Passion for dance, hometown values will follow this grad to college and beyond

Cheerleading was an important part of Andrea’s high school career

Ready to graduate from high school, Andrea Smith is confident that she can accomplish whatever she sets out to do.

“If you have the right mindset and are predisposed to work hard, you will succeed,” she said.

She knows firsthand what it takes to get in that right mindset. While she is only 18, she has found herself resetting her life from time to time.

Growing up with grandparents Rex and Joyce Stalhood after the death of her parents became a blessing for this Kent City senior

Finding balance in her life likely started early for Andrea, who was enrolled in dance at age 4. It was then and still is  close to her heart.

“My mom danced, and my grandma thought it would honor her if I did too,” she said. Fourteen years later, she is an accomplished dancer in a variety of venues, including ballet, hip-hop and tap.

Andrea was only 9 months old when her parents were killed in a vehicle accident. Both she and her 2-year-old brother were in back seat and survived. She has lived with her paternal grandparents, Joyce and Rex Stalhood, since.

It is important for her, Andrea said, to be involved in extracurricular activities, but on more than one occasion has found herself reassessing her path. She participated on the track teams from middle school until she injured her knee. She was in marching band and color guard until her junior year, and was a cheerleader in her sophomore year and again in her senior year. “I know well the struggle of trying to balancing two sports or loves,” she said.

“Sometimes I just knew that I had too much going on and I had to slow down and focus on school,” she said.  A desire to build school spirit and hone her leadership skills before college prompted her to go back into cheerleading in this last year at Kent City.

Senior Andrea Smith stands by her decorated locker

With plans to attend Central Michigan University in the fall, she enrolled in college-level classes at Kent Career Tech Center but didn’t make the grades she had hoped for. So she switched to dual enrollment college classes offered at her school, worked hard and this time made the grade.

In addition to continuing her dance lessons, she serves as an assistant dance teacher at Dance With Me by Amber Marie in Sparta, plus works as a hostess across the street at Trini’s Mexican Restaurant. All the while, Andrea keeps up at school.

“She is an amazing student,” said Jeff Wilson, director of student services. “She has been through a lot and still has done really well on her studies while being involved in cheerleading and track.”

Andrea is the first in her family to set her sights on college, Wilson added.

“I always knew that I would want to go to college,” she said. “I want to work in the medical field, and I knew that would need college for that.” She hopes to pursue a career in occupational therapy and work with young children.

In addition to working hard at school, Andrea Smith is a dedicated dance pro

Taking her “old-fashioned” Values to College

The decision to choose CMU after graduation came easily, she explained.

It is big enough to be a nice change from the small town she has lived in her whole life, but not too big, she said. And it is close enough to come home whenever she wants.

“When I visited the campus, everyone smiled at me,” she said. “Everyone seemed so happy and I felt at home there.”

Andrea said she values home and family above everything. “People sometimes feel bad for me that I lost my parents when I was so young, but I have always had family,” she said. “Lots of people have it a lot worse than I do.”

She treasures the values instilled in her by Grandpa and Grandma. “I was raised kind of old-fashioned. I always knew right from wrong,” she said.

“We were raised to respect ourselves and everyone else. I want to always be the kind of person who looks to make somebody else happy.”

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio or email Janice.

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