• "Principals For A Day"
    See Schools In Action

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 11/19/2019
    U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Suzanne Bauknight speaks to a class at Powell Middle School while serving as Principal For A Day on Nov. 11, 2019.
    U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Suzanne Bauknight speaks to a class at Powell Middle School while serving as Principal For A Day on Nov. 11, 2019. 

    Suzanne Bauknight has plenty of experience managing a courtroom, but this week she got to help manage a classroom.

    Bauknight, who serves as a federal bankruptcy judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee, was one of approximately 100 people who participated in the KCS Principal For A Day event on Tuesday morning.

    Elected officials, business leaders, non-profit executives and others visited district schools where they toured classrooms, met with teachers and watched principals go about their daily routine. After the tours, participants gathered at The Foundry on World’s Fair to give their impressions and share ideas.

    The goal of the annual event is to raise awareness of the work done by teachers, administrators and school staff, while also giving community partners a sense of how they can support schools and address needs within KCS.

    Bauknight had two daughters that attended Powell Middle School, so she was already familiar with the campus. But while touring with Principal Beth Howard, she got to see teaching and learning up-close, and even got to participate in classroom discussions.

    During a visit to Donna Jett’s 8th-grade Social Studies class, the judge jumped into a discussion about elections. After soliciting input from students about how voters can be informed about issues and candidates, she urged them to always seek out news from multiple perspectives, and to engage the political process with civility.

    “Be respectful in your listening and in your speaking,” Bauknight said. “We call that civility, and we need to do more of that.”

    While the work of teaching and learning still hits the traditional high points like math, social studies and English Language Arts, several Principals For A Day highlighted aspects of education that were less familiar to them.

    During the lunch meeting, guests remarked about the focus on addressing students’ social and emotional needs, as well as the wide range of curriculum areas, including CTE courses, STEM education and opportunities to earn college credit while attending high school.

    Justin Bailey, of Bailey & Co. Real Estate, visited Powell Elementary School -- his alma mater -- and said he was impressed by a secretary who welcomed a student by saying “we’re just so glad we got to see you today.”

    Bailey compared interactions like that one to “deposits” in an account that tells students “You matter.” “It was so impressive to me,” he added.

    For at least one participant, the event was a chance to catch up with an old teacher. John Thurman, an architect and vice president with McCarty Holsaple McCarty, toured Fulton High School whose principal, Seth Smith, years ago was Thurman’s world history teacher at Farragut High School.

    Thurman and Alison Coe, the news director at WATE-Channel 6, got to visit with Fulton’s administrative team, meet teachers and observe a class.

    Thurman said it was helpful to see what it looks like to lead more than 100 teachers, without being a micro-manager.

    “We talked a lot about that in terms of staff and how you work with your team. That’s what we as community and business leaders are looking at is leading teams,” he said. “(Smith's) role is sort of chief team-leader … There’s just so many different things going on in school that he’s overseeing.”

     

    Fulton High School Principal Seth Smith speaks to McCarty Holsaple McCarty architect John Thurman and WATE News director Alison Coe during the Principal For A Day event on Nov. 11, 2019.
    Fulton High School Principal Seth Smith speaks to WATE News director Alison Coe and McCarty Holsaple McCarty architect John Thurman during the Principal For A Day event on Nov. 11, 2019.  
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  • Peer Tutors Promote
    Inclusion, Positive Culture

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 11/15/2019
    Westen Henry is a senior at Halls High School, one of several schools within KCS where peer tutors help support special education students.
    Westen Henry is a senior at Halls High School, one of several schools within KCS where peer tutors help support special education students. 

    Westen Henry’s favorite thing about Halls High School is the friends he’s made during his time as a student.

    But for Henry and other special education students at Halls, friendships are also an important factor in their academic success.

    Halls and other schools across KCS offer peer tutoring programs, in which general education students spend time in special education classes, where they assist with lessons and provide one-on-one guidance for in-class work.

