Meridian Star

May 12, 2013

Former builder now helps Build Dreams

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Shop class isn't just for guys anymore. The dedication of one shop teacher so impressed a young lady in his class that she nominated him for the Golden Apple Teacher of the Month.

    He's only two years into his teaching career, but when Jeremy Smith began his career in education, he brought with him years of experience at running a construction company. Smith, construction technology and carpentry instructor at Southeast High School, is the Golden Apple Teacher of the Month for May. Sponsors surprised Smith recently with the award after he was selected from a field of nominees. A student who is graduating this year nominated him and couldn't say enough about him.

    In her nomination letter, Katie Sumrall said that Smith believed in her when she didn't believe in herself.

 "Most people would say that shop class was for guys, but with me being a girl who is not afraid of being dirty or breaking a nail, I took the class. I personally love the class," Sumrall said. "I can change light sockets, hang sheet rock, paint, run electrical wires, and even lay tile. If I am doing something wrong, he explains it to me. He pushes me to do the best at the things I never thought I would do because it was labeled as a man’s job."

    Smith ran his own construction company on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for about eight years, specializing in custom floors and custom showers. A Meridian native, he wanted to get back closer to home  and he thought he would go back to his original idea of becoming a teacher.

    Dwane Taylor, principal, said he was hired because of his work experience and also because of his background with children.

    "He reminds me of a football coach to some degree because he knows when to be tough on them and then he knows when to not be," Taylor said. "It takes some teachers a lifetime to learn that and I think he has mastered that pretty early."

    Smith's shop classes are for students in grades 10-12 and the first year course is construction technology, which includes electrical, masonry, plumbing, and safety. It also teaches students about getting and keeping a job and public speaking. The second year is carpentry.

    "Things are really changing and you have to change with them, fast," Smith said. "Technology being what it is, information can spread in a matter of seconds. We have a modern classroom. I teach from a smart board. I incorporate a lot of group projects."

    He teaches his students about teamwork and 21st Century job skills.

    "That's stuff that really wasn't focused on as much when I was in school, but I've learned that through the companies I've worked at and having my own company. So that's something I share with my students."

    Instead of building houses, now he's working to build the skills and in some cases, dreams of students who might otherwise never have thought of construction as a career.

    "I think it's rewarding seeing anybody kind of find their passion and what they like to do. Whenever students come in here that have never been in here before, a lot of times they don't know that they will be good at a certain skill or that they have that ability to do that skill," Smith said. "As you work with them, some students learn that they don't like it, but there are some students who realize that there is something out there that they never thought of before that they'll be good at. It's an avenue that they didn't know they had before, so that's very rewarding."

    He also teaches them that hard work and strong ethics are important to success.

    "If you're willing to work hard and operate with integrity, the money is out there for you," Smith said. "You've got to get your hands dirty and you have to work hard. Sometimes it's long hours but it's out there if you are willing to do it. I'm able to show them what they don't see in a conventional classroom."

    His classes are useful in other ways as well, he said.

    "A lot of people don't realize that maybe somebody going into fashion design could benefit from this course because they are going to have to learn to measure and cut and sometimes build molds. Somebody going into theater could benefit from this course, to prepare them for set design, lights, wiring," Smith said. "It can be a diverse class if you look at it at different angles. Everybody has some kind of interest in construction, whether it's around their house, everybody has a need for it, whether they realize it or not."