Legacy Parks Donates
"Freedom Chair" To DogwoodPosted by JOSH FLORY on 2/26/2021
A gift from the Legacy Parks Foundation will help students at Dogwood Elementary take advantage of their school's outdoor classrooms and trail.
On Thursday, the Foundation presented the school with a GRIT Freedom Chair, a child-sized adaptive wheelchair that includes a hand-powered drive train and is designed for use in outdoor spaces.
Carly Pearson, a local handcycling athlete and advocate for people with disabilities, demonstrated an full-size version of the chair at Dogwood on Thursday morning, and said it provides a resource for more people to experience the outdoors.
“We want to be able to make (every child) feel fully included,” Pearson said. “So the way to do that is to at least provide the equipment so we can get the entire class outside.”
The chair was purchased by Legacy Parks Foundation, which is also raising money to help make the nature trail behind the school into an adaptive, all-access route.
The Mac Post Arboretum is located behind Dogwood, and includes a walking trail, markers for dozens of different tree species and six outdoor classrooms.
Lizzy Revans, a K-5 special education teacher, said the Freedom Chair will help students easily access the Dogwood trail, even if they previously were not able to do so.
"It's an amazing thing, and we can't wait (to use it)," she added.
To Be Held At High SchoolsPosted by JOSH FLORY on 2/19/2021
On Thursday evening, Feb. 18, Superintendent Bob Thomas sent the following message to Class of 2021 families about this year’s graduation ceremonies:
Dear KCS families,
Commencement season is approaching, and I wanted to share some important information about how we will celebrate the Class of 2021.
Because of the ongoing impact of COVID-19, we have decided to host in-person graduation ceremonies at our high school campuses, as we did last year. In most cases, these ceremonies will be held on each school’s football field, and the overall schedule can be found at this link.
Our students, especially our seniors, have endured so many challenges and disruptions, but we are committed to providing them with a graduation they will remember. Last year’s ceremonies were a huge success and we are confident that outdoor celebrations will once again allow our graduates to be honored and recognized for their tremendous achievements, while also protecting the safety of our school communities.
Graduation ceremonies will be held on May 27 and June 1-8, avoiding Memorial Day weekend. Rain dates will be scheduled on June 10-12. Each graduate will be provided tickets for up to six guests and ceremonies will also be live-streamed, with archived videos available for viewing later. COVID-19 protocols will remain in place, including limited capacity, social distancing and face covering requirements.
While these dates represent a change from our traditional calendar, we do not believe it is feasible to hold on-campus ceremonies while high school students are attending class and completing exams. Some of the factors that were considered in our scheduling decision included:
• It would be difficult to have graduation while school is still in session, with AP testing occurring and staff finalizing grades and working on master schedules.
• We would not be able to hold multiple graduations during the day while school is in session.
• The current attendance restrictions in place at Thompson-Boling Arena would likely mean fewer guests can attend.
• The vendor that supplied the stages and chairs last year has told us that due to their scheduling demands it would be difficult to work with us during the month of May.
• By having graduation after school has ended, students would have additional days to recover credits that may allow them to fulfill graduation requirements.
We are excited to host these special events, and your student’s school will be sharing more details with you soon.
Thank you again for your understanding and patience, and we look forward to celebrating with you!
Diverse Curriculum Provides
"Windows And Mirrors" For StudentsPosted by JOSH FLORY on 2/3/2021
On a recent afternoon, Hardin Valley Elementary STEM teacher Jessica Everitt was talking about computer coding.
In between a video that featured a dancing robot and a hands-on assignment in which students practiced with tiny machines called Ozobots, Everitt highlighted an African-American programmer named Lyndsey Scott, who is famous not only for designing mobile apps but also because she is a fashion model.
Everitt told her students that Scott is fluent in computer languages including C++, Java and Python, adding that “she started programming at the age of 12.”
As schools across Knox County celebrate Black History Month, students will learn about pioneering African-American scientists, civil rights leaders and artists. But Everitt and other educators are also working to ensure that Black history and achievement are woven into the district’s curriculum throughout the year.
Shannon Jackson, the district’s executive director of teaching and learning, said there is strong evidence highlighting the importance of “windows and mirrors” for helping students engage with the material they’re learning.
Jackson said an effective curriculum has mirrors that allow students to see themselves reflected in topics like literature, history and science, but also provides windows into cultures that may be less familiar.
