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The Gator

The student news site of Brimmer and May School | Chestnut Hill, MA

The Gator

The student news site of Brimmer and May School | Chestnut Hill, MA

The Gator

Spotlight: Kenley Smith, English Teacher

Mckinlee DePaola
English teacher Kenley Smith gives some final pointers before students in Villains class take an in-class essay “Watchmen,” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

“Ms. Smith is the smartest person in the entire world. Trust us. It’s true. She knows how to make us think not only outside the box but really outside of ourselves. She makes us want to be better learners and become better people.”

So reads the 2019 yearbook dedication to Upper School English Teacher Kenley Smith.

Upon entering her classroom, students are welcomed with a smile and a “question-of-the-day” prompt to answer in their journals. Following this reflective start, Smith either leads them through a detailed reading session or observes a lively Harkness discussion.

Smith earned her B.A. from Union College and her M.A. from the Middlebury College Bread Loaf School of English. Although her teaching career has been exclusively in independent schools, she is also certified to teach high school English in Massachusetts public schools.

Her resume showcases notable achievements, such as completing the Phillips Exeter Harkness Training Program. Before her tenure here starting in 2015, she taught ESL, drama, and history to students in grades 6-12. Her teaching career has covered a variety of settings, including upstate New York.

In Miami, Smith spent eight years teaching Upper School English and religion courses at Palmer Trinity, a large independent school. She also served as a faculty leader on the student-led honor council, which serves a similar function to the judicial board here.

There, Smith also taught alongside history and journalism teacher David Cutler ’02, with adjacent classrooms.

“It’s impossible to overstate how much I benefited from Ms. Smith’s mentorship during my first few years in the classroom,” Cutler said. “Since we both taught mostly juniors, I would constantly run lesson plans by her, ask whether I was being fair and effective in my grading and feedback, and how to handle an assortment of other issues.”

When the School needed to hire a new English teacher, after Cutler’s first year here, he was ecstatic about Smith’s candidacy.

“After offering my full support for her being hired, I stepped back and knew that Ms. Smith would get the job on her own merits,” Cutler said. “I have now known Ms. Smith for the better part of two decades, and I have only taught one year without her as my colleague. I can’t imagine teaching without her next-door to me. Students often rave about how Ms. Smith pushes them to reach their full potential, but that’s not where she stops. She has also helped and continues to help me be an even more effective teacher. I owe her more than anything.”

The culture of kindness and empathy at the School, predominantly fostered by the students, is something I deeply admire

— Kenley Smith

Here, she is a valued member of the Humanities Department, teaching American Literature, Senior English, and AP English Literature.

Students under her guidance express a deep appreciation for her and her classes.

“My favorite thing is the culture of kindness and empathy that the school has, that really is maintained by the students,” Smith said. “I think the faculty likes it to be kind and compassionate as well, but the students sort of keep an eye on each other and make sure that no matter who the person is, where they come from, or who their friends are, everybody is treated with respect and kindness.”

Giulia Laurenza ’25, one of her advisees, shared her positive experiences.

“She is always available to talk about anything and everything,” Laurenza said. “She makes sure to keep everyone up to date and informed about school events or impart deadlines. I love how supportive she is and always encourages me to follow my passions and prioritize my mental; health.”

English Department Chair Donald Reese also enjoys collaborating with Smith, particularly when planning elective classes.

“Our discussions about books and themes are always extensive and engaging, thanks to her wide reading and insightful observations,” Reese said.

MIles Best ’19 participates in a Harkness in Kenley Smith’s English class. (Edan Zinn)

Reese also highlighted Smith’s extensive literary knowledge as one of her standout qualities, a sentiment echoed by Tess Gainsboro ’25.

“The selection of books for this year’s Villains class has been exceptionally engaging, making each reading and analysis session something I look forward to,” Gainsboro said.

Beyond her professional life, Smith is passionate about traveling, hiking, and exploring museums and art galleries. She has also completed a hike of the Appalachian Trail, which is approximately 2,200 miles long.

“We began our journey in early March and concluded in August, just before I embarked on my first teaching position,” Smith said. “The most significant insight is that it isn’t a six-month hike; it’s a series of one-day hikes strung together over six months. This experience taught me patience, a skill that has been invaluable both in teaching and in life.”

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About the Contributors
Mckinlee DePaola
Mckinlee DePaola, Journalist
Mckinlee joined The Gator in 2023. She has been at Brimmer since 7th grade and loves it. She also loves photography, reading, listening to music, and horseback riding.
Edan Zinn
Edan Zinn, Outgoing Editor-in-Chief

Edan celebrated four years on The Gator's staff. In addition to editing stories, he also took photos for The Gator and was a member of the Creative Arts Diploma Program for Visual Arts. Edan finds photojournalism to be a fun method of artistic storytelling.

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