Never run out of STEAM
Teaching, tech, levies, bonds … one teacher is at the crossroads
Before she took up the mantle of teaching, Lindsay Smolko was a family therapist. When her oldest child started preschool, she felt the call to teach and started working on her certification. She initially taught in the Fife School District before moving to Shining Mountain Elementary to teach 4th grade in 2017.
“I drove home to tell my husband I was excited to work there,” she said following her interview at Shining Mountain. “It was then he told me that was HIS elementary school.”
Teaching at her husband’s alma mater was the start of something special for Smolko. It was there that she became a STEAM specialist, something she’s passionate about. STEAM is an educational approach that integrates science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math. When she was hired on at Katherine G. Johnson Elementary, our district’s first ever STEAM School, she was elated. She said the opportunity was “irresistible.”
“I firmly believe STEAM learning is what’s best for kids. Traditional teaching compartmentalizes subject areas — math at math time, reading at reading time, etc., but that’s not real life. Everywhere we go, everything we do, requires multiple skills applied at the same time.”
Smolko has been teaching for nine years, and like her other colleagues she’s seen the changes impacting the teaching profession due to COVID-19. A National Board Certified Teacher, Smolko loves facing challenges, and the performer in her loved creating new ways of teaching in remote and hybrid models alongside her “wonderful team of problem-solving collaborators.”
Bethel had an advantage going into the pandemic. Back in 2014, voters approved the district’s first ever Technology Levy and then voted to renew it in 2018. When COVID-19 closed school buildings, all Bethel students and teachers had immediate access to iPads, which let everyone focus on learning, rather than finding a way to get teachers and students connected remotely.
Now that everyone is back in school, the iPads continue to improve our students’ technological literacy, enhance their creativity, and level the playing field for children of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
“There continue to be challenges. This pandemic isn’t over, and yet we continue our jobs as students and teachers while lugging around the effects of a collective trauma,” said Smolko. “I’m hoping we turn ‘learning loss’ into educational reform that creates more confident problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators and innovators.”
Second generation teacher
Smolko’s parents were both teachers. She credits them, her grandmother, and “some incredibly inspiring public school teachers,” with her love for teaching and learning. She said the best teachers were the ones who made personal connections with her and to their content areas.
“They used the arts, hands-on activities, the socratic method, student-driven discussion and gave choices and second chances. I’ve always strived to be the kind of teacher I loved and the type I’d want my own kids to have,” she said.
That goes for her students now, and the ones she taught her first year as a teacher.
“My very first students graduated in 2021. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, I had to settle for watching the livestream of their graduation, but I clapped and cried like a weirdo every time one of them walked across the stage.”
A new school
Named for the renowned mathematician, and funded by Bethel voters, Katherine G. Johnson Elementary will be opening it’s doors this spring. Because it will be during the school year, teachers and students started the school year together in three neighboring schools: Clover Creek, Naches Trail, and Thompson elementaries. That way, when Katherine G. Johnson opens its doors this spring, classroom and school culture don’t need to be rebuilt.
“We worked hard as a planning team to build a culture of collaboration with a STEAM focus and heart for Restorative Justice,” Smolko said. “Our principals, Chris Brauer and Marianna Smith, have been the very best for this unique job, giving attention and grace and support in more ways than I’ve ever seen.”
“Our host schools have been wonderful,” she said, “but we are very excited to get our own space with access to all of our exciting materials and tech.”