Alumni Spotlight: Jenna Rutsky

Jenna Rutsky is a recent GSE graduate who has already begun making her impact on the field of education. Rutsky recently had a book review published with the help of GSE professor Dr. William Fernekes. Rutsky reviewed Kim E. Nielsen’s book, “A Disability History of the United States.” Nielsen’s book aimed to highlight the history that Americans with disabilities have in the U.S. and how their history is virtually ignored in mainstream school curricula. Rutsky recognized the need for disabled American history to be shared and studied in classrooms and has worked to promote practices that include disabled American history in everyday learning and curriculum.

Currently, Rutsky is an AP Government and a College Prep/ Honors U.S. History I teacher at North Brunswick Township High School. She also coaches softball and bowling. In her coursework, Rutsky has taken steps to integrating the rich history of Americans with disabilities into her coursework. “It really can be started very simply… teachers can begin with something as small as a ‘Do Now,’ where they show a clip relating to the history of people with disabilities in American history and have students write down 5 things they learned.” When covering the Americans with Disabilities Act in her class, Rutsky was able to bring in a lobbyist for people with disabilities to share her experiences and speak about the work she does in Washington D.C.  The speaker expressed how important it is to not only share information about the history of disabled Americans, but to bring it to life to make it relatable and understandable to students both in and out of the classroom.

According to Rutsky, one of the biggest benefits from integrating the history of Americans with disabilities into the classroom is increasing the tolerance of students for groups of people who have different backgrounds, skills, and abilities, as well as dismantling stigmas surrounding people with disabilities. “It is so important for students to realize that people with disabilities are able to lead truly fulfilling, historic lives that are not defined by their disability. Exposing students to the challenges and history of Americans with disabilities not only helps promote tolerance of differences, but also helps standardize the stories of many unheard or overlooked people with disabilities across the country and across the world”.

Coming from a line of teachers (both her mother and grandfather were teachers), Rutsky knew from a young age that she, too, wanted to pursue a career in education. She graduated from Rutgers in 2016 with a degree in History and a double minor in Education and Anthropology. She then went on to continue her education with the GSE and pursued her Master’s degree in Social Studies Education (K-12). She loved her time as an undergraduate student at Rutgers and had always wanted to be a teacher, so she knew that continuing her education at the GSE was the right fit for her.

During her time at the GSE, Rutsky was really inspired by how the school aimed to provide and inform equal, inclusive, and high-quality education to all students. She was also grateful for the school’s focus on diversity and said, “the GSE really helped me to be more open-minded, exploratory, and robust in my teaching approaches and practices.” Rutsky said that one of her biggest takeaways from her time at the GSE was the importance of keeping course material relevant and inspiring to students which was primarily what inspired her to explore integrating the history of Americans with disabilities into her own classroom. In terms of her experience with faculty members, Rutsky said that Dr. Fernekes not only played a large role in helping her publish her book review, but also helped her throughout her time at the GSE and was always someone she could turn to when in need. “Dr. Fernekes was a huge resource for me. We still stay in contact to this day and I could not have done this book review without him. I’ll always remember faculty and staff at the GSE who really care about their students and their successes.”

Since her time at the GSE, Rutsky has been advocating for and promoting Advancing Excellence and Equity in Education. Her work in the classroom and her book review help to highlight the importance of including the history of marginalized or underrepresented groups in everyday learning and shares the stories of people throughout history who many students can relate to today.