    The idea is not only to provide support for special education students, but also to offer learning opportunities for general education students.

    “Peer models are really important in teaching students new skills, so having peer tutors in there to serve as models and provide different supports in the classroom is really important,” said Jason Myers, Executive Director of Student Supports at KCS. “And from a social standpoint -- developing an inclusive, positive culture in a school -- it serves a vital role.”

    On a recent morning at Halls High School, special education teacher Sarah Wheeler read a story about football and engaged students in conversation about the sport. It was a timely topic because the school’s annual “Tuesday Night Lights” game, in which special education students got a chance to play a game on the field and perform as cheerleaders, was scheduled for that evening.

    The classroom included students with a wide variety of abilities, including some who used wheelchairs and others who used electronic devices to assist with communication. At the same time, as the class transitioned into hands-on activities using scissors and glue sticks, much of the assistance was provided by general education peer tutors, who talked with their special ed counterparts and assisted them with their work.

    Ellie Hassell, a sophomore at Halls who serves as a peer tutor, is considering a career as a special education teacher, and said she enjoys the chance to work with others and the feeling of making a difference.

    Asked why it’s important to have peers serving as tutors, Hassell said they can relate to what special ed students are going through, because they’re all students together. “And you’re easier to talk to at points, because (students) don’t want to talk to adults about some things,” she added. “So it’s nice to have somebody to just sit down and chat with sometimes.”

     

    Peer tutor Ellie Hassell (left) works on a project with Morgan Holbert during a class at Halls High School.
    Peer tutor Ellie Hassell (left) works on a project with Morgan Holbert during a class at Halls High School. 

    For her part, Wheeler got a bachelor’s degrees in psychology, then worked as a teaching assistant at Brickey-McCloud Elementary while getting her master’s degree. After realizing that she didn’t want a desk job, Wheeler decided to pursue a master’s in special education while working full-time as a first-year teacher at Halls.

    Wheeler said peer tutors provide validation for special ed students, and that they have a good sense of when to offer support and when to step back.

    “They’re not about socializing with each other, they’re not concerned with what’s going on with themselves or their phones, they come in and they’re about our students … They’re just really in tune with what my students need and I feel like that comes from just spending time with them,” she said.

    Those interactions don’t just happen in the classroom. Peer tutors sometimes take their special-ed counterparts out for ice cream or a movie, and they also participate in “unifying sports” through the Special Olympics, in which they team up for an athletic competition.

    Alyssa Geoffrion, a 9th-grader at Halls, works with Hassell, and uses an electronic tablet to communicate. Geoffrion is a writer, whose interests include zombie horses and airplanes such as the Blue Angels. Asked how she’s learned about airplanes, Geoffrion used the tablet to say “I learned about them since I saw them … at the airport.”

    Besides providing support and learning during high school, the peer tutoring program can also plant a seed that draws students into education.

    Myers, who leads the Student Supports department for KCS, said he worked as a peer tutor during high school.

    “It was incredibly impactful for me,” he said. “It put me in an environment where I was with students who were different than me. I was exposed to different learning styles and various things, and I just developed an interest in working with students with disabilities.”

     

    Alyssa Geoffrion, a 9th-grader at Halls, has worked with peer tutor Ellie Hassell and said the program is helpful.
    Alyssa Geoffrion, a 9th-grader at Halls, has worked with peer tutor Ellie Hassell and said the program is helpful. 

     

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  • South-Doyle Collecting Flags
    For Retirement Ceremony

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 11/11/2019
    Cadets from South-Doyle High School's JROTC Cherokee Battalion fold a flag in preparation for a retirement ceremony next year. From left to right are Taylor Lawhorn, Kaitlyn Scalf, Avery Burnham and Justin Shipes.
    Cadets from South-Doyle High School's JROTC Cherokee Battalion fold a flag in preparation for a retirement ceremony next year. From left to right are Taylor Lawhorn, Kaitlyn Scalf, Avery Burnham and Justin Shipes. 

