Von Smith, Trailnet Champion
For the last five years, Von Smith has served as Froebel Literacy Academy’s Family and Community Specialist, a role that he views as a “privilege and responsibility.” His position involves encouraging parental involvement, improving student attendance and achievement, and developing relationships with community groups and agencies.
Mr. Smith is energetic and inventive in his efforts to develop partnerships between the school, its families, and its community. The most satisfying part of his job, he says, is “reaching out to parents in an effort to ensure students’ academic success.” His efforts to engage parents and families include “steak and egg breakfasts” for men in the community, using the school as a safe site for Halloween trick or treating, and starting a chess club for Froebel students.
Several years ago, Mr. Smith organized a Leadership Development Program for third through fifth grade students. Participants are selected by their classroom teachers and focus on four goals: improving communication skills, learning to collaborate, becoming better decision-makers, and volunteering in their community. Mr. Smith recruits a variety of community organizations to work with his Leadership students, and cites these efforts to make “lasting partnerships with the community” as another part of his job that he especially enjoys.
As one of the partners involved in the Leadership Program, Trailnet has worked with the students to disseminate information about pedestrian safety and to provide ways that students can act as advocates for their community.
Highlights of last year’s program included enlisting Leadership students as volunteers during a traffic calming demonstration in the neighborhood, and a visit by alderman Cara Spencer. Students had the opportunity to ask questions of Ms. Spencer and to relay their concerns about neighborhood safety. One outcome of this exchange has been a commitment from Alderman Spencer to set aside funds for crosswalk improvements around the school.
For Mr. Smith, the chance to meet with an elected official was an exciting opportunity for his young students. “It was more than we could have hoped for…to give these young leaders a chance to speak directly with their alderman,” he said.
Beginning this week, Trailnet will launch a “Pace Car Program” at the school. Students will collaborate in writing a Pace Car pledge and recruit parents and staff members as Pace Car drivers. The Pace Cars will model safe driving behaviors for other motorists in the area, obeying all traffic signs and regulations. Mr. Smith has approached this new program with his typical enthusiasm. “It will be a great way to get parents involved, and maybe even other schools – this will make the whole community safer for everyone.”
Trailnet will also work with MoDOT and Froebel’s physical education staff to offer the first Bike Week at the school this fall. Students will learn about bike safety and get a chance to try out their bike handling skills.
Many of us at Trailnet have had the pleasure of working with Mr. Smith over the years. His interactions with his students are inspiring; he never misses a chance to take an ordinary exchange and turn it into a teachable moment. He is always receptive to novel ideas, and willing to do whatever it takes to provide new opportunities for the students. He displays a deep and genuine concern for his students and their families. One issue that he particularly worries about is the amount of violence in the neighborhood. Our hope is that programs that put more people out on the streets, walking, biking and looking out for each other will make the neighborhood safer for everyone.