College Application Month is a great time to build excitement and educating students of all ages about life after high school.
tnAchieves is jumping in to do just that for seniors at Fulton High School by connecting students with representatives from local community colleges, four-year universities, and trade schools who can help them complete applications while also answering any of their questions – big or small.
“It’s about bringing the community inside Fulton to encourage the students and help normalize college. It really eases a lot of the intimidation that often lies within the students about going to college,” said tnAchieves President and CEO Krissy DeAlejandro. “Fulton is so excited. The leadership team and counselors there have been so amazing.”
Last year, every Fulton senior completed a college application, DeAlejandro said, which likely played a role in the school’s increased college-going rate.
In it’s second year, the College Application Blitz has grown from 45 volunteers from schools and organizations to more than 80 this year.
“When I put the call-to-action out, everybody raised their hands and wanted to be there,” DeAlejandro said. “I think there’s a lot of momentum around the 70% by 2024 effort, and people are eager to know what they can do to be helpful.”
Students can apply here for the TN Promise scholarship – which helps them attend any community or technical college in Tennessee, tuition free for two years. The deadline to apply is November 1.
Individual paths that included hours of intense studying and years of classroom preparation, along with exceptional PSAT scores, are what earned 34 students in Knox County Schools recognition as semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship.
“I am so thankful and proud to be a semifinalist,” said West High School’s Cooper Etheridge. “This is going to provide a huge opportunity for my future.”
An impressive feat for the high school seniors, as less than 1% of the nation’s graduating seniors will qualify. The accolade is based on PSAT test scores, so missing or not finishing the test isn’t an option for anyone hoping to earn the recognition – something that was very nearly a reality for one of the finalists.
“I actually got kicked out of the PSAT,” said Bearden High School’s Maya Hira. “I started the wrong section and told on myself, so they canceled my score!”
True determination meant she was eventually able to qualify with her SAT score – which she took while her family was on vacation. “It was so exciting to find out I made the list!”
Others were able to find a balance between academics and the social aspect of the high school experience.
“I fell into a routine to look over those tests and study resources on Fridays before going to football games,” said Farragut High School’s Michelle Lin. “I went to every single one! Then the next day I would do a practice test.” She credits her success to “really good consistency and mentorship throughout the years.”
Despite being vastly different in their interests, study habits, and plans, they all hope to attend some of the most prestigious colleges in the country.
Their list of dream schools included Princeton, Purdue, MIT, Oklahoma, Stanford, and Caltech–and they hope this award will help them get one step closer to a Freshman Orientation on these college campuses.
Those campuses would be lucky to have them; beyond their academic focus and gifts, they contribute to their schools through school clubs, sports, and volunteer opportunities.
“I really like tutoring people. I like helping people. Since I’m good at math, I like to use that skill to help other people,” said L&N STEM Academy’s Jared Mueller. “I think one of the most important qualities for people to have is compassion.”
These students are really something!
The full list of KCS National Merit Semifinalists is below.
Bearden High School Maya Hira Alanie Keith Avigail Laing Nicholas McIntyre Harper Smith
Farragut High School Karrie An Iris Chen Elaina Conger Grace Feng Audrey Fey Madeline Gao Caleb Han Jesse Hao George Hu Danial Khan Michelle Lin Elliot Mandl Vivaan Singhvi Reuben Soans Channing Tan Thomas Williamson Nicholas Yan Iris Ye
Hardin Valley Academy David Hart
L&N STEM Academy Jared Mueller Hazel White Cooper Wirth
West High School Bryden Asti Lucia Benedetto McNulty Charles Burke Hunter Dance Cooper Etheridge Duncan Gilpatric Cooper Ward
Jaditcia Galyon interviewing for the baker position with College and Career Counselor Caitlin Long, Gibbs Middle School Principal Candace Greer, and Superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk.
Gibbs Middle School students are preparing for real life by drafting resumes, filling out applications, and practicing interviews for a school-based cookie company.
These skills are being taught through the college and career counselor Caitlin Long who launched College and Career Cookies at GMS as a way to fundraise for field trips to postsecondary institutions for career exploration.
“The kids get a lot more hands-on experience in the job-embedded piece that makes it a little easier for them when they go out in the real world and have to interview, so it’s not their first time,” Long said.
