A person of the arts

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Annette Lewis began her teaching career 50 years ago on Long Island, N.Y. This June 16, she'll say goodbye to her sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes at All Saints School in Manassas for the last time. She's retiring after 37 years at the school.

Lewis has taught middle school literature, writing and drama at All Saints.

"I'm a person of the arts," she said.

She earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Fordham University in New York and a master's in the teaching of reading and writing to middle school students from George Mason University in Fairfax.

She came to All Saints School in 1978 after teaching in public schools on Long Island for 13 years. At All Saints, she started teaching first and second grades, but eventually moved to middle school. While she enjoyed teaching the younger students, she found a home in middle school.

"I enjoy (middle school) because you see them grow," she said. "They become the people they're going to be."

William Shakespeare is the focus of her middle school literature class. She uses the Folger Shakespeare Library Series to teach "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Taming of the Shrew" and "Romeo and Juliet" to her students.

Lewis was an early Shakespeare enthusiast. In the 1990s, she was part of a diocesan effort to develop teachers to teach Shakespeare's plays to younger students. As a result of the program, Lewis and her students performed "The Taming of the Shrew" at the Barns of Wolf Trap.

This year, the drama club, which Lewis co-directs with Rebecca Zwisler, performed "The Tempest" and "The Taming of the Shrew" for students, with an evening performance for the community.

In addition to Shakespeare, sixth-graders read novels like The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare. It's an historical novel set in 33 A.D. with a Christian slant.

She enjoys teaching writing. Some of her students have gone on to be professional writers or in the publishing business. She builds and encourages their writing skills.

"They come to me as writers already," she said of her students. "I push them along."

One of her signature projects, "Me Books," was started 20 years ago. These are personal essays students write that are designed to develop a single topic. They need to use anecdotes, quotes and a graphic layout to tell a story. Lewis comments on each story and gives students a grade.

"('Me Books') is a two-year project, and at graduation the books go home to be placed in a special place to reread in the future as a flashback of their growing up years as 13- and 14-year olds," said Lewis.

"Me Books" has been popular with students and their parents.

Lewis has mixed feelings about retiring after so many years. She said that she'll miss the life and energy of young people when she goes, but plans to continue at the school as a volunteer.

"Having taught at All Saints for the better part of four decades, Mrs. Lewis has been nothing short of a legacy in our school," said Principal David Conroy. " Through her passion for literature, the arts and her faith, as well as her care and concern for each student, she inspired and impacted many. Hers has been a career marked by great dedication to teaching - 50 years total - and a great love for her students."

A Mass at All Saints Church and reception in her honor in the parish center will be held June 3. Alumni will return to honor her.

After retirement Lewis plans to visit Long Island more and to continue writing.

"I'm going to invest in my own writing," she said.

Although torn between her love of teaching and a desire to spend time pursuing personal interests, she is looking forward to taking it easy.

"I'm leaving because it's time," she said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015