Wanda Smith is a beloved first grade teacher at Brenham Elementary School in Brenham, Texas. She has always dreamed of being a teacher, but her journey towards becoming an educator was a long one.
Smith was 37 years old when she started college. The Brenham resident enrolled at Blinn Community college to earn an associates degree, and then transferred to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.
She spent 6 years working towards her bachelors degree and teacher certification, finally graduating in 2010–30 years after she graduated from high school.
When she graduated high school, she had to postpone any plans to go on to college due to her mother’s poor health. Wanda spent the next 20 years as a bus monitor and custodian at Brenham Elementary.
Her days would start at 6am when she’d get on the school bus, and then at 3pm she’d go to work as a custodian at the school, getting off work at 11pm. But getting off work at night didn’t necessarily mean her day was over.
“And sometimes I didn’t get to sleep because if mom needed to go to the doctor, I’d just get off and do what I had to do,” she told TODAY. “And I never really thought about it. I just did it because it had to be done.”
On top of caring for her mother and working two full-time jobs, Wanda also was a mother to three children. But her husband Darron, who Wanda calls her rock, kept encouraging her to chase her dreams of becoming an educator. So in 2001 she enrolled at Blinn College.
“I was totally nervous because all of the children in there, they were children, and sometimes I was older than the professor,” Smith said.
“I was so happy to tell them that I was going back to school,” she said while crying. “They were so proud of me. My sister would be the one I would talk to at night when I was coming home. Then when I lost her, that took a lot out of me. It took a lot out. And yes, I did want to stop.
That’s when Darron stepped in and helped Wanda regain her focus, reminding her of why she began this journey, and that the entire family had made sacrifices to help her achieve her dream.
“But then my husband, he sat me down, and he let me know that I wasn’t the only one that made sacrifices. And so I was like, ‘OK, I can do this. I can keep going.'”
Since graduating and becoming a teacher at the same school where she first worked as a custodian, Wanda Smith has earned the love and respect of her students and coworkers.
Jenna Bush Hagar with TODAY helped honor Wanda with a series of surprises during Teacher Appreciation Week. Brenham Mayor Tate Jr. declared Tuesday, April 27th Wanda Smith Day, and Brenham Elementary School principle Kim Rocka presented a bench outside the elementary school with Smith’s name on it.
On the bench are inscribed Smith’s favorite saying, “Be the best that you can be.” And if that wasn’t enough, Sam Houston State University president Dr. Alisa White created a $500 scholarship in Wanda’s name, which will be awarded to a first generation Sam student pursuing a career in education.
Wanda’s story will undoubtedly inspire others to continue to work towards their goals and dreams, regardless of how difficult or long it takes.