First Lady Visits Sarah Moore Greene On National Tour

First Lady Visits Sarah Moore Greene On National Tour

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden speaks with Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy principal Robin Curry during a school visit on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona also met with students and teachers during the visit.

Students and teachers at Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy experienced a once-in-a-lifetime event on Monday as they welcomed First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona as part of their national tour of schools.

Biden and Cardona, alongside Principal Robin Curry, visited the classroom of second-year teacher Kaitlyn Baker to meet students.

“When the press came in, all the students went silent,” Baker said, laughing. “But then the First Lady came in, and she really filled the space in the room and was building relationships with the students.”

Principal Curry said classroom visits are a natural part of a typical student learning walk.

“It was just awesome to be able to let her see our kids working hard and our teachers work on foundational literacy,” Curry said.

Biden also spoke with teachers in a small roundtable about educational support.

Farragut Intermediate special education teaching assistant Karol Harper discussed her experience entering the field through Tennessee’s unique Grow Your Own initiative, the state’s apprenticeship plan for preparing professionals transitioning into teaching positions.

The program was a major focus during Biden’s visit to the University of Tennessee later that day.

But the classroom visit and roundtable weren’t the only items on the agenda at Sarah Moore Greene. Biden and Curry had a surprise in store for the staff. Together, they unveiled a renovated lounge space featuring a calming color palette and comfortable furniture.

“I’m just grateful,” educational assistant Rachel Rodgers said. “To be able to go somewhere and sit and recharge and to enjoy your lunch. It’s a blessing to be able to have that.”

The new space has also helped to build community between teachers.

“Before, third grade teachers would sit with third grade. Fourth grade would sit with fourth grade,” Baker said. “But I’ve gotten to talk with other teachers too because we have a common space for when we don’t have students with us.”

All in all, Principal Curry hopes this visit inspires a long-lasting change in the community.

“I’m just hoping that we continue to focus on the great things that our community has, with our school being one of them,” Curry said.

The First Lady and Secretary of Education continued their tour with stops in North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

Latino Student Alliance Provides A Place To Connect

Latino Student Alliance Provides A Place To Connect

The Latino Student Alliance at Hardin Valley Academy gives students a chance to make connections and celebrate their heritage. Club members include Eduardo Perez, Brisa Villatoro, club president Grace Rodriguez, and Brenda Moreno Bernal.

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.”

College Application Month Provides Support For Seniors

College Application Month Provides Support For Seniors

As many Knox County students begin their senior year, they are also faced with a question: What will they do after graduation?

The district’s college and career counselors are helping to guide these seniors with College Application and Exploration Month, a statewide event that aims to generate excitement and provide education about the college application process.

“Our goal is to motivate students pursuing a college education, particularly those students that may be first-generation or low-income,” said Gibbs High School college and career counselor Lisa Marie Brown.

Many universities across the state offer application fee waivers during September as part of the initiative, and KCS high schools have organized several events throughout the month for their students.

Gibbs High School is hosting a Senior Family Night for students to meet with campus representatives from various institutions to learn about their programs. School counselors will also be set up during lunches to help answer application questions.

“My hope for our college-going students is that they challenge themselves and use every resource available to them to learn, grow, and become successful,” Brown said.

Hardin Valley Academy senior Megan McElroy looks forward to meeting with different colleges this month to find the perfect fit for her.

“I’m planning to go to a community college for the Tennessee Promise,” she said. “I need [a university] that will take my transfer credits, something that is not super expensive, one that has a community so you feel supported, and they help you after you graduate.”

Seniors across the district will meet with their school counselors to discuss post-graduation plans. For those interested in pursuing a college education, more information on College Application and Exploration Month can be found here.

New Incentives Bring Retired Teachers Back To Class

New Incentives Bring Retired Teachers Back To Class

Vicke Pyles returned to the classroom this year as a teacher at Holston Middle School. New state incentives allow eligible teachers to continue receiving retirement benefits while working full-time.

When Vicke Pyles signed her retirement papers in 2019, the veteran educator’s hands were shaking. 

After teaching for more than 30 years, she felt that the financial advantages of retirement were too good to pass up – but leaving the classroom was difficult. That fall, Pyles went to Charlotte with her grandson during the week that teachers returned to school, because she knew that being away from the classroom would be painful. 

But after reading a lot of books and realizing that “you can only clean the house so much”, she got a call from a friend who said West Valley Middle School needed a supply teacher. 

That temporary assignment was followed by others, and earlier this year Pyles began researching options for a full-time return. In the process, she learned about a new state incentive program that allows eligible teacher retirees to benefit from two new options:

  • Returning to the classroom at a 100% salary level, while still receiving 70% of their retirement benefits; or
  • Returning to the classroom in a hard-to-staff area at an 85% salary level, while receiving 100% of their retirement benefits.

With that in mind, Pyles chose the second option and returned to the classroom this fall as a math teacher at Holston Middle School.

In an interview, she said that “going back has been awesome”, adding that “A lot of my friends thought I was crazy for going back, but I said, ‘This is me.’”

The incentive program is aimed at addressing a teacher shortage across the state, and fits with the Knox County Schools priority of “Great Educators In Every School.”

In addition to the new pathways, retired KCS teachers have the option of returning to part-time positions (of 120 days or less) while still receiving 100% of their retirement benefits.

