Retirement Profile: Neal Smith


Tuckerman’s Ravine base camp 2021, where Smith is talking through the assent and ice walks with Brook and Lydia Hodgeman as they listen intently to his wisdom. Photo credit: Stephanie Hodgeman

Rachel Ledoux, Writer

After an incredible 35 years of teaching at Bellows Free Academy, St. Albans (plus prior work at a few other locations), teacher Neal Smith will be retiring at the end of this year. He has been working at BFA since 1986, and, as such, has a lot of insight and passion for teaching.

Smith started at BFA as an alternative educator, meaning he has worked primarily with students who learned better in different settings and structures.  Smith is extremely invested in the success of all students, inside and outside of the classroom, and his work reflects that.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, for example, Smith was one of the creators and leaders of the former New Beginnings alternative program at BFA, which aimed to provide different, off-campus education and support for students.

“We learned so much about the power of experiential learning,” Smith explained. This program often involved kayaking, building projects, travel, and a ton of other hands-on, non-traditional learning opportunities.  Smith made sure to mention his New Beginning colleagues Chuck Soule and the recently-deceased Mike Cain, who were, “critical parts of these adventures.” 

Smith also added that his favorite types of classes to teach here at BFA have been those where, “students are comfortable, engaged, alive, and interactive.” All words that would definitely apply to the former New Beginnings alternative program.

Smith noted that his favorite thing about teaching is, “building connections with students and seeing their development over time.” Even though he will be leaving the BFA community soon, he is still just as passionate about education and student relations as he was when he began. 

Colleague and friend of Smith’s, BFA guidance counselor Stephanie Hodgeman, shared the following thoughts about Smith:  “Neal Smith is one of the most adventurous and passionate people I know. He is filled with knowledge and skills that w[ould] be lost if it were not for him sharing his tricks and trades to the next generation.”

As for future plans, Smith wants to travel during his retirement. “I’d really like to visit Asia,” Smith noted. He has lived in and traveled to a lot of places, but hasn’t been on that continent as much as he would have liked.

When asked what he most looks forward to in retirement, he said that he didn’t really have a clear-cut plan, and that he was most looking forward to, “the unknown [and] the surprises.”

However, no matter what he accomplishes or how far he travels during retirement, Smith plans to take with him a lot of positive memories from BFA, including those of, “laughter, gratitude, striving, belief, hope, great teens and strong human connection,” he said. 

As Smith takes those great memories from BFA, he has some things that he wants to leave behind as well. He wishes to leave a big dose of encouragement and appreciation for the entire faculty, staff  and administration at BFA.  Also, to help meet the diverse needs of all of its students, he leaves the hope that BFA can rediscover its former position as a Vermont leader in alternative programming.

Finally, he expresses high hopes for the future of BFA.  “I think BFA is really in a great place, with its staff and administration, to move forward,” Smith said.