Ann Harris Smith liked to joke that she could never retire from her teaching career. “I’ll just . . . resign,” Matt Smith recalls his mother saying.
“Resign” came across as much gentler a word. There was a sense of reassurance in this word, too — it seemed to suggest that even though Ann was going to pass the torch to a new teacher, she was still going to be out there, teaching in some capacity, making a difference in children’s lives.
Shortly after this beloved kindergarten teacher at Windber Area School District did leave the classroom, she began experiencing symptoms of what doctors eventually diagnosed as Stage 3C ovarian cancer. It had spread throughout her body, including to her diaphragm. Fighter that she was, Ann underwent a major surgery and many rounds of chemotherapy, but on July 31, 2002, at the age of 53, she passed away.
Thanks to “The Color Rap Book, it still feels as if Ann is out there . . . teaching . . . making a difference in children’s lives. The first edition of this gorgeous children’s book was printed six years ago when Amber and Ashley Miller, the daughters of one of Ann’s dearest colleagues, decided to make a special Christmas gift for their mother. This thoughtful gift for Lauren Miller put into book form a popular piece of Ann’s creative kindergarten curriculum.
Ann used “The Color Raps” to teach students about colors and how to spell them. For example: “B-L-U-E that spells blue. / Blueberry pie for me and you. / Policeman’s suit . . . and blue skies too. / B-L-U-E that spells blue.”
“My mother was always very creative,” says Matt, one of two children (his sister’s name is Molly) whom Ann and her husband, Mike, proudly raised. “She was artsy and funny and always liked making up jokes and rhymes.”
Since Ann enjoyed jogging and cooking, those passions also helped inform “The Color Raps.” The beat was inspired by the sound of her feet hitting the ground, and many of the raps allowed her to highlight color-specific foods (strawberries for red, brownies for brown, grape jelly for purple). When it came time to “rap” about the color brown, Ann added an extra layer of fun to her classroom by baking brownies and sharing them with her students.
After Amber finished her impressive artwork (she used readily available materials such as tissue paper, construction paper and colored foils), she and Ashley compiled Ann’s raps and designed and printed “The Color Rap Book” using a popular online photo printing service. In addition to presenting a copy to their mother on Dec. 25, 2013, Ashley and Amber also presented a copy to the Smith family.
“They said, ‘We thought you’d like this,’” says Matt.
The Smith family was so in awe they asked the siblings to help them order more. In 2014, they found a print shop and placed an order for 500 copies. The copies were distributed to donors of the Ann Harris Smith Foundation and to some local kindergarten teachers. “When we gave it out, people loved it and asked, ‘Where can we buy this?’” Matt says. “Then we had to ask ourselves, ‘Okay . . . what are our options here?’”
Over the past five years, the Smiths have been working on the book’s second edition. The first edition was well-done, Matt says, but he and so many others saw the potential to turn this gift — originally intended for Lauren and the Smith family to treasure on a personal level — into one that could be given to incoming kindergarteners at local school districts for years and years to come.
The Smiths decided to add tribute pages to the back of the book, design a back cover that features Ann’s biography and her photo and compose a dedication on the title page. The dedication reads: “This book is dedicated to Big Annie and all those who helped her through her battle with ovarian cancer and continue to fight in her honor.”
Matt and his wife Tori’s youngest son, Morgan, created the font for the second edition. “Morgan is on the autism spectrum,” Matt says. “He’s a very creative boy who loves to draw, so we asked him to write all the letters of the alphabet in lowercase and uppercase, and also the numbers zero through 9. Then we photographed and digitized each letter and number, and created ‘Morgan Font.’”
Jennie Baughman, an employee at Laurel Auto Group, owned by Mike and Matt, edited the book using Adobe Photoshop. The Smiths also teamed up with 1st Team Advertising of Johnstown to professionally photograph Amber’s artwork and to assist Jennie with editing for color, reflections and shadowing. The Smiths secured a publishing company name — Smith Family Publishing – and an ISBN number for “The Color Rap Book” and 5,000 copies of the second edition were printed.
They did everything they could, Matt says, to make the second edition look as professional as possible.
One of the family’s biggest goals is to get the books into as many little hands as possible. Books for use in classrooms are to be distributed free of charge, thanks to many generous donors to the Ann Harris Smith Foundation. If you are a kindergarten teacher — or if you know a kindergarten teacher – who could obtain permission to use the book in your kindergarten classroom, call Matt at (814) 262-6100 ext. 1403 or Jennie at (814) 269-3400. You can also visit thecolorrapbook.com and submit a request for more information. Donors also are being sought to help continue making these classroom donations a reality.
Individual copies of “The Color Rap Book” can be purchased for $12.95. All profits are to benefit the Ann Harris Smith Foundation, which exists to “benefit ovarian cancer awareness and education in Cambria and Somerset Counties, as well as child education and children's issues,” according to the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies’ official website. The Ann Harris Smith Foundation is housed with both Community Foundation of the Alleghenies and Pennsylvania Automotive Association’s PAA Foundation.
The Smiths consider “The Color Rap Book” a wonderful opportunity to share Ann’s legacy, to inspire a new generation of teachers and to continue to make learning fun.
Adult readers who spend time perusing the tribute pages in the back of “The Color Rap Book” can learn about Ann and the specific type of cancer that claimed her life before she even had the opportunity to meet her first grandchild. (In addition to Morgan Smith, Mike and Ann’s grandchildren include Ben and Cameron Smith and Anna and Noah Morris.)
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. Ovarian cancer, often referred to as “the silent killer,” remains difficult to detect. Symptoms are subtle; they can include bloating, frequent urination and fatigue.
“I can still remember my mother asking, ‘How can we raise awareness about ovarian cancer?’” Matt says. The answer came in the form of the family establishing the Ann Harris Smith Foundation in 2000. Ann spearheaded the inaugural Laurel Auto Group Pro-Am Charity Golf Tournament, which continues to this day and serves as the sole fundraiser for the Foundation.
The Ann Harris Smith Foundation also is responsible for “Teal Tuesdays” (Laurel Auto Group employees are invited to wear teal shirts on Tuesdays year-round); “Teal Out” games, which give local sports teams an opportunity to educate themselves and their spectators about ovarian cancer; and for “Turn the Town Teal,” which involves placing teal ribbons on trees throughout 47 municipalities across Cambria, Somerset and Westmoreland counties. Ann believed that if they can help just one woman, they will have made a difference.
Matt says he and his family think Ann would be “blown away” by “The Color Rap Book,” especially because she had always wanted to become a children’s book author.
“I think she’d be so happy and proud that so many people put in so much time and energy to put this all together and to care enough to try to get it into as many classrooms as possible,” Matt says. “But she was a very private person, a very humble person . . . so I think in some ways she wouldn’t like the attention and would say, ‘This isn’t about me. It’s about the kids.’ And then she’d probably ask, ‘Isn’t something like this exactly what we’re supposed to do? Isn’t this how we pay it forward?’”