    Schools across Knox County were celebrating Veterans Day this morning, but for a group of South-Doyle High School students an effort to honor the American flag will last for the entire school year.

    South-Doyle’s JROTC program is working to collect 1,000 American flags for a retirement ceremony that is scheduled for next May. Besides providing a respectful farewell to the flags, another goal of the project is to raise awareness of flag etiquette throughout the community.

    Kaitlyn Scalf, a South-Doyle senior and commander of the school’s Cherokee Battalion, said that when a ripped or faded flag has come to the end of its life span, etiquette calls for the banner to be properly folded and then burned.

    “It’s a symbolic thing for people who are in the military,” said Scalf. “You don’t just want to throw it away, it’s kind of like being disrespectful to the people who were in the military.”

    The cadets had previously assisted American Legion Post 2 with a retirement ceremony for more than 500 flags.

    LTC Bill Woodcock, Senior Army Instructor at South-Doyle, said that when a representative of the Legion heard that the school was considering its own retirement ceremony, “he went back and told all the veterans groups and we started having flags coming in the door the week after.”

    The total number of flags collected has not been made public, and Woodcock and one other cadet are the only people who know the up-to-date tally. But the overall project is being organized by several committees within the JROTC.

    11th-grader Avery Burnham is facilitator of the leadership committee, and said cadets are still looking for an appropriate location for the retirement ceremony. The goal is to find a site that can be open to the public and raise awareness about the process, while also ensuring that the smoke doesn’t cause a disturbance.

    The project is student-led, and should serve as good preparation for members of the Cherokee Battalion who are planning a military career.

    Scalf is in the Army’s Delayed Entry program and is scheduled to leave for basic training two weeks after graduation, while Burnham is hoping to attend the Naval Academy and be commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps.

    They’re not the only ones who are planning to serve their country. 12th-grader Taylor Lawhorn recently enlisted in the Marine Corps and is scheduled to leave for boot camp in July. And 12th-grader Justin Shipes was two weeks late for his senior year because he did basic training at Fort Jackson this summer.

    For South-Doyle cadets, their own service and the service of loved ones makes the flag project personal.

    “A lot of us have military family or a bunch of us are in the military or we’ve had friends that have gone into the military,” said Burnham. “So the flag not only represents the country but also it represents those people that are going into the military. And they’re sacrificing a lot of their life, they’re sacrificing time and commitment in order to protect their country … So whenever we retire these flags it’s almost like we’re retiring a symbol of our families.”

     

    Justin Shipes, center, and other cadets from South-Doyle High School's JROTC fold a flag for retirement. The school's Cherokee Battalion is hoping to retire 1,000 flags next spring.
    Justin Shipes, center, and other cadets from South-Doyle High School's JROTC fold a flag for retirement. The school's Cherokee Battalion is hoping to retire 1,000 flags next spring. 

     

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  • Central Teacher Makes Hip-Hop
    Videos To Teach Math

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 11/6/2019

     

    When students listen to a hip-hop song or hear a new rap beat on YouTube, they may not think of algebra as one of the ingredients. But a teacher at Central High School is helping them see the connection, and using music videos to promote mastery of math concepts.

    Andrew Turner recently began his 10th year at Central, and has incorporated music into his work since joining the faculty. He began with an after-school club that helped students record songs, and began thinking about ways to use music in the classroom.

    One day, Turner brought in equipment that he had used to record each student’s name with a unique musical tone. Rather than calling on students in class, he would hit a button that played the recorded name.

    “It was that moment where I saw the kids lighting up and they were just like, ‘Wow, that’s really neat!’” Turner recalled.

    Turner had been writing math raps and recording them over the music of other artists, but last year he worked with a class of freshmen to create an original beat. That beat became the foundation for a song and video released last month that aims to remind students about how to use the grouping function on a graphing calculator.

    In “Group It Like That”, Turner has a nightmare in which a teacher, played by freshman student Dyamond McCoo, wanders through a dystopian world in which students continually use parentheses incorrectly on their calculators.

