Sensory CourtyardPosted by JOSH FLORY on 5/24/2019
An unused courtyard at Dogwood Elementary School has been transformed into a space to help students stay calm and focused.
On Wednesday, students and staff celebrated the opening of a new Outdoor Sensory Courtyard, a project made possible by a $4,154 grant from the Great Schools Partnership.
The fully enclosed space was renovated to add several features, including a tinkering wall with sliding locks, caster wheels and texturized brushes; a life-cycle mural that aligns with state standards; shade sails for hot days; and a footpath with stones and other sensory objects.
The idea is to assist students with discipline or attendance challenges by providing features that reduce the symptoms associated with anxiety and trauma.
Dogwood Principal Lana Shelton-Lowe said the project not only provides an area for students to calm down, but also will serve as an outdoor learning space.
“I’m proud of the teachers for writing this grant,” she said. “This was a lot of work.”
The project was funded through the Great Schools Partnership TeacherPreneur program, which provides grants aimed at fostering creative problem-solving by teachers. Applications for the next round of grants can be submitted through August 27.
The Dogwood grant was led by 4th-grade teacher Kylee Haynes and special education teacher Ashley Brooks, along with GSP School Resource Coordinator Kara Strouse.
Haynes said that because the space had been unused for so long, teachers began brainstorming about how it could be re-worked to benefit students.
And besides the benefits of using the various features, Haynes said watching the courtyard take shape has been instructive for students, as it helped them understand “what it looks like to go through different challenges and learn from them.”
Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, 4th-grader Abigail Lawson demonstrated an egg-shaped chair with a folding hood, which is designed to provide a calm space for students. Lawson predicted that the chair will be helpful for other students: “Some people just want to chill out and be in their own little mind of their own.”
KCS, Knox County Launch
Library Card CampaignPosted by JOSH FLORY on 5/23/2019
Visiting the library is one of the best ways to prevent summer learning loss, and thousands of KCS students recently took the first step toward becoming library patrons.
On Thursday, Superintendent Bob Thomas and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs visited Sam E. Hill Primary School, where they handed out library cards to dozens of students.
The event was part of a broader effort from the mayor’s office, KCS and the library system, which teamed up to distribute more than 6,800 library cards to students at 17 elementary and middle schools this spring.
After getting permission forms from thousands of parents, the Knox County Public Library launched a massive data-entry effort to process all of the cards before the summer break.
Nelda Hill, KCPL’s assistant director for public services, said the project involved an “all-hands-on-deck” effort by employees across the library system: “Everybody that could be spared we put to work,” she said.
Superintendent Thomas has made literacy a top priority during his tenure, as part of a broader effort to boost student achievement. The district has also worked closely with Jacobs, whose Read City USA initiative has made library access and daily reading goals a point of emphasis.
On Thursday, Jacobs said ensuring that children are reading on grade level by 3rd grade is crucial. “It’s good for them as individuals, but also as a community it’s going to help provide us with the workforce that so many companies are looking for, a highly educated, highly trained workforce,” the mayor said.
The library cards distributed this spring went to students at 17 elementary and middle schools, with an eye toward expanding the program to all elementary and middle schools in the future.
At Sam E. Hill, students gathered in the library on the last day of school to get their cards. Kindergartener Angel Yeye said she loves the Dr. Seuss book “Green Eggs and Ham”, and enjoys reading books about babies “because they’re cute.”
Asked why she’s excited about getting a library card, Yeye said it’s “because I really want to get smart.”
The push to distribute library cards is already paying dividends, according to library officials. KCPL Director Myretta Black said that at a different elementary school, a family recently came in and asked how much a library card costs.
“We told her it was free and the woman cried,” Black said. “The mother cried, and got everybody a library card.”
Book Program Gives
A Boost To Belle MorrisPosted by JOSH FLORY on 5/21/2019
A group of Belle Morris Elementary students got an assist with their summer reading on Monday.
Earlier this school year, the Great Schools Partnership provided a $10,500 grant to educators at Belle Morris. That funding allowed 60 students to pick out $125 worth of books, which they received at a celebration on Monday.
The idea came from 4th-grade teacher Olivia Cates, and was based on research that found children with access to books were less likely to see academic declines over the summer.
Cates said another key to the program is that students were able to choose their books, from a list of nearly 340 titles. “Choice is motivating,” the teacher said. “Everybody loves to have a choice, so they’re more likely to want to read them if they have choice and ownership.”
