Last bells ring: Faith Elementary media coordinator plans to travel, volunteer in retirement
By Maggie Blackwell
Librarians are often asked what their favorite books are. Ginger Smith, an educator for 31 years, has a ready answer.
“It’s Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt. There are times when we want to stay the same. This book teaches that living forever at one age is not the blessing we would think.”
She is surprised at the irony of this statement, as she readies to retire from Faith Elementary School, where she has served as media coordinator for 18 years. It’s the last day of school. Her teaching time is over. A new life lies ahead.
Smith received her degree in elementary education in 1978, and taught kindergarten for 13 years.
“Public kindergarten had just started,” she says. “Kannapolis City Schools used their old Mc-Knight school as a central kindergarten ó every classroom was a kindergarten class.”
She laughs as she remembers seeing the buses come to school in the mornings.
“They looked empty! There were no heads showing in the windows!”
Smith earned a master’s degree in library science in 1991 and began working at Faith Elementary, serving as the media coordinator.
“I have a special place in my heart for kindergarten, but I just love them all. You know, each age has its own qualities and personalities. I enjoy working with them all.”
She calculates she has worked with almost 2,000 children.
She adds that she feels blessed to have each child for six years, as the media coordinator. If she were still teaching, she’d have to tell each one goodbye after only a year.
It is Smith’s mission to encourage children to read, and she takes it seriously. Each year, she develops a theme for the library, and then designs an event to attract the children’s attention.
One year, the theme was, “Race to Read.” All the students rode buses to Lowe’s Motor Speedway, where they were treated to a ride around the track. A NASCAR driver visited the school and told them how important reading is.
Another year, Smith spied a giant inflatable dinosaur at a car dealership on her way to a Boone vacation. On her trip home, she stopped at the dealership and politely asked if she might have the dinosaur, and brought it home. The theme was, “Read-a-saurus,” and the dinosaur towered over the school.
Yet another time, the students had to “Get Groovy with Reading.” Smith and her daughter worked in the library until 1:00 a.m., blowing up inflatable guitars. They finally headed home when a policeman stopped by to investigate why the lights were on.
Smith is reluctant to use budget money that could be used in the classroom for these events, so she has also served as her own fundraiser over the years. She has held annual barbecues, printing the tickets herself, taking up money, and organizing parent and staff volunteers. She notes Gary’s BBQ has been a faithful partner in her efforts.
Smith says she has abided by three rules over the years:
– Love the children
– Be the best you can be
– Make it fun.
Two years ago, the school invited a caricature artist to come draw the faculty. As Smith waited her turn to be drawn, she wondered where she had seen the young man before. He looked so familiar. Her turn came.
“You look so familiar,” she said. “Have I met you before?”
“Aren’t you Mrs. Smith?” he asked. “You were my kindergarten teacher, and I never forgot you ó you told me I’d be an artist one day.”
Leaving is clearly bittersweet for Smith. She fondly looks over the photographs that chronicle her adventures over the years. She plans to garden, to travel, and to volunteer with the USO in welcoming troops back to the States. Of course she plans to volunteer with literacy in some way.
She leaves a legacy behind. The children clearly love her. On Wednesday, she visited each classroom to show children a picture of a statue she has ordered.
“This is a reading fairy,” she explained. “She is made of stone, and I am putting her in the library garden. Next year, I will be gone, but she will still be here to encourage you to read.”
The children swarm to hug her goodbye. She wants to stay, but she has a new life ahead of her.