Smith excelled as a student at Tates Creek High School and followed her sister, Shawnetta, to Transylvania, where she was able to thrive, she says, and “prove that no matter where you come from you can succeed.”
In 2014, she returned to her alma mater, Tates Creek High, where she was named Kentucky’s 2016 School Social Worker of the Year. “I’ve been blessed by having opportunities,” she says. “I just felt it made sense to come back and help the same folks in the same neighborhood I grew up in and left to make a better life.”
Every day is different for Smith, because, as she explains, students who experience trauma manifest it in ways that can’t be anticipated. “For the kids who act out, once we dig deeper and find out it’s because of a traumatic event, then we can work with them.” And listen.
“I just felt it made sense to come back and help the same folks in the same neighborhood I grew up in and left to make a better life.”As a certified Youth Mental Health First Aid instructor, she is active in the county’s Project AWARE grant, helping to train teachers, faculty, staff, parents and even some older children how to look for signs of mental illness. “I love training. I love spreading the word—making mental health okay and reducing the stigma,” she says. “But also meeting so many different people from other schools and agencies and hearing their ideas and struggles and seeing how we can come up with a plan together.”
Smith is constantly learning, mentoring and earning advanced certification in her field, emulating those who guided her. “The professors and everyone at Transy helped me on my journey to do more,” she explains. “Besides the great education I received, what sticks with me the most is how much professors gave back and invested in their students—that whole attitude of helping others and being there for each other.”
She loves writing recommendations and seeing the process repeat as Tates Creek students attend Transylvania, then return to their alma mater to teach, as several have.
When asked about the difficulty of her job, she deflects praise to acknowledge her colleagues. “Funny thing,” she says, “I know my job’s hard, but, being in education, I admire teachers. I don’t think I could do that. We all lean on each other, which is great. I wouldn’t be here without teachers. It’s full circle.”