Classroom of the Week: Lee English teacher Jane McEvoy looks out for students' futures beyond high school

LEE — "After I get those drafts, I'm going to torture you with your college essays," said Jane McEvoy, teasing a group of Lee Middle and High School juniors on Thursday afternoon. A casual talk about their essay themes, ideas and metaphors then ensued.

Now in her seventh year at the school, McEvoy teaches English classes for more than 60 high school juniors, from standard to college preparatory and Advanced Placement (AP) levels. But no matter what the state standards and curriculum dictates, McEvoy says, "I always try to make it relevant them. Relevancy is what matters to me most."

Her students seem to greatly appreciate that.

When Dean of Students Art Reilly told the juniors that their teacher was going to be honored as a "Classroom of the Week," dozens of them chose to be a part of the surprise announcement in her classroom, applauding her and posing for with her for photos.

"We all wanted to show that we appreciate her," said junior Cassidy Crawford.

"All the things she teaches us applies to things beyond the classroom," junior Alyssa Heath added.

Her classmate, Jonas Burgos agreed, saying, "She gives us skills to use outside of school."

One of the hallmarks of the junior year experience through the English Department is a series of college and career preparation activities.

"Mrs. McEvoy each year sets up an opportunity for our juniors to put their classwork into the real world," said Reilly. "Each junior does a r sum , job shadow [day] and interview with a local community member in the business community."

McEvoy works with the Lee Youth Association and high school guidance department to coordinate this effort, which includes the participation of representatives from more than 30 regional businesses and organizations.

"The students finish the unit with their professional r sum completed, the confidence gained from being interviewed by someone they don't know and the opportunity to spend a day on a job site," Reilly said. He said the experience gives students the skills necessary to navigate college and job interviews and other presentations, programs and opportunities.

He also said that while "a lot of our staff go above and beyond," McEvoy is "overall an excellent teacher" who is particularly dedicated to her English students' success.

In addition to having students read and annotate texts for content, clarity, context and style, she ties in writing to current events and explores genres and a range of written mediums with her students.

Earlier in the year, in addition to reading books, students in her American literature class listened to music and analyzed lyrics from songs like John Mellencamp's 1983 classic, "Little Pink Houses," because "it's basically about the middle classes." Students have also read and compared essays by W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington to understand not only the effectiveness of their writing, but to learn about the African American experience and challenges in the U.S. which persist today.

Other assignments include writing eulogies and toasts, argumentative essays and participating in debates, and new this year, teaching a class.

"I tried to think of other real-life public speaking experiences they might have and thought about how they might have to train someone someday," McEvoy said.

So far, she's had a range of interesting topics demonstrated in her classroom, from dancing ballet to grilling a steak. "The students are much more knowledgeable and relaxed when they're talking about something that interests them," she said.

For students, who, like many adults, would rather die than speak in front of a crowd, McEvoy tries to coach them in small groups on provide one-on-one encouragement. "I try to make them feel safe and that they're in a supportive environment," she said.

"She doesn't have to do these things, just like she doesn't have to plan the whole career fair and interviews, but she does, and it's helpful," said junior McKenna Hammerly.

"She sets the bar high, but it's not impossible," Alicia Paolini said.

It's this balance in classroom dynamics and constant communication that students say keeps them engaged and willing to do the work.

"I also think that we have a highly driven class in general," junior Cassidy Crawford said.


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