The Ripple Effect
Future teacher can apply life’s lessons with help from Hattie M. Strong scholarship
Ginny Smith, an elementary education student at RU, was working through math problems with a fifth grade boy at Riverlawn Elementary School in Pulaski when he said, “I can’t.” She immediately felt connected with this child—she knew what he was experiencing. She said, “I know it’s hard. This is really hard. But there is a difference between ‘it’s hard’ and ‘I can’t.’ Those are two different things.”
Smith had just expressed her life’s theme to the young boy, passing along a philosophy that had gotten her through many difficulties. In the next several weeks, Smith saw the boy take initiative and start earning perfect scores on math exams. “I saw a rejuvenation of him. This was one of the proudest moments of my life,” she said.
Smith grew up in the New River Valley but moved nine times while in elementary school as her
family struggled to survive. While Smith was still in her senior year of high school, she became pregnant. “I was a single mom trying to provide for my daughter, Amyha. It was very difficult to make enough money to support us without a
In 2009, Smith enrolled in Radford University’s elementary education program. “It was a lot harder and demanded more of my time than community college,” she recalled. “It was a difficult adjustment, but one that seemed to be going relatively smoothly. However, during the last week of the semester, my best friend suddenly passed away on my daughter’s birthday. We were best friends since kindergarten. It devastated me.”
Smith withdrew from RU and took two years off, working as a preschool teacher in Christiansburg. She again realized her income didn’t cover her bills. In 2012, she returned to RU and has excelled.
Assistant Professor Patricia Talbot describes Smith as an effective leader who brings to the classroom her life experiences as a single mom and someone who had struggled with poverty. She took the lead on a social studies methods class project that examined food availability at the local, national and global levels. The class visited Daily Bread in Radford, a facility that serves free hot meals each day to individuals and families who need them. The class discovered that RU did not donate the leftover food from the dining halls to the facility.
“Ms. Smith and another student took it upon themselves to set up an appointment with the director of Dalton Dining Hall and were successful in asking questions and making connections that have resulted in a plan for our dining services to share unneeded food with the Daily Bread,” Talbot said. “Without Ms. Smith’s initiative, this significant community resource connection would not have been made.”
This past semester Smith spent three full days in a fifth grade classroom at Riverlawn Elementary, and successfully completed four education classes scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays, all while
taking care of her daughter who will turn 8 on Halloween. Then her schedule became even more intense the last two and a half weeks of the semester with being full time at Riverlawn five days a week. “My daughter has been so supportive up until this past semester, when I didn’t have as much time to spend with her. Financially we struggle, but I want to give her at least my time. Before, I would help out in her classroom and volunteer at school. But this semester I wasn’t able to. It was hard on both of us,” Smith said.
It was hard, but Smith knew she could reach her goal. “During the semester, I kept telling Amyha, ‘Only one month left, only two weeks left, hold on, Mommy has only one week left!’ And we made it!”
During the last week of the semester, she submitted an application packet for the Hattie M. Strong Foundation (HMSF) Scholarship. The $5,000 scholarship is given to a student teacher who has exhibited outstanding success and enthusiasm in field experience before the final year of the program, has financial need, and has at least a 3.0 grade-point average in the two semesters prior to the final year of the program. Since 2012, RU education students Stephanie Ryan, Daphne Walter, Brittany Williams and Meagan Funck have received the scholarship.
Smith said this scholarship has changed her life. “It has increased the amount of hope I have for my future. As a single mom, one thing going wrong can mess up so much. I’m so thankful for the money, support and their belief in my abilities.”
Smith will graduate in December 2013 and will be the first person in her family to finish college. “I know my daughter will remember my graduation day and be inspired to go to college.”
In fall 2013, Smith will be student teaching in a first grade class at Riverlawn Elementary. Thanks to the Hattie M. Strong Foundation, she will use her personal experiences, her passion for teaching and her love of children to benefit others. “I will be able to encourage those who may think they can’t do it,” she said. “I know it’s hard, but they can do it. I did.”