Honoring The Heart & Soul Of Lemon Avenue

LEMON AVENUE – The truth about good schools is that there is no consistent corporate model. No Starbucks Elementary duplicated from town to town.

Every school has a unique character determined by the unpredictable mix of the teachers, administrators and staffs that create its soul, determine its outcomes.

This is also true: for almost 40 years, Joanne Smith was in many ways the heart and soul of Lemon Avenue Elementary School.

She was never principal. In fact, she wasn’t a full-fledged credentialed teacher.

Mrs. Smith started as a teacher’s aide, eventually took over the computer lab and for decades lived across the street from the school that educated her own daughter and was the focal point of her life.

Next Thursday, January 26th at 2:45 p.m., the teachers, administrators, students and parents of this beloved neighborhood school will gather to remember their mentor and guide. Mrs. Smith died in July.

On the books, she had been retired for more than a decade, but in truth, she never left her post.
“She just kept working, volunteering,’’ said Elaine Arapostathis, a retired Lemon Avenue teacher and a long-time friend of Mrs. Smith. “She was just so special with everyone. She was not judgmental in any way. Even with the naughtiest kids, she would never judge them harshly. She would just sit them down and assure everyone that they would get better. And they usually did.’’
Known for her infectious and ubiquitous laugh, as teachers came and went, principals changed and generations of children moved through the school, Mrs. Smith was a constant. Living right across the street, teachers knew they could count on her when they needed a key or weekend help.

Mrs. Smith’s daughter, Beth Ferguson, said her mother moved into the Lemon Avenue home so she could attend the school. Ferguson graduated in 1981 and now, 30 years later, has returned herself as a teacher, walking the same halls that her mother had filled with her personality and spirit for four decades. Next year, Ferguson’s own daughter, Joyce (photographed above), is scheduled to begin at Lemon Avenue. The legacy continues.

Just before Christmas, the school community decided on how they would commemorate Mrs. Smith’s contribution to the school. Students will stand before a mural and sing “‘Let There Be Peace On Earth.’’ John Heyman, a teacher at Rolando Elementary spent the holiday painting the mural on a blank wall that looks across the street at Mrs. Smith’s home.

“I will build peace,’’ the mural begins. A small inset includes these words:

“If you listen with your heart, you can still hear her laughter in the hallways. Dedicated to Joanne Smith, devoted volunteer and everyone’s grandma.’’

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Tags: Beth Ferguson, City of La Mesa, Joanne Smith, John Heyman, La Mesa, La Mesa News, La Mesa Today, Lemon Avenue, Lemon Avenue Elementary School, Mrs. Smith, More…Rolando Elementary, grandma, mural


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Comment by Lynn McRea on January 20, 2012 at 8:59pm

Wonderful article.  Mrs. Smith truly cared.  She invested herself in those around her.  Very inspirational!

Comment by chris shea on January 20, 2012 at 11:58am

What a lovely piece.  People like Mrs. Smith so bless the world.  

Comment by Beth Ferguson on January 20, 2012 at 8:02am

My mother was a great woman.  This article is a great tribute to her.  Thank you!

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