    The video uses students as actors and dancers, while the underlying song emphasizes a point: 

    “Using grouping is the way of always making sure you’re getting it correct,

    You’re never getting wrecked,

    Parentheses will let

    You make a little place where you can go ahead and set

    Your number like Bet,

    Man, don’t you forget.” 

    Turner said he originally planned to play the teacher in the video, but McCoo volunteered to fill the role herself. “I was just so excited because she took the whole idea to another level, and I don’t think the video would have been the same, the way that I had kind of dreamed it up,” he said.

    For her part, McCoo said Algebra is her favorite class, and that music has made it easier to learn the material.

    “It’s in a rhythm and when you hear how the directions go and certain beats, it’s more memorize-able and I just learn it easier that way,” she said.

    Turner was quick to point out that his classes are aligned to state standards and include quizzes, homework and instruction in all of the required concepts. In fact, his standardized test scores rose last year in both his honors and college prep classes.

    But he said that another goal of using music is just to make school enjoyable, both in the classroom and through the after-school club, which has recorded more than 200 songs with students.

    “Some of these kids, they really don’t like school. They may not even like me,” he said with a laugh. “But after-school gives us this beautiful setting where we can just focus on their project, focus on the music and I can really teach them how it all works.”

    Rap music comes in many forms, and Turner acknowledged that some versions of the music are associated with violence and vulgarity. The teacher said he wants to model the art form in a responsible way, and to help students understand the ways that algebra is essential for making music. “I’m trying to demonstrate how it can be academic, how it can be highly intellectual when you apply it to an entire course, or to an entire content,” Turner added.

    Central Principal Andrew Brown said Turner is a careful and detail-oriented teacher, but that he’s also willing to think outside the box.

    “One of the reasons Mr. Turner has been a successful teacher is because he’s willing to try new things and do things differently and not necessarily teach algebra a certain way … because it’s the way he’s always done it. He doesn’t become stagnant in his instruction,” the principal said.

    In fact, it wasn’t always certain that Turner would become a teacher. He had worked as a tutor during his senior year in high school, but was concerned about not making enough money if he became a professional educator.

    As a college student he pursued several courses of study -- including music production -- but a conversation with his grandmother helped convince him to teach.

    “She [said] ‘Do you love it?’ and I said ‘Yeah.’ And she said, ‘Then don’t worry about the money. You’re going to have so much more happiness through doing something that you love.’ And I just really took that to heart.”

    See more Bassick Math videos on YouTube, including “Slope” and “What’s A Function?”

     

    Andrew Turner, a math teacher at Central High School, speaks to students during class on Oct. 28, 2019.
    Andrew Turner, a math teacher at Central High School, speaks to students during class on Oct. 28, 2019. 

     

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  • Students Teach Coding
    To Elected Officials

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 11/6/2019
    Students from Northshore Elementary demonstrate ozobots for Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, during the PolitiCode event on Nov. 5, 2019.
    Students from Northshore Elementary demonstrate ozobots for Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, during the PolitiCode event on Nov. 5, 2019. 

    Students were the teachers during a technology event at Farragut High School on Tuesday.

    The PolitiCode program invited elected officials from across Knox County to a demonstration featuring students from seven schools within KCS.

    Superintendent Bob Thomas, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and a host of elected officials learned about topics including Lego robotics, scratch coding and the use of software to make electronic music.

    The event was sponsored by the Knoxville Technology Council, the Great Schools Partnership, the KCS Computer Science Department, Knox County and the City of Knoxville. Its goal was to raise awareness of technology instruction that is happening at schools, and to give elected officials insight into the career opportunities presented by technology.

    Kyreac’ Smith, an 8th-grader at Vine Middle School, was part of a team from Vine that demonstrated a “watercolor bot” that painted pictures based on digital drawings submitted by users.

    Several elected officials used the bot to create original paintings, and Smith said one lesson they learned was how to drag an image from one portion of the painting to another, in order to correct mistakes.

