On a recent Wednesday morning, students from Karns High School gathered in the school’s commercial kitchen as teacher Jacob Neblett gave a countdown: “Your time starts NOW!”
With that cue, a flurry of activity began as two groups of students opened packets of military-style MREs and rushed through the kitchen to gather additional ingredients.
The occasion was an Iron Chef-style competition at Karns, which was sponsored by the Tennessee Army National Guard and that offered hands-on training for students in the Culinary and A/V Production programs.
Students were challenged to transform the MREs – or “meals-ready-to-eat” – into a culinary creation by using the secret ingredients in the packets along with fresh ingredients from the kitchen. As they worked, Neblett offered advice and guidance, at one point reminding them to “Always be tasting, always be plating!”
At the same time, students from teacher Chris Wade’s A/V Production class gathered video, photos and interviews, which will be used in digital media content promoting the school.
The competition also served as a recruiting tool for 9th-grade students from the KHS Freshman Seminar, who watched from one end of the kitchen and got a pitch from Neblett that emphasized the hands-on, high-energy vibe in his classes.
The event parallels the goals of the district’s “865 Academies” initiative, which aims to provide strong connections between classroom knowledge and workplace success. Launched with support from Knox Education Foundation, the initiative’s ultimate goal is to make students “865 Ready” for college enrollment, enlistment in service to their country, or employment in a high-wage, high-demand field.
Julie Langley, the academy coach at Karns, said the culinary program aims to give students a vision for entrepreneurial career options, including work as chefs, restaurateurs or caterers.
“We want students to be able to imagine themselves in a high-paying, high-demand field,” said Langley. “We’re not trying to turn out food-service workers, we’re trying to emphasize the ‘art’ in Culinary Arts, or the entrepreneurship of Culinary Arts.”
As participants energetically stirred sauces, shot video and chopped vegetables, the appeal of a hands-on class was apparent. And when the winning dish was announced — taquitos with homemade tortillas, and fried churros with chili chocolate sauce — the room erupted in cheers.
Haley Matthews, a 9th-grader who observed the competition during her Freshman Seminar, said she enjoyed watching students work together as a team, adding that she thinks culinary arts “would be a cool class in high school.”
The event had the frenzied feel of a cooking competition on the Food Network, and Wade said his long-term goal is for A/V Production students to produce a full-length show similar to “Iron Chef” or “Chopped”.
In the meantime, the content they produce is providing valuable experience. The video production industry has a robust presence in East Tennessee, and Wade said there is strong demand for employees including production assistants, camera operators and lighting directors.
And even before they graduate, the participation in dynamic, work-based learning helps to promote student engagement.
“Getting to see the advanced students do all that cool stuff, that’s just a great way to get younger students excited about coming to school,” Wade added.
On a recent morning, a group of students at Hardin Valley Academy gathered in the auditorium for a meeting about postsecondary opportunities and the college application process.
It’s a common topic, but in this case there was a twist. As she discussed issues like dual enrollment and financial aid, a guest speaker from Centro Hispano seamlessly shifted from English to Spanish and back again.
The meeting was hosted by HVA’s Latino Student Alliance, which has more than 80 members, and aims to provide Hispanic students a place to belong and share their cultural heritage within the broader Hawk family.
“I feel like it helps you feel welcomed in the school, and you see a little bit of yourself in it, your culture,” said club president Grace Rodriguez.
The club was founded six years ago by ELL teacher Veronica Calderon-Speed, who said that as the school’s Latino student population grew, she saw a need to help those students feel part of their school, make connections and showcase their talents.
She added that at one time, students would feel anxious about speaking Spanish in the hallways, “but since we’ve created this group that has gone away.”
One of the group’s key projects is Orgullo Latino, a cultural celebration that takes place during Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
Brisa Villatoro, a junior at HVA, participated in a merengue performance during last year’s Orgullo Latino, and said the Alliance gives students a place to represent their culture within a diverse student body.
At the same time, she said club members also benefit by learning about each other. “Because we’re all from different backgrounds and different ethnicities,” she said. “And it’s just really cool to learn about different countries and stuff like that.”
A husband-and-wife team of transportation professionals is putting their language skills to good use on behalf of KCS students.
Becky Bran is a customer service representative for the KCS Transportation Department, while Rudy Bran is a bus driver. Both are native Spanish speakers, and they have also learned the Akateko dialect, providing another way to connect with students and families who need assistance.
