• Gibbs Elementary Wins
    $20,000 On The Ellen Show

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 3/19/2019
    Jeannie Klisiewicz, a producer with The Ellen DeGeneres Show, interviews Gibbs Elementary Prinicipal Joe Cameron as part of a segment on the show.
    Jeannie Klisiewicz, a producer with The Ellen DeGeneres Show, interviews Gibbs Elementary Prinicipal Joe Cameron as part of a segment on the show.

    A light-hearted faculty meeting at Gibbs Elementary School led to a starring role for teachers and administrators this week on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

    During their March faculty meeting, the Gibbs staff played a version of Ellen’s “Taste Buds” game, as a way to boost morale in the wake of county-wide flooding and the flu virus.

    After posting a picture on Twitter, the school got an email the next day from The Ellen Show. One thing led to another, and on Monday school employees gathered in the library for what they thought was a meeting with the show’s producer to discuss a prize competition.

    Instead, Ellen herself greeted them through a video link, inviting assistant principal Emily Jellicorse and instructional coach Lisa Moles to play “Taste Buds”, and giving the school $20,000 after they successfully completed the blind taste-test game.

    Jellicorse said she and Moles also got VIP tickets to attend a taping of Ellen’s “Game of Games” show, and said the television appearance has been a whirlwind.

    “It’s been amazing and surreal, and I feel like somebody needs to pinch me because I’m still dreaming,” she said. “This doesn’t happen to a school in Corryton, Tennessee, it just doesn’t happen.”

    The full segment lasted more than six minutes, with the $20,000 in cash from Shutterfly presented on a platter at the end.

    Jellicorse said it was emotional to find out the school had received that much money. “I’m so thankful that Ellen saw our staff and was able to see the love and the care that our staff have for each other, for our community, for our kids,” she said. “We’re a family, and I know that sounds like a cliché, but it is true.”


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  • Morning News Crews
    Set The Tone At School

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 3/15/2019
    Tylee Jackson operates a switcher during the morning news broadcast at Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy.
    Tylee Jackson operates a switcher during the morning news broadcast at Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy.

    It was a Tuesday morning in the media lab at Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy, and 5th-grader Nevaeh Bandy was the center of attention.

    With a call of “Three, two, one … Action!”, Bandy kicked off the elementary school’s morning news program, a daily production that sets the tone for more than 500 students at the school.

    With principal Amy Brace at the anchor desk alongside 3rd-grader Deidra Davis and 4th-grader Jamya King, the student-led crew gave updates about topics including the lunch menu, weather and birthdays, along with a moment of silence and the Pledge of Allegiance.

    As 4th-grader David Weaver gave a message about the importance of being considerate, his mother -- parent volunteer Senetra Weaver -- gave a whisper and a smile: “That’s my baby!”

    Sarah Moore Greene is a magnet school with a communications focus, but it’s not the only school that uses morning announcements as a teaching tool. Across KCS, students are closely involved with news shows that not only provide updates to their classmates, but also give experience in the communications field.

    At Blue Grass Elementary School, librarian Kerstin Sisco leads a news crew that uses a small studio with a green-painted wall as a backdrop.

    On a recent morning, Micah Kohring handled the anchor duties, while Anna Sergent, Rachel Hendon and Maggie Miller operated cameras, gave announcements and managed graphics.

    Kohring said he enjoys being the anchor because “you can be funny and people can laugh at you.” “It’s just all-around fun,” he added.

    Even the mistakes are opportunities to learn resilience, and the importance of focusing on the details. Miller said that during one broadcast she forgot to pause a video at the right time, which meant the sound of drums interrupted the show.

    And what did she learn from that mistake? “To pause the video.”

    Sisco said the broadcasts help bring the school together, and help members of the news team learn to think on their feet. “These are life skills that they are learning,” she said.

    For some students, serving on the school news team can lead to an up-close look at their real-life counterparts.

    Jenna Myers, a technology teacher who leads the news program at Sarah Moore Greene, said that in the past her students have sometimes visited the studios of WVLT to meet the station’s broadcast team.

    Back at school, Myers said she rotates the broadcast responsibilities for students to make sure everyone learns each of the jobs, and that the morning show helps motivate students to arrive to school on time.

    Deidra Davis, the school’s 3rd-grade anchor, said one of the biggest challenges is to focus on the camera while also keeping an eye on the TV screen that shows the broadcast. But the experience of working on a news crew has also provided a valuable lesson.

    “The more you practice, the more you get better at it,” she said.


