Smith has been an educator with Frenship for 17 years. She started at Bennett Intermediate as a FOCUS aide while she was finishing up her degree, not knowing that it would pave the road for her entire career.
“I wanted to be a Kindergarten teacher,” Smith said. “Then I took this [Bennett] job. It changed my mind almost instantly and I knew I was supposed to be a Special Education teacher.”
Flash forward to today - Smith said she is still following her dream of being a SPED teacher. She said she not only teaches FOCUS and Life Training in-person but is also virtually teaches Life Training, and as the Special Education (SPED) chairperson facilitates SPED Virtual Learning students in many of their classes.
“I am helping assist the teachers in all courses and provide accommodations and modifications virtually,” said Smith, “as well as reaching out to the students that may need extra help online if their teacher cannot be available at that time.”
Smith said Life Training and the FOCUS program are designed to maximize student learning. Students in the FOCUS program build and practice behavioral, functional, and academic skills needed to be successful in all school settings.
“Students work toward spending as much of their time in the general education setting as possible,” Smith said. “We aim for each student to function successfully at their highest ability level, and to eventually become healthy and productive citizens.”
Smith said Virtual Learning is going well but at times can be challenging. She said she is trying to find creative ways to keep her Virtual Learning students connected with her in-person students, to simply remind them that they are still part of the Frenship family.
“For my class, we work on social skills, life skills, how to be an advocate for yourself, and real-world situations,” said Smith. “With it being virtual, it can be hard at times to get the social aspect going. That is why we are meeting as one class, at least once a week, with my Virtual Learning and in-person students. They can see their friends, chat, discuss ALL kinds of things and just build those relationships. The Virtual Learning kids show us their rooms, talk about how it’s going for them and give us a glimpse into their learning, and we get to tell them all the fun we are having at school.”
Smith said she is planning a lesson that will allow her Virtual Learning students to create their own virtual classroom, hoping to get to know them a little bit better and build relationships with them. She said she has been striving to keep her classroom a place where her students are comfortable talking about life, their likes and dislikes, finding joy, and just having a safe space.
“I am so blessed with some of the best students and they just bring me so much joy,” Smith said. “Even during this extremely different time in our lives, I find these kids are more resilient and stronger than most adults. They are all so happy to be together. They find the positive when frankly, sometimes it is hard. That is the best part - just finding the joy. It is amazing to see.”