For this teacher profile, we used a traditional interview question and answer format. The intention is for you, the reader, to really get a feel for Laura Lou’s words and the heart behind them. What better way for our community to get to know one of our own that through her own words? Without further adieu, we give you Athens’ own Laura Lou Smith.
Q: Can you share a little background about you and your family?
A: I am the youngest of three girls (bless my father’s heart) raised right here in Athens, AL. I left for college in 1999 and moved back here last summer with my husband, Derrek, and two children, Mayme (3) and Hank (1) after being away for 17 years.
Q: Where did you attend college?
A: I received my undergraduate degree in Fine Art from Auburn University. War Eagle! I went on to receive my Masters in School Counseling from UAB.
Q: What is your education history and experience – your path that led you to AHS?
A: I spent the first ten years of my career as a school counselor at Clay-Chalkville High School- the largest high school in the Jefferson County School District. The day after my son was born, my husband was offered a job at Athens State University. By divine intervention, a counseling position opened up at Athens High School and the rest is history.
Q: I understand you are originally from Athens. How is Athens different from other places you’ve worked?
A: I was in a very transient school system for the last ten years. There was a small community of people that had been living there for quite some time and were very supportive of the school. However, the vast majority of families would just come and go. There was also very little business or industry in that community.
Athens has an overwhelming sense of community investment. From local businesses and organizations to parents and teachers- Athens as a whole invests so much time and money back into our schools.
Q: What does it mean for you to be back in your hometown and high school as a counselor? Is it special?
A: I truly cherish my memories of my primary school days from Athens Elementary all the way up to my graduation from Athens High School. I feel very blessed to be able to return to my hometown to raise my children.
My mother was a school counselor- a fact that I have often kept to myself while living away from here. Being back in the town where she served as counselor has forced me to embrace that very fact. I often come across notebooks, papers, policies that bear her name. It has now become quite comforting and sometimes amusing.
Q: What is it about Athens that made you want to return home?
My family. I miss many things about Birmingham, but I would make the same decision every time. My husband and I want our children to be raised in an environment much like we were both raised. I cannot wait to watch Mayme and Hank create some of the same sweet memories that I hold so dear.
Q: What do you wish other people knew about Athens High School – the students, faculty, staff and experience?
A: The investment that our teachers and staff make to the students at AHS is astounding. I’ve never seen anything like it. My favorite part of being at AHS is hands down, getting to work with the students. Our students are amazing, kind, respectful, driven, different yet all supportive of one another. If anyone has any doubt about our future, they need to come spend some time with the students at AHS. They will restore your faith in humanity.
Q: What trends do you see in education/counseling today that are of great importance and deserving of attention?
A: The world in which our students are growing up is very different place. It is so important that we continue to discover new ways to reach them. The Creative Exchange is just one of the MANY ways ACS is staying ahead of the curve. I am very excited to see the integration of technology, ingenuity, and community experience in a hands-on learning environment.
The introduction of advisory groups in schools is an exciting trend that helps to expand the reach of guidance programs. Through advisory, students will participate in lessons that touch on subjects that are of great importance all while creating a supportive small community within the schools.
Q: What is your personal educator and counselor philosophy?
A: Plain and simple- my greatest role as a school counselor is to be an advocate for my students. That can take on many different forms.
Q: Who is your greatest influence who has shaped your ideas and perspectives about education and counseling?
A: I was lucky enough to be raised by educators- my mother in schools and my father in the agriculture community. Their influence is immense and on going.
I also had the pleasure of working with some very seasoned educators. When I started out as a school counselor, I worked with two ladies who had over 60 years of experience combined. They were AMAZING in every way- very patient and supportive mentors and friends.
Q; What might people be surprised to learn about you?
A: That is a hard one- there is so much!
My husband was born and raised in Maine. We met on a blind date. Instead of carrying me far away from family, he is actually the reason we moved back to Athens. As an added bonus, we get to escape the heat each summer to go visit family in Maine.
Q: What is the most meaningful part of your work?
A: The relationships made with my students. It is easily the most meaningful and rewarding part of my job. They are constantly teaching me, inspiring me and challenging me to be a better person both professionally and personally.
Q: What are three traits that define you?
A: Being the youngest of three children, I am very flexible. Flexibility is a trait necessary in this job and as a mom! I am a fiercely loyal individual- to my family, my team:), my students, my friends, etc. I work hard. It was a trait that my parents instilled in me.
Q: What would you tell your 13 year old self today, knowing what you know now?
A: Enjoy being a kid. Growing up is overrated.