On Monday, students who came to pick up their books were greeted with a confetti cannon and encouraging words from KCS Superintendent Bob Thomas, who urged them to spend part of their summer vacation reading.
Besides taking home books, participating students will have the chance to meet four times during the summer for book-themed events, including activities related to STEM learning, the arts and the Knoxville Zoo.
Library media specialist Louanne Nicely curated the list of books that students could choose from, and said popular choices for younger students include Caldecott Medal winners, the “Fly Guy” series and David Shannon’s “No, David!”
The most popular choice for 1st- and 2nd-graders may be the Elephant and Piggie series, which was written by Mo Willems, an author and illustrator who is also known for books such as “Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!”
“They really love Mo Willems,” Nicely said of her students. “He’s like a big superstar.”
Mooreland Students Get Bikes
For Perfect AttendancePosted by JOSH FLORY on 5/17/2019
Charme Allen returned to Mooreland Heights Elementary School this week, fulfilling a promise and helping more than 30 students kick-start their summer.
Last fall, Knox County’s District Attorney General had promised to give a free bike to every student who achieved perfect attendance between mid-September and the end of the year.
On Thursday, 34 students were recognized for achieving that goal, receiving free bikes and helmets to go with them. The incentive helped boost the school’s perfect attendance rate by 70 percent this year.
At an assembly in the gym, Allen -- the county’s top prosecutor -- thanked students for working so hard to be in class. She said studies show that students who stay in school and get good grades are less likely to get in trouble with the law.
“It’s a whole lot more fun to be in school than it is to be in the criminal justice system,” she added.
This is the fourth year that Allen’s office has offered the incentive to a school, as part of a broader initiative to reduce truancy in Knox County.
KCS Superintendent Bob Thomas attended the giveaway, and said he was also proud of students who didn’t quite achieve perfect attendance, “because I know you tried.”
Thomas told the assembly that Allen does a good job of keeping the community safe. While she often has to work with people who have made bad choices, Thomas said, “she’s here today to deal with folks who’ve made some good choices.”
The cost of bikes for the program is covered by private donations to the DA’s community fund, and does not include any taxpayer money. The free helmets were provided by the Epilepsy Foundation of East Tennessee.
Third-grader Laurel Thompson was among the recipients, and said she was surprised to achieve perfect attendance.
“I wasn’t really trying,” she explained. “I just went to school.”
Lonsdale Students Celebrate
New PlaygroundPosted by JOSH FLORY on 5/15/2019
Nevaeh Phelan is usually dizzy when she steps off of the “spinner”, a new piece of playground equipment at Lonsdale Elementary.
But the 5th-grader said she likes the apparatus -- a small platform that’s connected to a spinning pole -- because it fits her personality. “It’s out-of-the-box, and I’m the kind of person that likes things that are out-of-the-box,” she explained.
On Wednesday, Phelan and other Lonsdale students got to celebrate the expansion of their playground, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured educators and local dignitaries, along with community partners that made the project possible.
Bill Malkes and his family purchased the spinner in memory of his daughter, while his company and foundation, GRIDSMART / GIVESMART, joined with Stowers Machinery Corporation and Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church to fund a large net climber and a giant mole hill climber, along with the remaining costs of the playground.
The City of Knoxville provided 6,250 square feet of expanded space for the playground, which allowed the school to move its soccer field to a better location. Lonsdale students voted on the playground equipment they wanted, and chose the colors of the new equipment.
At the celebration, KCS Superintendent Bob Thomas noted that the district and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs have both endorsed a capital plan that calls for construction of a new elementary school in Lonsdale. That plan is currently under consideration by Knox County Commission.
The superintendent also expressed gratitude for the community partners who contributed money for the playground, and joked about his own priorities when he was an elementary student: “My favorite time of the day was recess and play time.”
Kori Lautner, resource coordinator for the Great Schools Partnership -- which organized the project -- said donors who supported the playground are seizing the chance “to make sure kids in Knoxville have the very best opportunities made available to them, so they grow up to be excellent, contributing members of the community.”
And while students were excited to show off the new equipment on Wednesday, it’s not just about having fun. Lonsdale principal Christopher Deal said he emphasizes to teachers the importance of recess to help students in the classroom.
“The more they move out here, it’s inevitable that it impacts their academic achievement,” Deal said.
Valedictorians Leave Mark,
Look To FuturePosted by JOSH FLORY on 5/15/2019
It’s the season of mortarboards and diplomas, a time when high school seniors across Knox County are being recognized for their achievements.
