Central School’s Kate Smith named Teacher of the Year
By Deborah McDermott
May 05, 2014 – 7:15 PM
SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — Central School music teacher Kate Smith, who has been a leader on everything from technology to gardening, has been named York County Teacher of the Year.
Smith is in Augusta today to be feted by the Maine Department of Education, and is now in the running for the 2015 Maine Teacher of the Year.
Those who may be wondering what gardening has to do with music have likely not talked with Smith before.
“Music connects with everything,” she said. “We can sing songs about gardening. We can listen to the sound of the rain on the hoop house. When we’re outside, we can listen to the high sound of birds and the low sound of the train.”
Smith remains a key partner in the school’s Outdoor Classroom, started several years ago with landscape architect Terrence Parker and cookbook author Kathy Gunst. The school was among the first to use food grown in its garden in the lunch program.
“Clearly what we’re doing here is innovative,” she said. “I’m passionate about children’s wellness and music is part of that. If you think through the lens of wellness, it’s not that big of a stretch.”
A strong advocate for teaching across subject matter, she said she believes music connects with everything from English to mathematics, to science to history. She said “it’s just a matter of connecting the dots.”
Smith, who is getting her masters degree in technology in education, is also a strong advocate for bringing technology into the classroom. She developed a professional development course for Central School teachers called “21 minutes.” The video course shows teachers how to integrate social media, blogs, document cameras and the like into their instruction.
In “21 minutes,” she shows teachers how to integrate 21 technological advancements into their instruction — one minute per item.
“They’re asked to do so much these days. And here’s all these amazing things out there for them to choose from. It’s like walking into this huge cafe and being able to eat anything you want. There’s only so much you can digest all at the same time,” she said.
The video gives the teachers a quick overview and then gives them backup material if they want to learn more. The video has gone viral, perhaps not surprisingly, and she is hearing from teachers as far away as Peru and Australia.
She said she is also passionate about South Berwick, and harkens to a school project she helped launch a couple of years ago when the town was considering closing Powderhouse Hill, its ski area.
She said the children explored different aspects of the ski area depending on their interest in subjects like physical education, art, English — and music, of course. She said her nomination for Teacher of the Year came from a community member, which she said she finds particularly gratifying.
Over the years, she’s also brought about $65,000 in grant money into the schools — including the grant that created the anti-bullying campaign at the school.
“She is so dedicated to everything she does here,” said Principal Nina D’Aran. “She is a passionate advocate for children and education.”