Genna Epstein graduated magna cum laude from Cabrini University in 2014 with a degree in Political Science and Social Work. She is currently in graduate school at Eastern University studying to be a certified school counselor. Genna is back at DVFS this year doing her graduate internship working with Christy Zawadzkas, the Lower/Middle School Counselor. Genna credits DV with giving her a foundation of self-advocate in every aspect of her life which led to both her professional and academic success.
When did you come to DVFS, and from where?
I came to DVFS in 9th grade from another independent school specializing in students with learning differences. DVFS was a much better fit for me.
Can you tell us a little bit about your learning difference and struggles in school?
I was diagnosed with “text-book” dyslexia and ADHD (inattentive type) in the second grade after my parents realized that I was struggling to learn to read. I have always had a great working memory and therefore often relied on memorizing everything to get by in school. I was completely miserable, often felt stupid and overall just different from my classmates which made the school days extremely difficult to get through
What changed for you when you came to DV?
I had a tough time as a student. My negative academic experiences influenced me for a long time and I had social and emotional struggles as a result. It took me a while to really understand and come to appreciate all the tools DVFS was equipping me with. When I started having academic success in college, I realized that it was all based on the foundation DVFS helped me build. I now understand the extreme patience and understanding that my DV teachers had with me. Specifically, David Calamaro, Linda Claiborne (LC), Gray Goodman and Tom Lees. They provided me a safe place to work through my fears and anxiety as well as deal with the residual effects of the negative academic and social experiences at my previous school.
What have you been up to since graduating from DV?
I started at Albright College right out of DVFS. At the time, the school did not have the proper academic support that I needed and I was having trouble finding a passion so after completing two years of courses I pursued my cosmetology license. I knew I loved making others feel beautiful and I excelled in the field. I was able to get my first apartment in Center City Philadelphia, paid my bills, and realized that I had the strength and ability to be a productive and independent adult.
After a few years I realized I was ready for something more and needed an experience to jump start myself. Giving back to others was always an important theme in my family growing up. I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew anything about me except that I was there to help. I joined Cross Cultural Solutions, whose mission is to mobilize cross-cultural impact volunteering that improves education and health opportunities for children who need it most. I spent 3 months in South Africa working in a pre-school in the Khayelitsha township and at the only LGBTQ Community Center in Cape Town. During my time in South Africa one of the doctors I worked with mentioned that he thought I was destined to work in the mental health field. I was immediately filled with a sense of purpose and applied to Cabrini College on my flight back to the States!
I finished my final two years of college in 1.5 years and graduated magna cum laude, 3.8 GPA, with a degree in Political Science and Social Work. While taking a much-needed break from school and spending some time in the business world, I realized my dream was to counsel children who were like me growing up. I am currently in graduate school at Eastern University and upon graduating as a certified school counselor in May, I will go on to become a Licensed Professional Counselor. I am currently doing my graduate internship here at DV working with Christy Zawadzkas, the Lower/Middle School Counselor.
What do you think the long-term value of a DVFS education has been for you?
DV gave me a foundation which went beyond my learning difference. I learned to be a self-advocate in every aspect of my life which has led to professional and academic success. While I didn’t realize the importance of the foundation at the time, it truly helped me get through some of the tougher times and has led me to where I am today.
What is it like being back at DV in a faculty role?
Being back at DVFS in a faculty role has been amazing. The school has grown and evolved so much since I graduated. The Quaker values ring true more to me now than ever and this experience has solidified my preference for working in a Quaker school. My hope is that through my experience as a student at DVFS, I can be an authentic advocate for the students and families that have to navigate the academic world with a learning difference.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
While DVFS was not a magic wand that turned me into the perfect student with a traditional path, my time there gave me everything I didn’t know I needed to succeed. Beyond providing me with the skills I needed to succeed, my sister was also inspired by my struggles and triumphs and is currently working as the learning support coordinator at a prominent independent school in Washington D.C. I am eternally grateful for my experiences at DVFS and to the faculty that never gave up on me.