You don’t need to be a veteran teacher to make a huge impact on students. This week’s Golden Apple Award-winning teacher is in her first year of teaching.

Ali Smith is a first-year english language arts teacher at James S. Wilson Middle School in Millcreek Twp. She decided early in life she wanted to be a teacher, and then sealed the deal in high school.

“My 10th grade english teacher was amazing, so I was like I think this is what I want to do with my life,” said Ali Smith, Golden Apple teacher.

Ms. Smith is described by this week’s student nominator as kind and always helpful when struggling with things at home and in school. She cares about a student’s mental health.

“I think mental health is a huge issue right now with our students, people my age. It’s always something that’s been important to me. We do smiles and frowns every day. The students can tell me something positive or something negative about their day or their life,” Smith said.

All the way in the back of the classroom, there’s a purple box, and this box has a very special purpose in Ms. Smith’s classroom.

“They can submit anonymous notes to me if they’re struggling with anything. If they’re having a bad day. We need to talk about it,” Smith explained.

“She doesn’t just think it’s all about the school. She actually cares about how we feel and what we do and how we pass our grades,” said Cheylen Harkins, student nominator.

“It’s a safe place, it’s a comfortable place and it’s just like being at home,” said Mary Jo Melvin, PHD, Penn West University.

Golden Apple teachers now receive $250 from Big Ideas Learning for their classrooms.

“It starts with teachers in the classroom making that positive impact, and Ms. Smith, in a very short amount of time making a very positive impact on a student in the classroom, it’s amazing,” said Matt Totzke, CEO of Big Ideas Learning.

Congratulations Ali Smith, this week’s JET 24 PennWest University Golden Apple Award winner!