Spain Park’s Caston-Smith takes learning beyond the classroom

Tosha Caston-Smith's students work together on shared documents during a third-period pre-AP English class. (Reporter Photo / Molly Davidson)

Tosha Caston-Smith’s students work together on shared documents during a third-period pre-AP English class. (Reporter Photo / Molly Davidson)

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

HOOVER—Tosha Caston-Smith’s ninth grade pre-Advanced Placement English class is no ordinary English class. Talk of castles, dejected princes and egocentric rulers swirled around the classroom as students worked together to weave assigned vocabulary words into a creative story.

Along with Trace Crossings Elementary School teacher Minette Wiggins, Spain Park High School’s Caston-Smith was named the Hoover City Schools Teacher of the Year.

“My theme this year is ‘together,’” Caston-Smith explained. This theme permeates all aspects of class, from collaborating to complete classroom tasks to partnering on long-term projects.

In addition to learning Latin roots and grammar, Caston-Smith’s students have completed a traffic study to solve congestion on Jaguar Drive, created a sidewalk and crosswalk to ease pedestrian traffic on the Spain Park campus, mitigated drainage clogging in the school’s locker rooms and set up fundraisers for organizations across the world.

These projects were part of a cross-class assignment in which students identified and solved a problem impacting the community around them.

“It’s a collaboration, and that’s what the ‘together’ theme was all about,” Caston-Smith said. “They did a great deal of research, and we tried to accomplish everything through writing.”

Caston-Smith is also not shy to use technology in the classroom, encouraging students to express themselves and explore individual curiosities through blogs and facilitating collaboration in and out of the classroom through shared documents.

“Now that we have more technology, it has really opened up the classroom,” Caston-Smith said. “Some of the quietest students submit ideas in writing.”

This type of out-of-the-box learning stems from Caston-Smith’s out-of-the-box teaching style, which has developed over her years in academia. Before joining the faculty at Spain Park in 2002, Caston-Smith lived in Los Angeles where she taught both pre-kindergarten and high school.

After 10 years in California, Caston-Smith and her family decided to return to her husband’s home state of Alabama. She fell in love with Spain Park High School on her first visit to campus.

“When I left (Spain Park), I thought, ‘Please God, just give me that one,’” Caston-Smith said.

And years later, Caston-Smith still loves the school and the community.

“This is a wonderful place,” Caston-Smith said. “I smile every day when I drive up here.”