Gainesville High School senior Zaynah Smith ultimately wants to return to her alma mater and help train other future teachers.
That dream is a step closer to reality after Smith was chosen to receive the Alachua County Public Schools’ (ACPS) first Florida Prepaid Superintendent Scholarship, which was made possible by a partnership between the district and the Florida Prepaid Scholarship Foundation, according to ACPS in a Monday release.
Smith, who is graduating from GHS’ Academy for Future Teachers (AFT), will receive a $7,000 scholarship that will allow her to attend Santa Fe College for the next two years. She then plans to go on to earn a master’s degree and teaching certificate.
The AFT, one of several career tech academies offered in ACPS, provides students relevant curriculum along with real-world experiences in their chosen fields. Smith says she learned about topics ranging from building lesson plans to human growth and development to the impact of environment on a student’s education.
“It’s such a cool and genuine place to be,” said Smith of the AFT program. “It gave me an insight into teaching and an appreciation for teachers because I realized how much they have to go through.”
Smith has already put a lot of what she’s learned in the AFT to practical use in her job at a local childcare program for 5- to 10-year-olds.
“They have so much energy, it really perks me up,” she said. “I think you can lose that energy as time goes on, so I like being around that and drawing on it. I’ve heard it keeps you young.”
Although she enjoys working with younger children, Smith’s long-term goal is to work with high school students.
“I enjoy the connection between high schoolers and their teachers,” she said. “It’s really important during a big stage in your life,”
Smith says AFT director Katie Martinez-Malo is one of the teachers she’s really connected with—so much so that one day she’d like to come back and work with Ms. Martinez-Malo in the AFT program.
“She’s one of the biggest helps I’ve ever had in school,” she said. “I can come in here if I’ve had a bad day, and she’s always there for me.”
Zaynah has an innate ability to inspire others,” said Martinez-Malo. “I have witnessed her bubbly personality and enthusiasm towards education engage students when she teaches lessons. I look forward to seeing her blossom in her field and impact her future students.”
ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson said in an email that the Prepaid College Foundation gave districts with whom it had partnerships the ability to select a recipient.
“Considering the need for high quality teachers, we decided to present the scholarship to a deserving student in the AFT program, and upon the recommendation of the program director Ms. Martinez-Malo, decided that Zaynah would be an excellent recipient,” Johnson said.