Ithaca: Andrea Riddle, Founder of the Elizabeth Ann Clune Montessori School of Ithaca, died peacefully in her home on June 24, 2012 at age 55 after a year-long battle against lung cancer. Andrea will be forever remembered for her intuitive wisdom and her profound connections to others. She will be deeply missed by friends, loved ones, and the countless children educated at the school she founded.
Andrea was born on October 5,1956 in Brooklyn, New York. She grew up in Roslyn Harbor, New York, where she attended North Shore High School. She was the only daughter of Dan Blitzer and the late Shirley Blitzer.
Andrea first came to Ithaca in1974 to study music at Ithaca College. Her academic advisor, Prof. Emeritus Willard Daetsch, introduced her to the pedagogy of Maria Montessori, igniting a lifelong commitment to nurturing the minds and spirits of children.
In 1979, 23-year-old Andrea co-founded the Montessori School of Ithaca with Carol Hill. The school had an initial enrollment of nine students. The school moved to its current location on East King Road in 1988.
In 1998, the school was renamed to honor a student that Andrea called "her own personal angel." Three-year-old Elizabeth Ann Clune, a child with Down's Syndrome, was a student in Andrea's pre-school classroom. In her characteristically unorthodox way of approaching new experiences, Andrea taught Elizabeth using the same materials and practices as every other child in her classroom, making a conscious decision to ignore then-current thought on Down's syndrome and special education practices as a whole. Elizabeth thrived under Andrea's instruction and was a student at the school for the next 12 years. Andrea considered Elizabeth to be her best teacher. Andrea's relationship with Elizabeth proved to be a formative experience in her life as an educator. Andrea became passionately committed to educating all children--regardless of their personal strengths and weaknesses-- using the Montessori Method. Furthermore, she made inclusion a basic tenet of her school at a time when it was not a commonplace practice.
Andrea was tenacious in her belief that a Montessori school should reflect the basic principle of the Montessori Method: respect for the individual must be an integral part of every interaction and every experience. Furthermore, she was committed to raising children with the understanding that peace begins within, expressing that commitment by making peace education a curricular thread beginning at age 3. Andrea's vision of "high expectations and love" was the foundation of her peace curriculum, in stark contrast with current anti-bullying campaigns.
In the 2012-2013 school year, the Elizabeth Ann Clune Montessori School of Ithaca will enroll 218 students ranging in age from 3 to 14 years old. The incredible success and longevity of EACMSI can be attributed to Andrea's unique vision of what it means to be a school. Transcending more familiar concepts, Andrea's vision blurred the boundaries between school, extended family and community. When parents enrolled their children at EACMSI, Andrea made a commitment to embrace the family as a whole. A core group of founding faculty inspired by her vision have been working together for over 30 years to make it a lived reality. They remain at the school as a living legacy. As a result, EACMSI is a dynamic, deeply connected, and constantly evolving community of individuals who work together to inspire the best in all.
In 2004, Andrea became a consultant to The Dream Project, a nonprofit organization bringing quality early education opportunities to underserved children and youth in the Dominican Republic. With her guidance a Montessori school was created in the Haitian community Carabello Batey. Andrea generously donated Montessori materials and trained local women in the Montessori Method. Her first visit to the island was a life-changing experience for her, the children, and the teachers with whom she worked. The school was subsequently named in her honor. Dream Project Founder Tricia Suriel says, "because of Andrea's hard work, more than 2000 children on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic have benefited from Montessori programs over the last decade."
For the past three years Andrea worked closely with Suriel and the Mariposa DR Foundation to help implement Montessori adolescent methodology into educational programs for underserved Haitian and Dominican girls. Even in the last months of her life she advised Mariposa on Maria Montessori's vision for the adolescent: personal dignity, social justice, and belonging. Andrea remained passionate about this work until the end of her life. The Mariposa DR Foundation will dedicate this year's summer program to Andrea. A butterfly on the wall of a Cabarete school in the DR will be named to honor Andrea's spirit and her love for the Dominican and Haitian children.
Andrea married composer and filmmaker Ron Riddle in 1997. They created a magnificent home together in and around a farmhouse on Harvey Hill Rd., Ithaca. The Riddle house and grounds were a beautiful haven for friends and family. Andrea loved to host events on her property and marked each year with a cycle of rituals to celebrate each season and every holiday. Andrea nurtured friends and family by preparing them only the freshest and most succulent of foods. Andrea loved the natural world and found beauty in every facet of the cosmos. Her love of animals led her to adopt a previously unsocialized timber wolf named Chance from the S.P.C.A. in 1997. She and Ron spent years socializing Chance, experimenting with a multitude of techniques to acclimatize him to life alongside humans. Mimicking the behavior of a mother and her cub, Andrea chewed food for Chance and transferred it from her mouth to his in hopes that he would accept her as his mother! In time Andrea, Ron and Chance became what animal behaviorists call an "interspecies pack." In 2010 the Riddles-- and Chance-- were featured presenters at Light in Winter. A documentary, Living With Chance, was created by Ron for Light in Winter.
Andrea made a great impact on those who knew her. She was a confidant and mentor to a wide circle of friends and colleagues. She was exacting in her relationships and often brought others to see things about themselves that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. Andrea considered anyone she loved to be part of her chosen family. In return, she is held warmly in the hearts of hundreds of people. Andrea was an inspirational figure to many and will be profoundly missed.
Andrea moved through her illness as she did her life, with grace, integrity and vision. She gathered those closest to her and cocooned herself in the warmth and beauty of her home. Andrea felt blessed to have lived such a rich and full life, and to have made a difference to so many. She was immensely proud of the legacy she created at The Elizabeth Ann Clune Montessori School of Ithaca.
Andrea is survived by her husband, Ron, her father Dan, her brother Seth, and various nieces, nephews and cousins. Andrea loved her family and held her relationships with them sacred. She was very close with her brother Seth and her father, Dan. Ron was Andrea's devoted primary caretaker during the course of her illness.
The family is holding a private service. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to The Elizabeth Ann Clune Montessori School of Ithaca. The school will hold a Memorial in Andrea's honor at a later date.
Published in Ithaca Journal on Jun. 29, 2012.