So it was on Friday at the academy, 725 W. Washington Blvd., as Hana Stith spoke to the student body about various topics, including the value of education, self-worth and the importance of participation in the community and lifelong learning.
Stith, 85, told anecdotes about growing up and being inspired to achieve in an era where African-Americans were viewed as mentally inferior, which she said should also serve as inspiration to young people even today. She also explained how public service - Stith was a longtime member of the Redevelopment Commission and the Board of Public Safety, and is also a co-founder of the local African-American Historical Society - is something that all people can strive to do.
The Smith Academy, now in its second year, is a charter school with 89 students from grades 4 through 10. For Thomas Smith, a longtime educator who also served as a principal in Fort Wayne Community Schools, it is the right setting for such a message, because he saw over the years that some youths need their educational experience to be modified from the norm.
"We do it because boys learn differently. We give them opportunities to be physical, to move around, through the course of the day," Smith said. "They are given opportunities to move around during class hours. This is important for them, at this age."
"Many of our young men...they lack organizational skills, they lack self-esteem, they lack some aspects of self-control. But those are things that can be taught, and we teach them," Smith said. "For example, there are consequences for actions. And our consequences are immediate. They're not always huge, but they are immediate and they are consistent. That is what some young men need: Consistency and understanding of consequences for actions."
Smith said he envisions the school finding a permanent campus on the southeast side as enrollment grows and said that the students who went to the academy in the first year have adjusted well, while new students this year are undergoing the adjustment process. The school will continue to add grades, one lower and one upper each year, until it becomes a K-12 campus.
"It is an enormous undertaking, but it is worth it," Smith said. "Not every student will be successful in one model of education. For these students, and others, this is a better fit."