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Ferrisburgh teacher ready for next step after three decades

FERRISBURGH — Like many teachers, Ferrisburgh Central School’s Alana Lilly grew up with a strong educational role model in her family: Her mother, the late Ferrisburgh resident Dorothy Tracy, taught for 34 years.
Lilly, 52, who in June will step down from her FCS teaching job after 30 years, said she started following her mother’s path early on.
“I hear stories about when I was little playing school up in my bedroom, and my mother saying, ‘Oh boy, you’re going to be a good teacher someday. You’ve kept your students in line when you play school. And you give a lot of homework,’” Lilly said.
As Lilly matured, her mother helped her to understand the rewards of the profession, and she pursued and earned her teaching degree at Castleton State College.
Lilly described the central benefit as “seeing these students who possibly may struggle, and over the time that you’re with them all of a sudden it’s not a struggle any more. And I think that is something that I feel very proud (about), that I see the ‘ahas’ in students … (My mother) was very proud of her students, and totally was vested in what she was doing with them, and I feel like I am following in her footsteps.”
While at Castleton, Lilly student-taught in Ferrisburgh, not far from her Greenbush Road home. By then she had met Craig Lilly, now her husband of 33 years and the father of their two sons, John and Morgan.
Alana and Craig Lilly settled in Bridport, as now have John and wife Michelle (with Alana Lilly’s 10-month-old grandson Cooper), and Morgan and girlfriend Ann.
Seeing more of them all is part of the plan.
“Not having to spend a lot of my weekends … doing (teaching) plans for the next week and such, I’ll be able to spend a little bit more time with family,” Lilly said.
It’s not that she has minded the many hours outside of the classroom, though.
“Don’t get me wrong, this has been my life. It’s just the nature of the job,” Lilly said. “I’ve always put 110 percent in, and the students have been a part of me for forever.”
FCS Principal Joanne Taft-Blakely said Lilly will “absolutely be missed” at the school because Lilly is a “solid-across-the-board” teacher who put those students first.
“She’s just a great teacher,” Taft-Blakely said. “She is really all about the kids and what do we need to do to help them learn.”
Taft-Blakely said Lilly is “not afraid to learn something new” and is “a positive influence” and “highly respected” at the school.
Taft-Blakely also pointed to Lilly’s role in establishing the annual FCS Producers Fair, which highlights students’ research on local farmers and farmers’ products, and the “Invention Convention,” which requires third-graders to build a mechanical creation that perform a task.
“She has started traditions that will live on after she has retired,” she said.
STEPPING DOWN
Another reason for retiring is that Lilly does not want to follow her mother’s path fully. Twenty-four years ago, her mother called it quits at the age of 55. Her retirement was sadly short.
“I sort of get emotional about this, my mother … retired in June, and the very first day of school she died of a massive heart attack,” Lilly said. “So I’ve always said I’m not going to do that. I consider myself healthy and I want to do other things, and that’s in the back of my mind.”
One of those things she wants to do is spend more time with the hobby she shares with Craig, John and Morgan Lilly. They all drive in tractor-pulling competitions throughout Vermont and eastern New York. For the past four years, when Lilly herself has taken the wheel, her tractor has been labeled “Teacher’s Pet.”
“We love it because we do it as a family,” she said.
Lilly will not retire from work. In the past seven years, she has worked part-time during school vacations and summers for the related Bridport businesses Mike’s Fuels and M. Bordeleau and Sons Trucking LLC.
She has done office tasks, customer relations and dispatched fuel deliveries, and she said owner Mike Bordeleau offered her full-time work at an office that is across the lawn from her home. At the same time, Addison Northwest Supervisory Union was offering incentive packages to veteran teachers who were considering retirement, and Lilly can collect her education pension.
It all made financial sense, she enjoyed the second job, and after three decades at FCS she didn’t want to become stale in her first career.
“It’s completely different than working with students every day,” Lilly said. “I said, yeah, I think it’s time.”
LOOKING BACK
Lilly’s first 16 years at FCS were spent teaching fifth- and sixth-grade. A highlight of those years came when she was honored as Vermont’s Conservation Teacher of the Year.
“That was such an honor. I went around the state showing the interdisciplinary unit I had made,” she said.
Fourteen years ago, Lilly decided she wanted a change, and asked if she could move into a third-grade opening. She has remained in third grade since, and has a slight preference for the younger grade.
“They all have the different challenges. I think I like the lower grade just a little bit (better) only because they are just so excited to learn anything new,” she said. “They’re like little sponges.”
Also, maybe her style is better suited to the younger students.
“If they come in and they’ve had a bad day or something and they need a hug, (I do),” she said. “Some people say, boy you can’t give your students hugs. But you know what? Sometimes these little guys, they just need a little hug to say it’s going to be OK.”
During her third-grade years, Lilly and former FCS teacher Jane Brace co-wrote a grant that funded visits from local farmers to FCS classrooms and field trips to local farms. That idea grew into the Producers Fairs, of which about a half-dozen have been held and more are planned, according to Taft-Blakeley. In those, students host booths on school grounds with local farmers, whose work they have researched.
The event was not held this year because instead Lilly helped introduce visits from local businesses to FCS third-grade classrooms, where the firms held hands-on demonstrations. Students will be making promotional posters for the businesses.
This week, purple streaked Lilly’s hair over her right temple, courtesy of one of those visits, from Shear Cuts in Vergennes.
“Oh, gosh, I’m just the coolest teacher at the moment because I have purple in my hair,” she said.
Lilly won’t miss some of the state, federal and district mandates that at times she feels pull teachers in too many directions.
“Let’s do what we do now and do it well,” she said. “Let’s not try to do so many new initiatives that you really can’t do one well.”
But she will miss her third-graders.
“I think it’s going to be hard the first couple of weeks to realize I’m not having to get my classroom ready,” Lilly said. “It will hit me in August.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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