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Education takes Jessica Smith to American Samoa to teach others

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By Stephen Thomas

 FOX CHASE – A former Bullitt County valedictorian is showing that education can take a person a long way.

Jessica Smith, a 2007 North Bullitt graduate, is teaching in American Samoa later this year thanks to the World Teach program.

Smith recently graduated from Bellarmine University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, including a focus on learning and behavioral disorders.

“I always wanted to be a teacher, as long as I can remember,” she said.

The Bullitt County native attended Brooks Elementary, Hebron Middle and North Bullitt, noting that many of her teachers instilled a desire to pursue the field.

During the past school year Smith worked as a long-term substitute teacher for Overdale Elementary, filling in for third grade instructor Traci Barger who was on maternity leave.

A lifelong member of Hebron Presbyterian Church, Smith also teaches Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.

Smith hopes to return from her trip and continue her teaching career, possibly dealing with student behavioral disorders, possibly continuing with Overdale.

“I just love Bullitt County,” she said. “I loved my schools. That’s one of the reasons I went into teaching, the impact my teachers have had on me.”

World Teach, founded in 1986, is a non-profit, non-government educational assistance program offering unique teaching opportunities throughout the world. Smith selected the program over the Peace Corps because World Teach is a one-year plan rather than two.

American Samoa is an unincorporated United States territory made up of a group of small islands in the south Pacific Ocean region.

Among many reasons, Smith selected American Samoa over other locations because the local department of education pays World Teach participants. 

Smith will complete a one-month training before an entire school year of teaching at the elementary level in English.

“Samoan is the main language, but English is also spoken there,” she said.

World Teach paid for Smith’s training as well as transportation to and from American Samoa. Smith was required to include a $2,000 deposit which will be returned at the end of the year.

Smith’s journey included a flight to Los Angeles, where she met with 25 fellow program participants, including fellow Bellarmine graduate Courtney Estep.

“All of us had to have a bachelor’s degree in something, but we are all going to teach,” she said.

From Los Angeles, Smith flew to Hawaii, almost a midpoint to American Samoa, before leaving for her final destination of Olosega Island.

Olosega is a twin island with Ofu, both developed by Pacific shield volcanoes. The last area eruption occurred in 1866. The island consists of more than 200 residents on about 2,000 square miles.

Smith will stay in the Olosega village. She will teach at Olosega Elementary for grades K-8.

With the isolated location thousands of miles from home, Smith said her family had mixed reactions about her opportunity.

“Some were more excited,” she said. “My parents and my grandmother were not at the beginning.”

Smith is the daughter of Nancy Robison and Roger Smith. She and her brother, Tyler, live with their grandmother, Nancy.

“They’re just worried about me going away because I’ve never been gone so long. My cousins, aunts and uncles, they’re excited.”

Smith said the school had Internet connection, allowing her to email and video chat with family and friends. She also is hoping for an unusual gift from her family during her stay.

“I told them they should meet me in Hawaii for Christmas,” Smith said.