“When students feel included in the curriculum, they’re more likely to achieve,” Jackson said. “Even more than that, our country’s story is one of many cultures coming together with lots of different, rich contributions. And it’s important for students to both see the contributions of the people they identify with but also to recognize the contributions of other cultures.”
In recent years, several KCS schools have implemented an ELA curriculum called “Wit and Wisdom”, which aims to provide students with books that inspire a passion for reading and writing.
Sarah Lyle, an 8th-grade ELA teacher at Vine Middle Magnet School, said the curriculum elevates the voices of Black novelists, poets and speakers, in a way that encourages all of her students to share their own personal stories.
In fact, one of the writers highlighted early in the middle-school curriculum is Nikki Giovanni, the Black poet and writer who was born in Knoxville and attended Austin High School. Lyle said students read Giovanni poems including “A Poem for My Librarian, Mrs. Long”, which references Knoxville landmarks like Gay Street and the JFG Coffee sign.
Her work, Lyle said, is “super-relevant” to students from Knoxville, but “no matter who you are or where you live Nikki Giovanni is phenomenal … That’s really impactful for our students.”
In some cases, the "windows and mirrors" approach results in classes devoted specifically to exploring the American story through the lens of a particular culture.
Last semester, Brandon O’Neill taught an elective course on African-American history at Fulton High School, and this semester he is teaching a course on Latinx History.
O’Neill said that compared to a traditional history course, the elective course provides more time to look at leaders and stories that may not be as familiar. Instead of stopping with Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X when teaching about the Civil Rights Movement, for example, students can read about John Lewis, Diane Nash and Stokely Carmichael.
The idea, he said, is to help students “see the world and to see history not just through their own eyes but through others’ eyes. You want to activate … the empathy that people have.”
Paris Banks, a junior at Fulton, took the African-American History class and said she learned things she hadn’t known previously, including how the Mexican-American War of the 1840’s affected the national divisions that eventually led to the Civil War.
Fulton is one of Knox County’s most diverse high schools, and Banks said that even for students who are not African-American, O’Neill’s class is important for helping understand Black history. “I just think that class is a really good class and I highly recommend it for any and every student,” she said.
Knox County teachers have benefited from the expertise of community leaders and historians who have provided support to enrich the district’s curriculum.
Partners including Rev. Reneé Kesler, president of The Beck Cultural Exchange Center; Jack Neely, executive director of the Knoxville History Project; and scholars from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Department of History have provided ongoing professional development that helps teachers to explore the rich diversity of American history.
Understanding Black history can also help students engage with present-day challenges and struggles. Derek Griffin, a Social Studies teacher at L&N STEM Academy, said that during a history class last semester his students learned about the “Red Summer” of 1919, when a wave of violence targeted Black citizens in cities across the country.
Griffin said that material led his students to draw comparisons with modern-day events, and “see things that have changed (and) how this is different, but potentially some of the problems that we’re still dealing with.”
Griffin, who serves on the KCS Minority Advisory Council, teaches a course on African-American History for the QuEST virtual learning program, as well as U.S. History courses at L&N.
In his U.S. History courses, Griffin said he’s made an effort to broaden the representation of the people who are studied. If his class is talking about 19th Century inventors, for example, he has worked to include discussions of African-Americans like George Washington Carver and Madam C.J. Walker alongside information about Alexander Graham Bell and Nikola Tesla.
At the same time, he was quick to point out that the goal is not to create a separate history for different groups of people, especially at a time when there is already cultural division.
“I think if students are taught the history together, they can recognize that we are one community and not a separate society,” he said.
"Virtual Enterprises" Program Offers Business ExperiencePosted by JOSHUA FLORY on 1/14/2021
Students at Bearden High School have created a video game to promote kindness and friendship, and they’re getting hands-on business experience in the process.
The effort is part of the “Virtual Enterprises” program, a national competition in which students create, refine and implement a business plan.
The VE Program is the capstone course for Bearden’s business and marketing classes, and participants have to fill out job applications and go through an interview process in order to participate.
Jami Aylor, a business marketing teacher and the Virtual Enterprise facilitator at BHS, said the program is reflective of life in the working world and helps students develop accountability and confidence.
“They realize that each of them has an integral piece and each of them has a responsibility, and if you drop the ball it affects the others in the classroom,” Aylor said.
This year, the school’s VE team has developed a video game called “Nakama”, and built out marketing, accounting, technology and other functions to support its launch.