    Micah Kohring (left) anchors the morning newscast at Blue Grass Elementary School, as Anna Sergent (center) and Rachel Hendon monitor the cameras..
    Micah Kohring (left) anchors the morning newscast at Blue Grass Elementary School, as Anna Sergent (center) and Rachel Hendon monitor the cameras.
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  • Farragut Students
    Take Home Math Honors

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 3/14/2019
    Farragut High School students pose with their trophy from the Mu Alpha Theta state convention.
    Farragut High School students pose with their trophy from the Mu Alpha Theta state convention.

    March Madness is just around the corner, but for students at Farragut High School last weekend was an opportunity to triumph in Math Madness.

    On Saturday, Farragut’s chapter of Mu Alpha Theta, a math honor society, won first place in the society’s state convention, and later this year will participate at the national convention in Las Vegas.

    The state competition featured a variety of disciplines, including speed-based “ciphering”, a poster contest and a Scholars Bowl-style team competition. Several Farragut students won individual awards, in addition to the school’s top honors in the overall competition.

    In an interview on Wednesday, team members said the key to preparing for the competition was a lot of practice, both individually and as a team. In some cases, that meant researching new information, while in other cases it was all about efficiency.

    “If you come upon something that you don’t know, you have to research it online or ask someone,” said freshman Alice Tang. “Maybe if you know how to do something, you try and find a faster way or a shortcut.”

    One question during the state competition asked how many combinations could be made using the letters from “Pikachu” (the name of a Pokemon character) while another asked students to identify the sum of the first 25 positive odd integers.

    Senior Elliot Fang has participated in the national competition three times previously, and said the questions get significantly harder at that level, which makes it important to watch out for careless mistakes.

    At the same time, Fang tries to help his younger teammates keep things in perspective. “I really just care about how much they can learn from it, rather than how well they can do at a competition,” he said.

    More than two dozen students participated in the state competition, and there are 113 club members at the school. The club’s sponsors are teachers Angie Buckman, Jordan Brown, Jake Gulledge and Kelly Gruhn.

    Brown had never participated in the state competition before, and said it was “really awesome” to see the hard work of students pay off. “I’m learning a lot from them, too," she added.

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  • Discovery, Belk
    Pitch In For Prom

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 3/8/2019
    Monte Durham, host of the TLC show
    Monte Durham, host of the TLC show "Say Yes To The Dress: Atlanta", met with students from Central High School on March 6 as part of "Say Yes To The Prom."

    Prom season got a lot more exciting this week for students at five Knox County high schools, thanks to generous support from two corporate sponsors.

    On Tuesday, Discovery Inc. hosted “Say Yes To The Prom” at its Sherrill Boulevard campus. More than 200 students from Fulton, Central, Halls and Gibbs high schools were invited to pick out dresses, tuxes, jewelry and accessories for prom, while also receiving styling tips and haircuts.

    Two days later, seniors at Austin-East High School gathered in the auditorium to learn that department store Belk will pay for their masquerade-themed prom, donating dresses, tuxedos and accessories while also covering the cost of a venue, entertainment and food.

    The events highlighted the role that corporate partners play in supporting KCS students and teachers, and offered both companies a chance to show off both their style and their community spirit.

    Monte Durham, of the show “Say Yes To The Dress: Atlanta”, which airs on Discovery’s TLC channel, posed for red-carpet selfies and chatted with students.

    Durham said he grew up in a West Virginia home with no running water and an outside toilet, so he understands financial struggles and the difference it can make to dress well for an important occasion.

    Durham said it’s amazing to speak with students about their future plans, and that Discovery hopes to be a part of that.

    “We hope today that outside of finding a beautiful dress or tuxedos and shoes and jewelry and the glitz and the glamour, that we’re encouraging, inspiring and motivating these students to continue this celebration in education and move forward with it,” he said.


    "Say Yes To The Prom" will provide dresses, tuxes, styling and accessories for students from Central, Fulton, Gibbs and Halls high schools.

    At Austin-East, principal Nathan Langlois kicked off the auditorium meeting with an academic pep talk, before introducing Patrick Dunbar, Belk’s store manager at West Town Mall. After Dunbar unveiled the prom surprise, several A-E students came on stage to show off their formal wear and masquerade masks.

    One of those students was De’Onte Bishop, a senior who said the promotion is like a dream come true. Bishop said he knows some students who wouldn’t have gone to prom without the Belk program, which will let students “showcase what we’ve got to offer.”

    “It’s great … A lot of people have single parents here, so it’s less stress on the parents and less stress on the students who go to school and work and have to worry about other things,” he said.