There are 10 positions students can apply for, with a CEO at the top and a head of baking and head of sales just below. The baking department includes a baker, packager, dough collector, and custodial crew. Sales is comprised of marketing, a data analyst, and a sales associate.
Jaditcia Galyon applied for the baker position and is looking forward to working with a team and gaining workplace skills.
“This is the beginning of a whole story to me,” she said. “We learned a lot when it comes to the future. You really have to have motivation, focus, and look at the bright side of everything.”
When Verónica Calderón-Speed started school as a young girl in south Texas, she spoke Spanish, and it was through her ESL teachers that she was able to learn English. Now at Hardin Valley Academy, she is able to do the same for her students.
Calderón-Speed did not initially plan to become a teacher. She graduated college in Pennsylvania with a degree in social work, and only when she was encouraged by a relative to pursue the profession did she step into the classroom.
She started as a long-term substitute in a pre-algebra class, filling in for a teacher on maternity leave. Even as a sub, Calderón-Speed couldn’t stand not being able to help her students learn.
“I got the textbook, took it home, started teaching myself so I could go back and teach the students,” she said. “By the end of the school year, it felt very gratifying. It was so good to have them say things like, ‘I learned a lot from you. This was really fun. Thank you for doing this.’ And then I just got bit. This was for me.”
She returned to school to earn a teaching certificate and started at HVA as a Spanish teacher. The ESL position was only a part-time opportunity at the time, so she waited patiently until the role opened to a full-time gig. Then, she jumped at the chance.
“I am the product of ESL education, so I understand the students that come in with no English language proficiency and are new to the culture, new to the country, and are very hesitant,” she said. “Once I share my story with them, they feel more at ease.”
Calderón-Speed’s passion for inclusion expands beyond the classroom as well. She aims to promote cultural diversity at HVA by creating a welcoming environment for all students and families.
Last year, she worked to hang flags in the atrium of the school that represent the 57 countries and 29 languages that make up the HVA student body’s DNA. Her next project is partnering with the art teacher to display a sign at the school’s entrance welcoming students, families, and guests in all languages present at HVA.
Her work at the school has earned recognition from the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance at their inaugural E3: Elevating Excellence in Education Awards Dinner.
KCS is proud to have teachers like Calderón-Speed at our schools, working hard for their students, bolstering their confidence, and making them feel welcome at school every day.
Planning to pursue a degree in political science following graduation, Bearden senior Celeste Urdal is getting a taste of government proceedings as the new Board of Education Student Representative.
The Knox County BOE Student Rep serves as a voice for the students and gives insight to board members. Urdal saw this as the perfect chance to represent her classmates.
“Students work really hard to accomplish our goals, and I felt like I needed to jump on the opportunity to be the student rep,” she said. “The students work hard, so I feel like the school system needs to work for them at the same time.”
Only a few weeks into the job, Urdal has learned about how change is made “up top” and said she has seen how dedicated KCS is to students.
“As a student, when you’re just one of thousands of others, it’s hard to know that people are looking out for you and have your best interests at heart,” she said. “When I became the student rep, I saw that these members really care about the students and care about increasing their chances of success.”
Urdal stresses that she is working for all students and encourages them to come to her with any issue or concern.
“I just want to be able to fully advocate for what the students need,” she said. “I am a very approachable person, and I will always be willing to talk to you.”
Just as with most seniors, Urdal is busy juggling classes, sports, and extracurriculars. She represents her classmates on the school level through SGA and Senior Committee, and she just began her final season of volleyball, a sport she’s played since third grade.
She looks forward to continuing on to college and hopes to one day attend law school to further be a voice for others.
“Growing up being around involved people and helping people has just kind of come naturally,” she said.
During the pandemic, Green Magnet Academy Principal Jessica Holman expressed a need she saw for her school: a revitalized outdoor space that would match and support the high-quality STEAM education happening inside the classroom.
South-Doyle High graduate and The Boyd Foundation co-founder Randy Boyd jumped at the chance to support this endeavor.
“We believe that health and play are incredibly important parts of a child’s education,” Boyd said. “We saw this as an opportunity to help make a difference in a school with the greatest need.”
The foundation generously donated $650,000 to support the project, a gift made in coordination with Knox Education Foundation.