Graduating from high school is a great accomplishment, but commencement is also a chance to honor students whose hard work and dedication helped them stand out from the crowd.
The 16 valedictorians highlighted below include athletes, scientists, musicians and volunteers, and we’ve listed some (but not all!) of their high school achievements and future plans. In recent weeks, they gathered at the historic Blount Mansion, in downtown Knoxville, to shoot a video for Teacher Appreciation Week and to pose for photographs.
Their success provides a glimpse into the enormous potential of the Class of 2019, and is a testament to the hard work and dedication of this year’s seniors and their teachers. Congratulations to all of this year’s graduates!
Trinity Mattress / Austin-East
Soccer team (co-captain); Dance Company (co-captain); Marching Band; Student Government Association; Project Grad; Young-Williams Animal Center (volunteer); Second Harvest Food Bank (volunteer).
Trinity will attend the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and study pre-professional biology with a concentration in veterinary medicine.
Dane Morgan / Bearden
Ethics bowl team (co-captain); Orchestra; East Tennessee School Band and Orchestra Association Junior Clinic; Tennessee American Legion Boys State; Senior Committee.
Dane plans to study political science and economics in his post-secondary career.
Tristan Johnson / Career Magnet Academy
Class president; Student Government Association; Cross Country; National Honor Society.
Tristan will attend the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and study veterinary medicine.
Elliott Hooks / Carter
Soccer (captain); Band; Honors Band and Jazz Band; National Honor Society.
Elliott will attend Carson-Newman University and study biology.
Hanson Lam / Central
Swim team; Soccer; Tennis; National Honor Society (president); Science Club (founder and president); East Tennessee Children’s Hospital Teen Leadership Council (volunteer); Knox County Youth Health Board (volunteer); AYSO Soccer assistant coach.
Hanson will attend the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and study engineering / computer science.
Erika Yang / Farragut
Mu Alpha Theta (president); National French Honor Society (Treasurer); Science Olympiad; Oak Ridge National Laboratory intern.
Erika will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and study applied math.
Zoe Poormon / Fulton (co-valedictorian)
Soccer (captain); Top Athlete Award; National Honor Society; HOSA; Project Grad scholar.
Zoe will attend the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and be a pre-med major.
Eleigha Wrancher / Fulton (co-valedictorian)
Ethics Bowl (captain); Fulton ambassador; HOSA; National Honor Society; Project Grad scholar.
Eleigha will attend the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and be a pre-med major.
Austin Zachary / Gibbs
Mu Alpha Theta (president); Tennis; Band; National Honor Society; Spanish National Honor Society.
Austin will attend the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and study nuclear engineering.
Harper Lee Kirby / Halls
Cheerleading (2018 All American); Volunteer Girls State nominee; National Honor Society; Math Honor Society; Science Honor Society; French Honor Society; Race For The Cure (volunteer); Fantasy of Trees (volunteer).
Harper will attend the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and study biochemistry.
Bryson Gullett / Hardin Valley
RoHAWKtics robotics team; CodeTN coding contest; CyberPatriot cyber security competition.
Bryson will attend the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and study computer science.
Logan Crawford / Karns
Key Club (president); Basketball; Knox County Honor Band; Indoor Drum Line; Mu Alpha Theta; National Honor Society (vice president); Youth Leadership Knoxville graduate.
Logan will attend the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and study engineering.
Macy Hudson / L&N STEM
Ultimate Frisbee Team; Swim Team; Key Club; National Honor Society; Gryphon Guide; perfect score on ACT; Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding (volunteer).
Macy will attend the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and study chemistry and physics.
Sarah Norris / Powell
National Honor Society (president); Scholars’ Bowl (captain); STEM Club (president); Student Government Association (president); Volunteer Girls State; ETEBA (volunteer intern).
Sarah will attend the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and study aerospace engineering.
Melody Hubbard / South-Doyle
“The Phoenix” magazine (co-editor); “OneTribe News” (director); Marching Band; Class President; National Honor Society; Student Council (president); Kiwanis Fresh Air Camp (volunteer).
Melody will attend Columbia University and study humanities.
Paul “Gabi” Nodit / West
Science Olympiad; Chess Club; Young Entrepreneur Academy; perfect score on ACT; Governor’s School for Science and Engineering.
Paul will attend the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and study bio-medical engineering.
