Amy Lilly’s 7th grade students have fun reading outside. Submitted

BETHEL — When leaving the worst of the pandemic behind, 7th grade English teacher Amy Lilly thought her class should celebrate in a way that was true to both Maine and her subject of teaching. And so, she created a safe space outside Telstar with hammocks hanging from tree to tree and 25 stumps for the students to sit on.

There’s a small river running behind all of it. Each student is either swinging in a hammock or on a stump, and accompanied by a book. As Lilly slides through the photos of her smiling students in the safe space outside, she says, “There’s a lot of light and a lot of smiles among the heaviness and that, for me, is why I do it [teach English].”

Lilly talks about the importance of being together in a school setting, and how the pandemic really showed that people need that human interaction.

“Some people think oh, you could just take classes online. Why do you need a school building anymore?” explains Lilly. “You know, we’ve changed our society. But I think this shows more than anything we need that human connection and we need to be able to create a sacred container to be able to be vulnerable and learn together. And school buildings, school people, school staff support the community at large. Having a rally point helps division dissolve.”

Lilly discusses the books she had her students read during the heart of the pandemic. She had them read a Lois Lowry book about the Spanish flu.

“They had shortages and they had fear and they had all those pieces,” explains Lilly. “So [it was] really relevant to the kids. And really, when you have a book it takes away the layer of like, it’s about me, it’s about the character. So you can have conversations that students might not have if you speak about the character versus them. It takes away a barrier.”

They were given creative writing prompts relating to the pandemic such as what would what they miss? What would they do differently?

“Since they love dystopia … like novels we talked about, this is sort of dystopian right now. We analyzed literature and found those common threads.”

During the pandemic Lilly also delivered books to children, leaving them on their doorsteps. It wasn’t long before she introduced a new medium of English Language Arts to them: podcasts.

“That was really engaging and it was technology and all the, you know, facets of technology. And it was really engaging and relevant to them,” explains Lilly.

“When they created their own podcast, they can they can talk about whatever they want. Yep, the stipulations were, have a theme song or theme into production to have some kind of visual representation of their podcasts like a title book cover and then to have a theme and have a habit all in a graphic organizer and planned out and approved, and then to actually record it, and upload it. And then they share it out.”

Some of the students interviewed people related to their topic, others did a podcast on hunting or rom com.

Lilly takes away gratitude from this experience saying she expresses “gratitude to the parents for stepping into a role that they wouldn’t normally have had to do,” Lilly says. “And the admin for the heroic efforts they did, and the janitorial staff for all the projects they were able to get done so that when we did get back, the building was freshly painted and things were fixed.”

And of course, a big “thank you” to her students. Lilly loves teaching seventh graders because, “They are spunky,” she says. “They change the most from when they come in and when they leave. You know they find their voice. I like the challenge.”

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