Laura Smelser

Laura Smelser teaches physical education and music at Peterson Elementary School in Kodiak. (Nicole Klauss photo)

It’s Laura Smelser’s job to enliven kids through music and exercise.

Smelser works as a teacher at Peterson Elementary School where she has dual roles as the music and physical education teacher.

She moved to Kodiak in August 2012, and started out as a long-term substitute for Kodiak High School, but was quickly transferred to Peterson Elementary to become the full-time physical education teacher.

Smelser earned her degree in music education from Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va. where she majored in vocals and minored in piano. Before college, she played the clarinet for eight years and is always trying to learn new instruments.

“Right now I’m dabbing with the ukulele and guitar because I really want to get better so I can use them in my class,” Smelser said.

The Kodiak Daily Mirror sat down with Laura Smelser to find out how she teaches her two completely different specialties at Peterson Elementary School.

Q: Which students do you work with at Peterson?

A: I have every grade level — kindergarten through fifth grade. There are 11 classes total. We have a really cool schedule. We have P.E. two days a week and music two days a week, and on Fridays we do a music and P.E. combination. We call it music and movement. We do cultural dances, regular dances and musical activities that have them move their bodies.

Q: Do you like teaching music or P.E. better?

A: I never thought I would enjoy teaching P.E. because that’s what my brother does, but I really enjoy it because I get to be active and I get to play all day. I do love teaching music. It’s my thing. When I first graduated from college I had taught gifted education for a little bit. It was a great job, but then I didn’t feel completely satisfied because I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do. Now I’m glad that I’ve got this fun aspect to my job on the P.E. side, but I’m doing what I always wanted to do.

Q: What’s a typical music class like?

A: The little kids, kindergarten and first grade, come in and have a hello song. We have a different song each month. Then we do a review and a new (song). We do a song they did last time and then add something new to it. I try to use instruments every day so it’s a normal thing and they can get accustomed to them and they know how to play everything. I really love the xylophones.

I hope to include those in the fourth and fifth-grade concert on Dec. 18. We’re going to have a dance, a rap song, and some regular holiday music. It’s at 6:30 p.m.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the job?

A: I love the kids. I love to see them singing and dancing and smiling. It’s really fulfilling because you’re teaching them something that’s sort of abstract. It’s not academic. It’s not math or science, but it’s something they can really grab onto and go somewhere with.

Q: Did you always know what age group you wanted to work with?

A: Always elementary. When I was in Virginia, I taught middle school and high school together. I really enjoyed it but it’s more rehearsal oriented. Every so often there’s a concert and you’re always preparing for it. That’s great but you kind of miss out on the other musical activities and the experiences that are not performance-related.

Q: Is there anything that you’re hoping to bring into the gym or classroom?

A: I am really interesting in doing a music and movement concert in the springtime, to show the community what our music and movement class is about. There’s a lot of parachute choreography that I would like to try out, scarf dances and some multicultural things.

I’m also planning an Alaskan field day for the springtime. I was taking an Alaskan history and culture course and it’s my project for the class, but I want to do it in real life. It’s going to incorporate a lot of conditions and cultures here as field day stations. They may be learning life jacket safety or berry identification, things that are really usable for this area.

Contact Mirror writer Nicole Klauss at

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