Sharon Smith (EdM ’88), as a fifth grade teacher at Amherst’s Smallwood Elementary School when Kerri Lehmbeck (EdM ’00,) was her student, circa 1987. (Photo courtesy Sharon Smith).

A fifth grade teacher who redefined what was possible for Kerri Lehmbeck


The life-changing year was 1986. Kerri Lehmbeck was in fifth grade at Amherst’s Smallwood Elementary School. She had Mrs. Smith, a teacher she remains grateful to for the life lessons she instilled. She remembers Smith for her warm smile, love of cows and extra help.

“I would have never had a shot if I didn’t really get steered on the right path when I was little,” said Lehmbeck (EdM ’00), the new associate director of advancement for GSE.

Smith (EdM ’88), taught her that it was OK to approach things differently from other students.

“I can picture her little face. Her beautiful smile. Curly hair. She was the most delightful, happy little girl,” said Smith. “I thought she was being underestimated and she was.”

That year, 1986, was a new beginning. Smith was 24, a newlywed and working on her GSE master’s degree in elementary education. “At UB, I became a thinker,” said Smith. “How do children learn? What kind of environment do children need to thrive?”

She learned the approach she used with Lehmbeck and throughout her subsequent 22 years of elementary school teaching, work as a principal and now as director of instruction for Orleans County’s Lyndonville Central School District:

Teach with elements for each learning style—auditory, kinesthetic and visual. “Every lesson must incorporate all those components if you’re going to reach all learners,” Smith said.

At 10, Lehmbeck struggled to read and recognizing her auditory style, Smith moved her to a more advanced reading group. “I felt that by being challenged, she would achieve at a higher and quicker rate,” said Smith.

She urged Lehmbeck’s parents to read aloud. Her father’s early pick: Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild.” “I can remember sitting on the couch and my dad reading me the book every night,” Lehmbeck said.

She credits Smith for setting her up to become an A student.

Hamilton College recruited her, in part, for her skill at soccer, basketball and softball. Lehmbeck feels sure her strong grades and Smith’s early lessons were another key.

Decades later, they reconnected after some database sleuthing. Lehmbeck discovered they both earned GSE master’s degrees.

Smith, 58, still lives on a Middleport cattle farm with her husband. Lehmbeck, 44, settled in Clarence with her husband, son and daughter. While her eldest, Griffin, navigated school with ease, Lehmbeck sees herself in her daughter. Teachers stepped in when Peyton, now in fourth grade, had a harder time reading.

Now it is a joy for Lehmbeck to watch her daughter with a book. She’s grateful to see teachers still stepping in to transform lives.

“I was a student that my parents never thought would make it to being a straight A student, going to a great college, having my master’s degree,” said Lehmbeck. “Mrs. Smith was the catalyst of it all.”