Thursday, June 7, 2012

Kate Duncan Smith DAR School

My Visit to the Kate Duncan Smith DAR School

Some people hate to travel...the crowds, the strangers, the planning. I am quite the opposite.  I love seeing new places.  I wish I had more time to travel all over the world.  I have been to Mexico, Canada, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, and Italy.   I would love to do Australia or Hawaii someday.  I also love staying in our great country and traveling to new cities and states.  Our family is the kind that drives somewhere and stops along the way to see the “Largest Ball of String in the Universe” or whatever is out of the ordinary. 

            This month, I traveled somewhere new: Grant, Alabama!  Now it may not sound as exciting to you as Rome, but it was a great joy to spend three days at the “Gem of Gunter Mountain”, the Kate Duncan Smith DAR School. 

            The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution owns this Appalachian school for students in need.  Most Daughters call it KDS.  However, everyone in Grant calls it the “DAR School”.  According to their web site, the DAR School “serves grades K-12 and provides opportunities for the children of a large, rural area in the Appalachian foothills to develop a strong love of American ideals as they obtain a distinctive academic background. Emphasis is upon patriotic education throughout the curriculum. Although the school plant and enrollment have increased greatly in size and number since 1924, the same spirit of dedication to achievement, patriotic and moral values, and service to community and country exists on the campus today as it did in the early years of this unique educational experiment of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

This school changes lives.  The children in this area of Alabama often have not had the opportunities that those of wealth have had.  Without these luxuries, they are more grateful for their education and the loving guidance the teachers and staff provide. 

According to one of the guidance counselors,
     “I purchased clothes for all three children in the family…which consisted of three siblings in the household who were being raised by a single dad.  It is not known where the mother is, but that none of the children have contact with her.  The children didn’t have Christmas and according to the father, there was no money.  The girls were without any shoes and had no jackets.  One of the girls continuously stole items of clothing for her and her sister to wear, and upon interviewing both the girls to discuss the needs, I noticed that the one pair of tennis shoes the girls did share had a hole down the middle.  In addition, they were too small.  …you could tell they were attempting to make do with what they had…  The girls had a pair of flip flops and a pair of tennis shoes they shared between them.  I am assuming the clothing items were the same way because the older female had to wear clothes that did not fit her but that did fit her younger sister.

     When speaking to them I learned they had a younger brother in 6th grade.  I learned he was also in need, and I purchased items that he would also need. 

            I feel so privileged to work at a place that will help people in need in this manner.  The girls were highly appreciative of the items.  The older sister actually put on the shoes when I presented them to her because she had on some shoes that did not fit her.  The younger sister was wearing flip flops.  Thanks so much for making a difference in this family.  I hope that it will make an impact on their lives!”

So, why did I go to KDS?  As State Chairman for Junior Membership in the DAR, I represented our committee and state this year, presenting an award to a graduating senior who excelled in art.  My journey included visiting all parts of the campus, presenting the award, attending graduation, and getting to know the welcoming Daughters of Alabama.  Thank you to Rita Horton, Connie Grund, Patrice Donnelly, Janeal Shannon, Tammy Clemons, and Peggy Johnson for making me feel so welcome!  

The campus is located in the most beautiful part of Alabama.  One of the first things that got my attention was the view of the valley from the school grounds. 

This was such a peaceful, breathtaking view.  I felt as if I could see forever.   Right behind me, the historical marker revealed that the Kate Duncan Smith DAR School was started in 1924 by the Alabama Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. 

A tour of the school revealed many beautiful, historical structures such as the Pennsylvania Log Cabin and the Pennsylvania Bell Tower.
Pennsylvania Log Cabin (front)

Pennsylvania Log Cabin (back)

Pennsylvania Bell Tower

Since much of the campus contains historical landmarks, the preservation of these buildings is extensive.

When one tours the more modern parts of campus, a welcoming set of pillars greets you to the Home of the Patriots.

The mascot is painted on the main gym’s wall.  It is also found in the cafeteria and on several displays in each of the buildings. 