    For his part, Smith said he enjoys both digital and traditional art, and anything involving computers. “There’s just something about this entire process that intrigues me,” he added.

    In another room, students from Northshore Elementary were using “ozobots” — tiny, silo-shaped robots — to knock down miniature bowling pins.

    Technology teacher Annet Romer said students could use several different coding styles to control the robots, and that the skills they’re learning can be found in settings ranging from an operating room to an Amazon shipping warehouse.

    Romer said the ability to program a robot is “almost a necessity these days,” in the same way that the ability to use a computer became essential for nearly every job.

    She added that her students love using the ozobots: “They love the fact that it’s creative, that they get to be in control, that they get to code and if it doesn’t work they persevere and they keep trying until they get it.”

    Paxton Hosmer, a 5th-grader at Northshore, said that sometimes students get lucky and knock down all the pins on their first try, but he doesn’t get frustrated when it doesn’t work immediately.

    “That’s part of the process,” he said.

     

    Students from Dogwood Elementary give a Lego Robotics demonstration to District 9 Board of Education member Kristi Kristy, during the PolitiCode event on Nov. 5, 2019.
    Students from Dogwood Elementary give a Lego Robotics demonstration to District 9 Board of Education member Kristi Kristy, during the PolitiCode event on Nov. 5, 2019. 

     

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  • Communication Board Aims
    To Help Northshore Students

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 10/30/2019
    Students and staff at Northshore Elementary prepare to cut the ribbon for a new Playground Communication Board on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019.
    Students and staff at Northshore Elementary prepare to cut the ribbon for a new Playground Communication Board on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. 

    Students at Northshore Elementary School have a new communication tool, thanks to support from the school’s Parent Teacher Association.

    On Wednesday, Northshore unveiled a Playground Communication Board, which uses visual images to help students who struggle to communicate verbally.

    The project was led by Lauren Broyles, a speech language pathologist at the school, who said the goal is to help students who have a hard time using their words, have complex communication needs or are learning English.

    “We’re hoping this will be a way to increase their communication, help teachers do some detective work and decrease frustration,” Broyles said. “Research shows that pictures really increase verbal output, so that’s what we’re trying to give them an opportunity to do.”

    The board includes more than a dozen pictures with captions such as “I want”, “Play basketball”, “Bathroom” and “Nurse.”

    Broyles said she found the idea this summer on a blog, and the school was eager to install it during October, which is Augmentative and Alternative Communication Month. The project was funded by the school’s Parent Teacher Association.

    While rain showers forced Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting to take shelter under a tent, students and families still seemed excited about the new playground tool.

    Lisa Jerden, a PTA member who has twins in the 5th grade, said one of her children has special needs.

    “Language doesn’t always come easy for him,” she added. “Having alternative types of communication is very helpful for him, especially on a playground, which is a social time.”

     

    A mock-up of Northshore Elementary's new Playground Communication Board was on display inside the school on Wednesday, highlighting a variety of visual cues that will be included.
    A mock-up of Northshore Elementary's new Playground Communication Board was on display inside the school on Wednesday, highlighting a variety of visual cues that will be included. 

     

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  • Gresham Students Unearth
    30-Year-Old Time Capsule

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 10/25/2019
    Rebecca Marston, who attended Gresham Middle School in the 1980s, looks at a picture from a 30-year-old time capsule on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019.
    Rebecca Marston (right), who attended Gresham Middle School in the 1980s, looks at a picture from a 30-year-old time capsule on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. 

    It’s been 30 years since Mark Carringer was a student at Gresham Middle School, but this week he returned to Fountain City to dig up some history.

    Carringer, who now lives in Huntsville, Ala., on Friday helped unearth a time capsule that was buried outside the school in 1989.

    This summer, Principal Donna Parker found an envelope at the bottom of a filing cabinet with a label that said to open it in 2019. Inside the envelope were a map and a poem written by Carringer to guide future students to the capsule.

