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A History of Princeton Day School in 12 Stories: Betsy Rizza
A History of Princeton Day School in 12 Stories: Betsy Rizza

Twelve senior members of Princeton Day School's faculty and staff have shared plans to retire in June. This profile of third grade teacher Betsy Rizza is the fifth in our series on these long-serving and much beloved faculty and staff members. (The most recent profile is of Visual Arts & Design Department Chair and MS art teacher Susan Reichlin, which you can read here.)

Head of School Paul Stellato wrote in the most recent issue of the Journal, "Consider the impact of a group whose years of service on our campus reach into the hundreds, whose guidance, care, and direction have enriched the lives of thousands of students, parents, colleagues, and friends, and whose influence on the course and culture of our school can be measured in her unbridled prosperity, her national reputation, and her unwavering optimism." Here are stories of these esteemed members of our faculty and staff as told by their colleagues: Betsy Rizza, by Margie Wallace Gibson'84, third grade teacher and Director of Service Learning.

"It's a fall day on the playground. The Rizzaronis (clan name for Betsy Rizza's 3rd graders) are tossing a football, swinging on the monkey bars, and dragging branches from the meadow to fortify a structure. Off to the side there is an additional scene: two Rizzaronis and Betsy between them, leaning in, listening and looking from one to the other. This scene is a moment capturing Betsy at her most authentic. She is masterfully empowering her students as they debate an issue about who deserved to have the pencil. Betsy is the patient mediator, assuring each side will feel like a winner despite the outcome. How easy it would have been for Betsy to make a decision and tell the two to let it go or move on, but that's not who Betsy is. Betsy is not a "let it go" kind of person in the classroom or outside of it. Betsy holds onto moments until they're made right.

This 'hold on 'til we make it right' attitude is only one of the countless reasons students, colleagues, friends, and family adore Betsy. Her students understand how much she is devoted to them and, in turn, they revere her. Whether she is moving the masses to the bathroom before a field trip or she is rearranging everyone's spot at the lunch table, her Rizzaronis hang on her every word and follow her every step.

With a heart that's overflowing, Betsy is empathetic, kind, gentle, and optimistic. Betsy has a gift. She finds the flickering light in each child who passes through her doorway. When she identifies this spark, she gently kindles it through love and kindness to grow into a full-blown twinkling flame. Her students are empowered to dream big and, in turn, hundreds of parents are reassured that their children are indeed priceless treasures.

Betsy is remarkable in how well she knows her students and how astutely she can define their personalities. I had a moment just recently when I was curious about one of her students. "Oh, she's 8 going on 43," she commented. What an apt description that immediately shed light on an interaction I had experienced with the student. Whether she is sharing about a personality or she is informing me about her student's academic abilities, Betsy is in tune with each one of her charges. It's almost uncanny what she knows and sees in them.

Betsy, in all aspects of her life, thinks through every moment, considers the players involved, the details of a situation, the possible outcomes and the inevitable what if 's. She is meticulous in making notes, making a list, and 'checking it twice.' Attending to the minutiae is invigorating to Betsy. Assigning children into groups for some is a tedious process; for Betsy it's a chance to give her students an opportunity for success. Betsy will be the one to call me several hours later asking, "Are we sure those two in the same group makes sense?"

So what will it be like without Betsy in our LS hallways? The hallways will be a bit quieter and dimmer. A little playfulness will disappear. If anyone wonders who authors the notes from a lonely sled who is missing its owner, or from a pair of boots who need their humans, spoiler alert: Betsy is the anonymous author. Her cards with clever quips or funny thoughts are always delivered at just the right moment. Betsy's laugh is infectious and spontaneous. She starts to giggle and others happily join.

On the flipside, the hallways will also miss a calm; regardless of how keyed up her Rizzaronis are, Betsy appears unflappable as she maintains control of any classroom situation or handles the nuances of an Imagine the Possibilities schedule. When something might seem a bit awry, she'll optimistically claim, "there's a poem in there somewhere."

Betsy has no airs about her. She will never realize what a profound mark she's left on PDS. For those of us she leaves behind, her humility, her generosity of spirit, and her open, loving, kind ways will be her legacy. While Betsy will forever be part of our hallways, her sparkle will be deeply missed."