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Mahopac High’s New Master Teacher Receives State Honor

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Scott Rizzo at Mahopac High School.

In the back of Scott Rizzo’s classroom at Mahopac High School sits a fish tank full of tiny brown trout swimming aimlessly. Suddenly the fish all dive to the bottom. 

“What’s going on?” Rizzo, asks the class. 

“There must be food at the bottom,” one student says. Though when they gather round, the students don’t see any food. 

“Maybe the water temperature changed,” another student says, reaching for the thermometer. 

Rizzo nods and watches. His method of teaching is inquiry-based, and he wants the students to come up with their own questions and ways to answer them.

“I don’t let them jump online,” he said. “I don’t give them answers. It is more of a ‘Let’s talk about this’ approach.”

Rizzo, who teaches Living Environment and college-level Forensics, was just named to the New York State Master Teacher Program, one of 230 teachers statewide to receive the recognition from Governor Kathy Hochul. 

Mahopac High School’s science department has three other master teachers as well – Elizabeth Stephens, Michael Mahoney and Tricia Fuller-Johnson. 

In the highly competitive program, Rizzo will participate in a professional learning community at SUNY New Paltz where he will engage in peer mentoring and help guide teachers who are at the beginning of their careers.

“This is my 27th year of teaching and I’m so excited to be a part of this,” Rizzo said. “The program lends itself to experimentation.” 

Experimentation seems to come naturally to Rizzo, who runs the school’s recycling through the Biology Club, Genesis Water Quality Club and serves as an advisor to the Science Olympiad. 

On a recent afternoon, he sent the dozen or so Water Quality Club members to a wetland outside to collect water samples for testing. 

“If we’re not making a mess, we’re not doing something right,” Rizzo said. “I do everything I can to get them outside, to make them look around and ask questions.” 

Rizzo himself may be asking questions in the three-year Master Teacher program, where he said he’ll be both mentor and mentee and is looking forward to taking some classes. 

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