Apple for the Teacher award goes to Roy High School's Michele Kersey-Smith

Sunday , May 21, 2017 - 2:00 AM

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

ROY — When she was young, Michele Kersey-Smith would sometimes shadow her dad at work when he was an elementary school teacher in Huntsville.

“I remember mingling with the students and watched what he did and thought I could do that job some day,” she said.

And that’s exactly what she did.

Kersey-Smith is retiring after teaching in Northern Utah for more than 30 years. In her now-empty classroom at Roy High School Wednesday, May 17, “Miss K,” “Coach K” or “Ms. Kersey,” as students call her, wiped away tears.

She said she’s going to miss her coworkers, but most of all she’ll miss the kids.

“School has just been my life,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed the high energy — the football games, the basketball games, the service projects, the dances — everything. Everything I’ve done at this place as made my life full.”

The Standard-Examiner’s Apple for the Teacher contest received about 1,500 nominations, and Kersey-Smith ultimately won the contest with 139 votes. Apple for the Teacher is sponsored by McKay-Dee Hospital, which is providing $500 in prizes to Kersey-Smith. 

“This is something that is well-deserved,” Roy High Principal Kirt Swalberg said. “She’s one of the finest educators I’ve come across in my years of experience. She loves kids, and she loves Roy High.”

See the 10 teachers who got the most Apple for the Teacher votes below

Kersey-Smith comes from a family of educators.

“I think I come by it naturally,” she said. “I love kids. I love to see them get excited. Like, as soon as you walk in the school, you feel the energy.”

After considering law school and deciding it wasn’t for her, Kersey-Smith got a degree in English from Weber State University and started teaching at T.H. Bell Junior High School. While there, her boss asked her to get a math degree too.

“He goes, ‘I want you teaching in the classroom. I want you teaching girls that they’re good at math,’” she said. “He was ahead of his time.”

Despite having a knack for it, Kersey-Smith dropped out of a math class her sophomore year of high school because she didn’t get along with the teacher.

She had to get over that when she went back for her math degree through the Weber School District and Utah State Office of Education because the first instructor she met was the same one she hadn’t clicked with in high school.

“He was fabulous, but I think too that I had grown up a little bit,” she said, laughing. “I understood life a little bit better than I did at 16, and he had grown and understood people a little bit better.”

Kersey-Smith went on to teach math at Roy High in the early 1990s and never left. She also earned a master’s degree from Weber State, an ESL endorsement and an administrative endorsement from Idaho State University.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Kersey-Smith has relied on her faith to help her through her bad days. An occasional pick-me-up Diet Coke from her nephew Joshua William Bitton has helped too.

Bitton said his aunt tutored him in the evenings while he was in middle school, even after she had spent the day teaching, coaching the cheerleading team and running night school classes.

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“She’s not just well-known here at Roy High, she does a lot for the community,” he said. “We can literally go to the mall ... it happens all the time where someone, one of her former students, will come up to her and say hi. Anywhere she goes, someone knows her.”

Kersey-Smith agreed to coach the cheerleading team at Roy High despite only having cheered in high school. She didn’t know much about it, but with some help, she led the team to compete at championships several times in 15 years. 

Kersey-Smith also coached softball, leads the school’s Key Club, and volunteers for summer school and evening classes.

Junior Amanda Jacobson had her as a teacher and said Kersey-Smith was a “little bit crazy.”

“Her enthusiasm was just a little off-putting at the beginning, but now I see the way her students are, she has to be that way because she loves teaching so much,” Jacobson said. “She’s not one of those teacher who just sits there and talks and everybody knows ‘this teacher hates teaching.’”

Rex Sweeten, now a senior, had Kersey-Smith as his sophomore math teacher. He admitted he was a little immature in her class.

“I used to give her a little bit of crap, but now I’m a much better student,” Sweeten said. “I think she really deserves an award because she’s a really encouraging to her students. She tries to push them to do their work.”

Kersey-Smith said the hardest part of her job is motivating students to dig deeper and push harder. At the same time, she’s sensitive to how overwhelming the world can be for teenagers.

“I just love seeing youth because they may never use math down the road, but if they have the confidence to do math, it makes them think, ‘Hey I can do this,’ and it seeps into other areas of their life,” she said.

Kersey-Smith’s sister Lori Bitton nominated her for the Apple for the Teacher award because she has seen the many students who see her after graduation and tell her what a difference she made in their lives.

“I tease her and say her DNA is all over Roy High School and they’re going to miss you,” Bitton said.

It was February when Kersey-Smith ultimately decided this would be her last year at Roy High. She’s going to spend more time with her two daughters, her husband James “Ogden” Smith — who is actually from Alabama — and her grandchildren. She and her husband might also serve an LDS mission.

“You’re moved in certain directions for a reason, and I just feel so lucky to be a part of education,” she said, crying.

Editor’s note: The Apple for the Teacher contest and this story were sponsored by McKay-Dee Hospital and Medical Center.

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at aburleson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB or like her on Facebook at Facebook.com/BurlesonReports.

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