face many disparities, which increase their already higher chances of school pushout and incarceration. Too often, these kids are labeled and are only seen as that label. If there is one thing I’ve learned during my years as a social worker, it’s that young people need someone who is willing to see past any trauma they have experienced and/or any mistakes they have made and see the person they are deep down. They want someone who is real with them and talks to them like they matter. I am, and will always be, that person for them.
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