Made for middle school

First-year teacher in Mt. Baker’s Room 607 jazzed to impart crucial life skills to kids

Kayla Smith has loads to teach her sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders when that blasted school bell rings in the end of their summers at Mt. Baker Middle School on Wednesday.

She’ll introduce them to the notions of tablespoon, teaspoon, even the theoretical underpinnings of quarter cup.

Hopefully, bulk up their fortitude to the point they can skip that infamous aisle at the Supermarket, where those fat, sugar and carb-laden goodies sing their siren songs, and move themselves on to better choices.

And show ’em why – if you expect people actually to eat your snickerdoodles – it matters so much at batter-mixing time – trust Ms. Smith, she knows – to distinguish a cup of sugar from a cup of salt.

While many of the wide-eyed, apple-cheeked set making that big leap to middle school may not have thought about these subjects in the elementary grades, they’ll get plenty of them in their Family Consumer Science and Technical Education (FCSTE) classes as they climb the ladder in the years ahead.

And the first-year FCSTE teacher in Room 607 will be up to the task.

“I’m excited, more than anything,” Smith said. “But I know the sixth-graders, especially, are going to be nervous on their first day at their new school, so I can relate to that.”

She pauses a moment.

“I know it sounds bad,” Smith said, “but I think being a new teacher is going to be really good for me because I’m closer to their age than some of the older teachers. I’ll tell ’em, ‘You know, only 12 years ago I was in your shoes, so I know what you’re going through,’ and they’ll take it more seriously than from someone who’s older. Hopefully, they’ll be able to relate to me more.”

Born and raised in Buckley, Smith, 22, graduated from White River High School in 2015 and headed straight to Central Washington University, a softball standout on scholarship.

A bit about her jockish side.

“I’ve been playing softball practically since my birth, played infield, outfield. I played with The Acers in Auburn. When I went to college, I played outfield and pitched to wrap up my career,” Smith said.

From her earliest years, Smith said, she knew she wanted to be a teacher, but just who she’d teach and what she’d teach them, she had no idea.

“My high school teachers helped solidify I wanted to be a teacher, I just didn’t know what subject. At the time, I was thinking elementary would be it. But when I got to Central, I took one of the elementary classes, and I’m like, ‘no,’ ” Smith said.

It was in part her fondness for wisecracking, jokes, even occasional sarcasm, that helped convince Smith that teaching elementary school kids would not be her bag.

“The really little kids don’t always get the joke. They take it seriously,” Smith said.

So, she cast about and discovered Central’s family and consumer science and technical education program.

“My grandma and I always used to sew and cook, and that’s pretty much what consumer science is: teaching kids life skills like cooking, finance, sewing and child development that will carry them on to whatever they choose to do,” Smith said. “It’s pretty much all of those building blocks, so that when they do graduate, they’ll be set up to sustain themselves in the real world rather than not knowing.

“I was like, ‘OK, that program sounds amazing,’ so I went there. There were only, maybe, six of us in the whole program when I got in, and by the time we graduated in June, there were only three who graduated,” Smith said.

Smith is the first teacher in her family. Her mother is a baker-turned-real estate agent, her father a machinist for Boeing and a sometime softball coach. She has a younger brother, Josh, exactly two years younger.

Away from school, Smith and her fiancé indulge in their common passion for all things outdoors.

“When I’m not fishing, I’m camping, coaching, traveling, anything outdoors,” Smith said. “I’m outdoorsy, a plain Jane, I guess.”