    To mark the occasion, Gresham alumni returned for a ceremony and helped school staff and students dig up the capsule as a crowd of current 8th-graders looked on with excitement. It took a lot of work to access the container, and it quickly became apparent that time and the elements had taken a toll on the buried items.

    Although the artifacts were wrapped in garbage bags and Ziploc baggies, the paper records had been soaked by rainwater and some of them were illegible.

    But the findings still shed light on the 1980s. An old copy of the Wall Street Journal newspaper featured a front-page headline about Boris Yeltsin, while an old catalog highlighted the unforgettable fashions of the decade.

    The capsule also included a cassette tape, and at least one picture that brought back memories. Rebecca Marston, a Gresham alumnus who came to the event with her mother, was featured in the photo, which had student names written on the back. Asked what memories it inspired, Marston joked, “That we had a lot of hair -- big hair.”

    As part of the festivities, teachers dressed in 80’s-style clothes, and assistant principal Glen Price parked his 1983 Datsun 280ZX in front of the school, while songs like “(I Just) Died In Your Arms” played on the stereo.

    Current Gresham students are planning to create their own time capsule, featuring items such as an iPhone, a hydro flask and a copy of “Old Town Road”, and Parker said the event was a great success. Not only did students learn how to protect artifacts for their own capsule, the principal said, but the gathering also highlighted the community spirit of Fountain City.

    Parker was excited that teachers were able to recreate a photo of this week’s event that mirrored a 1989 picture, and said the capsule helped provide a glimpse into a different era: “Things were not that different, but things were totally changed also.”

     

    Students and alumni from Gresham Middle School dig up a time capsule as Principal Donna Parker, center, looks on.
    Students and alumni from Gresham Middle School dig up a time capsule as Principal Donna Parker, center, looks on. 
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  • Top Wrench Contest
    Fosters Auto Skills

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 10/22/2019
    Bryson Harvey, a senior at Gibbs High School, works on a vehicle during a CTE class on Oct. 15, 2019.
    Bryson Harvey, a senior at Gibbs High School, works on a vehicle during a CTE class on Oct. 15, 2019. 

    Hundreds of students from across East Tennessee will gather in Powell for a regional tournament this month, but they won’t be scoring goals or making tackles.

    Instead, students from KCS and other school districts will be participating in the 2019 Top Wrench competition, which tests the skills of CTE students in a variety of challenges related to the auto repair industry.

    Founded in 1991, Top Wrench is designed to foster teamwork and technical skills for students who are interested in pursuing an auto-related career after high school. Program director Maria Richardson said that while interest in CTE-related fields has grown in recent years, the auto repair industry needs more workers.

    The competition, she said, not only offers networking opportunities, but provides a community for students who may not be interested in activities like band or sports.

    “I think they enjoy being around other students who share their interests and their passion, and they get to interact with businesses … so they can possibly make connections with future employment opportunities,” she said.

    Students compete in six categories:

    • Engine Start, in which competitors work to fix a “bugged” engine;
    • Computer Control, using scanners to diagnose an engine problem;
    • Pit Crew Challenge, a timed, NASCAR-style wheel-changing competition;
    • Welding Fabrication, a judged contest featuring pre-made pieces that demonstrate welding skills;
    • Custom Paint, a judged contest featuring pre-made pieces that demonstrate paint skills; and
    • Valve Cover Race, a soapbox-derby style race using modified engine valve covers.


    James Miller, a senior at Gibbs High School, participated in last year’s Pit Crew competition, as part of a team that earned a third-place trophy. He’s part of a Maintenance and Light Repair course at Gibbs that’s taught by Rick Honeycutt, and said it’s one of his favorite classes because it relates to his interests.

    And when it comes to career role models, he doesn’t have to look far. Honeycutt worked for 37 years in auto dealerships, starting as a Mercedes technician and working his way up to supervisor at a Toyota dealership before making the shift to teaching.

