Warm Heart from the North | Teachers College Columbia University

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Warm Heart from the North

One of the recipients of the prestigious Petrie Fellowship, Teriscovkya Smith's path to Teachers College led through Alaskan bush, salmon boats, and even a little regurgitation.

If there is any such thing as a "typical" winner of a prestigious graduate fellowship, Petrie Fellow Teriscovkya Smith freely admits that it wouldn't be her.

Teriscovkya's mother escaped from the former East Germany with a 4th grade education, and as a young girl, Teriscovkya herself was listless in school. It wasn't until she began making a living by fishing off the coast of Alaska that her interest in education sharpened.

"I was on the boat because I was young and wanted an adventure, but I soon noticed that most of the other workers were there because they felt they couldn't do anything else." The work was dangerous and accidents were frequent-two people died on her boat-and she realized that many of the workers couldn't read the signs or instructions on the machinery. So she taught them to read, and from there Teriscovkya didn't look back. She went on to teach at-risk students-children and adults-for 10 years in Alaska and Japan.

Last year Teriscovkya applied for the Petrie Fellowship, a new program at Teachers College that gives money to students who will commit to working in inner-city schools after graduation (see story on page 2). It's a bit of an understatement to say she was surprised to receive a full fellowship: "When Claudette [Reid, manager of the fellowship] called and asked me ?How do you feel about $50,000?' I threw up in my office. I went home and burned all my finance-your-master's-degree junk mail on my wood stove."

Many teachers moving from rural to urban education are apprehensive, but not Teriscovkya. "Things are much worse in Alaska. I've had groups with 100 percent fetal alcohol syndrome. Kids there have no outlets. Here there are so many resources for kids, and I'm anxious to tap into that."

She looks forward to her years ahead, both in Teachers College and New York. "I'm so excited, I've waited my whole life for this," she said. "I've been waitressing for the past couple years to put myself through school, but now I can just be a student."

Published Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2004