“I was blown away with the sheer generosity and genuine desire to help our school and community that he and his foundation had,” Holman said.
When it came time to plan the space, the principal turned to the school community for input. Focus groups allowed students and stakeholders to give their voices to the design.
The result was a beautiful three-quarter acre space with a play structure, swing sets, a full basketball court, a soccer field with full-sized goals, two running lanes, outdoor musical instruments, raised garden beds, and a shaded seating area.
“I’m hopeful it’s the best playground in the county and maybe the state. These kids deserve it,” Boyd said. “I don’t know what part of the playground the children will like the most, but I’m excited for them to go and watch them choose for themselves.”
Holman’s favorite feature is not the play equipment, but the mural.
“The detail of how the artist had woven in those STEAM elements into the illustrations and depictions of students that actually look like our students,” she said. “He was able to capture that sense of wonder and discovery that our students see every day in our classrooms having that STEAM-integrated learning.”
The mural paints such a realistic picture of the student body that a girl approached the artist during recess one day and asked, “Are you painting me? That looks like me.”
“That’s exactly what I want the kids to feel like and to know that they were the inspiration behind this,” Holman said.
This summer, KCS received news that the district has been chosen as a recipient of the U.S. DOD’s ESGR 2023 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.
Representatives of KCS, including Superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk and Interim Assistant Superintendent of Business and Talent Jennifer Hemmelgarn, traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to be formally recognized and accept the award at the Pentagon.
The individual who nominated KCS for the award is a Hardin Valley Academy social studies teacher and a Major in the Tennessee Army National Guard.
Mjr. Michael Hicks has “taught for 10 years in Knox County Schools and have been placed on orders or had extensive drill weekends multiple times,” he said. “They have given me and my family 100% support while serving my country and are very deserving of Employer Support Freedom Award recognition.”
Dr. J.D. Faulconer, now the principal at Kelley Volunteer Academy, previously worked as a CTE specialist who oversaw the JROTC programs in the district.
Faulconer believes that hiring military members is a mutually beneficial relationship. Reservists and Guardsmen receive support from the district, and the schools receive highly skilled teachers.
“They want to be a servant leader, they know how to work as a team, and they know what collaboration looks like,” he said. “They know what grit and determination and resiliency look like in the classroom, and right now that’s what our teachers need. I think that’s what Mjr. Hicks brings to the table, and I think that’s what a lot of our veterans bring to the table.”
The ESGR, or Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve office, states the Freedom Award is the highest recognition given by the U.S. government to employers for their support of Guardsmen and Reservists.
Only 15 employers are chosen out of thousands of applicants each year, and KCS is the only school district to earn the distinction this year.
“If we have veterans coming out of military service and looking to continue to make an impact and they are working for a school district that is now known to support Guard members and Reservists, I think it’s a win-win for being able to recruit,” Faulconer said. “And not only recruit but retain wonderful educators.”
When Kacy Helton left the banking industry to become a business teacher at Fulton High School, the Falcons were already committed to career-oriented small learning communities.
So when Helton got an opportunity to help launch the 865 Academies at Carter High School, she jumped at the chance.
“Academies give so many opportunities for kids to do some really cool things,” Helton said. “I can literally go to Fulton kids that I’ve taught over the past four years and say ‘What are you doing now, what are the skills that you learned in high school that impacted you?’, and they can tell me.”
Last year, Helton returned to Carter, her alma mater, as a marketing teacher, and she now serves as the school’s Academy coach. Carter launched its Freshman Academy this year and will announce its career-oriented Academies and pathways in the coming months.
Academy coaches play a key role in the implementation of the initiative. They lead student ambassadors, coordinate campus and workplace visits, and serve as the school’s liaison to business and community partners.
For Helton, bridging the gap between classroom instruction and workplace success was a natural fit, given her journey as a self-described “non-educator educator.”
After graduating from Carter, she attended Walters State, Pellissippi State, and the University of Tennessee, eventually leaving school to get her real estate license in 2007. The financial crisis of 2008 nudged her out of real estate and into a position as a teller at Knoxville TVA Employees Credit Union, where she went on to become a corporate trainer.
In that role, she also worked with schools and students, including a project to help Carter set up a school store. She also resumed her college coursework, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in Talent Development, before shifting gears to become a teacher and earning a master’s in education.
