Henrico’s Top Teachers – Kenyatta Smither

Kenyatta Smither does not consider his position as an educator to be a job.

“It is my mission,” he says. “It’s my mission to help give [students] the spark to learn and develop the tools that will make them successful in life.”

As a special education instructional assistant at Rolfe Middle School, Smither sees “a great disconnect” in the lives of many children, who often lack motivation to achieve because of the limited expectations others have for them. “They face obstacles daily,” Smither says of his students, “and education may not be their primary motivation.” 

Noting that he became an educator because he wanted to be a positive influence, Smither counters those limited expectations with his own. He strives to inspire his students by posting special “power” messages on the classroom door and blackboard.

“Respect, responsibility, and reward is my personal motto that I live by in the classroom,” he says, “[and] the expectation I have for every student I encounter.”

One of his most rewarding moments as an educator, says Smither, was seeing the “magnificent job” his students did on a science project last year about the solar system and George Washington Carver.

Working on their projects for weeks, the students designed elaborate displays of the planets, built space shuttles, and created shadow boxes featuring Carver’s inventions.  In addition to a display, each student completed an oral presentation describing his or her project.

The results, according to Smither, were “awesome.”

“Teachers and administrators come to our class just to view the students’ accomplishments. The students were very proud of their work [and] eager to share with people how hard they worked on their projects.” 

“Some people couldn’t believe the students were capable of doing the projects,” he recalls. “Others stated they had never seen the students so motivated.”

None of this comes as a surprise to Smither’s admirers, one of whom writes, “He will always go above and beyond to encourage and support his special needs students. He will always challenge them to their fullest, but understands that every child learns differently – [and] given the chance will soar.”

Smither never misses an opportunity to instill the “Knowledge is Power” message in his students, says a nominator, adding, “Kenyatta Smither is Rolfe’s hidden treasure. His encouragement, his teaching, his mentoring, his ideas, his energy and his tough love should be modeled throughout the HCPS school system.”
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