‘Mrs. Smith’ in role of a lifetimePublished 1:02am Saturday, December 12, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
Upon first meeting her, Lisa Smith is gracious, humble and soft-spoken.
She is kind and polite and careful with her words.
But to see her face light up – just ask her about her children.
Smith is a mother of four boys – but she is a mother figure, one might say a hero, to many more.
Smith has been working for the Niles Community School District, specifically at Oak Manor Sixth Grade Center, for 16 years. She started out as a volunteer, a room mother “popping popcorn on Fridays for bake sales,” she said.
Her time became a career.
Smith wears many hats at Oak Manor, she helps out in the office, works as a noon supervisor at lunch, is an assistant in the library and the computer lab and is also part of the “Read Naturally” reading program for at-risk students.
“Mrs. Smith,” as she’s called by those students at Oak Manor, was born and raised in Niles, graduating from Niles High School in 1981.
All four of her sons graduated from Niles High School as well.
“I’m very proud of my boys,” Smith said. “I can say I am a very proud mother.”
Loveliss, 25, is a sergeant in the United States Army Reserves, who recently served his country in Iraq. Gary Jr., 24, is currently serving also as a sergeant in the United States Army and served two tours, in Baghdad and Afghanistan. Aaron, whose mother affectionately refers to as “my Marine,” is a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, he has served five tours in six years – most recently working with U.S. Navy against the growing threat of pirates. Her youngest, Paul, 21, is a full time student at Southwest Michigan College, working toward a degree in dentistry and also considering military service.
Smith’s husband, Gary, is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
As her family embodies the idea of service and heroism, so too does Smith herself.
She speaks of children not as mere subjects to be guided from classroom to classroom, in need of making certain marks but as individuals with pressures and struggles, aspirations and goals just like anybody else.
And maybe it’s that kind of consideration that gets the students at Oak Manor to light up as well, just at the entrance of Mrs. Smith into a room.
“I love my job,” she said. “I love what I do here. I love working with the kids.”
One often assumes that most teachers and school administration enjoy working with children or they wouldn’t be in the jobs they are. But when Smith says she loves it, she says it with emphasis.
For a student to look back and say “she’s one that really believed in me and never gave up” is what Smith aspires to.
And it’s something she seems to have achieved. Smith still goes to the sporting events of her old students, she’s still greeted by those who remember her though now she’s only in the daily life of students at Oak Manor for one year before they move on to middle school.
They still greet her with a hug.
“I try to be positive and keep encouragement going,” she said.
This self-described “class clown” said she works hard at “engaging” students and bring out “a lot of conversation” with them. Smith wants to know how they’re doing, what their lives are like and what they’re dealing with.
“When you actually see in their eyes what they go through in the morning and what they have to do to get through the day,” she said. “Some of these kids, they have rough backgrounds, rough home lives.”
The idea, she said, is to find a way to help “build their character and their self-esteem back up.”
Some children need a role model, Smith said. But in her humility as she discusses that fact, it’s not mentioned that “role model” is not a job requirement.
And she takes that role seriously.
“I can joke with the kids,” she said. “But they know there’s a line in the sand that you don’t cross with Mrs. Smith.”
Just as her voice gives a glimpse into the depth of her kindness, so too does a quick raise of the eyebrow give an glimpse at the truth of that statement.
Their success is a priority for her and Smith keeps up on what kids are doing, whether or not they’re in trouble or trying hard at the areas in which they’re struggling.
“Our children are our future,” she said. “If we can’t build or maintain some positives in our children now,” future generations will have a tougher time.
With all that said, Smith doesn’t take all the credit. “My co-workers make me look good, basically,” she said, speaking of her principal Robin Hadrick and fellow staff.
And she has a few inspirations she looks to as well.
“I look to, for my guidance, first of all in the Lord,” Smith said. Her church family, pastor and his wife and her husband and her children are inspirations as well.
A role model, Smith said, I someone who is “there all the time” just to sit and listen, “to say let’s see what we can do for each other, feed off each other.
“I just love what I do,” she said. “It’s a reward every day to come to work. It’s awesome to me. It’s an awesome responsibility and an awesome task that I have.”