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Sammy Smith credits Havermale teachers for restoring her drive

Sammy Smith is a notable graduate from Havermale High School.  Smith helped start a recycling program at her school. (Jesse Tinsley)
Sammy Smith is a notable graduate from Havermale High School. Smith helped start a recycling program at her school. (Jesse Tinsley)

Sammy Smith’s success story at Havermale High School is not necessarily an unusual one in a place where educators pride themselves on creating a personalized experience for every student. It’s what Smith has given back to Havermale that makes her tale special.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that being at Havermale saved my life,” Smith said. “I know that I probably wouldn’t be in school if I wasn’t here.”

After Smith finished middle school, she attended a small alternative school, but didn’t return for her sophomore year. She was home-schooled for a semester, but that didn’t work out, either.

“Havermale was kind of my last option,” she said. “My mom works at Chase Middle School, so she knew about Havermale and steered me that direction. I was skeptical at first, but it’s the best thing that ever happened for me in school. I’d never been in a place where all the teachers worked so hard to help their students.”

It’s because of Smith that Havermale now has a recycling program, teacher Mary True said.

“Last year, Sammy went to a staff meeting, conducted a survey, and helped our staff get on board,” True said. “That happened because Sammy believes in the importance of environmental issues and because she worked so hard to make it happen. She even brought in all the recycling bins.”

Going to talk in front of the school faculty proved to be “pretty scary,” Smith said.

“I got up in front of everyone and saw a whole bunch of faces I didn’t know. But when I started talking about my ideas, to see them paying attention and listening and asking what they could do was amazing to me,” she said.

She set up an Earth Day audit by an official from Spokane Waste to Energy, with whom she examined the contents of a Havermale trash bin to determine how many recyclable products were being discarded. She chose to do her senior-year Culminating Project on recycling, and recently interviewed Spokane Mayor Mary Verner on the subject.

Smith also helped start a recycling program at the Spokane Skills Center, which she attended for four semesters.

Smith learned early that every moment in life is valuable, and how important it is to get back up when life knocks you down. She was diagnosed at age 4 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and spent most of her elementary school years battling the disease until she received a bone-marrow transplant from her younger brother Dillon in 1998. The disease has been in remission for 12 years.

“I really missed out on a lot in school when I couldn’t attend because of my immunities,” she said. “I repeated one grade because I was so far behind. It was the right thing academically, but really hard socially because all my friends were in the older group.”

She’s looking forward to graduation, but admits she’s a little nervous about what the “real world” outside Havermale will be like for her. She’ll attend Spokane Falls Community College for two years, and hopes eventually to become an elementary-school teacher or operate a day care facility.

This summer, she’ll work at Camp Mak-a-Dream in Gold Creek, Mont., for children and young adults with cancer.

As expected, she’s giving back.