MANCHESTER — Betsy Memoe has made a career of helping children through what many recall in hindsight as “the awkward years” — middle school, a time of physical, mental and social changes.
Now, it’s Memoe’s turn for a big change.
After spending all but six of her 35 years at Manchester Elementary Middle School, most recently as building co-principal, Memoe is retiring.
“I feel really great about my career and what I accomplished, and how I’m leaving things,” she said. “I’m confident this is the right time and the right move for me.”
Memoe has spent the past four school years as co-principal at MEMS with Debra Fishwick, taking on the challenges of COVID-19 protocols and remote learning. Before leading the upper grades at MEMS, Memoe was a guidance counselor, and prior to that, a phys-ed teacher — like both her parents. She’s also a past board member of the Vermont Association of Middle Level Education.
“I’ve always been involved with students in middle school,” Memoe said in a recent interview. “It’s kind of a magical time period. I love their curiosity, I love their energy, their enthusiasm. I love that they’re moody. I just enjoy everything about that age.”
The middle school ages present the second-fastest period of mental and physical development, second only to birth through age 2, Memoe said. That presents an amazing opportunity to help students discover their personalities, interests and future dreams.
“Just to see students evolving into young adults, and the learning that they’re doing — not just academically but emotionally and mentally and socially, there’s so much to navigate and learn,” Memoe said. “I find it an exceptionally exciting time period. And I think the middle school teachers have a great opportunity to impact those learners. It’s like the whole world is in front of them, and you want them to see it all, so they can make a choice that’s their path.”
Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union Superintendent Randi Lowe said Memoe has been at MEMS “for as long as anyone can remember, and has been an anchor providing guidance and support in her different roles.”
“Betsy cares deeply for the MEMS community,” Lowe added. “She has committed herself to the students, staff and greater community over her many years in the district. Betsy taught students who are now parents and remembers details and nuances about each of them. She is a lifelong learner who dedicated her life to the service of public education, and she will be deeply missed.”
Memoe grief up in Brandon, graduated from Otter Valley High School and earned a degree in physical education from Springfield College in Springfield, Mass. She taught for four years at Green Mountain Union High School in Chester, and two more at the International School of Aruba, before returning to Vermont for a physical education job at MEMS.
Memoe said she is grateful to have arrived in Manchester and stayed in one place long enough that she was able to teach the children — and in a few cases, grandchildren — of her earlier students.
And she learned as much from her students as she taught them.
“I learned that even the simplest interaction can have a big impact on somebody’s day,” Memoe said. “You often don’t know your impact on a student unless they come back and tell you later. That may be the hardest thing for an educator.”
And when they do? “Those stories are the ones you remember. ‘You changed the path I was on. You made me believe in myself, that I could do it …’ Those are the really special ones. That’s what you hope for.”
“I learned to be open to what a student can teach you and what you can learn from what education means to them,” she said. “Education has really been transforming over the years — we as a system have become much more responsive to the learners who are with us, and designing experiences that meet their needs and where they are.”
One thing Memoe appreciates about her time at MEMS is how the school reflects the Manchester community — and now, as a middle school for multiple towns, the broader Taconic & Green Regional School District, as well. She’s also proud of the community partnerships the school has established with businesses and service providers in the region.
“Our school is just a reflection of the community. ... Anything that affects a community, we have that same thing happening within our building,” she said. “And we have students now coming from over 10 different towns … so that’s also been a big change over the years. It’s not just Manchester students now. So I think that’s great. It makes us more diverse. It makes us different types of students, different perspectives. It makes us a more enriching experience.”
The district has appointed Harrison Shulman as the new upper school principal. He will be moving to the area in late June and starting in early July.