Becky said being bilingual has been beneficial in every job she’s had, and it has made a difference when talking to parents about bus issues. Language barriers can sometimes make it hard to understand information about routes or drop-off times, but she said parents are very grateful when they can get information in their own language.
“When I get to speak to them in Spanish, they understand and they’re not as confused,” she added.
Becky Bran was born and raised in New York City to parents who were originally from Honduras. They insisted that Rebecca and her siblings speak Spanish at home, and while she didn’t like it at the time, she came to appreciate that rule after seeing the benefits of speaking both languages as an adult.
Rudy Bran grew up in Guatemala, and didn’t know any English upon coming to the U.S. at the age of 17. He learned the language little by little, and eventually began working as a bus driver because it offered a flexible schedule that complemented his work as a minister with the Jehovah’s Witnesses church.
For KCS, he drives a route in the Carter community and also drives an additional route for special education students who participate in Community-Based Instruction during the day.
Rudy said new students who don’t speak English are often apprehensive when they get on his bus, and if he can have a conversation with them it helps make them comfortable.
He first noticed the influence of the Akateko dialect in his work as a pastor, and began picking up conversational phrases to interact with parishioners. About three years ago, he and Becky traveled to Guatemala on a mission trip, and stayed in a city where that dialect was the only language spoken.
After gaining fluency in the dialect, both now use it as part of their work with families and students. Becky said that when she receives a call with an Akateko speaker on the line, they are always surprised to hear a greeting in their language.
“Just by saying a hello, a greeting – ‘What can I help you with?’, ‘Where do you live?’ – in Akateko, that comforts them,” she said. “And you can get more information out of them in the little bit of Spanish that they do know. You can just tell the difference, that they’re not as terrified that nobody’s going to understand them.”
Field Day got a new twist at Karns High School this week.
On May 20, KHS hosted a Math Field Day for 9th-grade students, an event that aimed to build awareness and interest in math through a variety of hands-on activities and challenges at the school’s football stadium.
At an Iron Man challenge hosted by the Tennessee Army National Guard, students completed deadlift, ball toss and sprint-drag-carry challenges, then completed the assignment by performing math calculations to analyze the data they generated.
Another booth highlighted the Fibonacci sequence, a series of numbers in which each number is the sum of the two preceding it.
Posters and fliers highlighted ways that the sequence occurs in nature, and students – led by art teacher Caitlyn Kingsbury-Gomez – used a large-frame loom to create a tapestry that incorporated the sequence.
Julie Langley, an instructional coach at KHS who organized the event, said the school wanted to find creative ways to increase achievement using high-interest activities.
“These are … primarily student-facilitated activities, which makes it a lot nicer and kids are sometimes more approachable than a teacher you don’t know,” she said.
Math Field Day included 42 events, with nine local businesses present on-site while another six collaborated on specific activities.
Yuleesa Kennedy, who plays on the KHS softball team, participated in a softball hitting challenge in which students used results to calculate batting averages.
Kennedy said she enjoyed the events, and there was also a nice year-end perk – the Field Day event provided students the opportunity “just to get outside.”
For many high school students, spring is the season to make memories at prom, in a school musical or on the graduation stage. But for a sophomore at Bearden High School, her most memorable achievement came in the air.
On April 16, Sarah Stanley logged her first solo flight, taking off from Island Home Airport in a Cessna 172 and flying for about 15 minutes before returning to the same airport.
The short journey marked the culmination of a long process. Stanley, 16, got her start in a mechanics program for teenagers that was offered by the Skyranch Youth Aviation Program, in Alcoa. She met a flight instructor through Skyranch, and began taking lessons at the age of 13.
For her first solo flight, Stanley received a scholarship from the F.L.I.G.H.T. Foundation, which helped cover the $1,600 cost by matching the funds that Stanely raised by washing planes and babysitting.
Stanley said the most challenging part of flying is the landing, but that her favorite part is the feeling of freedom that comes from being in the air, because “when you’re flying, all that matters is that you’re flying.”
“You don’t have to think about anything else that’s stressing you out or aggravating you … In my mind, it’s just like ‘That’s on the ground.’”
Stanley’s next goal is to earn her pilot’s license, and while she’s leaving her career options open, she hopes to continue flying: “I definitely want to keep doing that for as long as I can.”