2015 Colleen Ritzer Scholarship Recipients Strengthen Passion for Teaching

Three months ago, nine Andover, Danvers and Nashoba Regional High School graduates departed eastern Massachusetts for institutions of higher learning as close as Boston College and as far away as the University of Delaware all with a common goal: to pursue their dream of becoming a teacher, just like Colleen Ritzer. These individuals, the second group to receive a Colleen E. Ritzer Memorial Scholarship, have just completed their first semester of college as they prepare to follow in Colleen’s footsteps to become a teacher who will inspire, care and challenge their future students to be, and find, the good.

Danvers High graduate Rebecca Hardenstine, currently attending Providence College, has not only developed a greater passion for becoming a teacher, but has discovered another interest and is now an elementary/special education and psychology major.

“I believe that understanding psychology will only help me become a better teacher and understand my students more,” shared Hardenstine.

The scholarship has enabled her to attend her “first-choice” college. “This combined major is not offered at many other colleges.  Further, due to both a merit scholarship at my school and this scholarship I was able to avoid taking any unsubsidized federal loans,” she added.

While only a first-year student, Hardenstine has already obtained valuable field experience in a local elementary school.

Each week me and a group of my peers would walk over to the school and help facilitate various after-school programs,” Hardenstine explained. “During this time, I worked with the second graders. Even if I was having a bad day, their pure energy and excitement for learning was contagious. Each time I went in I was reminded of why I want to be a teacher. Their smiles, laughter, and curiosity inspire me; and I cannot picture myself being anything other than a teacher.”

In Boston’s Chestnut Hill neighborhood, Danvers High graduate Haley O’Shea quickly discovered that she can accomplish “anything I set my mind to.”

During her first semester, O’Shea took an interest in her child growth and development class where students learn about children’s cognitive, physical, and psycho-social development from birth to middle childhood – knowledge necessary for a future teacher.

While the scholarship provided financial support for O’Shea to pursue her degree in education, she shared that it is the honor of being a recipient of a Colleen Ritzer Scholarship that motivates her to succeed.

“No amount of money can compare to the drive I have been given to carry on Ms. Ritzer’s legacy of kindness,” shared O’Shea. “Receiving the Colleen Ritzer Scholarship was by far the greatest honor I have ever received simply because it is in Ms. Ritzer’s memory. I aspire to someday be like Ms. Ritzer and the scholarship has given me the confidence I need to continue on my journey to becoming a teacher no matter what hardships I might face along the way.”

randomactOn October 22nd of this year, O’Shea joined thousands across the area and country who participated in the #Kindness4Colleen campaign in which individuals were encouraged to perform random acts of genuine kindness in memory of Colleen.

Teaming up with her resident assistant, O’Shea led the #Kindness4Colleen effort at Boston College.

“My floor mates and I decided that we would each perform a random act of kindness to brighten somebody else’s day,” she explained. “My RA created note cards that would be passed on to recipients of each random act of kindness. The recipients would then be encouraged to perform an act of kindness themselves and pass the note card along once more, thus creating a chain of kindness throughout Boston College.”

“Ms. Ritzer’s legacy is now known and loved by my floor mates, who come from all across the country: Alaska, Massachusetts,randomact2 Minnesota, Texas and Washington. Ms. Ritzer’s legacy of kindness has reached all corners of the country.”

O’Shea is grateful to those who support the scholarship fund, thereby contributing to Colleen’s legacy.

“Ms. Ritzer’s legacy continues to shine through in the lives of the students she touched and I am honored to be able to spread this legacy of kindness,” explained O’Shea.

At Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, Andover High graduate Meghan Johnson has taken a particular interest in introduction to learning sciences.

“It is fascinating to learn the science behind learning and thinking and how different teaching methods can be utilized to foster good learning environments,” said Johnson.

Thanks to the scholarship, Johnson did not have to apply for a work study position thereby providing additional time to focus on her pursuit of an education degree.

“I am still interested in pursuing a degree in education because I think it is a field that needs new, innovative thinkers to come in and change the way that it currently works,” Johnson shared.

To the supporters of the scholarship fund, Johnson offers her sincere gratitude.

“Thank you so much for supporting this scholarship. It means a lot to receive this scholarship and I’m looking forward to pursuing my career in education because of you.”

At Roger Williams University in the seaside town of Bristol, Rhode Island, Danvers High graduate Jenna Romano has embraced her independence as a college freshman where she is meeting new friends, enjoying the challenge of her courses and finding happiness in her new home.

