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A Bittersweet Goodbye to Ms. Klemas, Hills’ Co-librarian

Salma Baksh
Ms. Klemas, School Librarian

How often does an educator tell you they love you? For students and staff that had the fortune of knowing Ms. Klemas, hearing or feeling this phrase was a common occurrence for them. Even in a school with over 3,600 students, Ms. Klemas, often referred to as Ms. K,  was able to create an intimate space within the walls of Forest Hills High School, one built on love and community. Her authenticity and compassion will be missed as she has left Hills for the position as the Queens School Library Coordinator, her last day being Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. 

If you stepped into the library a few weeks ago, you would have seen a 4’11″ woman walking around in colorful Crocs with strawberry-print socks, juggling three conversations at once, aiding a student in locating a book, while simultaneously problem-solving with a staff member… all the while passing on a valuable life lesson to a distressed individual. You would also spot a display of books by Hispanic authors, a community resource center supplied with free stationery and, on some days, a six by six foot chess mat accompanied by comically large chess pieces. 

“Throughout my three years here so far, Ms. K has made this library very welcoming and made it very inclusive for everyone that ever comes by. Just having her here always brought a smile on my face because she always made it very fun,” Finneus Salek, a junior, told The Beacon

Despite the success of her career, Ms. K didn’t initially envision herself as a librarian. After college, Ms. Klemas set off into a career in publishing, but she quickly came to realize that the industry was hyper-fixated on money and this did not align with her own aspirations and goals as a person. A new door opened for her when she received a scholarship to become a librarian, and while unsure at first, Ms. K took the risk. 

Her first librarian experience took place at a district 75 high school in the Bronx, one specifically for students with emotional disabilities. Ms. K was also the school’s first librarian, and had the opportunity to literally and figuratively build the library from the ground up in a span of six years. She witnessed her students come and go from psychiatric hospitals and incarceration. She listened to the often untold stories of kids struggling against socioeconomic conditions, and in response, she cultivated a space where they could feel at home.                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Enlightened by the experiences of these students, Ms. Klemas continued her librarian profession at Hills in 2016, a school she was drawn to due to its diverse community. 

Oftentimes you’ll find the bulletin board outside the library adorned with the phrase “See yourself on the shelf,” accompanied by an assortment of artistic book covers. These books are written by authors of varying identities ranging from LGBTQ+ to BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) to works that focus on diverse religious backgrounds. Ms. K’s efforts to connect students with books that highlight the voices of authors from marginalized groups reflects her overall goal as a librarian. As said by Ms. K herself, she aims to create a library where “people can be themselves and be seen.” 

Ms. Klemas has established a reputation of being a welcoming and devoted person, “reeling in” – as she’d say – students and staff to the library. She encourages everyone to take advantage of the library’s resources which range from the books themselves, school supplies, games, crafting materials, and technology. As a listener and problem solver, Ms. K finds ways to connect students with each other which is an essential activity in a school as large and vast as Hills. 

As put by Ms. Ezratty, a social worker at Hills and a good friend of Ms. K, “She provides a safe supportive space for the community.” 

While many members of the community would agree with Ms. Ezratty’s statement, Ms. K’s open mindedness has unfortunately been met with hostility from outside and within the  community.

During the fall of 2022, Ms. Klemas fell victim to online harassment and serious trolling. These accounts of bullying were related to a post Ms. K published on the official FHHS library Instagram page, in which she explained that the books on display during Pride Month can and should be borrowed. The post featured DOE-approved This Book is Gay, by Juno Dawson, an LGBTQ+ nonfiction book that frequents the “banned books” list. 

Ms. K’s message (Salma Baksh)In addition to attacking Ms. K and her family, the trolls attacked the values that she advocates for so passionately. 

Since the incident, Ms. K has run a half-marathon to channel her energy into a positive output. As put by Ms. Klemas, she has learned how to “care but not carry” the burden of other’s words and the stories that students tell her. 

Many members of Hills have deeply connected with Ms. K, and when asked about how she is able to create these relationships she said, “I’m always me. I might code switch and talk to different kids about different things in their lives, but I’m always authentic in how I try to relate to kids, and in caring about different types of students and what their interests are… it’s just important for kids to feel connected.” 

The Beacon spoke with “library people,” Ms. K’s term for those who frequent the library, and it quickly became clear that Ms. K keeps true to her word. 

