Once a Shawnee High School student, now a Seneca High School teacher, Tracy Betts has engrossed herself in the district, answering whenever opportunity knocks on her door.
Betts started her career at Seneca with 20 other colleagues in 2004, a year after the school opened, and became a colleague who many have described as driven and energetic.
“Tracy is an amazing staff member, teacher and person,” Brad Bauer, principal-to-be, said in an email. “She is involved in everything at school and always has the best interest of students and staff at heart. Tracy is the ‘heartbeat’ of Seneca High School.”
Betts always had an interest in education, formed by her former teachers and activities at Shawnee that impressed upon her the impact a teacher has in offering a well-rounded education. She has sought to create opportunities for Seneca students to be involved in clubs during her nearly 16 years as an English teacher at the school.
Events like the annual pep rally have delighted Betts as she and her fellow educators amp up the student body before a big game. She pondered a bit before describing the love she and students have for an elective class in creative drama.
“It’s not necessarily a theater class, it’s more of a class where you learn to be able to laugh at yourself in life and learn how to have confidence in what you’re saying and how you’re saying it,” Betts described.
Years passed as she taught the course at various points of her career, with some students returning to inform her of the mark the class left on their lives.
The tables flipped on Betts when she recollected how students taught her to laugh at herself, have a thick skin and tackle everyday challenges. No two days or two class periods were alike, and she continues to pick up on the lessons students teach.
Teaching students and tending to their needs has helped Betts raise her kids — both of whom, Teagan and Tenley, are still at home — with her husband and fellow Shawnee graduate Nik Tama.
Colleague Chris Repsher, a history teacher who also co-advises Seneca’s senior class, remarked on Betts’ drive and dedication to students, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In these trying times, she has organized activities, updated the students on new information, been the liaison between the administration and the class as a whole,” Repsher said in an emailed statement.
“She has empowered the class officers to take ownership and make the best of an incredibly difficult situation.”
Her unparalleled attention to detail and love for the school and the larger Lenape Regional district earned her the district Teacher of the Year back in 2011. Fellow English teacher Julie Smith remembered Betts spoke from a podium with a powerful speech that touched those in the audience — without looking down at her written transcript.
Betts has also taken on the additional role of assistant athletic and student activities director, much to her family’s amusement. Athletics for the veteran educator included cheerleading and playing lacrosse at Shawnee, and assistant coaching and cheerleading at Seneca.
“I have a huge amount of respect for the athletic programs and it echoes what I believe in general,” she noted. “It is what you put in, whether that’s dedicating time to a club, activity or if student council is doing something ….
“All of these things are what makes a school a school.”
Assistant Athletics and Student Activities Director Karen O’Neil, who will be the director next school year, characterized Betts as a worker who “jumps into everything with both feet” for the benefit of Seneca and its students.
Betts has previously helped organize the student-coordinated National Walk Out Day (held on March 14, 2018, a month after the deadly school shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School) to heighten students’ voices and create activities that gets everyone involved.
Seneca is not the only community whose culture Betts has influenced through her participation in the district-wide Research for Better Teaching program. New and veteran teachers participate in the course during professional development to learn how strategies and expectations for students are effectively presented in the classroom. Educators reevaluate tools available in an effort to keep education moving forward and not regressing.
The notion of a “Seneca Family” has remained with Betts through interactions and connections with colleagues and students stemming from her days at Shawnee, something she imparts to students and teachers alike.
“I do what I do, and I am humbled people thought that about me,” Betts shared. “I love what I do and I try to bring that energy into what I do.”