Teacher, student honored for exemplifying spirit of late Turners Falls assistant principal

Turners Falls High School history teacher David Smith, center, receives the McGraw Uplift Award from teacher Jessica Vachula-Curtis during an assembly at the school Friday morning. At left is teacher Heidi Schmidt.

Turners Falls High School history teacher David Smith, center, receives the McGraw Uplift Award from teacher Jessica Vachula-Curtis during an assembly at the school Friday morning. At left is teacher Heidi Schmidt. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Turners Falls High School history teacher David Smith and senior Grayson Bowse were the recipients of the McGraw Uplift Award during an assembly at the school Friday morning.

Turners Falls High School history teacher David Smith and senior Grayson Bowse were the recipients of the McGraw Uplift Award during an assembly at the school Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Turners Falls High School history teacher David Smith receives the McGraw Uplift Award from teacher Jessica Vachula-Curtis during an assembly at the school Friday morning.

Turners Falls High School history teacher David Smith receives the McGraw Uplift Award from teacher Jessica Vachula-Curtis during an assembly at the school Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 02-12-2024 12:14 PM

Modified: 02-12-2024 12:26 PM


TURNERS FALLS — A 17-year-old senior who is committed to studying dance after graduation and a history and psychology teacher are the two latest recipients of the McGraw Uplift Awards, bestowed upon school community members who best exemplify the spirit of a late beloved assistant principal.

Grayson Bowse and David Smith were each surprised when their names were called at the end of Friday’s Academic Awards Assembly in the Turners Falls High School auditorium. The awards, given every year to one student and one staff member, honor the legacy of Earl McGraw, who died of lung cancer in 2016.

“My reaction was gratitude and appreciation for the students who shared so much of their lives with me and worked so hard in my classes,” Smith said after the assembly. “The award is a recognition that there’s a community of learners, and this school has amazing students and kind students. It’s less about me and more about the kind of learning environment they’re looking for, so it felt great.

“I appreciate it because I’m from Northfield and Earl McGraw was one of my neighbors, and the spirit of Earl McGraw is, I think, central to the success of this school,” Smith continued. “He helped kids who were on the margins. He treated everybody well and … the reason I love the award is we’re trying to keep that spirit alive in the school, so the awards should continue and every year it’ll be a different student and it’ll be a different staff member. It’s very positive and joyful.”

Bowse said it was humbling to hear his name called.

“It was super exciting. I was really excited, for sure,” he said. “It was crazy when they called my name.”

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He said his favorite subjects at Turners Falls High School are art and French.

“I love art because it’s really creative — I can express myself — and Madame [Megan Bendiksen], my French teacher, she’s amazing.”

Bowse said he has decided to pursue a career in dance after graduation and is in the middle of auditions.

McGraw Uplift Award recipients are nominated by their peers. The criteria is to treat everyone with respect and without judgment, to lift up people who seem down, to strive to achieve goals and to exemplify McGraw’s spirit.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.