“[She] always helped me with my homework even if she didn’t always understand it herself,” a senior told The Beacon

Fatima, a junior, explained that “[She gives the] perfect advice at the perfect time.” 

Other “library people” recount very similar anecdotes describing her as, “sunshine, energetic, amazing, captivating, and empathetic.”

Ms. Ezratty exclaimed that “[Ms. K] needs to spread her love dust to others just as she has spread it at Forest Hills High School.” 

Ms. Zenou recalls the first moments of meeting Ms. K in the English workroom where Ms. K used a Ziploc bag to hand mix her salad and dressing. From this very instance, Ms. Zenou knew that they were “kindred spirits” and had to become friends. She describes Ms. K as a “world-changer” and expresses her enthusiasm over Ms. K’s new position as she will have a significant impact on Queens public school libraries. 

Teachers and students alike described Ms. K’s departure as a bittersweet moment. While they are incredibly happy to see her start this “new chapter in life,” her presence will of course be missed.  

In the week following-up to her last day, Ms. Klemas stood on a wooden chair and broke the news to each library period, which resulted in a chorus of gasps and “NO!”s every time. A student reportedly dropped their bagel in utter shock at the news. 

Though Ms. K has cultivated the library into a student-centered space, her co-librarian Mr. Hetko has played an essential role in accomplishing this feat with her. 

Mr. Hetko, or Mr. H, has been a librarian for five years, his first job in a Pre-K school before he arrived at Hills in the Fall of 2021. Similarly to Ms. Klemas, Mr. Hetko loves being able to hold deep discussions with teenagers about books and life, which led to his decision to switch to a high school. 

During his time with Ms. K, he had the opportunity to witness first hand how she ran the space and made relationships. 

He told The Beacon, “Part of the reason I really enjoy working with Ms. K is that we have different personalities and different approaches, but we have similar goals, which are to make the library welcoming and make people feel seen here. And so I don’t feel like I’m trying to fill her shoes or replace her so much as I’m trying to keep our shared goals going, and I’ll do that as myself.” 

Mr. Hetko is hopeful for the upcoming year, and already has plans to make the library a more active community center, such as bringing new furniture into the space. Easily moveable furniture would allow the library to be converted into an area fit to hold book clubs, encouraging student-to-student connections. 

Both Ms. Klemas and Mr. Hetko express  that libraries are meant to be utilized by students whether it be a place to do homework or to make friendship bracelets with lanyards. 

But other than its practical uses, libraries are places where students can be themselves, free from expectations and the burdens of the outside world. Ms. K always acknowledges the efforts of a person to be authentic through phrases such as “I see you,” “I hear you,” “I support you,” “I value you,” and her iconic phrase, “I heart you.”

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About the Contributors
Salma Baksh
Salma Baksh, Editor-in-Chief
Salma is currently a senior and has been the editor-in-chief of The Beacon since the fall of 2022. They channel their love of politics, community, activism, and education into two clubs at Forest Hills High School: Youth Informed (which she co-founded in her junior year) and Double-Up (in which they are currently Co-President). Salma is honored to serve as editor-in-chief for her second year in a row and derives fulfillment from the immense growth The Beacon has undergone since its return. She aims to establish The Beacon as the core of Forest Hills High School-- a paper that inspires critical thinking, creativity, and hope.
Athena Vishudanand
Athena Vishudanand, Assistant Editor-in-Chief
Athena, a junior and an aspiring lawyer in the Law Academy has a plethora of interests that fulfill her life. She finds immense joy in reading and writing and channels this passion as a contributor to The Beacon. She also has a soft spot for investigative journalism and finds a quiet beauty within the search for the truth and the freedom of the press. Among and outside of the Forest Hills High School community she is also a writer for the Law Academy Newsletter, a black belt in the martial art of Shotokan, a member of the Moot Court and Mock Trial Competition Team and is an avid watcher of all things, especially (but not limited to) those pertaining to the Marvel Universe.
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  • C

    Christina HogrebeDec 17, 2023 at 3:32 pm

    Congratulations, LK! I’m so glad you’re doing such important, impactful work. We heart you too!

  • N

    NikitaNov 14, 2023 at 2:32 pm

    SO GOOD!! i love this, Ms. K will be missed <3

  • E

    EmmanuelNov 3, 2023 at 2:20 pm