    Honeycutt said that for some students the class will provide a foundation for a good career. But even for students who don’t work in the auto field, learning the basics of maintenance “could save them a lot of money in their lives, just doing the small things.”

    That’s part of the appeal for McKenna West, a Gibbs senior who enjoys using computer systems to diagnose engine problems. While she doesn’t expect to work on cars as a career, she knows the skills will come in handy later.

    “I enjoy the class because it allows me to learn how to do stuff myself so when I get out of high school and something on my car breaks, I can just buy the parts and fix it myself instead of spending an arm and a leg on the parts and labor,” she said.

    This year’s Top Wrench competition will take place on Oct. 31 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Crown College.

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  • West Football Captain
    Stresses Team Unity

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 10/17/2019

     

    Tyrell Ragland comes from a family of basketball players, but the West High School senior chose football at an early age.

    That’s good news for West. The team is off to a 7-0 start this season, and as they prepare for a highly anticipated showdown with undefeated Powell High School on Friday, Ragland has become one of its most important leaders.

    “We’ve got four freshmen starting on the varsity,” Coach Lamar Brown said during a recent practice. “And Tyrell and the other seniors … have really taken a young football team underneath their wing and really guided and directed them and showed them what this football program is about.”

    Ragland plays left tackle at West, and his football career may continue beyond high school. He’s received offers from schools including Culver-Stockton College and Mississippi Valley State University, the alma mater of former NFL wide receiver Jerry Rice.

    Asked about his leadership philosophy, the offensive co-captain emphasized the importance of being responsible for your own actions, or your own “20 square feet” of space. Once you understand yourself, he said, then you can figure out how to lead others.

    “Because everybody doesn’t handle situations the same way,” he added. “So you have to know your players, you have to know your brothers, you have to know your family … to figure out what would help them and make them better.”

    After finishing 4-7 last year, West opened this season with a dramatic overtime win against Bearden, and hasn’t looked back since. The team is averaging more than 28 points in the first half of its games, and is currently ranked 4th in the Knoxville area by PrepXtra.

    Ragland said the turnaround has grown out of the team’s commitment to playing together as a family, and that sense of unity is part of what drew him to the sport. While his father and his siblings always loved basketball, Ragland said he enjoys the physicality of football and the sense of brotherhood.

    But while his success on the field gets most of the attention, it’s not the only place where Ragland stands out. He’s a leader in West’s chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and his goal is to eventually become a teacher and coach.

    Ragland cited the example of assistant coach Nate Martin, who is also a social studies teacher at West. “He will push you until you get it. He will encourage you to finish … He’ll tell you all these stories, and it just inspires you to do good and do better,” he said. “That’s what I want to do for kids in high school, kids in middle school … is help them find a way in life that they can succeed.”

    The senior is already having an impact in the classroom. Amanda Sharp, a social studies teacher, had Ragland in a class last year, and said she has looked to him this year to help manage one of her larger classes, adding that “kids will … follow his lead.”

    Sharp emphatically agreed that Ragland would be a good teacher, not only because of his aptitude for math but also because of his ability to relate to students.

    “I’m so excited for him to become a teacher and see the relationships that he can form with kids,” she said. “Because I know that he’s going to be able to change some lives.”

    In fact, that ability to relate to his teammates is already paying dividends. Ragland acknowledged that he’s not someone who leads with tough talk or a raised voice, but said that when a teammate is struggling he tries to help them figure things out.

    After one recent game, he said, a teammate was frustrated by their own performance. “I told him … we all have bad games. Even the best players in the world have bad games, but they’re going to find a way to fix it and that’s what you’ve got to do.”

    This story is part of a series highlighting student leaders within KCS. The first article in the series profiled Board of Education Student Representative Noah Kelley.

    Tyrell Ragland participates in offensive line drills during a practice at West High School on Oct. 15, 2019.
    Tyrell Ragland, center, participates in offensive line drills during a practice at West High School on Oct. 15, 2019. 

