Newest Beckley Stratton principal talks education, interaction and leadership

Receiving a college degree, or degrees in this case, was the ultimate prize for Yahon Smith, Beckley Stratton Middle School’s newest principal, and according to him, in order to change the world, a person must do so through education.

The new principal said his motto was this: “For children to change the world, they must have a support system,” and he said he strives to turn Beckley Stratton Middle School into a support system for children.

A graduate of education, administration and law, Smith graduated from three different colleges: West Virginia University, West Virginia State University and Marshall University.

Memorabilia from all the colleges he attended adorns Smith’s office, including a painting of the fountain at Marshall University.

“I painted that piece,” he said while adjusting his glasses. “I think all people should know about the history of the plane crash that killed many of Marshall’s football players, and really just the history of the whole state in general.”

Smith, aside from teaching, also wanted to practice law. So several years ago he left his position as an educator to practice his law degree.

As his career as a lawyer began, Smith practiced at Legal Aid of West Virginia, where he worked on violence against women, child custody and divorces and often partnered with the Women’s Resource Center in Beckley.

He said his decision to leave law was tough, but he says God spoke to him and encouraged him to go back into education.

Smith has not strayed since, whether it be as a teacher, assistant principal or, now, head principal.

“I’ve had several dreams throughout my life, but working in education, I believe, has always been my number one.”

He said he owes his mom and dad, his mom specifically, for encouraging him to follow his dreams.

Smith said his mother always wanted him and his sister to strive for a college degree.

“You had to go to college, and you had to get a professional degree,” he said. “And I believed my parents encouraged that so much because both of them, at that time, only had high school degrees.”

Smith’s father worked in the coal mines, along with his mother, who was one of the first women in West Virginia to work at a coal mine.

Smith said aside from having his 5-year-old son, his greatest joy was watching his mother graduate from Mountain State University.

She is now a nurse in Pineville.

“It was so wonderful to watch my mother receive her nursing degree because she always put such a push on education,” Smith said. “And I believe that’s why I really wanted to go into education, because my parents put such an emphasis on it.

“And now, here I am beginning my first year as a school principal.”

Educators spend the majority of their time with students, often just as much as parents spend time with their kids, according to Smith.

“We are a direct influence for them; we are who these kids are around every single day.”

A graduate of Mullens High School in 1991, Smith says his was one of many success stories out of the Wyoming County town.

“I’ve seen so many successes out of Mullens, and West Virginia in general,” he said. “And people can say what they want, but the reason we have had those successes is because of education.

“And that’s now my goal, to provide more successes to come out of the state of West Virginia.”

Smith said while he was assistant principal, he worked alongside Rachel Polley, who was the head principal at the time.

He said before Polley left the position as principal, it was her goal to gear Beckley Stratton Middle School into becoming a more technology-based school.

According to Smith, she succeeded in more ways than one.

The school now has a Science, Technology, Math and Engineering (STEM) Lab, and Smith said the lab has helped in incorporating specific skills into the school’s curriculum.

“What we’re trying to do here is make sure our kids form a specific skill so they can go out into the world and become a productive member of society,” he said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

Smith said although higher education is important, he does not want to instill unto the students that college is the only option.

“You don’t have to go to college to become a productive member of society, and form a specific skill.”

One of the many goals Smith has as principal of Beckley Stratton Middle School is to form a careers and technology program at the middle school level, similar to the Academy of Careers and Technology in Beckley.

Smith said forming such a program will prepare students in forming a specific skill set and draw attention to the things they are good at.

He also said interaction among students is key in forming a good administration.

“I don’t want to be one of those principals students only see when they’re in trouble,” he said. “I want them to see me and interact with me all the time.”

Smith began a Beckley Stratton Facebook page in the first moments of becoming principal, giving parents and students the opportunity to interact with others in the school system, and keep up-to-date on what students are participating in.

“Any activity, whether it be academic or athletic, we put it on the Facebook page so students and parents can see it,” he said. “The students love it, the parents love it, and students get so proud when they see their achievements posted online.”

As Smith recalls, he does not ever remember any of his past principals being interactive with their students.

“And that’s not the way it should be. We should interact with them, make them feel good about their achievements and allow them to believe they can do anything they set out to do.”

Students will often ask Smith if he believes they can achieve certain goals they are interested in.

Smith has no other response to them other than, “Of course.”

“Allowing them to have the vision they can do anything is of the utmost importance,” he said.

Beckley Stratton Middle School is a safe haven, according to Smith, and he said every student needs to know that.

Students come from different backgrounds and have myriad issues, whether it be physically, emotionally, mentally or financially.

“Some of them come from lives that aren’t the best,” Smith said. “And as soon as they walk through that door every day, I want them to know this is a safe place for them socially, and emotionally as well.”

Overall, Smith said it is important to stress the concept of confidence and leadership among the school’s students.

“At some point in these students’ lives, they’re going to have to lead, and to lead you must instill confidence.”

Smith said he wants every single one of his students to know the only way to become a leader is to simply go out and do it.

“If you mess up, you mess up,” he said. “We can fix mess-ups, but you can’t get the time back for not trying.”

Smith said he tells students if they do anything in life it should be this – just do a simple act that will change the world in a positive way.

“We’ve got so many negative things going on in our world, and we need our kids to move forward and just change everything for the positive,” he said. “Because we can be a great nation, and for our kids here in southern West Virginia.”

According to Smith, if he can educate students enough to choose to stay in West Virginia if they truly want to, then he has succeeded.

“You can do anything you want to with a great education. No one will ever be able to take that away from you, and that’s what we continue to try and instill here at Beckley Stratton Middle School.”

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