    Tyler Hampton, a spokesman for Belk, said the Project Hometown initiative looks for ways to make an impact in communities where Belk has stores.

    Hampton said students at Austin-East generally have to raise funds for prom. “We wanted to take that weight off of their shoulders so that they could just focus on being a kid and enjoying one of the most memorable experiences of their lives,” he said.

    Belk will pay the prom costs of seniors at Austin-East High School, as part of the department store's

    Belk will pay the prom costs of seniors at Austin-East High School, as part of the department store's "Project Hometown" initiative.
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  • HVA Students Learn
    Prescription Safety

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 3/7/2019
    Hannah Fawver (left) and Katelyn Fedrick, sophomores at Hardin Valley Academy, speak to a reporter during the Generation Rx red carpet event on March 6, 2019.
    Hannah Fawver (left) and Katelyn Fedrick, sophomores at Hardin Valley Academy, speak to a reporter during the Generation Rx red carpet event on March 6, 2019.

    Students from Hardin Valley Academy spent this year learning about the proper use of prescription drugs, and this week they got a red-carpet reward.

    On Wednesday, HVA students attended a free showing of “How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”, at the AMC Classic 16 theater on Peters Road.

    The event, which also included free popcorn and a drink, was sponsored by Cardinal Health and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, in conjunction with the Great Schools Partnership.

    DEA officials handed out water bottles and tote bags, while students got a chance to pose for pictures on a red carpet in the theater lobby.

    While the event was a fun break from classes and homework, it had a serious message. HVA was one of four schools that piloted the new wellness curriculum this year, and it will be expanded to additional schools next year.

    Prescription drug abuse has been an increasingly serious problem in East Tennessee and across the country. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, there were 1,776 drug overdose deaths among Tennesseans during 2017, the highest annual number since reporting began. According to the state, prescription opioids are still the most common drugs associated with overdose deaths in Tennessee.

    Brianne McCroskey, a wellness teacher at HVA, said the new “Generation Rx” initiative focused on helping students understand how to read prescription labels, and making them aware of the potential legal consequences for those caught with someone else’s prescription.

    While the movie was a draw, McCroskey said the hope is that “the information that we’ve taught them will stick with them.”

    The pilot program was also launched at South-Doyle High School, and this semester eight other high schools will feature classroom instruction and marketing on the topic. Ramona Dew, coordinated school health specialist with KCS, said the goal is to foster a community effort to reduce teen substance abuse.

    Bob Wooldridge, a community outreach contractor for the DEA, said it’s always important to provide education and raise awareness about the importance of prevention, adding that the agency wants students to know that it cares about them.

    “Our goals are saving lives and educating kids and parents,” he said.

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  • Therapists Provide Support
    In Middle, High Schools

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 3/5/2019
    Students walking into Gibbs Middle School on the first day of school.
    Bradley Clayton, a therapist at Whittle Springs Middle School, says part of his job is to help students find their way.

    Bradley Clayton knows that his students want to meet their potential, but for many of them the challenges of life are like clouds that make it hard to see where they’re headed.

    Clayton, a therapist at Whittle Springs Middle School, sees his own role as helping students find their way through those clouds, “like shining a flashlight for them to try and figure out where it is they want to be.”

    Thanks to a partnership with the Helen Ross McNabb Center, many more KCS students now have access to that kind of support.

    Last year, the Knox County Board of Education agreed to increase the number of master’s-level therapists at district schools, and there is now a therapist at each middle and high school. 

    Lindsay Stone, director of children and youth mental health programming for Helen Ross McNabb, said the program represents the largest expansion in the history of that agency’s school-based services program.

    The goal of the initiative is to provide treatment for students within the school setting, while also offering home visits and family counseling. Students can request services, or can be referred for treatment by counselors, teachers or other school employees. In the case of a referral, the therapist will contact the student and their family to see if they’re interested in receiving treatment.

    If necessary, the therapist can refer students for other services, including medication or outpatient psychiatric treatment.

    Kike Kotsianas supervises therapists at 11 different schools, and said they try to set goals with the student and their parents at the front end of the process, because students are more likely to pursue a treatment plan that is aligned with their own goals.

    Kotsianas previously was a therapist at Northwest Middle School, where she helped students who were facing challenges including depression, the impact of trauma and issues related to grief or the death of loved ones.

    “If a kid is struggling with a mental health issue it can absolutely affect their ability to function in the classroom,” she said. “They may be getting in trouble a lot, they may be doing poorly academically. And so as we help them work through the mental health stuff, that’s when we’ll be able to see change in their ability to be successful at school.”