Patriot Mascot painted on Gym Wall

Beautiful Mural on Cafeteria Wall

There were several particular things that struck me as very noteworthy during my journey.  They were not amazing things, but things I will remember for a long time to come. 

Now to put this in perspective, I teach in an economically sound school district in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  So, the comparisons that I am going to make are based on my everyday encounters.

First, I noticed that all of the students were very, very polite.  Now, anyone would hope that strangers were polite to strangers, but the KDS students seemed exceptionally polite.  Trust me…these KDS kids were great!  I had more doors opened for me in one day by the boys of this school than I have in a month at mine.  “Yes, Ma’am” ended every sentence that I heard.

Second, I am used to seeing students with perfect, white teeth.  All my students in my district, by the time they are in middle school, have any “defects” under construction and have them fixed by high school age.  The students that I encountered at KDS do not have this luxury.  Many of the students at the high school level smiled with the beautiful smiles that God gave to them.  They had no corrections.  This may seem like a strange thing to notice, but it made a lasting impression, showing the economic differences.

Third, the patriotic education was noticeable.  During the awards ceremony, the students, grades K-12, all stood and said in complete unison the pledge of allegiance to the flag as well as the American’s Creed.  In fact, the students said the creed so quickly, that they finished it before any of the DAR members on the stage had a chance.  No student was disrespectful during this time.  Not a single one.

Finally, the number of ‘Thank You’s from the students were too numerous to count.  When they saw me wearing my pins, they knew I was part of a larger group that has helped each one of them to have a better chance in this world.  They were grateful, and they showed it.

My visit to KDS has changed my life.  It has made the support that I have given this school become real and tangible.  I saw, first hand, the product of my contributions to the DAR School committee.  I was able to meet the teacher, Denise Duncan-Saint, that my chapter, the Jacob Ferree Chapter, sponsored for two years.

Me and Denise Duncan-Saint, math teacher

What a great influence Denise is on the lives of these children.  …and what a great influence you and I can be, even from far away. 

So, how can you help?  The primary school is in great need right now.  The pipes in the building have deteriorated and do not allow the bathrooms to drain properly.  Even though the custodians clean the bathrooms thoroughly every day, the smell of urine and waste permeate the entire building.  Peggy Johnson, the chairman of the board for KDS said “The health of our children is our number one priority”.  I don’t want you to get the impression that the school is run down, for it is not.  I saw modern facilities everywhere, from the gymnasium to the cafeteria.  However, the primary bathroom is unacceptable.  Take a look at the urinal trough where the waste is not draining properly.  It is time to fix this problem.

Last weekend, my chapter had our June meeting.  There, I told my chapter of my visit to the Kate Duncan Smith DAR School.  I told them of all the students and how we, as DAR members, have touched their lives in such a strong, positive way.  I then told them that we have a chance to continue to support them through the donation to this bathroom renovation.  The chapter members then unanimously voted to donate $1000 directly to the school.  Way to go, ladies!

This is why I LOVE BEING IN THE DAR.  I love it that we are doing good in the world.  I love it that we work together as a team to raise money to turn around and put it back out there for those in need.  I love setting the example for my children that “it is not all about you”.   

I am quite sure that I will visit KDS again.  I am quite sure that my love for great education for all children in America, no matter their economic circumstances, will drive me to be active within this committee.  This is my passion.  John F Kennedy said it best; “Children are the world's most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.  How do you plan to help our future? 


To make a contribution to the Kate Duncan Smith DAR School, please send your check to the following address.  Be sure to indicate you want it to go to the “Flush Fund” or “Primary School Bathrooms”. 

Kate Duncan Smith DAR School
6077 Main Street
Grant, AL    35747

Phone:  (256) 728-4236


  1. Hi Susan,

    I love hearing your story! What an impact you and your chapter made for KDS! I just emailed them about how the Junior Committee in my Arlington, Texas chapter could help for Christmas but your post opened my eyes to even more areas where we are needed. Thank you, you got my gears turning toward even more projects with them! With your permission I would love to share your story with my chapter.

    Thank you,