Kris Smith has always known, even as a child, that she wanted to become a teacher.
Now in her 20th year as a teacher at Garfield Elementary School, Smith still loves teaching.
"Every day is a new experience," said Smith. "I like the challenge of finding creative ways of teaching children to learn. Most of the perks of our jobs are the inside stuff - what you get back from the kids."
Occupation: Third-grade teacher at Garfield Elementary School in Brainerd. She's taught at Garfield for the past 20 years. She's also the track coach at Brainerd High School.
Family: Lives north of Brainerd with her husband, Tom, and their three children, Cole, a Forestview seventh-grader; Allyson, a Nisswa fourth-grader; and Gabbie, a Nisswa first-grader. Her husband teaches physical education and health at Pequot Lakes High School.
Hobbies: Running, reading, singing and most of all, spending time with her family, which is her No. 1 priority.
Favorite teacher: Mr. Bollman, her high school speech teacher while growing up in Pine Island. He was very wise, very direct and taught me a lot, said Smith.
Least favorite subject in school: Math was not my favorite subject but it's my favorite to teach, said Smith. She said she always rushed through her math assignments and made a lot of mistakes. She now enjoys the challenge of finding strategies to reach her students who also struggle in math.
Favorite read aloud book for third graders: Number the Stars, by Lois Lowrey.
Favorite third-grade book they read themselves: The A to Z Mysteries series by Ron Roy.
Her secret dream: I've always wished I'd performed in a musical, said Smith, who enjoys singing. Maybe someday when my kids are grown.
Smith grew up in Pine Island where her father was a high school principal. She attended Concordia College in Moorhead, where she also ran track, and earned her degree in elementary education. While competing at a national track meet her senior year she got the word from her father that she'd been hired at Garfield School. She was excited but nervous, too. But she soon discovered that Garfield teachers and staff were a cohesive group, making it a comfortable and warm place to be. She's taught first- and fifth-grades, but has taught third grade for the past 14 years.
Garfield third-grade teacher Kris Smith helped her student, Jessica Frank, with her assignment Friday during class.
Brainerd Dispatch/ Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
This year all three Garfield third grade classes are participating in a childhood obesity pilot project, funded by a $50,000 grant provided to St. Joseph's Medical Center by the University of Minnesota Health Center through an allocation from the State of Minnesota's Medical Education and Research Cost.
Because of this grant, third-graders receive a healthy snack each day and once a month a nutritionist visits to discuss healthy food choices. Her students will receive stability balls to sit on next week, replacing their student chairs. The stability balls have been shown to improve posture, concentration and even handwriting. Smith is excited about the changes and the pilot project. She said she's always been physically active and never has been one who likes to sit still. She tries to break up their school day with five minutes of exercise here and there so her students stay alert and focused.
Smith said this year only seven of her 30 students had attended Garfield before; they'd switched schools this fall because of the district's new attendance boundary policy.
"They were really nervous," said Smith, of her students' first day of school. "I just told them, 'Trust me.'"
A student raised her hand Friday in Garfield third-grade teacher Kris Smith's class. Brainerd Dispatch/ Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Now her students have become like a family, she said. They learn sign language in her class and practice often since the school district's elementary program for deaf and hard of hearing students is based at Garfield. The school district's elementary special education programs are located at Garfield and Riverside schools. Smith said this is a great benefit to her students of all abilities.
"I think kids just gain an acceptance for all people," Smith said. "No matter who you are, you deserve to have people greet you and look you in the eye and shake your hand. No matter who you are."
Smith said she has always enjoyed working with kids, especially those who need a confidence boost.
"I'm really drawn to kids who have little self-esteem," said Smith. "It's my challenge to make them come out of their shell. Drawing them out is my biggest reward."
When she's not working, Smith is usually attending one of her children's many athletic activities; right now it is hockey season and all three of their children participate. During the summer her family enjoys spending time together grilling and hanging out around a bonfire. Her husband, Tom, is one of six children who grew up in Brainerd and so there are 12 Smith cousins who are close, she said. Smith has two of her nieces, Sam and Madison Smith, on her track team at Brainerd High School, and each of her three children have a cousin the same age so they spend a lot of time together.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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