The student becomes the teacher — and a colleague — at Chesterfield elementary school

CHESTERFIELD — Vito Polizzi says he only remembers the good things about his fifth grade pupils. For example, he remembers 10-year-old Adria Moore was always happy to come to school.

Now 23 years later, Moore is still happy to see Polizzi every day at Wild Horse Elementary in the Rockwood School District, where they both teach.

“What I remember is that he truly knew each of us as kids — what we enjoyed, how hard to challenge us,” Moore said. “It was very comforting to know I was coming to a school where I know educators support students for who they are and what they need to thrive.”

For the past three years, Moore’s second grade class has visited Polizzi’s fifth grade class once a month at Wild Horse through a school buddy program that encourages the older kids to mentor the younger ones.

The purpose is to form relationships so the students know they have someone older to go to for support. Moore and Polizzi say their own experience demonstrates the power of mentors.

“It’s so neat that those relationships never stop,” Moore said. “We’re a family. We’re in this together.”

At the classes’ first visit each fall, Moore shows the students her fifth grade class picture from 1997. She then zooms out to show that her own mentor, Polizzi, was once her teacher, to the children’s amazement.

“It’s surprising that they’re teaching at the same school,” said Isla Sattler, 10, one of Polizzi’s students. “It’s especially cool that Mr. Polizzi has been teaching for so long he gets to see what his students get to be when they grow up.”

On Friday, the two classes worked together on Valentine’s Day notes for loved ones. Polizzi taught them how to fold a heart-shaped piece of paper into an envelope. Many of the students chose to write letters to Moore and Polizzi.

“Ms. Moore helps me with math a lot. I always get stumped on math,” said Pranitha Praveen, 8. Pranitha’s buddy, Renee Parnell, 10, helped the younger student with spelling words and formatting the letter.

Moore didn’t know Polizzi was teaching at Wild Horse when she arrived for her first day nine years ago. Seeing him was like being transported to her days in his class at Babler Elementary, she said. She has adopted Polizzi’s commitment to communication and strong partnerships with parents in her own classroom, she said.

For Polizzi, 54, seeing his students grow up brings mixed emotions. They are a reminder of the passage of time, but also of the impact teachers can have on students’ lives.

At least 350 Rockwood employees, or about 10% of the district’s staff, are alumni of the district.

Polizzi keeps a binder full of class pictures from his 27 years of teaching. He counts five or six current educators in Rockwood as former students, including Elizabeth Sciarratta, principal of Kehrs Mill Elementary.

“To me, they’re colleagues, but I still feel like they’re my kids,” he said. “I’m proud of them.”

It’s important for teachers to be champions for their students and their colleagues, Moore said, and she’s lucky to have had a two-time champion in Polizzi.