West Student Honored
By Boys & Girls ClubPosted by JOSH FLORY on 5/13/2019
As a defensive lineman for the West High School football team, DeVore Solomon understands challenges.
“You’re tired, you’re sweaty, you want to stop, you want to lay down, you want to drink water, but for your brothers you’ve got to keep going,” he said. “For the other people that you love, you’ve got to keep going.”
That understanding of sacrifice and persistence has helped shape him, but Solomon began learning those lessons even before he got to West. The rising senior has been part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley since the 3rd grade, and says that organization has helped make him a better person.
Last month, Solomon was honored with the organization’s Buck and Linda Vaught Gift of Hope Award as the Youth of the Year.
Bart McFadden, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs, said Solomon has a personality that lights up a room and has taken advantage of every program offered by the Club. “He’s gotten a comprehensive experience and through the course of that he’s been able to figure out what he’s good at, what he’s interested in … so ultimately he’ll be able to fulfill his potential and find his niche in the world,” said McFadden.
Solomon said he started attending Club activities at the urging of his mother, who felt it would provide a safe and positive environment. Through the Club he met several mentors who were willing to invest in him, whether that meant tough love or spiritual instruction.
“They just saw that I could be a better person,” he said.
Among other things, Solomon has participated in the Club’s YouthForce program, which connects teens with local businesses for training and development, and in the Pipeline program, which has coordinated college visits to campuses including East Tennessee State, Clemson and Lincoln Memorial.
Solomon said he’s learned the importance of love, support and hustle through the Club, and that his mentors have always inspired participants to work hard.
“They don’t praise talent,” he said. “You can have tons and tons of talent, you can be talented at whatever it is you’re trying to do, write music, play sports, schoolwork … But they praise effort. Because at the end of the day, that’s what life is based on when it comes to success, is how much effort you put in.”
South Knoxville Girls
Get Empowerment MessagePosted by JOSH FLORY on 5/10/2019
An anchor, an aerospace engineer and a senator were among the visitors to South Knoxville Elementary School on Thursday, as part of an event that aimed to inspire 3rd- and 4th-grade girls.
The Girls Empowerment Lunch was organized by principal Tanna Nicely, who said the idea was to help students think about how to prepare for their future.
“I thought it was important for the girls to have the opportunity to talk with leaders in our community that are female,” the principal said.
To that end, more than 20 women talked about their lives and careers, and provided a glimpse at what’s possible for students.
Participants included WBIR-TV anchor Robin Wilhoit, who recalled her trip to the White House with Nicely in 2013 as part of a school gardening event with Michelle Obama; Susanna Hogg, who recently earned her aerospace engineering degree and will work on a rocket that carries astronauts to the International Space Station; and state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey.
Katharine Pearson Criss, a senior fellow at the Center for Rural Strategies, told students about her 5th-grade teacher, who had photos of U.S. presidents hanging on the classroom wall.
Pearson Criss recalled that one day, the teacher added a woman's picture to the wall and told girls there was no reason they couldn’t grow up to be President. “Don’t ever forget that picture on the wall,” she said. “If you want to be president, you can.”
Speakers at the event represented a broad range of career choices in the private and public sectors, including elected officials such as Massey and Knox County Board of Education member Kristi Kristy. The senator told girls it’s important to identify their strengths, and to be the best at whatever they do.
“I tell people, ‘Don’t vote for me because I’m a woman. Vote for me because you think I’m doing the best job,’” she said.
While a broad array of careers was represented, they didn’t cover the entire range of possibilities.
Eleanor Efurd, a 3rd-grader at South Knoxville Elementary, said she wants to be a dog trainer, a gem miner or a member of a rock band.
“I liked it when the lady said that I can do anything I want to do,” she added.
High School Graduation
Ceremonies Begin On May 14Posted by JOSH FLORY on 5/10/2019
Graduation ceremonies for Knox County’s 16 high schools will take place next week. The dates and times of each ceremony are listed below. All graduations will take place at Thompson-Boling Arena on the University of Tennessee campus (1600 Phillip Fulmer Way).
Tuesday, May 14
Central, 5:30 p.m.
South-Doyle, 8 p.m.
Wednesday, May 15
Career Magnet Academy, 3 p.m.
Halls, 5:30 p.m.
Gibbs, 8 p.m.
Thursday, May 16
L&N STEM Academy, 3 p.m.
Austin-East, 5:30 p.m.
Hardin Valley Academy, 8 p.m.
Friday, May 17
Dr. Paul Kelley Academy, 3 p.m.