Lily Nagdeman, a senior who is the company’s chief creative officer, said game participants start in a colorless world and are able to fill in colors by doing acts of kindness.
She said the Virtual Enterprises program encourages students to pursue a venture that has a positive outcome in mind, and that the goal of Nakama was to spread positivity.
“COVID-19 has really impacted us,” Nagdeman said of her classmates. “As a company, every employee here has had some form of negative experience with the pandemic. So sparking kindness is really one of the best gifts you can give right now.”
Last month, Nagdeman led the team’s submission in the VE branding competition, and Bearden placed in the Top 10 percent among 500 firms across the country.
Next week, BHS will participate in a verbal presentation and Q-and-A session featuring judges from the corporate world, one of several steps that will determine their final ranking. While that portion of the competition would normally happen at a trade show-style event, this year’s presentation will be done virtually because of the pandemic.
Constance Paris, a senior who is the company’s CEO, said the biggest challenge has been adjusting to the virtual platform, although she said that because her classmates all have Chromebooks -- provided through the district’s 1:1 initiative -- it has been easier to distribute the game.
Paris, who is planning to study business in college, said she has learned that leadership is less about telling people what to do than about building an effective team.
“Finance has to work closely with marketing. HR has to work closely with everyone,” Paris said. “And you can’t do that if people don’t know how to talk to each other, don’t know what each department needs … We’ve been working a lot on communication.”
The program also connects students with mentors. Aylor, the program facilitator, said local business leaders providing guidance and feedback include restaurateur Randy Burleson; Kevin Anderson, of Anderson Controls; and Jennifer Reynolds, of Baxter Properties.
Students also get the chance to lead, and to make mistakes. Aylor said she had to learn how to step back and let students take charge, which was both difficult and rewarding.
“That’s kind of my job, is to hold them accountable and to support them and to encourage them,” she said. “And sometimes they’re going to fail but it also gives them confidence so they’re not failing in life when they leave here.”
Dual Enrollment Anatomy Course
Is Being ExpandedPosted by JOSH FLORY on 12/16/2020
Students from four Knox County high schools got a unique chance to learn about the human body in recent months -- and that opportunity will be expanded in the spring.
The KCS Department of Career Technical Education partnered with Lincoln Memorial University during the fall semester to offer a dual enrollment anatomy course that included work with donor bodies in laboratories on the university’s Cogdill Road campus.
The pilot program was launched this fall with nearly 30 students from Bearden High School, Farragut High School, Karns High School and Hardin Valley Academy. Participating students went to Farragut High School for lectures on Mondays and Wednesdays, and on Fridays worked with donor bodies. While some activities were moved to virtual instruction during the semester, students were able to study the donors’ musculature, spinal cords and brains during in-person lab sessions.
Mary Tasket, a senior at Bearden High School, said she plans to study biomedical engineering and possibly move into pre-med studies, and had previously taken an anatomy course at BHS. But she said the previous class used a textbook to study the material, and didn’t provide the same level of depth.
“It makes so much more sense compared to just looking at a diagram, actually seeing it and how everything fits together,” Tasket said. “It just makes more sense and everything clicks.”
During the spring semester, the opportunity will be expanded to include all KCS high schools. Participating students will attend the Monday and Wednesday classes virtually, and visit LMU’s West Knoxville campus on Fridays for lab sessions. All classes are held from 7:30 to 9 a.m.
The deadline to enroll is 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 18. Students who are interested should contact Lindsay Haywood, LMU Director of Enrollment Services, by sending an email to Lindsay.Haywood@lmunet.edu.
Holly Kelly, who teaches anatomy and physiology at Farragut High School, helped coordinate the class during the fall semester, and said it has been beneficial for students who are interested in medical school or another health sciences career, such as physical therapy.
In particular, Kelly said the opportunity to work with donors has been a strong draw for students: “The ‘aha moments’ really come to life when they get to the lab,” she said, adding that students have been very respectful and appreciative.
The class also provides a chance to get a head start on college credits, with participating students getting undergraduate credit if they choose to enroll at LMU. The class is free, although there will be a cost for one or two books and students must purchase vinyl gloves. Scrubs are also recommended, although not required, and can be purchased from Lambert’s Health Care at a 30% discount.
Jody Goins, Vice President and Dean for Enrollment and Student Affairs at LMU, said the university is planning to build out a Health Science Institute that would offer multiple dual enrollment opportunities.
