A conversation with Le Château des Enfants Director Betsy Newell...
For many in the TASIS community, Betsy Newell is as much a part of TASIS as the Collina d’Oro, pasta Mondays, and Mrs. Fleming. Betsy first attended Mrs. Fleming’s Frog Hollow summer camp in 1944 at the tender age of 3. She came to Frog Hollow’s Swiss Holiday summer camp in 1955 and worked in the summer programs until 1965. Betsy has been involved with TASIS for nearly seven decades in various capacities, and has been at the helm of the Le Château des Enfants (CDE) summer program for children ages 4½ to 10 for over 25 years.
What do you think made Mrs. Fleming such a dynamic and successful leader?
Firstly, Mrs. Fleming was larger than life because she had several God-given characteristics. High optimism, excellent health and a strong constitution, huge self confidence, a wonderful turn of phrase and wit, a natural flair for the theater, and a big but congenial personality, all of which contributed to her dynamism and success. I didn’t put it first, because without the other attributes her impressive brain power and pure intelligence would not have necessarily made her so charismatic. But she was really smart and quick, and was the original multitasker, which she managed with such grace and charm. As a young woman, she developed real guts and determination in the face of disaster. Even though she always gave credit to her Irish grandmother, it was the combination of all these things that made her capable of such towering achievement. And, in fact, the Gods favored her, as she was also very lucky!
The most vivid impression of Mrs. Fleming that remains with most of us is her exceptional enjoyment of and fascination with people. She made everyone feel they were special and that their story was the most interesting that she had heard. She celebrated people and they felt honored to be part of her magic. This meant that she was the most fun person to be around! Her favorite venues were social ones; they usually involvedfood and drink, especially Old Fashioneds! She was a profoundly empathetic person when tragedy struck anyone in her circle, and she kept in close touch throughout a period of illness or death. Her people skills were amazing and certainly contributed to her success as a leader.
How do you see MCF’s influence on your own successes as a school leader?
Like Mrs. Fleming, I was born with a few of the same God-given qualities, or maybe at such an early age being exposed to Mrs. Fleming imbued me with her spirit and point of view. She certainly gave me self-confidence as a child, because she contrived so many situations where I felt she was depending on me to lead. I actually fell into the position of leadership as head of a school. It was totally a matter of luck. But I had the best role model because I had years of watching how to make it work successfully. My style of leadership is different than Mrs. Fleming’s in the sense that I am a more collegial leader then she ever was. She knew her mind and often could not be dissuaded. It gave her strength and certainty.
CDE is frequently full and nearly all families are delighted with their child’s experience. Is that what defines success for you at CDE?
At the end of each summer, basic success at CDE means the children were safe and there were no major accidents. We have achieved that over so many summers, but that is still the base line. As for the children, it would be boring and lack challenge if they were all angels, though having a few angels is nice! What is the most satisfying is to see real growth in children in such a short time, especially the non-angel group! To see children with true grit who can overcome all the challenges of being away from home for the first time is so satisfying. There are always some unexpected bonuses. First session last summer we had the brightest and cleverest children that I can remember, and every day I looked forward to those noisy meals and sitting and conversing with the children.
Usually the counselors have more “life-changing experiences” at CDE than the children. We have a large number of college-age staff and the experience at CDE has an enormous impact on them. Seeing them change and develop and hearing their feelings at the end of the summer is truly gratifying, especially when some decide to become teachers. Whereas the children over the years often forget the actual experiences, our young adults treasure them throughout their lives. Of course we love all the compliments we get from parents on Final Night but the true satisfaction and the great pleasure is seeing the impact of CDE on all the participants, both children and staff.
What advice would you give about how to be a successful leader?
Student leaders need to be good listeners and nonjudgmental. They need to know when a decision must be made immediately and be prepared to make it, and when it is better to give it some time. Student leaders, I believe, need to be enthusiastic and find creative solutions. They need to be inclusive. Most important, they need to be able to work collegially with the other students, making each student feel their contributions are valued.
Obviously if you are a teacher, you must love children, enjoy being around them and take delight in whom they are and what they are thinking. You must have a profound and authentic respect for children and for your colleagues, and in most cases for parents. You need to be a good public speaker and be convincing and confident. Speaking is a learned skill for most people, and although Mrs. Fleming was a naturally good speaker, she was always prepared.
Visit the TASIS Summer Programs website for more information