From Expelled Musician to Afterschool Heroine: Kasey Smith

Being considered “different” from everyone else in a school environment can be challenging to say the least, especially when a student is scolded or even reprimanded for her differences. It’s an experience this WGU Nevada student can relate to firsthand.

Meet Kasey Smith. Her hobbies include playing the piano, anything Star Wars-related, geo-caching, antiquing, traveling as much as she can, and discovering new musical artists before they become really famous. Born in Branson, Missouri, Kasey moved around in her early years and ended up graduating from a tiny high school of 150 students in the sand hills of Nebraska. Her high school was heavily influenced by the farming community that surrounded it, often scheduling its school year around the planting season. After high school, Kasey returned to Missouri to attend a small religious liberal arts college. She started out studying musical theatre, then became passionate for musical ministry before finally turning her focus to music education. When she finalized her major, she was the head of her reputable college choir, having just commenced an East Coast tour while spending hours preparing to perform throughout every chorister’s dream destination: Italy. That is, until she was expelled from the college for being gay.

Undeterred by this jarring experience, Kasey returned to college and enrolled at Missouri State University to study jazz piano and continue pursuing her passion for all things music. However, at the end of her first year at Missouri State, two close friends unexpectedly passed away within one month of each other. Kasey felt overwrought with grief, and she was forced to put school on hold.

“It is very difficult to study something as creative as music while grieving,” she said. But it was during this break that she met someone special, who is now her wife, and began moving around once again—this time for her partner’s career. One stop on their journey was Reno—a city they discovered a love for. Feeling an immediate connection to the culture and atmosphere, the couple decided to stay awhile.

With a sense of stability on her mind, Kasey began to consider settling down with a career of her own. She thought back to all of the different gigs she’d had over the years.

“I’d done it all,” Kasey said. “I worked in food service, retail, entertainment, and childcare. But I decided to go back to school to get my teaching degree in elementary education. I have always loved kids, and they respond well to me. They bring me joy, and I want to encourage and teach as many kids as I can.”

Kasey enrolled in WGU Nevada’s Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (K-8) program, determined to influence and inspire youth through the music and creativity that have pulled her through so many difficulties in her own life. To jump-start her career in teaching, she accepted a position as a teacher’s assistant for afterschool programs with the Washoe County School District.

“The school I work at has a very high poverty and homelessness rate, so a lot of the kids need extra time in learning environments,” Kasey said. “It is challenging at times, but very rewarding and uplifting.”

Some students in the school are facing transitional periods in their life—meaning, their family does not have a home and is most likely staying in a shelter. The afterschool programs are vital to these students, and they stay in school as long as they can to get extra support, like snacks and a full dinner, developmental and social activities, and one-on-one tutoring.

“We have fifth- and sixth-graders who struggle to read; a lot of them have a hard time with basic letters,” she said. “It’s really challenging. It takes patience because you have to sit down and work one-on-one with these students.” But it’s not a challenge Kasey is ever willing to give up on, just like she never gave up on her own struggles. Just recently, she was promoted to Site Coordinator for the afterschool programs. Of course, the ultimate goal, as she works toward finishing her bachelor’s degree, is for Ms. Smith to have a classroom of her own.

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