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Dr. Da Silva's Hopes for Summer's Final Weeks

Article by Ashley Alt

Photography by New Light Creative Services

Originally published in Ridgefield Lifestyle

Dr. Susie Da Silva’s three year anniversary as the superintendent of Ridgefield public schools was this past April. She sat down with us to share her many words of wisdom on the importance that life outside of the classroom has on not only the impact of students, but parents too, illustrating that we hold the power to create our own happiness — no matter where we are.

“The journey of school is no different than the journey of life,” Dr. Da Silva stated. “There are going to be births and deaths, and you’re going to need energy to get through the tough moments.

Her wish for the students of Ridgefield is to enjoy the gift of time and space to be a kid before school starts up again. “The reality is you will never get this time back,” she notes of childhood summers. “Time and health are the two most important things in life, and it’s paramount to take care of them.”

She mentions back to school time is one of excitement, but can also be a source of anxiety for parents — worrying about friendships, change in teachers, and all things that happen outside of the classroom —in addition to more challenging academics. “School is a system and a structure that will always be there once summer has passed,” she said. “It is a luxury that is going to support you. I like to tell parents it’s a 13-year journey that’s going to come with bumps and bruises along the way, and that we are all here as a support for those moments.”

Dr. Da Silva explains there is a mistaken mindset that growth and learning only comes within the four walls, and that is not the case. She advises both students and parents to really enjoy the in-between times of the school year including February break, April break, and other holidays where “kids should just be kids.”

Academics are obviously important — but the social and emotional side of learning should not be overlooked, she emphasized. “When they go off in the real world, they need to be able to work with people,” she states of all students. “That comes from being on a sports team and going on playdates. And at the end of the day, being kind is what matters most.”

In the summer, she likes to take advantage of every moment. From sharing tapas on a patio with her husband to taking their cavapoo for a swim, spending time with her family is “incredibly important” to her.

“It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive to be a great experience,” Dr. Da Silva says of soaking up the last month of summer. Married to her husband for 25 years now, the two of them share three children together — Gabriela who will head to college this Fall, Isabela who will be a junior in high school, and Andrè who will be a high school freshman.

“What’s important to us as a family is humor,” she says smiling, in addition to staying physically active. “You have to be able to laugh at yourself,” she continued. “Otherwise what is life about? It’s about joy and fulfillment and laughter. In the schools just as much as at home, we create situations where we strive to bring happiness.”

Her family is adventurous with travel, loving going abroad as much as they enjoy a day at the beach playing in the sand and shells. Portugal is her number one place to travel (she is Portuguese, after all), and second is Spain. “We love the natural vineyards of these places,” she says. “Not the touristy parts of any country but the authentic part. We like to travel the roads less traveled you could say.”

Both Dr. Da Silva and her husband were raised in poverty, so they understand what it means to be immersed in a country that might not be so glamorous, but one that is rich in history and authenticity. “We’ve come to love the natural roots of any location,” she says. Even when we go to New York City, you’re not going to find us where the tourist spots are. For us, it’s really about getting to know a place’s culture.”

For these final weeks of summer, Dr. Da Silva emphasizes that the best memories often come from the simplest experiences, like being on the back deck throwing marshmallows on the fire and playing with your siblings with chalk on the driveway. 

“It’s the moments before the Instagram photo where you had to flip the shirt inside out because someone spilled paint on it before the family portrait,” she says. Dr. Da Silva advises parents to take advantage of the small moments, whether you’re in the throes of toddlerhood or preparing to send your youngest to college.