Beloved Aspinwall kindergarten teacher bids farewell at Christ the Divine
For 20 years, kindergarten teacher Mary Lou Colaizzi has watched her students grow from timid classroom newcomers to avid learners who can read, write cursive and tell time on an analog clock.
“Watching them learn is the greatest part,” said Colaizzi, 70, who retires this month from Christ the Divine Teacher Catholic Academy in Aspinwall.
“It's time to let someone else enjoy what I've had.”
The Penn Hills resident started teaching 40 years ago shortly after earning her master's degree from Duquesne University, with stints as a second-grade teacher at St. Raphael's in Morningside and then as a first-grade teacher at St. Irenaeus in Oakmont.
When she arrived at the Aspinwall school, the formerly named St. Scholastica's, the kindergarten curriculum looked far different than it does today. Technology was absent and students came for half-day sessions only. Now, kindergarten is a full day.
Still, Colaizzi peppered her playful lessons with literacy and “all my children were reading by the time they left,” she said.
She won the 2011 Golden Apple Award from the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh for excellence in teaching, a nod she called humbling.
“You don't think people notice what you do,” she said.
Principal Mark Grgurich said the entire school community will miss Colaizzi, not only for faith-filled academic lessons but her warm smile.
“She has been here for 20 years to guide our kindergarteners through their first school experiences and to build a strong foundation for future learning,” Grgurich said. “She approaches kindergarten with a warm heart, a sense of humor and a genuine love for her students.
“We wish her a joyful retirement — she's earned it.”
Current student Francis Shearer said his teacher made kindergarten fun. From counting coins to learning about plants and animals, Colaizzi encouraged every student to do his or her best.
“She takes care of me and makes me happy every day,” Francis said.
Former students, too, have recognized Colaizzi through the years for the impact she made early in their lives.
“I ran into one of my students, and she told me I'm the reason she became a teacher,” Colaizzi said. “I'm very blessed. I've had fun.”
She enters retirement with bittersweet emotions but the reality hasn't quite hit her, Colaizzi said. She plans to spend time with a group of retired friends and continue teaching CCD at St. John the Baptist Church in Plum.
“I've never considered this a job,” Colaizzi said. “If you have something to share, you give back.”