Lower & Middle School Remember Ms. V.


(clockwise from left) The author talks with Gia M. ‘27, eighth-grader Sydney W., and Sylvie S. J. ‘24

Ilena M.

On April 14, we lost an integral member of the Westridge community, Lower and Middle School Dean of Student Support Carol Van Zalingen, to complications due to COVID-19. As Westridge reflects upon and celebrates our beloved Ms. V., I sat down over Microsoft Teams with students from across the Lower and Middle schools to reflect, share memories, and recall how Ms. V. touched each of our lives. 

Many at Westridge know Ms. V. for the tremendous generosity and compassion she shared. “She knew everyone’s names, everyone’s parents’ names, everyone’s dog’s names,” Sophie C. ‘25 recalled.

Sixth-grader Sophia H. added, “She was always just a really kind person. She was a safe space. You could tell her anything, even if you were ashamed. She would never judge you. Even if you did something wrong or if you were hurting, she always just looked at you and listened to you.”

For others, she was a dependable friend and trustworthy listener to rely on in times of need. “I would go into Ms. V.’s office during lunch all the time, and I would talk to her,” said Sydney W. ‘24, explaining how Ms. V. helped her overcome loneliness. “There were very few people I felt safe talking to. I did with Ms. V. She was always there, no matter what. She wanted to help people, no matter what. She wanted to help everyone. She cared about us!”

Gia M. ‘27 added, “She made me feel safe. She was really empathetic. Without her, I don’t know if I would have gotten through [friendship difficulties],” while Ruby D. ‘26 reflected. “She was really sweet, always there if you wanted to talk. She always listened. She was one of the very few people I felt safe talking to. I went [to her office] a lot, almost every single day.”

(clockwise from left) Sofia H. ‘26, Ilena M. ‘24, Ruby D. ‘26, and Grace H. ‘26

In addition to Ms. V.’s unwavering kindness and empathy, Lower and Middle School students recollected the warmth and charisma she radiated, often from her morning attendance-taking spot on the bench near Ranney Court: “[She] taught me how powerful a small gesture could be: she would smile, and it would make your morning. And I’ll always remember that, and I try to pass it on to other people, ” said Sylvie S.J. ‘24

Though fourth-grader Tessa R. didn’t have the opportunity to get to know Ms. V. very well, she’ll always remember the warmth of these morning greetings. “Every single day, she would always be sitting on the bench, taking roll call. … She would always smile at me, and say good morning, and make me feel great that morning to start off my day. It was nice to come into school every day and to look forward to one person. She would never make me feel bad. She would always give me advice and make me feel good,” she remembered. 

I, personally, knew Ms. V. best as a math genius. She was unbelievably talented not only at solving problems of all sorts, but at teaching others to do the same, always with patience, compassion, and a great sense of humor. 

I, and many of my friends,spent hours in her office during study hall, after school, or both—she worked tirelessly to help us master any math concept with which we struggled. Often, as I’d stumble out of her office after a long afternoon of math, trying to position the chair in a way that allowed my gigantic backpack to get through the door, she’d tell me what a joy it was to work with me, and that I would definitely ace my next test. In addition to being such a pleasant surprise in the always demanding, sometimes confusing, and occasionally stressful world of academics, these words of faith and reassurance gave me my own window into Ms. V.’s abiding compassion. 

As a valued member of our Westridge community, a role model, teacher, and friend, Ms. V. will be sincerely missed. As put by sixth-grader Isabela H., “I think I speak for everyone when I say Ms. V. was awesome. She really cared about everyone. I want to thank Ms. V., for everything she’s done for me, and everyone else.”