Romano’s favorite class during her first semester was psychology of learning, a requirement for elementary education majors. Her appreciation for the subject matter lead Romano to declare a minor in psychology. Romano, too, ventured off campus visiting an elementary school during the semester to observe a teacher in the classroom. Following the visit, Romano “couldn’t wait to have my very own classroom one day. I am so excited to become a teacher, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

The scholarship has immeasurably influenced her pursuit of a degree in education.

“The scholarship has absolutely made a huge impact on my life and will definitely affect my career,” Romano explained. “I am able to pursue my dream job without the financial worries. I can focus on what I need to do to accomplish my goal and the scholarship has allowed me to do that.”

Romano is also grateful for the generous supporters of the scholarship fund.

“Without their [supporters] generosity, I would not be where I am today,” Romano shared. “Not only did the scholarship help financially, but being a recipient of the Colleen Ritzer Scholarship reminds me each day of Ms. Ritzer and her legacy.

While grateful for the supporters, Romano remains inspired by Colleen.

“I continue to live by her words by spreading kindness, and I feel so honored to be compared to such an amazing teacher,” Romano explained. “I couldn’t thank the scholarship supporters and the Ritzer family enough for their continued support.”

This year, the family extended eligibility to seniors at Nashoba Regional High School. Colleen taught at Hale Middle School in Stow after college. The students she taught are now in the high school. The scholarship was also awarded in memory of Michelle Farnsworth, a Nashoba High student who lost her battle with cancer in 2015.

Currently studying elementary education at the University of Delaware, Nashoba High graduate Clara Greszczuk, has immersed herself in the many opportunities offered by “UD” such as club meetings, performances, speakers and community service trips.

Greszczuk is already contemplating a year abroad and participating in a community service trip, endeavors that the scholarship will help to make a reality.

“There are such great opportunities available to travel the world and learn about other cultures as well as help others in those places,” said Greszczuk. “Since this scholarship is helping with tuition, these trips would be less of a financial burden.”

Her interest in obtaining an education degree has continued, with a goal of becoming a high school teacher, just like Colleen.

“That is the age where I really connected with my teachers,” explained Greszczuk. “My teachers here continue to inspire me by challenging me to think critically about the world. I have also learned a lot about my teachers and how they got to where they are today. I learned about how lucky I was to have had such wonderful teachers at home while not everybody I’ve met here has had those great experiences.”

In Manchester, New Hampshire, a quick drive from Andover High where she graduated from this past spring, Casey Flanigan is also embracing her newly discovered independence at Saint Anselm College.

Her favorite class thus far as she pursues a degree in education? Calculus. In addition to enjoying a field in which Colleen specialized, Flanigan spent time this semester volunteering in a middle school classroom which reinforced her love of teaching. Connecting with three other education majors in her residence hall, she discovered a common principle shared by the students: to “make a difference in someone’s life and be a good role model for students in our classroom.”

Similar to the other recipients, Flanigan, too, is thankful for the supporters of the scholarship fund.

“Without you, this scholarship would not be possible and students like me may not be able to pursue their goals,” shared Flanigan. “Thank you so much for this opportunity, I will be forever grateful.”

At Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, Andover High graduate Sarah Rothmann, learned to take advantage of every opportunity offered by the college experience, especially during the first-year where students can explore their passions.

As an education major, it’s no surprise that Rothmann was drawn to exploring narratives on education and American writers since 1900. Through a placement, she has already begun to share her passion for learning with students.

“This semester I was placed at a local elementary school to help struggling students with their reading,” Rothmann explained. “Their eagerness to improve their reading skills and their genuine excitement about seeing me every week has solidified my desire to become a teacher and become more involved with education policy. Everybody has a different learning style and as a community of young, aspiring leaders, we want to help enhance the education of younger students.”

Katherine Rex is well on her way to earning a degree in education at the University of New Hampshire in Durham where she took a particular interest in human growth and development, English and ballet, which has provided an every other day respite from her studies.

Rex remains passionate about her pursuit of an education degree.

“I am even more interested in becoming a teacher than I was when I entered college,” said Rex. “I want to make difference in children’s lives, and by becoming a teacher, I will be able to help them and make the world a safer and better place.”

Colleen continues to influence Rex in her pursuit of an education degree.

“I think about Colleen every day and never forget to live everyday as she would, with an open heart,” shared Rex. “It is important for me to surround myself with people who are interested in the same things as me, because I know they will be just like me and Colleen. My friends have the biggest hearts, and we would do anything for each other. It makes me feel so good that I was able to find amazing friends like this in such little time.”

“I am so blessed and honored to be continuing Colleen’s legacy,” added Rex.