News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, February 10, 2022
Brooklin teacher Bebell receives honorable mention
2021 Humane Educator of the Year

Schoodic Education Adventure

Amy Bebell’s 5/6 class in September 2019 at the Schoodic Education Adventure.

Photo courtesy of Amy Bebell

by Clark Tate

Amy Bebell, a middle school science and social studies teacher at The Brooklin School, has a goal in the classroom. “I want my students to leave my class appreciating the world around them, and all living things in it, and understanding their impact.”

In January, Animalearn, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit, recognized Bebell for doing just that. They awarded her an honorable mention as their 2021 Humane Educator of the Year.

“She really stood out as someone who we thought would deserve to be recognized,” Animalearn’s director Nicole Green says of Bebell, “because of her compassion for the environment, for animals, and really wanting to enlighten her students about being compassionate in science.”

Super Studies

Bebell has been at The Brooklin School for 18 years and has been teaching science to second to eighth grade students for nearly a quarter-century. Recently, she took on social studies as well. She calls the combination “Super Studies,” to her students’ delight. “My big picture about teaching is really that these kids are stewards of the planet,” she says. “By teaching social studies, I realized they’re also stewards of our stories and the human experience and how that all intertwines.”

Bebell defines humane education as learning through a lens of caring. “Kids have been asking me forever, ‘Are we ever gonna dissect anything?’ My stock answer is always, we learn a lot more from animals when they’re alive than when they’re dead. So let’s go observe them.”

Thanks to Animalearn, she’ll have a few more resources on hand to help answer that tricky question.

Animalearn is the education-focused arm of the American Anti-Vivisection Society. It’s dedicated to reducing the inhumane treatment of animals in education, primarily by reducing dissections. “Our goal is really to enlighten the public about the many different resources that are available,” says Green, the nonprofit’s director. “We don’t need to be using animals for educational purposes.”

New materials

An honorable mention for the Humane Educator Award comes with a $750 shopping spree at Animalearn’s lending shop, The Science Bank, which carries dissectable animal and human anatomy models. They have the frogs and pigs you may remember from biology class and an array of unique options like starfish and sharks. Educators can also rent augmented reality or virtual reality headsets and the anatomy programs to go with them from Merge EDU, a technology company.

These items are free to rent. But Bebell’s prize will allow her to keep what she orders for her classroom. According to Green, Bebell ordered models of the butterfly lifecycle, a chicken, a heart, a clam, and a fish. She also ordered equipment for augmented reality learning systems. (For reference, the 2016 Pokemon Go craze was a type of augmented reality.)

The new gear will likely be put to good use. Bebell describes her teaching style as very active and student-led. “By this point, I know my materials, I know what tools I have, and I can be really flexible,” she says. “If there’s a particular interest in a topic, we’ll just steer things in that direction for a little while.”

“Every week, we have Forest Friday, to go out in the woods, and explore,” says Bebell. “Once we were on a hike and fifth grader just stopped in her tracks because of this incredible lichen on a tree. And she just was like, ‘What is this? Why is it so beautiful?’”

They did a little research using the Seek app by iNaturalist. It fed the fire.

“She was like, ‘Can we learn more about lichen?’” says Bebell. The answer was yes.

Going outside seems to wake the students up. “They’re more conscious of the things going on around them,” says Bebell. And these forays can lead to larger adventures. Last year, a class was hiking the school’s nature trail when the students wondered aloud where a nearby stream went. Bebell didn’t know.

“So we looked it up. And they wanted to follow it out to the ocean.” The class wrote letters to every landowner along the way. “We got permission from everybody and spent most of the day last year following the stream,” she says. “It was great. So much fun.”

Bebell also wants her students to connect with other people. “I try to get kids outside and in the community as much as I can,” she says. “Now that I’m doing social studies too, humane education is also about caring for other people.”

“One thing I’ve taken on this year that’s new is, we started a civil rights team,” she says. The Civil Rights Team Project is a statewide initiative administered by Maine’s Attorney General. Bebell is heading up the program for The Brooklin School. “We’re just getting it going and really just talking about how can we be welcoming to all kinds of people in our school and, by extension, in our lives?”

When asked, “What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from teaching so far?” Bebell responded, “I think that kids are capable of so much more than a lot of people give them credit for in terms of their understanding of the world and what they can do. Kids are pretty smart. They have a lot to contribute to society and the world right now.”

Gulf of Maine Research Institute LabVenture program

Amy Bebell’s 5/6 class in January 2019 on the way to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute LabVenture program in Portland.

Photo courtesy of Amy Bebell
Schoodic Education Adventure

Amy Bebell’s 5/6 class in September 2019 at the Schoodic Education Adventure.

Photo courtesy of Amy Bebell
Schoodic Education Adventure

Amy Bebell’s 5/6 class in September 2019 at the Schoodic Education Adventure.

Photo courtesy of Amy Bebell