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Another student high-fives him for being


“Thank you for congratulating him,”

Smith commends the second student.

The kids are having fun as they learn, but

Smith has command of the excitement.

When several students want to answer

at the same time, or argue about whose

answer is correct, Smith reins them in.

“Voices off,” Smith announces.

Some students respond, “Yes ma’am.”

Others keep talking.

“Voices off,” she says in a louder voice.

“Yes, ma’am,” they all respond.

“Eyes on me,” Smith continues.

“Eyes on you!” All the students shout.

Order has been restored in a loving way,

a microcosm of what Smith would like to

see on a larger scale.

“I think the urban community is really

falling apart,” Smith told me during the

break. “It also affects the greater good,

the bigger community, and the kids are

affected by it. So for me (teaching) ends

up being a ministry.”

Her Dream

Smith shares her faith as appropriate in

a public school setting, such as praying

with students over lunch and telling her

students why she goes to church during

the holidays. But she says “the part that

is missing” at Conder is the spiritual

aspect of education, centered around

“resilience,” the core of her CIU doctoral


“That’s really important because the

spiritual building up of a person builds

resilience ... you can rely on the Holy

Spirit, it’s going to build resilience in you

that a non-believer wouldn’t have,” Smith


“Students who live in poverty come

with a lot of lack,” she continued, “so

resilience is the ability

to be successful in spite

of the adversity you are

going through. These

students come with a

lot of adversity, things

are against them, they

are already labeled

in some cases, and

resilience-building for

them is the support we

provide educationally

that they lack at home.”

So her dream is to

open an urban Christian

school, combining

some of the best

that has already

been implemented

at a magnet school

such as Conder, with


“I’ve always wanted

to be a leader in

education,” Smith said, who at age 39, is

a third generation educator in her family.

“God planted (a vision) in me about five

years ago, for a (Christian) residential

school because of the situations these

students come from.”

Smith explains that a residential school

will minister to the whole family as

parents work on stabilizing themselves in

careers or education, while knowing their

children are in a safe place with Christian

house parents. She is praying about

whether the school would be a private

school, which most parents would have

difficulty paying for, or a charter school.

“What would make my school unique is

the fact that I’m building resilience, and

that’s the blessing that came out of my

(doctoral) dissertation,” Smith said.

Her Passion

Smith has 15 years of teaching

experience and was named the school

district’s Teacher of the Year for 2007-

2008. If there is a down side to her

dream, it is going from the classroom to

an administrator’s position.

“I love to see growth when (the students)

make connections because of the learning

I gave them. Ah! It’s awesome,” Smith

said excitedly just thinking about it.

“That is going to be the hardest thing

in leaving the classroom. I think God is

leading me into leadership, but I have to

see little faces.”

“God planted (a vision) in me about five

years ago, for a (Christian) residential school

because of the situations these students

come from.”

–Dr. Tara Smith

Tara Smith (right) and her twin sister Tamara S. Riley listen

as Tara is presented her doctoral degree during the May

commencement at CIU. Tamara received a Master of

Education degree at CIU in 2000.



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