A young man sitting at a picnic table with books in front of him.

Cody Smith, a senior at Barren County High School, smiles for a photo at a local park. After graduation, he plans to enroll at Western Kentucky University in the fall to pursue a double major in Spanish and Chinese with a minor in teaching English as a second language.
Photo submitted

  • As he looks back on his public school career, Cody Smith said he would not be where he is today without the Barren County School District.
  • Smith plans to enroll at Western Kentucky University in the fall to pursue a double major in Spanish and Chinese with a minor in teaching English as a second language.

By Jacob Perkins

Cody Smith may graduate from Barren County High School this year, but if everything goes according to plan, he will be back in Kentucky public schools soon.

The senior from Glasgow speaks Latin, French, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese and Chinese at various levels of mastery, but originally remembers viewing language as merely a requirement. However, around the 4th grade, his opinion changed.

“I had some sort of intrinsic motivation to give education my all and decided that I had to take part in an accelerated magnet program at Barren County Middle School,” he recalled.

The magnet program allowed Smith to take high school courses as a middle schooler, with Latin being offered through the now discontinued Kentucky Educational Television Online Campus. The course was a requirement that came with high school credit.

“At first, Latin was just like every other class,” he said. “After a short time, however, I eventually realized I could do it.”

After this realization, Smith said he gave the language “his everything.” He began using “Wheelock’s Latin” – a university Latin text published around World War II – to study the basic grammar and vocabulary.

“Eventually, I decided this must be done with other languages, too, and began buying books and teaching myself other languages, including French and Spanish,” he said. “From there, I knew language was not only a school subject for me, it was my passion and purpose in my single life.”

Smith plans to enroll at Western Kentucky University in the fall to pursue a double major in Spanish and Chinese with a minor in teaching English as a second language.

“I will most certainly begin as a high school educator right after,” said Smith, who credits a high school teacher for helping influence his path.

After five to 10 years of service in a Kentucky classroom, he would like to attend graduate school. Once he has earned his master’s and a doctorate in a language-related field, he hopes to land a university professorship.

“My professional goals are to have a positive impact on Kentucky students and to contribute something to the field of world language study in the 21st century,” he said.

With verbal communication being a very important factor in any language, Smith has found ways to continue honing his skills by talking with native speakers within his local community.

“In my town, there are two Hispanic shops, La Nacional and Mercadito Latino,” he said. “The workers of these shops are extremely kind people and are native speakers of Spanish.”

Additionally, Smith credits the online language learning community for helping him along the way and still being there as a resource and support.

“I owe the world to them because of my proficiency in Latin, Spanish and French,” he said. “I have easily been able to find Latin speaking groups consisting of educators, schedule Spanish lessons with individuals from Guatemala and been able to speak to folks from Paris and Marseilles with similar interests in language.”

Smith has received numerous honors for his world language abilities, including the Ken Stewart Future Language Educator Scholarship from the Southern Conference on Language Teaching (SCOLT), as well as the Virtual National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) scholarship for Arabic from the U.S. Department of State.

“I think that both of these, and as a result all other scholarships, go beyond their intended purposes and end up offering more opportunities,” he said. “For instance, the Future Language Educator Scholarship and Virtual NSLI-Y scholarships have helped me fund university studies and step foot into Arabic language and culture respectively, but they have also allowed me to connect with brilliant educators and presenters at SCOLT and connect with other rising university students in language.”

As he looks back on his public school career, Smith said he would not be where he is today without the Barren County School District.

“They originally set me on the language learning path and that’s where I started,” he said. “My educators are the ones to whom I contribute any success I have had in language. I would like to thank the Barren County Board of Education for the opportunity to learn and become a better individual by studying under some of the most amazing educators in the Commonwealth.

“By formerly offering French and Latin and currently offering Spanish and French, they have been able to expand students’ view of diversity and culture in our rural county.”

Influence of a teacher
Smith says he has known his future was in education long before he stepped foot in a language classroom. In fact, ever since elementary school, he couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

“When I discovered the field of world language, I knew I had to enter this profession,” he said, adding that Sharon Mattingly, his Spanish teacher at Barren County High School, has been instrumental in his decision to pursue education as a career.

“With her help, I have had the honor of being president of the Barren County High School Foreign Language Club for three years and gotten to meet some interesting individuals in language education,” he said. “Moreover, she has given me a wealth of books and study materials that contribute to the knowledge that I have. She is the reason language education is in my future, and I will follow in her footsteps.”

Mattingly has spent 36 years as an educator, with the last 26 coming at Barren County High School, her alma mater. Although her father did all he could to get her into the teaching profession, she twice tried to go in different directions. But teaching was, and remains, her calling.

“I was blessed to have an amazing language teacher in high school – my mother,” Mattingly said.

After spending the first 10 years of her teaching career in North Carolina, Mattingly and her husband relocated back to her hometown, where she was able to spend five years teaching alongside her mother at Barren County.

“I was fortunate to learn from her professionally in the classroom for those years, as well as absorbing her passion for language during my entire life,” she said. “It was not just a job, it was a lifestyle for her.”

Mattingly is humbled that the passion her mother instilled in her has been passed along to Smith, further cementing that teaching is what she was meant to do with her life.

“I am thankful to know that the love of language will continue to touch lives long into the future,” she said.

According to Smith, there are several careers one could pursue in language, including international business or becoming an interpreter, translator or language analyst, among many others. Nevertheless, he was drawn to education because he would have a major responsibility in creating the global leaders of the next generation and in inspiring students to make their world a better place through the study of language.

“My purpose in life is right here in the heart of the Commonwealth, educating young adults and allowing them to reap the benefits of world language study,” he said. “I owe everything I have educationally to teachers who have shown me dedication in teaching and personal development. They are the reason I will be moving on to inspire other students, in hopes that I can pay their contributions forward.”

Kentucky Academy for Equity in Teaching
Recruitment, development and retention of an effective, diverse and culturally competent educator workforce is an urgent goal for the success of every Kentucky student, educator, school/district and community.

Diversity in the teaching profession can lead to increased student achievement, lower dropout rates and other positive outcomes, including increased aspirations to attend a postsecondary institution. All students benefit socially when they have role models from a wide array of backgrounds, making them better local and global citizens.

Through recruitment of new teachers to the profession and development and retention of those teachers, the Kentucky Academy for Equity in Teaching (KAET) project will provide all students with equitable access to effective, experienced and diverse educators that will help ensure all graduates are prepared to be successful members of a global society. 

Visit the Kentucky Department of Education’s website and the KAET webpage for more information.