The broader goal, he said, is to provide students with career paths and increase their socio-economic mobility, which is especially important as the pandemic has taken an economic toll.
“We were talking about offering it free of charge before the onset of COVID-19,” Goins said of the planned institute. “But obviously with the onset of COVID-19, that just cemented our stance to provide this service.”
Beaumont Students Create
Ornaments For DC TreePosted by JOSH FLORY on 12/15/2020
Artwork created by students at Beaumont Magnet Academy is being highlighted in the nation’s capital this month.
Beaumont was one of 56 schools chosen by the National Park Service to create ornaments for the 2020 National Christmas Tree display, on the Ellipse in President’s Park. The ornaments decorate 56 smaller trees that surround the National Christmas Tree.
Art teacher Cheryl Burchett said this year’s competition was a little different because of COVID-19. Instead of decorating clear globes, students were asked to submit designs using a paper template. Approximately 100 Beaumont students participated, and 12 designs -- created by in-person and virtual students -- were chosen for display in Washington, D.C.
Burchett said it was tough to narrow down the entries, but that students were “stoked” to participate in a display hosted by the Park Service, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Park Foundation.
“Even if they don’t understand all of those concepts, they were super-excited about the big idea of it,” she said.
Powell Esports Team
Breaks News GroundPosted by JOSH FLORY on 11/6/2020
As esports gain popularity across the country, students at Powell High School are at the forefront of the growing trend.
PHS science teacher Tyler Thompson launched the school’s esports team in 2018, and earlier this year the Panthers won their first trophy, taking second place in a tournament sponsored by the High School Esports League.
The fall season is currently underway, and the expectations for team members are similar to those for a more traditional school sport. Thompson said his players have to practice four times a week, for about an hour per session, and that he has to make sure new recruits understand the commitment that’s required.
“It’s not just playing a video game,” he said. “It is actually a sport, there is practice involved, there’s all these different strategies that you have to do. You have to commit quite a bit of time to make sure that you’re actually competitive.”
The HSEL’s Fall Major tournament provides an 8-week regular season and the option to compete in 12 games, including Minecraft, Madden 21, Rocket League and Call of Duty.
Senior Colby Bruno was part of the two-person Powell team that came in second during HSEL’s Spring Major Tournament, while playing Call of Duty, and said he grew up gaming with his older brothers.
The difference in playing on a school team, he said, is the level of friendship and teamwork. “You can play with your brothers but it’s just all for fun,” he said. “With a team you get to play competitively. You get to practice, you get to really help each other get better and see each other improve overall. And then eventually you can play in tournaments, win money and even make it your career if you take it that seriously.”
Esports aren’t just for high schools. Many universities now offer club teams, including the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
Thompson said the HSEL offers a $1,000 college scholarship to students who win their championships, and speculated that colleges may one day offer full scholarships for esports, in the same way that they do for traditional sports.
Brien Tolson, a senior at Powell, said he plans to attend UT and major in biology, while continuing to play video games on the side.
As a team captain, Tolson said esports has helped him develop leadership skills and patience when things don’t go well immediately.
“I have to make sure I don’t get frustrated, because we're all learning together,” he said.
Central High Celebrates
Heroism Of GraduatePosted by JOSH FLORY on 10/9/2020
Members of the Fountain City community gathered on Friday morning to celebrate the heroism of a Central High School alumna who died nearly 70 years ago.
Mary Frances Housley graduated from Central in 1944 and went on to work as a flight attendant for National Airlines.
On Jan. 14, 1951, the 24-year-old was the lone flight attendant on a flight from Newark, N.J., to Philadelphia, Pa., which crashed upon landing during icy conditions.
Housley helped 10 passengers escape from the burning plane, and her body was later found inside the aircraft, shielding a 4-month-old girl who could not be rescued.
At a ceremony on Oct. 9, CHS health science teacher Chris Hammond and students from the school’s HOSA / Future Health Professionals club unveiled a historical marker along Tazewell Pike, near the corner of Forestal Drive.
The event included Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, CHS Principal Andrew Brown and other dignitaries, along with Housley’s nephew.
During the ceremony, Hammond shared the story of that day in 1951, and thanked community donors who provided funds to commemorate “a hero that was forgotten, but is now remembered.”
“I hope that her sacrifice and her story will continue to inspire young men and women in future generations,” Hammond said.
