After more than three decades of teaching -- with nearly 24 years spent in Menlo Park -- Oak Knoll School teacher Renee Lavezzo is retiring.
Lavezzo, a San Mateo resident, closed up her classroom on Friday, June 14, but she will stick around the Bay Area, which she has called home her whole life.
Lavezzo started her teaching career in Daly City before heading south to Woodside Elementary School, and then to Oak Knoll, where she spent the rest of her career.
She was one of the first teachers in the school to lead multi-age classes, and came to specialize in the first grade segment of a kindergarten, first and second grade class. She just wrapped up her sixth year of teaching in the program, which began in 2008. Prior to that she taught first and second graders.
She said she will miss her colleagues, whom she regards as friends.
"I never say 'I'm going to work' on Monday, I say 'I'm going to school,'" she said in a June 6 interview. "Even though it's hard work, I love it so much."
Although there is more testing and paperwork since she first began teaching, Lavezzo said she is happy that she landed in a district like the Menlo Park City School District, where teachers are encouraged to be creative and innovative.
One area where Lavezzo has applied her creativity is in teaching multi-age classes. Oak Knoll offers a unique classroom setup in which three classrooms are connected: kindergarten through second grade, and third through fifth grade. Lavezzo, 62, saw teaching multi-age classes as a chance to try something new but challenging. She saw how students benefit from mentoring one another, which is emphasized in the program, she said.
"There's a misconception that we're trying to make kindergartners grow up faster, but we're teaching empathy and compassion to show the younger kids the ropes," Lavezzo said. "It's heartwarming to see how the older ones take care of the younger ones."
The Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation gave Lavezzo several Jeanie Ritchie grants to fund educational projects she developed over the years.
For example, Lavezzo, a San Francisco native, helped develop and run the school's "San Francisco Summer" program with fellow Oak Knoll teacher Karen Clancey, a two-week-long summer program that tied in games, art, music, writing, videos, reading, history and cultural awareness to create an appreciation for San Francisco. The program culminated with a five-hour trip to the city.
San Francisco is likely to play a big part in Lavezzo's retirement. In addition to travel plans for Europe and outdoor activities with her husband, she plans to apply to be a San Francisco Giants stadium tour guide in the near future.
"Renee Lavezzo is an all-around all-star and I will miss walking into her baseball-themed classroom to find her working with her students, all of whom she has prioritized and has built a meaningful relationship with," said Oak Knoll Principal Kristen Garcia in an email. "Renee has made such a positive influence on the students, staff and parents of Oak Knoll. She has honestly knocked it out of the park!"
So why leave such a good thing behind?
"I just want to travel more," Lavezzo said. "I'll be 63 in August and I've been teaching for 34 years. I'm not tired of it -- I'm just in my next phase."