LDHS teacher Jake Gill grant recipient

Lead-Deadwood High School math teacher Amy Williams is the recipient of country music singer Jake Gill’s Country Music Teacher Classroom initiative. Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad Pearson

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LEAD — When country music singer Jake Gill recovered fully from a recent touch and go health issue, he vowed to do something that would help others.

Lead-Deadwood High School math educator Amy Williams of Boulder Canyon is one of 50 teachers nationwide that is a recipient of that help, recently named the South Dakota Teacher Recipient of Jake Gill’s Country Music Teacher Classroom (CMTC) initiative.

Gill said Williams was nominated by an individual who attended his concert in Lusk, Wyo., over the summer of 2019.

“Followed us on social media, saw posts, and nominated Amy,” he said.

As part of the grant selection process, Williams was asked to submit a few words regarding her approach to education.   

“It is my philosophy that each student will be treated equally in my classroom,” Williams said. “I provide a safe and welcoming learning environment where my students know they are truly cared for. I do this by providing a positive classroom where students are encouraged to always be themselves. I also get to know my students and make connecting relationships with them. Students know they can count on me for all of their needs, including providing school supplies.”

Lead-Deadwood High School Principal Mark Jacobs said Williams exemplifies what any school district looks for in a teacher.

“Her ability to build strong relationships and to go above and beyond to aid each of her students to be successful is witnessed daily,” Jacobs said. “This recognition is well deserved, and I am proud to have her as a part of our school.”

Gill, a seven-year member of the Country Music Association founded the CMTC following a series of life-changing events this past spring, with the hope that teachers and classrooms all over the world benefit from the program.

“In February, I was admitted to the hospital with a virus and it turned out to be a tumor in my appendix. Two surgeries later, I’m recovering, thinking I may not make it out of the hospital,” Gill recalled. “Grace of God, I did recover. Fully recovered. And decided that I wanted to make my career have a greater impact during the time that I am here.”

Previous mission work he did with children in a similar program inspired the initiative program.

“And I thought, ‘Why not let people nominate teachers?’” Gill said.

CMTC has both a classroom component and a songwriting component and is designed to provide teachers with classroom supplies and project funds across the United States. The songwriting component will involve a duet between Williams’ classroom and Gill, as her class will receive a song writing session with Gill via personal visit or Zoom video.

Students will be able to select a topic of interest and together as a class, write a song that will be shared with their school and community.

Williams said it is refreshing to see kindness being demonstrated, especially during these uncertain, pandemic times.

“Jake Gill is constantly on there, ‘Can somebody help these people?’ or ‘These kids need help. Do you have any supplies?’” Williams said. “So he’s helping teachers, but just a nice guy, it seems like. That was just nice to know. Whether I get supplies or not, that there are people out there helping teachers, helping everybody.”

With math her subject matter, a calculated guess is that the songwriting portion of the grant will likely add up to something numbers related.

“Maybe we could make a math song,” Williams said. “Just to have, especially with the world now, just to have some change. Just to have somebody that cares about teachers and education, to share an hour or a whole day of school, I think that will benefit kids, that they feel cared about again and maybe boost their spirits. Because I feel like everybody’s so concerned about something and whether they want to admit it, share or not, with the kids, it’s a different level of concern … I think we’re all waiting for the next bad thing, so this would maybe be, ‘Here’s a good thing that’s happening.’ And then, something they can talk about, a memory they’ll have for a long time.”

Jake believes that song writing can help stimulate the creative dimensions of a child and provide a healthy emotional environment for expression.

“I know that songwriting, in and of itself, can be very therapeutic,” Gill said. “And when you combine writing lyrics, which usually come from the heart, and there’s an element of thoughtfulness and emotions that are tied to those, when you combine those with the therapeutic benefits of music, all of a sudden you give children an opportunity to express themselves in a different way. Written format is different than verbal. When we write things, we express differently than what we say. Sometimes we write more openly than what we verbalize.”

Gill said he witnessed this happening during a summer camp experience.

“There are a number of instances where people will send us poems that they have written or ideas of things that they have written and they want to be able to express those,” he said. “Or they’re just struggling in life, in general, so, at one summer camp, we wrote a song about a classmate who had previously passed away. The kids wrote a tribute to their classmate.”

As part of the program, teachers create a wish list of desired items for their classroom and project materials needed throughout the year.

Thus far, Williams has received notebooks, protractors, and other items from friends, family, and others simply practicing random acts of kindness.

“If we go remote, I’d like to give everybody a protractor,” Williams said. “It’s a nice gesture.”

The list is distributed weekly on social media as part of Gill’s ongoing initiative to service children and now teachers throughout the world. Items can be purchased by anyone in the world and delivered directly to the selected teacher.

Those interested in supporting Williams and her classroom can visit her wish list at https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/5DT1CFllK9K1?

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