Sarah Moore Greene Launches
Global Leadership FocusPosted by JOSH FLORY on 10/8/2020
A Knox County elementary school is embracing a new mission aimed at preparing students for success on the global stage.
Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy this week is celebrating its new magnet theme of Global Leadership. As part of that transition, students at the school will receive additional programming related to international issues, and Sarah Moore Greene has already begun an encore class in which students are learning Spanish.
The school previously offered a media and communications magnet theme, but principal Robin Curry said that as communications technology has become integrated into everyday life, that theme became less of a distinguishing factor.
Curry said the change is a good fit with the school’s namesake, civil rights leader Sarah Moore Greene. “It was her vision for children in this community to broaden their horizons and be exposed to the world beyond this community. So it just kind of fit within the global aspect of leadership.”
Curry noted that in addition to Spanish, SMG has students who speak Kirundi and Swahili, and said the magnet theme will help provide a bridge to the community.
Instructional coach Amanda Gentry helped identify Global Leadership as a theme for the school, and said it grew out of conversations about what they wanted for students. “We wanted to make sure that we were offering the opportunities for our students that will allow them to reach that global level. And we knew that leadership was part of that, teaching them those life skills now that are going to help them be successful on a global level later on in life.”
As part of the theme, each of the school’s grade levels will adopt a continent, while each teacher within that grade level will adopt a specific country. Students will get an in-depth understanding of those countries and continents, with an eye toward embedding that knowledge into other areas of instruction. The school will also offer after-school clubs that integrate cultural and artistic traditions from countries around the world.
The principal said SMG’s population of English-language learners is about 20 percent, and that one long-term goal is to offer English lessons for families, or even Spanish-language lessons.
Perhaps the biggest immediate impact is the Spanish-language instruction for students, which is offered on a rotating basis. Students spend one week out of every six working with a Spanish teacher, who also exposes them to various aspects of Spanish culture and language. That opportunity is already enriching the school’s interactions, not only in the hallways but even in the car line.
“Students jump out of the car in the morning and say, ‘Hola!’” Curry said.
To commemorate the new theme, Sarah Moore Greene is hosting a virtual celebration on Thursday, Oct. 8, at 4:30 p.m. For more details, visit their website.
Drum Majors Step Up
In Unusual Band SeasonPosted by JOSH FLORY on 10/2/2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges for schools across the country, but at Carter High School it gave a pair of student leaders the opportunity to step up.
Seniors Jadejsha Arnold and Ploomie Messer are the drum majors for the CHS marching band. That role always involves a significant measure of responsibility, but it became even more important this fall when CHS band director Spence Milligan had to step aside temporarily for a quarantine period.
Arnold and Messer took on a much larger role in teaching the marching portion of the show -- also known as “drill” -- and used Microsoft Teams to communicate with Milligan during practices.
“They taught two tunes worth of drill that they did over the last five days by themselves,” the director said. “Of course they had a [substitute teacher] out here with them, but they did the work. So it was really cool and shows you what kind of leadership they have.”
Arnold and Messer took different paths to the drum major’s podium, but each has thrived in a role that requires a combination of technical chops, people skills and leadership ability.
Messer grew up around music as the daughter of CHS’s former band director and current principal, Angie Messer. “Ever since I can remember, ever since I've walked, I've been surrounded by Friday Night Lights and with the band,” she said. “It’s just been really fun.”
She said the two drum majors work well together because Arnold’s easy-going personality helps Messer stay calm in stressful situations.
She also noted that there’s a huge difference between playing in the band and taking on a leadership role.“When you're a leader like drum major, you’re kind of like the quarterback. You’ve got to see all the parts and you’ve got to make sure every part is moving to make it all ... come together and work right.”
That complexity is one of the biggest challenges for band performers, and Arnold -- who was a middle school choir student before switching to flute -- said it’s important for leaders to be prepared in advance for questions that team members might have.
While it can sometimes be challenging to provide instruction or correction, she said mistakes can make a big impact at competitions or performances: “It would probably be something small that we fixed in practice and we just slipped up on. But it’s still very seeable.”
Both drum majors have a background in athletics -- Arnold in soccer and track, Messer in softball -- and Milligan said that has helped them understand the importance of hard work and discipline.
“They constantly are cheering on the team with the band kids, just letting them know, ‘Hey, you’re doing great, let’s keep going.’”