West, 5:30 p.m.
Bearden, 8 p.m.
Saturday, May 18
Powell, 9 a.m.
Carter, 11:30 a.m.
Fulton, 2 p.m.
Karns, 4:30 p.m.
Farragut, 7:30 p.m.
As multiple ceremonies are happening each day, parking may be difficult and some distance from the arena. Anyone attending graduation should allow plenty of time to park and find their seats before the ceremony begins.
In order to provide appropriate security measures and a consistent policy for events at Thompson-Boling Arena, the University of Tennessee will utilize metal detectors and institute the same Clear Bag Policy currently in place for all athletic events, concerts and special events. Details on that policy are available at the UT Athletics website.
Commencement for the Knoxville Adaptive Education Center will be at 10 a.m. on May 14, at KAEC. Commencement for the Ridgedale School will be at 1:30 p.m. on May 14, at Ridgedale.
Knox County High School commencements are available for streaming live online at www.knoxgrads.com, and copies of specific graduation ceremonies may be purchased.
In Times Of Need, Teachers
Find Support At SchoolPosted by JOSH FLORY on 5/6/2019
Several years ago, Karen Casteel’s husband was diagnosed with a neurological disease that has left him unable to walk or speak clearly.
The diagnosis was heartbreaking, but last summer the family received more terrible news when Casteel -- a music teacher at Halls Middle School -- was diagnosed with breast cancer.
In the intervening months, Casteel continued teaching between chemotherapy treatments but took most of the spring semester off while recovering from surgery.
Through it all, her fellow teachers and school employees at Halls Middle and other schools have organized fundraisers to support her husband’s nursing home care; offered child care during her recovery; and prepared meals for the family.
Casteel said the support has been overwhelming. “I feel like God orchestrated it so that all the little pieces that I needed fell into place by people’s generosity and willingness to help,” she said.
May 5-11 is Teacher Appreciation Week, an opportunity for students and parents to express their gratitude for all the work that happens in the classroom.
But for teachers who have suffered tragedies or challenges, it’s also a chance to remember the ways that their own colleagues have helped carry them through the hard times.
Brandon White is a teacher and administrator at Karns Middle School and his wife, Qwynn, is a 5th-grade teacher at Gibbs Elementary who previously worked at Halls Middle School.
In November of 2017, the couple’s two-year-old daughter, Meris, was diagnosed with Alexander disease, an extremely rare nervous system disorder that has left her unable to talk or walk. White said the couple has made it a mission to raise awareness about the disease which, according to the National Institutes of Health, is fatal by the age of 6 for most children diagnosed as infants.
White said colleagues at the schools where they work have generously helped with fundraisers and emotional support, and that effort has even spread to other schools.
On Rare Disease Day in February of 2018, White posted a picture on Twitter that showed employees from Karns Middle, Halls Middle, South-Doyle Middle and Halls High wearing blue shirts in support of Meris. He said employees at Powell Middle and West Valley Middle also sent pictures, and that other schools had also been talking about the effort.
Qwynn White moved to Gibbs Elementary this school year, and Meris is now a pre-K student at that school. White said employees at Gibbs embraced her immediately: “As educators, that’s what we want to see every day. And we see it with our own child now, it’s hard to put into words really.”
While fundraisers often draw the most attention, support from co-workers also takes other forms.
Martha Sileno is a math teacher at Holston Middle School whose son, Noah, was diagnosed in July of 2018 with B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
The first person Sileno called was Principal Katie Lutton, because Sileno knew how hard it would be to find a math teacher to take her place. Sileno ended up missing the entire school year, but said her principal was “very, very empathetic” and promised that the school would help in any way the family needed.
In addition, she said, coworkers on their own time helped re-arrange her classroom for a substitute, and made sure Sileno’s classroom items were stored.
“They never once made me feel like I was letting them down or letting the kids down,” Sileno said of her colleagues. “They never made me feel like I wasn’t going to be able to come back to my school the following year … Their whole focus the whole time has been getting Noah better, and that took a lot of the pressure off.”
Four-year-old Noah is now in remission, although his treatments will continue until November of 2021. Since his diagnosis, Sileno said employees throughout the building helped with fundraisers and blood donations, including some who had never donated blood before. She said the community support shows that Holston is “an amazing school.”
“Everybody came together,” she added. “It wasn’t just one individual -- from administration to teachers to cafeteria workers, anybody in the building came together for Noah … Whatever I needed, they were willing to do.”