Windhill21 Primary School teacher wins Lockdown Learning Heroes Award for ensuring the emotional wellbeing of her pupils
A school teacher who hand delivered 'gold stars' to her pupils during lockdown and sat at the end of their driveways to help those struggling with classwork has won a national lockdown hero award.
Parents of Year 3 pupils at Windhill21 Primary in Bishop's Stortford were so impressed with the extra effort Kate Smith went to when she was already teaching key worker children, home-schooling her own 14-year-old son and shopping for her parents during the first wave of pandemic restrictions last year.
School mum Flora Klumpler nominated her for the Oxford University Press Lockdown Learning Heroes Award, a national scheme aimed specifically at primary schools, because she had gone "above and beyond to make sure the kids felt supported". She was named the winner of the teacher category.
"She was just amazing," said Flora, whose daughter Emilie, now 8, was taught by Mrs Smith in Year 3. Her son, Oliver, 11, is in Year 6. "All the parents were saying how lucky we were to have her. She was going round to their homes, sitting a safe distance away on their driveways or gardens, to teach those who were struggling.
"She was calling people up, making sure every child was all right, all while she was teaching key worker children and her own child and helping out vulnerable family members. We nominated her because she needed to know how appreciated she was."
When the school decided to stop its golden sticker assembly awards during lockdown, Mrs Smith made her own and hand delivered them (from a safe distance) to her class – all in her own time.
"My daughter got her golden sticker, and for the children it made them feel that they still mattered. Her work plan was also brilliant and was enjoyable for the most part," Flora added.
"She was amazing at supporting the parents of children in her class and kept us all sane! How she did all this and still came out smiling, I will never know. She is truly one in a million, and our children were so lucky she was their teacher last year."
Mrs Smith, who grew up in the town, previously taught at the former Havers Infants School in Elizabeth Road from 2001 before it merged with the Firs School in 2006 to form Windhill, where she has been ever since. She lives in Oriole Way with husband Graeme and son Finn.
She won a Samsung tablet and 100 Oxford books for the school as her prize. She was "completely gobsmacked" to learn she had won.
"I'm really chuffed, but I just did what I felt was needed at the time. There were so many teachers going above and beyond, and I'm gobsmacked that I was chosen because I know how hard all the school staff were working."
As children began to go back to school as the first lockdown eased, Windhill took the decision it could not safely accommodate Years 3 and 4, who had to continue home-schooling.
"It was really hard emotionally for my children not coming back and knowing that some were going to school," she said.
"I was doing my best in terms of teaching, but they really needed boosting emotionally as they were struggling. So I tried to do things that would connect – I didn't want to just be on a screen and so I met them in their gardens or driveways, and sometimes they just needed to see me.
"I gave them their gold awards because I felt they needed that extra 'well done' for their home learning and the effort they were all putting in. It was really hard sometimes trying to communicate and teach via Zoom and I could see some were struggling.
"There was one girl who I visited once a week to help with her maths. She lacked confidence and needed that extra contact with me to know that she was doing all right and to keep her going.
"Parents were in a difficult situation, too – they were suddenly having to be teachers so we tried to make home learning as clear as possible as much for the parents as the children."
She added: "And I needed happy children, because happy children learn better."
Mrs Smith is currently teaching Year 1s and said she would like to choose books for each class as part of her prize to make it "more personal" for the children.