Helton said she’s a firm believer in allowing students to get career and college experiences at an early age and said the Carter community has been excited and supportive about the Academies initiative. As the Hornets launch that journey, Helton has been busy with the transition from planning to implementation – shaping academy proposals, building student ambassador teams, advocating for CTE teachers, and more.
But in the midst of project management, her inspiration comes from opening doors for students: “I’m excited about giving these kids opportunities, that is my go-to … And I see so many potential experiences and opportunities coming out of Academies. My daughter is a freshman this year and I’m really excited that she’s at the beginning of this process.”
Want to support the work of the 865 Academies as a business or community partner? Visit knoxschools.org/academies to learn more!
As a young girl, Addie McCallie would often play “teacher,” mirroring what she saw her father do for almost 35 years. With both of her parents working in the school system, McCallie knew she wanted to follow in her dad’s footsteps and become an educator.
Now in the thirteenth year of her career and fresh off a move to Knoxville from Chattanooga, she is finding her footing as she starts her first year at KCS and at Farragut Middle School as a sixth-grade science teacher.
One thing she hopes to continue from her previous school is providing meaningful partnerships with professionals in the field.
“In the past, I was fortunate enough to connect with UGA’s small satellite research lab. My students were able to develop and print 3D models of their own cube satellites,” she said. “I’m hoping to partner with the zoo in our current work with my students. They’re going to be creating products based on orangutans in Indonesia, so I would love for them to actually be able to display their work.”
Working with professionals and providing connections between classroom content and career fields is a large part of the 865 Academies’ goal of preparing students for life after high school. Introducing real-world professions to students in middle school is essential for students to begin thinking about post-secondary plans.
McCallie’s path to middle school science was full of twists that placed her exactly where she needed to be.
Initially planning to teach high school math, it was one of her college professors who guided her in a different direction.
“He taught science instruction, so how to teach science to middle school. All of a sudden, everything just started clicking,” she said. “I remember learning those things in middle school, but it didn’t make sense until I realized this is how you teach it, and this is how you teach it well.”
She also has a soft spot for her sixth-grade students. McCallie pivoted to the middle school path after spending a weekend with students of that age at a church youth retreat, and she’s “never looked back.”
“Middle schoolers are the best,” she said. “I was surprised at how articulate and clever they were and fell in love with their eagerness to learn.”
McCallie recently reflected on why she chose this profession, and she narrowed it down to two main reasons.
“It really comes down to believing that all children should have access to free and high-quality education, and all of us, all of the adults, all of my colleagues, should be able to empower and encourage each other as we’re working together to make all of our students successful,” she said. “Finding places where I can get some rest and also encourage others is really where I find my energy.”
Knox County Schools is committed to ensuring there are Great Educators in Every School. Know someone who should be recognized for next month’s Teacher Spotlight? Reach out to Kaleigh Cortez at email@example.com!
The 20th annual Partners in Education Foundation’s (PIE) Dine Out for Education fundraiser will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 29 for members of the community to purchase meals from local participating restaurants to benefit Knox County Schools.
Eateries that have partnered with PIE for this fundraiser have pledged to donate 10% of their total food sales for the day which will fund school needs, such as technology, professional development, and playground equipment.
“We want to be a good partner to these restaurants, who are giving 10% of the day’s take, and then be able to tell the public that we have no overhead at PIE. This is all voluntary, so it’s dollar-for-dollar,” said PIE President Adam Wilson. “Every dollar that comes in goes right back to the schools.”
This year, a new component to the fundraiser adds a little friendly competition with a chance to win $500 and a staff pizza party.
Participants are encouraged to follow the Partners in Education’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages, share a photo dining out, tag PIE, and mention their school. The votes will be tallied to determine the two schools with the most votes, which will receive the prizes.
“I think it brings out that fun, competitive spirit,” Wilson said.
Last year’s event pulled in around $20,000, and PIE was able to fund teacher morale programs, purchase gym equipment, and replace outdated handheld two-way radio sets.
A full list of school needs that may be funded through Dine Out for Education can be found here, and more information on the fundraiser can be found here.
KCS would also like to thank the sponsors of this event: Graphic Creations, Knoxville TVA Employee Credit Union, First Horizon, Adam Wilson Realty, American Fidelity, and Mountain Commerce Bank.