The Legacy Lives On
By Mary Hardbarger
To Belle Heth and McHarg Elementary School Principal Tara Grant M.S. ’03, M.S. ’09: “School is love.”
That profound belief was instilled in her by the women who not only taught her — they raised her.
Grant, of Radford, Virginia, is a third-generation Radford University educator. Her mother, Linda Ferrell Edwards ’80, M.S. ’90, and grandmother, Sibyle Larine Crigger Ferrell, a 1942 Radford College graduate, are proud alumnae and former teachers and administrators.
This spring, the family’s fourth-generation educator officially emerged.
Grant’s daughter, Haley Smith ’20, earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and middle school education. She began her first teaching job at Dalton Intermediate School, also in Radford, this fall.
“It’s always been a family affair,” Grant said, sitting in her office at Belle Heth with her mother and daughter by her side. “Now, Haley is carrying on our legacy.”
“I think Radford University, itself, is a legacy,” Edwards added. “Education is a legacy. You have somebody, who helps somebody, who helps somebody, and it just keeps going on.”
Edwards has lived in Radford her entire life. She grew up just blocks from Radford University during the time it was called Radford College, and tuition was $150 a quarter, she recalled. Her mother, Sibyle, earned a bachelor’s degree in home economics with a certification to teach at the high school level.
“Mother was my eighth-grade math teacher,” Edwards said. “She told me I’d better call her ‘Mrs. Ferrell.’ So, the first day we were in class, I yelled, ‘Mother,’ and that was over with real fast.”
The old McGuffey Elementary School, where Edwards attended, was on campus and served as a teacher training school. The teachers Edwards had there would later become her professors.
“Do you remember any of their names?” Grant asked her mother.
“I remember them all,” Edwards said.
Edwards taught in the Pulaski County Public Schools System for seven years and later served as an assistant principal, then principal for 20-plus years.
Grant has fond memories of growing up in her mother’s classroom with her sister, Angie Edwards.
“We were always cutting out lamination and helping with this and that,” Grant said.
“And, the children just loved it,” Edwards continued. “They got to know the girls. Tara did this for us. Angie did that. They would love that connection.”
But Grant's path to education wasn't always as clear as her mother’s and grandmother’s. She calls herself a “late bloomer.”
“I got married, had a baby (Haley), got divorced and moved back home with my parents. I was blessed to have my family,” she said. “I remember my mom told me that anything you do, it’s going to help you. It’s like a tool in your tool bag.”
So, she enrolled, and quickly excelled, at Radford University. She has earned both a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and educational leadership. She is currently part of the University’s first cohort of Doctor of Education students.
Personally, Grant married a man named Mike Grant, Radford University men’s golf coach. Together, they have a son, Thomas.
2020 is Grant’s 20th year in education. She just finished her fourth year as principal at Belle Heth, which has temporarily consolidated with nearby McHarg Elementary School as it undergoes renovations.
“It’s a heavy job, but it’s also a work of passion,” she said. “If you keep students at the forefront of what you’re doing, you’re always going to do what’s best for them.”
Smith is following that advice as she begins her first year of teaching, one that is faced with unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“I’m excited for them to be back, just to see their faces,” Smith said. “It’s been difficult, but there is a lot of grace.”
As she celebrates achievements and overcomes setbacks, Smith remembers the teachers and professors who inspired and supported her.
The middle-school English teachers sparked her creativity. The now-retired Radford University education professor made breakfast and baked desserts every week for her students and sewed quilts for them when they graduated. A professor offered her essential oils and let her have a day off from student teaching when she was tired and overwhelmed.
“So many incredible professors have helped shape me and guide me. You’re so much more than just their student, because they really do care for you. And, I love that about Radford University,” Smith said.
Recently married, Smith recalls what she said at her bridal shower.
“And, what made us all tear up,” her mom added.
“I told them I was raised by strong women. Not only my family members, but my teachers, too,” Smith said.