By Brittni Henderson
Four commonly used words to describe a Smithfield High School teacher who retired at the end of the school year are: wholehearted, affectionate, caring, and charismatic. Ann Andrews, or Ms. Ann as she is lovingly called by many of her students, is a celebrity-like business teacher at SHS with a heart of gold. She is one of those individuals who makes it a point to get to know everyone, and to help each person along her path. From her time as a lifeguard and swimming instructor for the Parks and Recreation Department, to being an active parishioner of St. Michael’s Church, Andrews has built and held on to an innumerable amount of connections throughout the duration of her life.
A little over a decade after she graduated from the high school in 1972, Andrews had the unique opportunity to work alongside many of her former teachers as colleagues once she was hired as a business teacher at SHS in 1989.
“There was no movement in the staff for a while,” she shared, “but when two business teachers retired, an opportunity opened up for me to teach in the very school I attended.”
Andrews was raised in town and poked fun at the quirky truth that if you grew up in Smithfield, no one really refers to Smithfield High School as its full name. It’s solely: The High School.
“If you’re talking to someone from town about ‘The High School,’ she will automatically know what you mean,” she laughs.
This, and many other unique nuances make SHS a special place. Teachers like Ms. Ann have the uncanny ability to connect with students in a way that inspires them to succeed in the classroom and when they cross the stage on graduation day. For some students, it’s an easy glide from freshman year to cap and gown, but for others it’s the specific effort teachers make to guide them that helps them get to where they need to be.
Students from every part of town agree that Ms. Ann had a major impact on their lives, whether it involved academics or something a little more personal. As a business teacher, she explains that she was able to reach each young adult in different ways since there are so many aspects of the business world. From personal finance to the societal impact of business, there was a little something for everyone.
One of the most notable impacts Andrews made at the high school was her involvement in the Academy of Finance (AoF) alongside Director Erica Valentine. Founded in 1998, AoF is a business, finance, and academic program that prepares students for careers through the mastery of skills within the business curriculum. Students take a number of required and elective classes, as well as a night class at Bryant University and a paid internship.
“The AoF was the first thing to tap my interest in business and finance,” Justin London, ’07 shares. “When I look back at the success I’ve had in the business world, I sincerely doubt I’d be where I am now without Ms. Andrews and AoF.”
Andrews touched the lives of students on a more personal level, too. For Anthony Elgar, ’02, graduating high school seemed like an impossible task when some personal issues came up at home.
“During finals week my senior year, I walked in to school to drop out, as I was failing many of my classes and would most likely have to repeat senior year,” Elgar says. “Ms. Andrews was not going to let that happen. She was not willing to let me make a terrible choice. I took my finals and passed them. With her dedication and great pep talk, I graduated!”
Mark Sutcliffe, ’02 was also a recipient of a lifelong memory that helped him come to terms with a complicated time he was navigating through during high school.
“High School was very difficult for me as I began to come to terms with the fact that I was gay,” he shares. “I wouldn’t come out until after high school, but I remember privately struggling with this in one of Ms. Andrews’ classes. Some students were saying mean things about gay people when Ms. Andrews abruptly corrected them, and, among other things, said, ‘You know, being gay isn’t a choice!’”
Sutcliffe goes on to explain that while Ms. Andrews had no idea she was standing up for him in that moment, those words were extremely important to him. “That type of authentic impact only comes from a great teacher like Ms. Andrews,” Sutcliffe says. “She has had a profound and lifelong positive influence on me that has helped me in my own career.”
No matter who you ask, Ms. Ann will have had some sort of interaction that will become a memory to last a lifetime.
Joe Baxter, ’17 explained his experience and it paints the image of Ms. Andrews so perfectly.
“First and foremost she is an educator of the highest caliber. She is also a stellar role model, and finally, she is a true friend,” he shares. “What I will always remember most about Ms. Ann is that she is always one of the first people to lend a helping hand, even when both of her hands are already full. She is a true Smithfield ‘townie’, but uses her close ties and history with Smithfield to create a real sense of pride of our community in her classroom. Any student would be beyond lucky to have benefitted from being taught by such a charismatic, wise, and caring person. I know that I am!”
Although retiring from her career of 28 years at the high school was difficult, the decision comes at a time that she feels is just right.
“I’d rather have people ask me why I’m going rather than when I’m leaving!” she jokes.
As for what’s next for her, Andrews plans on spending more time with her five grandchildren who live nearby and continuing working at a part time job she’s held for about 15 years at Landmark Medical Center. She’s also embarking upon a completely new experience as an Etiquette Consultant at The Etiquette Academy of New England. She stumbled upon this randomly, but feels like it’s a perfect fit because she will be helping people with job interviews and other important communication skills.
And the most Ms. Ann part of it all?
“I’ve told so many students that they need to go to charm school over the years!” she laughs.
“The time has come for closing books and long last looks must end. And as I leave, I know that I am leaving my best friend.
A friend who taught me right from wrong, and weak from strong, that’s a lot to learn…”. Lulu, 1967