Job: Behavior specialist, Salem Prep High School
Hebrew name: Rachel Leah
Currently living in: Lynn
Alma maters: Marblehead High School ’05, UMass Amherst ’09
Favorite foods: Ice cream, chocolate, kugel
Favorite music: Barenaked Ladies
Favorite movies: “Big Fish” “Groundhog Day”
Favorite TV shows: “Orange Is The New Black,” “Saturday Night Live”
Favorite books: “To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf, “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath
Favorite travel destination: Grand Canyon
Somewhere you’d like to go next: Europe
Favorite North Shore spot: Devereux Beach, Chebacco Lake
Favorite Jewish person: Gilda Radner, Bernie Sanders
Favorite Jewish holiday: Passover, Tu B’Shevat
What is your Jewish identity?
I went to Camp Menorah, where there was lots of Israeli dancing. A large part of my Jewish identify stems from this sense of celebration and community; something I am very grateful for. I’ve been known to start a Horah or two. I was bat mitzvahed at Chabad [of the North Shore], where I also really treasure the Jewish education I received. Rabbi Yossi very much taught a philosophy class, and my philosophy is like if you take all the teachings of any religion, you take God out, and it still makes sense. I like that [Yossi] taught us to question – he was such a good teacher. Many of my values about what it means to be human and what we owe to each other grew and were solidified through my Hebrew School Education. It’s so nice to be a part of a community where even if you haven’t been part of the community for years and years, you’re still part of the community, and it’s a still a part of you. I’m not super religious in practice, but it’s still very much part of my character.
Can you talk about your work at Salem Prep High School?
I’m a behavior specialist. Everyone’s on an [Individual Education Plan], so if they have on their IEP that they need an alternative setting with smaller classes, then a lot of kids could be sent out of district – so it’s really cool that Salem has a public alternative setting. As a Behavior Specialist, I get to work with students to come up with sort of ‘plans of attack’ for difficult moments, and best of all celebrations of victory when these plans are successful! The kids are incredible, bright and very funny individuals – they certainly keep me on my toes. I still very much identify with the anxious 15 year-old I once was, so it’s nice to be on the other side of that as evidence that it can get better! As one of the teachers pointed out, schools aren’t built for introverts, so if someone is an introvert, that’s not necessarily an accurate representation of life. Like if you don’t like big, giant cafeterias, then that’s something you can avoid as an adult.
Do you think there are enough resources given to schools and programs like these?
I think the biggest thing is we have the resources for younger people, but not for adults. I worked at an adult day program, and once they turn 22, the funding is cut in half. I think there’s a lot of missed partnerships. Have you heard of the nursing home that’s partnered with the daycare in Peabody [at Harriet Kaplan Estates]? That’s just magic, and that could be everywhere and so successful across the board. I think that there are enough groups of people out there who could partner and benefit – there’s a thousand of those partnerships that haven’t been tapped, and I think we’re missing out. There’s especially so much work to be done for environment. Jobs could be created specifically for people with diagnoses who may have a harder time in a conventional setting based on their interest and skills.
Could you talk about your one-woman show?
The title of the show was “Unbecoming,” so it was my wordplay on a deconstruction of oneself, but also unbecoming meaning ugly or not ‘lady-like’, as a comment on just the raw self, and sort of rejecting beauty norms. It was a show that had a lot of characters in it, but my personal arc in it was actually about being untalented, so it was a musical, and I have a horrible voice – like I auditioned for all the musicals in Marblehead and I never got in so it was kind of like, I wrote my own show, and I cast myself and made it a musical so I could finally live my dream of starring in a musical. I had a lot of fun creating characters that maybe started as a thought I had or something that happened, but then figuring out who would say it the best. One of the characters was a ghost who had been ghosted – like you can’t ghost a ghost because they’ll haunt you.