Smith’s goal is to teach respect for other countries

Published 12:15 pm Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Maria Smith’s Spanish class at Andalusia High School is known for its piñata parties and maraca making, but the one thing she wants her students to learn from her class is to have respect for people that come from Latin countries.

Smith came to the United States from Venezuela in January 1989.

“Dr. William McWhorter, the president of LBW Community College at the time, always traveled to Venezuela to offer students scholarships,” Smith said. “The counselor at the high school I was at knew Dr. McWhorter. He took about 20 of us from Venezuela back to Andalusia.”

Since 1998, she has remained in Andalusia, earning her associate’s degree from LBW Community College and her bachelor’s and master’s degree from Auburn University in Montgomery. She went on to earn her citizenship after finishing LBW Community College.

“I left a beautiful, rich country to come to America because I wanted to live the American life,” Smith said. “I came here and had my student visa. I worked at Church’s Chicken while I was in school. I did my internship at Red Level Elementary School under Sarah Robinson in 1996, and then after I finished school, I worked at Henderson Sewing Co., until a spot opened at Andalusia.”

Being a Spanish teacher was not Smith’s main goal after college, but now after 22 years at AHS, she couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

“I went to school and earned my degrees in early childhood education,” Smith said. “It wasn’t the plan to teach Spanish, but now I enjoy teaching. I enjoy teaching my culture, the food, the music. It keeps me connected to my country.”

Although she loves Venezuela, she never thought of going back after she made it to Andalusia.

“For me, I wasn’t escaping from my country,” Smith said. “I wasn’t escaping a corrupt government where the economy was 1,000 percent lower than the country I was running to. Technology has enhanced so much that I practically get to see my family whenever I want to. When I first came to the U.S., it was hard because the Internet wasn’t around, but now I am able to Facetime them and call them whenever I want.”

Smith said she wants to make sure that her students are exposed to the Latin culture.

During Hispanic Heritage month, she does several projects for students to know how several Latin Americans have impacted the United States.

“I have made my students make bookmarks of their favorite Latin American celebrity that has facts on the back of how they impacted the U.S.,” Smith said. “I make them do PowerPoint presentations and posters on them because it is important to show them that a Latin American person can make a difference. I want them to know just how important Spanish is in America. Living in Andalusia, there is no way that they can see that. So, I try to expose them to as much of the culture as possible.”

National Hispanic Heritage Month was enacted on Aug. 17, 1988, by President Lyndon Johnson on the approval of Public Law 100-402. The day of Sept. 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Smith hopes through her class students will go one to be prosperous members of the United States.

“I’m not there to be anybody’s favorite teacher, that’s not my main goal,” Smith said. “I am there to teach them about the world and to be a positive, prosperous person in the United States that has the knowledge to respect different cultures.”