Seventh-grader Krista Noffsinger and Rhonda Mehring-Smith have fun while learning how to use watercolor paints during the art class’ first watercolor lesson. — The Holyoke Enterprise | Johnson Publications
Art meets heart every day in Mehring-Smith’s classroom
It’s hard to go unnoticed in the classroom of Holyoke JR/SR High School art instructor Rhonda Mehring-Smith.
Moving between the tables of her third-period junior high classroom, including her youngest students, she checks in on every person and helps them guide their brushes in the strokes of their first watercolors. She gets a laugh out of the class by sharing a song and dance about cleaning paintbrushes that she used to teach her kindergarten group years ago.
In her audition-only advanced art class, she’s able to take a more hands-off approach. She still asks students about the meanings behind their drawings, paintings and other creations. They share their weekend plans with her, and seniors talk about college admissions.
The atmosphere of welcoming and love that Mehring-Smith has created in her classroom seems to be contagious, which is why she is being recognized with this year’s Heart Award at the Holyoke School District Emerald Awards.
“To make a great impact as a teacher, you don’t need the latest technology, the newest materials or even the most captivating curriculum,” fellow teacher Ashley Clayton wrote in her nominating letter. “Instead, you need a love for your content, a love for learning and most importantly you need to have the heart to love every student who walks through the door of your classroom. For over three decades, Holyoke School District has been lucky enough to have a teacher that demonstrates these very ideals on a daily basis.”
With 36 years of inspiring Holyoke’s young artists under her hat, Mehring-Smith has had the chance to see plenty of classes come and go, but she said the joy that comes with building a caring relationship with her students still fires her passion for teaching.
“It’s more than just what happens through the art curriculum in my classroom. It’s more about the fulfillment that they give me as a person each and every single day,” she said. “Each year is still so fresh and so new.”
Mehring-Smith teaches three junior high and three high school classes. She said she makes an effort to know each of her student’s interests and the extracurricular activities they’re involved in.
Her goal, she said, is to make sure no one feels left out — or, in her words, that no one leaves her class feeling like a “nobody.”
“She knows the value of developing relationships with students and learning about each of them — something that has kept her going during her career,” nominator Shauna Strecker wrote.