    One benefit of a comprehensive system of mental health services is that students can continue to receive treatment even as they move from middle to high school -- or if they change schools within KCS.

    Clayton, for example, was a therapist at Christenberry Elementary before moving into the full-time role at Whittle Springs. Principal Joann Bost said that has been a great advantage in his current role.

    “Since he was at one of my feeder schools, he knows this community,” she said. “And that has been a huge benefit because people trust him … The families trust him, the kids trust him, he’s familiar to them.”

    Having a familiar therapist in the hallways can also provide space for teachers, counselors and administrators to focus on their own work with students. Stone, of Helen Ross McNabb, said that from what she’s seen, school employees have embraced the new initiative, because they recognize the need.

    “They want students to have that additional support,” she said.

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  • New Hopewell Students
    Salute Reading And Dr. Seuss

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 3/1/2019

    It may have been raining outside, but students at New Hopewell Elementary School had lots of good fun as they celebrated reading on Friday.

    With the birthday of famed children’s author Dr. Seuss falling on March 2, New Hopewell marked Read Across America Day with Dr. Seuss-style hats and costumes inspired by his books.

    At an assembly in the gym, Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas talked about the importance of books, while County Mayor Glenn Jacobs read “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” to students.

    Fifth-grader Trent McMahan was excited to see the mayor at school, and enjoyed the read-aloud. “I like how he read the book and it was talking about where you could go, and how you could be sad sometimes, but then be happy,” he said.

    Besides reading to students, Jacobs unveiled a new initiative called “Read City USA”, a partnership that includes Knox County, KCS, the Great Schools Partnership and the Knox County Public Library.

    The goal is to promote reading, in part by encouraging more families to get library cards and use resources available from the library. The effort also includes a pledge for children and adults who commit to read to their children, get a library card or volunteer for a literacy-minded organization.

    Many district schools marked the occasion on Friday, with read-alouds led by public officials, media figures and even students from older grades.

    Thomas, the KCS superintendent, said the goal is to raise awareness about the importance of reading, and said the mayor’s push to put library cards in the hands of every student is “just tremendous.”

    “Reading is the key to success for all of our students,” he said.

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  • KCS Celebrates
    Teachers Of The Year

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 2/28/2019
    Halls Elementary Principal Mitchell Cox takes a picture with teachers Britany Ellis (left) and Rachel Todd at the KCS Teacher Of The Year dinner on Feb. 26, 2019.
    Halls Elementary Principal Mitchell Cox takes a picture with teachers Britany Ellis (left) and Rachel Todd at the KCS Teacher Of The Year dinner on Feb. 26, 2019.

    Knox County Schools honored nearly 200 teachers during its 2019-2020 Teacher of the Year celebration at the Knoxville Convention Center on Tuesday. The event was sponsored by Lifetouch and Partners In Education.

    The Teacher of the Year celebration is held each year to recognize outstanding educators from Knox County Schools. To be considered, a candidate must be a full-time, certified PreK-12 teacher who has taught five or more years and spends the majority of the day instructing students. Candidates must also show dedication to teaching and possess a variety of positive personal attributes.

    School-level recipients are nominated by their colleagues for this annual award and the number of recipients per school is determined by the number of faculty at the school.

    From the group of school-level winners, the following three Knox County Teacher of the Year recipients were selected using the Tennessee Department of Education guidelines:

    • Crystal Dougan from Brickey-McCloud Elementary is a K-5 library media specialist who began a reading incentive program at her school library two years ago. She has seen a significant increase in students who achieve their AR goals and in ELA scores on the TCAP.

    • Janet Smith from Karns Middle School is an 8th-grade ELA teacher who has never forgotten the importance of empowering individual students, including those who are struggling. During her time at Karns, she has helped create a peer-tutoring program and has led the National Junior Honor Society.

    • Alice Carson from Powell High School teaches geometry and statistics and has been an educator for more than 30 years. She emphasizes collaboration among her students, and has helped implement Focus Review Sessions that enable students to receive tutoring on specific objectives.
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  • Medieval Day Is March 2
    At Bearden High School

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 2/25/2019
    Knights from the Society for Creative Anachronism display their weapons.

    Swords, shields, quill pens and catapults will be in action on Saturday when fans of the Middle Ages gather in Bearden.

    On March 2, Bearden High School will host Medieval Day, a celebration of the culture and history of the period from 300 to 1700 AD/CE.

    The event is co-sponsored by the Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the University of Tennessee, and is open to all middle school and high school students and teachers in Knox County.

