LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Lori Smith

Position: Retiring Special Education Teacher
School: Greene County Career Center
School District: Greene County Career Center
City, State: Xenia, OH

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Lori Smith was nominated by an anonymous colleague.

With retirement looming, Ms. Smith has dedicated 37 years to educating students with disabilities. She has created programming and enriched the lives of the students she serves.  Over the years, a few of her accomplishments include co-teaching math, creating and facilitating severe behavioral units, and most recently, working as a lab instructor for Career X, a Career Technical Education program for students with disabilities. 

Career X started in 2018 with 20 students.  After the first year, the program received so many applicants that another program was started. The Career X lab instructor who was hired was the student teacher who trained under Ms. Smith. Ms. Smith and Ms. Poindexter are completing their second year of a double lab which serves over 50 students with disabilities yearly.

The motto for Career X is “persevere.” Ms. Smith works with students to explore career options in six different areas, collecting data on work performance, quality of work, and student interest levels. She focuses on work stamina, professionalism, and following directions. Prior to the first year implementing Career X, Ms. Smith worked outside of her school day to visit other programs. She piloted curriculum options during the summer and created a simulated work environment prior to the program start. She did this because of her love for students and her desire to provide equity to and opportunity to students with disabilities. Ms. Smith believed that juniors and seniors in high school would be better served attending the Career Center to explore different career pathways versus sitting for a half day in electives, simply filling a school day.

After choosing the PAES curriculum, Ms. Smith quickly realized that she would need to supplement the curriculum to make it meaningful in a year-long lab. She knew that one of the barriers for students to work was not obtaining their driver’s license.  She wrote a grant and was able to purchase 2 driving simulators. In addition, she created modules from the driver’s education practice book. Before students were able to attempt the 16 lessons built into the driving simulator, they had to complete the modules she created and pass the practice test online. As a result of her time, more than 10 students have obtained their driver’s license.  She has also created modules to teach students to be independent in skills such as laundry, cooking, and even wiring electric to a lamp.

Although Ms. Smith uses a curriculum, she has not limited her students’ opportunities to explore areas of interest.  The PAES curriculum provides exploration in six career pathways, allowing students to complete tasks in computer science, construction/industrial, processing and production, consumer science, and business marketing. However, those weren't enough choices for Ms. Smith. She began to work with the 22 additional lab instructors at the Greene County Career Center and created internship opportunities for students accepted into her lab.  She also created business partnerships with outside community businesses to allow students to gain real work experience.  Her dedication to providing the best learning experience for students with disabilities has enabled them to be accepted into other labs, earning industry credentials and gaining competitive employment after graduation. 

In addition to teaching, Ms. Smith collaborates with OOD, Greene County DD, and speech-language pathologists to create lessons for the classroom to promote social skills, work stamina, and professionalism. She has created a partnership with the Career Center Sports and Exercise Program that benefits both labs. The Sports and Exercise Science students create work out plans for the Career X students, providing her students with personal trainers and individualized exercise programming. Ms. Smith is always willing to take student teachers. As a result, she helped ignite a partnership with the Cedarville University School of Education. Her school hosts seniors focused on special education for a semester. 

Ms. Smith's ventures have led to successful student placements with the Greene County Juvenile Courts, 4-Paws, Hospice of Dayton, Crayons to Classroom, TAC Industries, and McDonalds, to name a few places. She helped a female student, whose family was told she would live in a group home upon graduation, pass her driver’s exam, work with the juvenile court system alphabetizing case files, and connect with Opportunities for Ohioians with Disabilities (OOD). Today, that student is competitively employed full-time and driving herself to work. This year, another student began a paid internship simply cleaning the front lobby with McDonalds. They've been promoted to a shift manager charged with the drive-thru employees and cooks. They were that McDonalds store's March employee of the month and received a raise in pay.

"There is no better feeling than when you attend an IEP meeting of a student from Lori’s lab.  You hear parents expressing their gratitude that she believed in their child and set high expectations," said the nominator. "Lori has been an inspiration.  I strive to be better because our students deserve the best, and Lori gives them her best every day."

Ms. Smith has many accolades to celebrate her successes.  She has been recognized as an Ohio teacher of the year and winner of the Franklin Walter award for changing the lives of students with disabilities. Ohio Career Tech recognizes her Career X lab as a model program in the state. Career Tech Schools across the State of Ohio meet with Lori to discuss implementing Career X in their school.  She happily shares resources. 

"Lori is, by definition, a true LifeChanger. She never gives up on students, provides exposure to career pathways that highlight their potential, and continues to improve the Career X lab, because good is not good enough," said the nominator. "Lori not only motivates her students, but her colleagues, as well.  I know I am a better educator because of our collaboration and time spent with each other."