"Sister Sandra" is perhaps the most important name in the lives of hundreds of Nashville children who have ever been considered at risk.
Sandra Smithson's belief in the power of teachers and education is so strong, she even helped create her own schools to put it all into place.
"So you're learning something about geometry," Smithson says to a young student.
With right angles and Pythagorean principles, it is another day of learning at Smithson Craighead Academy, Tennessee's first charter school created nine years ago by Sister Sandra Smithson.
The kids who attend classes are considered at risk and likely to fail at school.
"Many of them have never been read to. Many don't have books or magazines in their homes. So they're not ready for learning, and that readiness is what we know how to do, I think," Smithson said.
The academy teaches the basics, simple math and reading, believing you will never build a roof without a strong foundation, or without loving, caring teachers.
"These children need to have people who really are born to teach and then care about the student that they teach," Smithson said.
That care is the key. Young students who once sat in the same chairs, now come back as college students. One recently showed Smithson his report card full of C's and one A in Latin.
"So I said to him, 'Willard, why the A in Latin? Do you love Latin that much? He said, 'No, I like the teacher,'" Smithson said.
Smithson is 86 years old and still going strong on her mission of teaching to students, and preaching to teachers.
"I don't think teachers realize how important they are to every single child that comes across their path. They want their teacher to care, they really do. And if they get that feeling, they can make them learn anything," she said.
There are now three Smithson Craighead schools in Nashville, but that Smithson name on the building is not in honor of Sister Sandra. It's for her older sister Mary Smithson Craighead, who devoted her life to teaching children.
Copyright WSMV 2012 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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