Quaker Ridge Award Renamed in Honor of School Aide Karen Marcus
There isn’t a single student at Quaker Ridge Elementary School whose life wasn’t impacted in some way by the life of Karen Marcus. A lifelong Scarsdale resident and Scarsdale High School graduate, she worked at Quaker Ridge as a teacher aide for over 15 years after retiring from a successful career as a senior magazine editor.
“She loved kids, she loved her job, and we loved working with her, “ said Angela Tirsch, a fellow aide at the school.”She was the old guard who reminded us what it was like growing up here. She made working together like a family. We were like her family. We’ve mourned her like family.”
Ms. Marcus sadly died in May from complications of Covid-19.
Although teacher aides may change classrooms and grades over time, Ms. Marcus clearly believed she served the school as a whole, and was always the first to volunteer for any job or project, her colleagues said.
“It didn’t matter what was happening, she thought it was her responsibility to fix it,” Principal Felix Gil said. “She became the informal supervisor for drop off and dismissal- every one of those kids, she felt personally responsible for their safety. She was more than an aide, she was part of the community. Karen shared in ownership of everything we do, and enriched it in the process.”
Assistant Principal Jennifer Hefner was fortunate to teach for several years with Ms. Marcus as her aide, and said her love for students was unparalleled. She described Ms. Marcus as a forever learner who brought compassion and sunshine to everything she did.
“One year, we had a particularly difficult child who really struggled with some issues. At the end of the year, Karen asked that she be moved the following year so she could continue working with him. She felt he needed her, “ Hefner said. “And he really turned a corner that year. I don’t know if the parents truly understood just how deeply she loved that child. She put her soul into the work.”
Ms. Marcus’ passion for reading and literature was apparent to all, Hefner said. She often came to school bearing books she thought would appeal to a particular child or would complement the curriculum. She also frequently brought books and articles for colleagues as well.
So it is fitting that the Quaker Ridge Award is being renamed this year to the Marcus Medal in her honor. Each year, in conjunction with the Newbery and Caldecott Medal announcements, Quaker Ridge students vote for the book they would choose to win such an award.
“Award time is a really exciting time in the school year- it’s like an election,” Dr. Gil said. “Ms. Byrnes does a great job of presenting the best and brightest books to our students, who then vote for a winner school wide. The kids are elevated and it becomes very exciting. As educators, we witness the children hear, see and talk about the qualities of the books among themselves outside of the library. It brings reading beyond the mechanics of literacy, it’s about how reading can enrich your life. It’s a great opportunity for children to exercise their voice as thinkers and writers. They really look forward to that common experience every year.”
Byrnes began the Quaker Ridge Award when she became the school’s library specialist seven years ago, but always suspected it wouldn’t be called the Quaker Ridge Award for long.
“I had always wanted to name the award after someone, and this year it was obvious Karen was the perfect person, “ Ms. Byrnes said. “Every book that I would read to her classes, she would come and talk to me about afterwards. She’d suggest books to me, she’d bring in books. She was a really wonderful person and her passion for books was evident in so much of what she did.”
Over 40 Quaker Ridge students entered the Marcus Medal design contest, with some students submitting multiple designs for a gold, silver and honorable mention earning books. The three winning designs were all drawn by students who had once been in Ms. Marcus’ class. The gold medal was designed by fourth grader Miraaya Rajagopalan, silver medal by fourth grader Emily Fields, and the dedication medal was a joint effort by fifth graders Laura Chadie and Amra Kornusova.
“Every single one of the girls whose designs were chosen, told me they participated because Ms. Marcus meant a lot to them,” Ms. Byrnes said. “All of the kids were excited and invested- I even got emails over the break asking when the winners would be announced.”
The process of helping children develop a concept and design for the medal was meaningful for faculty and staff as well.
“Bringing the medal to life was such a beautiful thing. We were able to speak with the children about the kind of person Ms. Marcus was,” Ms. Tirsch said. “Many of them integrated themes which they knew were important to her, like nature. They know she loved learning. it’s such a great way to bring us to this point of honoring Karen.”
The first Marcus Medal winning book, as selected by Quaker Ridge students, is Lift my Minh Le and illustrated by Dan Santat. It’s the story of a magical elevator, and a child who learns that sharing a discovery with people you love can be the most wonderful experience of all.
“Karen spent years working and living in London,” Ms. Tirsch said. “That the students chose Lift is so apropos.”