    In this electronic Q-and-A, the Marco Institute’s program coordinator Dr. Katie Hodges-Kluck talks about what makes the event unique, and why the medieval period is still important.

    Hall Pass: Why does the Marco Institute host Medieval Day?

    Katie Hodges-Kluck: Part of the Marco Institute’s outreach initiative is to encourage students of all ages to think about the humanities — fields like history, literature, languages, and more — as something exciting and worth exploring. We also want students to know that they can study these and other related subjects in college.

    To this end, for the past several years we have partnered with Bearden High School and the Barony of Thor’s Mountain, a local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, to bring medieval culture to middle and high school students and teachers in the Knoxville area.

    HP: What do students enjoy the most about Medieval Day?

    Hodges-Kluck: Medieval Day has something for everyone. Students enjoy catching the medieval fighting demonstrations put on by the SCA, shooting model catapults, and trying their hands at writing with quill pens on parchment, just like medieval scribes would have done. This year’s event will also include medieval music, crafts, presentations by UT faculty and graduate students, door prizes, and more.

    HP: What about the medieval period makes it worthy of study and attention?

    Hodges-Kluck: So much of our modern culture, from politics to religion to entertainment, is shaped by the legacy of the Middle Ages, as well as by modern misconceptions about the period.

    The medieval period saw the development of innovations that today we take for granted, like the format of the modern book. Long-distance trade allowed monks in the British Isles to paint illuminated manuscripts using ink materials from the foothills of the Himalayas, and modern languages like French and Spanish took shape during this era.

    Medieval thinkers shaped religious and philosophical ideas that still survive today, and medical and astronomical sciences also greatly advanced during the period. It is immensely rewarding to open an 800-year-old manuscript and become immersed in the concerns, hopes, and imaginations of the people who created it.

    HP: What is the biggest misconception about the medieval period?

    Hodges-Kluck: The medieval period is often viewed as “the Dark Ages,” a monolithic, dirty, violent, backward age full of disease, with few laws and with barbarians ravaging the countryside at every turn.

    But the term “the Middle Ages” encompasses a vast period of approximately 1000 years, across not only Europe, but also the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. That’s a huge amount of time and space, full of countless different peoples and cultures, to be reduced into a single stereotype. In fact, the medieval period was often an era of innovation, exchange, and the creation of works of exceptional beauty.

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  • L&N Student Wins Grand Prize
    In Flag Design Contest

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 2/22/2019
    Kassidy Gray sits outside L&N STEM Academy on Feb. 13, 2019.
    Kassidy Gray sits outside L&N STEM Academy on Feb. 13, 2019.

    When Kassidy Gray heard the theme of a contest to design a flag representing Tennessee, she immediately thought of her grandparents.

    A junior at L&N STEM Academy, Gray tapped her memories of gardening and star-gazing to produce a flag that was recently named the grand prize winner in the Tennessee Youth Art Month Flag Design Contest.

    Besides earning a $1,000 cash prize, her design will be featured at next month’s National Art Education Association convention in Boston, and the STEM Academy will receive $1,500 worth of art supplies from Sargent Art, the sponsor.

    The theme of this year’s contest was “Your Art, Your Story.” Gray said memories of her maternal grandmother’s backyard garden inspired her to create white irises in place of the flag’s three stars. A floral background on the flag’s red field, she said, was “reminiscent of gardening all the time with my grandmother when I was younger, and just running around in her garden.”

    More recently, Gray has gone on week-long camping trips with her paternal grandparents, trips that inspired her to add a starry sky on the flag’s blue field.

    “At night it’s really pretty,” she said. “You’re away from a bunch of light pollution … so usually I just like to lay outside on a blanket or something and look at the stars.”

    Her visual art teacher, Cheri Jorgenson, said Gray has always been a strong art student, but that her work has grown more sophisticated during her time at L&N.

    Jorgenson also pointed out that Gray was one of two L&N students selected recently in a competition to design guitars for this year’s Dogwood Arts Rhythm and Blooms Festival. Gray will add the design to an Epiphone guitar that will be auctioned to support the Dogwood Arts Festival.

    Gray’s flag design -- which will be made into a real flag for the convention -- was created using a Cintiq electronic tablet and a digital painting program called FireAlpaca.

    She said digital tools make it easier to experiment without buying a lot of new supplies, and allows her to separate a piece into layers.

    As for the award, she’s still processing it: “I was not expecting this at all,” she said. “It was just a shock to me."

    Kassidy Gray's design won the Youth Art Month Flag Design Contest.
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