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Merry Beth Smallridge always wanted to be a teacher. From teaching children in Sunday school to working in a day care center while she was in high school, each step reinforced Smallridge’s belief that teaching was her purpose.

Smallridge started teaching in 1994. She taught fifth grade, then fourth, then third, before taking some time off after her own children were born. She now teaches kindergarten at Pelham Road Elementary School.

“Before, I always thought, ‘No way could I teach kindergarten or first grade,’” she said.

But returning to the workforce as a kindergarten assistant changed her mind.

“I picked up my early childhood degree and I never looked back,” she said. “We are very active in my classroom. We do a lot of music and movement. We do a lot of hands-on activities because they are 5 and they don’t want to sit for very long.”

Smallridge’s classroom affords students a choice of seating, including exercise balls, low tables and even pillows on the floor. It’s a critical part of keeping little minds and bodies engaged in the moment.

“They can choose where they want to sit,” she said. “If they need to stand up, they can do that.”

Teaching kindergarten and serving as the grade level representative at her school brings Smallridge full circle. She attended Pelham Road Elementary as a student, as did her two sons.

“It’s so fun to be here as a teacher,” she said. “I’ve experienced it as a student, a parent and a teacher, and I’ve loved them all. I’m really blessed to be where I am.”

And seeing her students’ accomplishments continues to reinforce her lifelong dream.

“I just get a great feeling being here,” Smallridge said. “I feel like a superstar every day. I get to teach them to read. That, to me, is so exciting. That is one of the biggest rewards – when they realize they can do the things I told them they could do. I definitely become attached to them. Sometimes they call me ‘mom’ and that’s the highest compliment I can get.”

Nomination excerpt

“Mrs. Smallridge loves teaching kindergarten. She plans hands-on activities that are engaging for girls and boys. She really thinks about what teaching strategies will interest all types of learners.”

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