     

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  • STEM Camp Inspires
    Elementary Students

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 10/9/2019
    Holston Middle School teacher August Askins works with students on an engineering project at Gear Up 4 STEM Camp, held during Fall Break at Ball Camp Elementary and three other KCS elementary schools.
    Holston Middle School teacher August Askins works with students on an engineering project at Gear Up 4 STEM Camp, held during Fall Break at Ball Camp Elementary and three other KCS elementary schools. 

    It may have been Fall Break, but on Tuesday morning students from Ball Camp Elementary School were hard at work on an engineering project.

    Gathered in the school library, teams of 5th-graders were given 25 pipe cleaners and challenged to build the tallest possible free-standing structure.

    While one team crafted a tree-shaped design with a rootlike base and a twisted trunk, other groups tried to make cube-shaped structures with stability to match their height.

    While they worked, Holston Middle School teacher August Askins walked around the room, asking questions designed to promote creativity: Were there any limitations on how wide the structure could be? What modifications could be made to improve the design? Should the weight of the structure itself be more or less than the weight of its base?

    The exercise was part of a new KCS program called Gear Up 4 STEM, which aims to connect younger students with careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

    Currently, the Gear Up camp is a pilot program offered at four schools, with a goal of increasing to 10 schools next year. Students participate during the weeks of Fall Break and Spring Break, along with two weeks during the summer.

    Andrea Berry, Science and STEM Supervisor for KCS, said exposure to a particular career often drives a student’s interest in that line of work. The Gear Up camp not only gives students a chance to learn from industry professionals, but also to participate in work that mimics those jobs -- such as the engineering project at Ball Camp.

    “As teachers we get very focused on teaching our content during the school year, which is a great thing,” Berry said. “But while we have content instruction in the STEM camp, our focus is more on what career puts this content into action and what soft skills are needed in this career -- such as creativity and collaboration -- to really make it successful.”

    Students at Gear Up 4 STEM camp work on a project to design a free-standing structure out of pipe cleaners.
    Students at Gear Up 4 STEM camp work on a project to design a free-standing structure out of pipe cleaners. 

    The program was funded by a federal Education Innovation and Research grant, and draws not only on the expertise of teachers, but also of older students and industry partners.

    At Ball Camp, Hardin Valley Academy sophomore Iris Li and Farragut High School sophomore Jerome Andrews acted as mentors, helping students think through problems and find solutions.

    Li is planning to pursue a career as an aerospace engineer and said her older sister, who is studying computer science, was an inspiration. She’s hoping to play the same role for elementary students at Ball Camp.

    “STEM is something that is more than just scientists and beakers and numbers, it’s about creativity and it’s something everyone can enjoy,” she said.

    The Gear Up program also receives community support from local STEM-based companies. Storage Pug, which creates marketing and management software for self-storage businesses, is an industry partner at Cedar Bluff Elementary, helping students design a simple app to address issues at their school.

    At Ball Camp, the business manager of engineering firm Innovative Design Inc., Kevin Fillers, talked to students about engineering applications in the world around them, such as bridges and buildings.

    When Fillers talked about “the power of the triangle” in providing stability for buildings and infrastructure, 5th-grader Owen Vaughan asked why so many buildings appear to use square designs. If you think about it, Fillers pointed out, two triangles can be joined to form a square -- a strategy that is often used in architecture and construction, even if it’s not visible.

    In an interview, Vaughan said he liked building things with Lego bricks when he was younger, including a replica of the Eiffel Tower. Asked what he has learned at STEM camp, he cited the lesson about triangles and their power for holding structures together.

    Ultimately, the chance to capture the imagination of young students and help them see the world in new ways are what the Gear Up camps are about. Askins, who is helping lead the sessions at Ball Camp, said she loves teaching and that students keep her going.

    “Where else do you have the opportunity to help kids achieve their goals in life and have a positive impact on the future for all of us?” she said. “It sounds cheesy, but I believe it.”

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