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Doing what he loves by teaching tech, inspiring students

Rockstar teacher: Jeremy Smith

Photos by Dianne Carroll Burdick 

Kent City — It’s a Monday morning in Jeremy Smith’s multimedia class, which he starts by sounding out his high school students on their weekends — volleyball and football team wins, first place in marching band competition, a 15th birthday. Then he gives them their rundown for the coming week: turn in forms to start selling yearbook ads; create sports graphics for that week’s varsity games; finish making videos for athletics and Homecoming. 

“You’re all going to complete them, I’m going to watch ‘em, and then I’m going to pick the best,” he tells his students of the videos. “So, any questions on what we’re doing today? Finishing videos — let’s go!” he says, clapping his hands. 

The students all turn around and get to work on their computers, including seniors Savannah Miller and Izabella Arechinga. They’re creating a profile of math teacher Erik West for Academic Spotlight, a new series the district has launched to highlight its instructors. It features photos they took of West teaching math by timing students running 40 yards on the football field.

“We have a class picture at the end of this,” Savannah points out. “I think that would be cool to put it in there.” 

They both enjoy this kind of thing, poring through photos they took, editing them and highlighting the work of other teachers. They like how Smith challenges them with new skills while keeping things light. 

“It’s a really good way to express your creativity and try out new things,” Izabella says.  

“I think he’s a good teacher,” adds Savannah. “He’s really fun, but he also makes sure that we do (our work). We’re always doing something in class and learning. He really cares about students.” 

‘Enjoying What I Do Every Day’ 

Talk to Jeremy Smith for just a few minutes and it becomes clear how much he cares about his students.

“Students are just so much fun,” says Smith, in his 25th year of teaching at Kent City. “There’s just an energy that students bring, and a perspective. They’re creative and they’re kind. We have great kids at Kent City.”

‘The way the kids are pushed individually to do that work in the projects they have — that’s been a real joy.’

– Superintendent Bill Crane

For Smith, it’s all about teaching something he loves to students he hopes to equip for fulfilling futures.

“One of my wishes for every student is they get a job that they like as much as I enjoy teaching, because it’s been 25 years of just enjoying what I do every day,” he says. “A lot of people don’t like what they do, and I love it.”

Seniors Justin Mack, left, and Josh Anderson work on editing a video about Homecoming dress-up days

Smith found his passion for teaching after graduating from Maple Valley Junior/Senior High School in Vermontville, then enrolling at Grand Rapids Community College. Calculus convinced him an engineering major wasn’t for him, but he enjoyed tutoring other students in history. 

That enthusiasm launched him to study computer science and history at Grand Valley State University. Then it was on to his career at Kent City, where he’s taught at elementary, middle and high school levels. This semester finds him teaching about 140 students in computer applications, graphic design, web design and an eSports club. 

We’re always doing something in class and learning. He really cares about students.’

– Savannah Miller, senior multimedia student

His multimedia class is especially popular, providing students an entrée into high-tech graphics, photo and video skills while uploading their work onto platforms for the entire school system and community. 

“It feels pretty cool knowing that, like, you made that,” says senior Justin Mack, as he works on graphics for a Homecoming Dress Up Days video

‘He Made Us Want to be There’

Justin and his classmates highlight their school’s athletics programs on the district website, YouTube channel and Facebook page, as well as feeding Twitter and creating the school yearbook. Their editing and graphics work also give love to Homecoming, the marching band, academic honors and other school success stories, with Smith and a professional handling many of the photos and videos. 

Twice a year they produce an eye-catching online newsletter featuring photos and stories about the year’s activities. And this year they are splashing football players’ graphics on the new stadium video board.  

‘There’s just an energy that students bring, and a perspective. They’re creative and they’re kind. We have great kids at Kent City.’

 – Jeremy Smith, high school teacher 

Superintendent Bill Crane, formerly Smith’s principal at the high school, calls him “a phenomenal teacher,” crediting his ability to connect with all students. “The way the kids are pushed individually to do that work in the projects they have — that’s been a real joy,” Crane says. 

He ought to know. His daughter Addyson took several classes from Smith, including multimedia where she handled a heavy load of editing (including a senior honors video) before graduating last spring. She is now studying broadcasting and cinematic arts at Central Michigan University, where she’s done editing and camera work for the CMU News Central livestream station.   

Multimedia students can use these Canon cameras and accessories for their assignments 

“I would definitely say the classes led me to where I am today,” says Addyson, who’s considering a career in media. “Mr. Smith was always very understanding, and listened and helped. He always made the class fun. He made us want to be there.”

Count Seth Vanderwest as one who wants to be there. In addition to multimedia class, the senior writes for the Kent City Athletics website and for Local Sports Journal, covering games in the Kent City area. He appreciates both the support and creative freedom Smith gives him. 

“He explains what we need to do, and then he lets us just get our work done,” Seth says while working on a Homecoming video. “He’s really complimentary, too. He’ll just go around and say, ‘Good work, you’re doing great, I like how you did that.’” 

On this Monday morning, Smith gives out plenty of way-to-go’s as he roams the classroom, while helping students learn new skills. “Good job!” he exclaims. “Don’t forget to save!”

With so many projects in process, it’s all a little chaotic – in a good way, Smith says. Students know their work will be viewed hundreds of times, so they better get their facts straight and spellings correct. 

“It puts a good kind of pressure on them, but it gives them such a great feeling of accomplishment,” he says. “When I say, ‘OK, it’s published,’ they go on their phones and they’re like, ‘There it is! It’s live! It’s on Facebook!’”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio


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