Arion Smith is a Pre-K assistant teacher at Akili Academy, currently in her third year at the school. A graduate of the University of New Orleans, with a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree, Arion first discovered her passion for education as a senior in high school.
“I was a volunteer tutor, and in this role, I was able to see how important it is to lay the foundation of a good education at an early age,” she says. “I tutored two students who were struggling in math, and I discovered a lot of their challenges came from never mastering the basics of math. After that experience, I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment,” she says. “It made me realize that all of my teachers, from Pre-K to senior year of high school, gave me their best and made sure I always gave my best. That is when I realized that I wanted to be the same type of teacher, one who would accept nothing less than excellence from every young mind that entered my classroom.”
Arion’s belief on the importance of building a strong foundation in education is something her supervisor, PreK-2 Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jessica Buchanan, has seen since Arion joined Akili three years ago.
“Arion first joined Akili as a paraprofessional. In her first year she went above and beyond the job description by taking ownership of her scholar’s learning and the learning of others in the class,” Jessica remembers. “She is truly motivated by her love for all of our scholars. It is something she has carried with her throughout each grade she has had the opportunity to impact. Arion has worked with 8th, 3rd, and 2nd graders, and while she is now a Pre-K teacher, she views it as her responsibility to go out of her way to check on the progress of her former students.”
This sense of responsibility is what drove Arion to want to work in Akili’s first ever Pre-K class. “As a Pre-K teacher, I know my goal is to lay the fundamental foundations of education. For many of our Pre-K scholars, this is their first experience within a school,” she says. “It is vital that I make sure that this experience is nothing less than excellent. On a daily basis, I am making sure that I am building relationships, helping them develop positive relationships with their peers, and allowing them to learn from the mistakes that they make.”
When faced with the task of building a team for the new Pre-K class at Akili, Jessica knew that Arion’s patience and dedication to her scholars would be a perfect fit for the littlest scholars in the building. “The first week of Pre-K was a memorable one. Although we worked hard to prepare for our Pre-K scholars, we honestly weren’t sure what to expect,” she says. “It was difficult for our scholars to have all the emotions of leaving their families and adjust to following a new routine, but Arion kept things consistent and predictable while also adjusting to the needs of the students. By the end of the first week, we had all the students accustomed to school routines and sitting on the carpet listening attentively to stories.”
Arion’s scholars would agree that their success is what is most important in their classroom.
“Ms. Smith is a good teacher because we learn a lot in her class and we do homework,” says Pre-K scholar Kennedash C.
“Ms. Smith is so nice and helpful. She tells everybody what to do, and we listen to her. I like going to our morning meeting and play centers,” adds Pre-K scholar Jeremiah T.
While these littlest scholars help to drive Arion’s determination, she also finds motivation from the team she is surrounded by at Akili. “One of my favorite parts of working at Akili is the relationships I have built with my colleagues,” she says. “Professionally, it is rewarding to work with individuals who share the same goal of empowering our scholars with knowledge. Personally, I value being at a place where when I come to work, I feel like I am with my family.”