Jennifer Hemmelgarn, assistant superintendent of business and talent for KCS, said the district is thinking creatively to meet classroom staffing needs.

“Veteran educators are a tremendous resource and we value their skills and experience,” she said. “Our hope is that these incentives will eliminate barriers for retired teachers who miss the classroom and want to continue making a difference in the lives of students.”

Central High School Artist Chosen For Frist Exhibition

Central High School Artist Chosen For Frist Exhibition

Trinity Anthony’s painting, Internal Transfixation, was accepted for a show at the Frist Art Museum, in Nashville. (Submitted photo)

A Central High School senior has reached a goal many artists with more experience are still striving to accomplish: having their work displayed in a world-class art museum.

Trinity Anthony sent in four pieces to the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, unsure if even one would be selected for the Young Tennessee Artists exhibition.

“I wasn’t sure if anyone liked it,” she said about her piece entitled Internal Transfixation, which was selected for the show. Anthony said that because of COVID, she wasn’t able to get much feedback about the painting before submitting it to the Frist: “I was really surprised when it got in because no one was really able to comment on it.”

The piece is one of her favorites, she said, inspired by a previous traumatic accident that kept her away from her school and friends for half a year. Nearly six years ago, Anthony suffered a severe concussion after a fall.

“I was just stuck in my room for six months with nothing,” Anthony said of her recovery. “I couldn’t watch TV. I couldn’t read because the words just hurt. I had to have lights off all the time.”

It was then, in the darkness of her bedroom, alone, that she picked up drawing.

“I was able to draw things around me,” she said. “That was my only outlet to express myself and how I felt.”

When she was eventually cleared for 15 minutes of screen time per day, she utilized those periods by watching art videos and documentaries of artists to learn their techniques and improve her own skill.

“Once I got through all that, it really just blossomed,” Anthony said. “It’s an obsession.”

She has since had her work displayed in several art shows across her community, including the Knoxville Museum of Art East Tennessee Regional Student Art Exhibit, the Tennessee Valley Fair Art Show, and two Central High School art shows.

The young artist not only excels in her creativity and artistry, but also in academics and extracurriculars.

At Central High School, she is a member of the National Honor Society, was in the Science Club, created the Book Club, is the president of the Art Club, takes AP courses, and is studying for the ACT.

In her community, Anthony is a member of the National Art Honor Society, is on the Knox County Library Teen Advisory Board, completed an internship with The Bottom community center, worked as an apprentice at Beardsley Community Farm, and has been invited to be a part of a new arts collective in Knoxville.

Amanda Cagle, Anthony’s 7th-grade principal at South Doyle Middle School and now an assistant principal at Central, says Anthony “surpassed my thoughts of what you could do at that age.”

When reflecting on her success and growth as a young person, she said, “It feels very surreal, and it feels like an out-of-body experience. But it’s all very exciting.”

Anthony’s work will be displayed in the Frist Museum at the Conte Community Arts Gallery from Sept. 2, 2022 through Feb. 12, 2023.

Couple Provides Bus Support In Three Languages

Couple Provides Bus Support In Three Languages

Rudy and Becky Bran use their language skills to assist Knox County students — Rudy as a bus driver, and Becky as a customer service representative in the Transportation Department. (Submitted photo)

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.”

Math Field Day Provides Fun With Numbers

Math Field Day Provides Fun With Numbers

During Math Field Day at Karns High School, the Iron Fit Challenge allowed students to analyze data generated by a weight-lifting exercise.

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.”

Yuleesa Kennedy takes a turn during the softball event at Math Field Day.
Bearden Student Earns Solo Wings

Bearden Student Earns Solo Wings

Sarah Stanley, a sophomore at Bearden High School, recently completed her first solo flight and is pursuing her pilot’s license. (Submitted photo)

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.”

According to aviation tradition, flight instructors commemorate a student’s first solo flight by cutting off their shirt tail, indicating that they can fly without direction. In the early days of aviation, instructors guided their students by tugging on the back of their shirts. (Submitted photo)
Farragut Student Chosen As Knoxville Youth Poet Laureate

Farragut Student Chosen As Knoxville Youth Poet Laureate

Melody Dalili, recently chosen as the Knoxville Youth Poet Laureate, said poetry is “a universal language.”

Melody Dalili has been writing poems for years, but she didn’t begin reciting them publicly until a spoken-word performance last August.

Since then, the Farragut High School junior has gotten several opportunities to perform her work, and this month her literary journey led to a groundbreaking honor – recognition as the City of Knoxville’s first Youth Poet Laureate!

Dalili has always loved poetry and has a collection on her phone with more than 250 poems, beginning with pieces that she wrote in the third grade. (Her first? A poem about two rabbits who were in love.)

She credited two sources with boosting her confidence as a writer: co-workers and leaders at The Muse, where she works, and Elizabeth Toth, her advanced creative writing teacher at FHS.

Dalili said she began performing after her manager at the Muse introduced her to an organizer of the SEEED Knoxville poetry slam, who invited her to participate in that event. “I was like ‘No, I love poetry but I would never say it out loud.’ And they said ‘Why don’t you just give it a shot?’”

That performance was last August, and it led to other spoken-word opportunities in the months since. At the same time, Dalili took Toth’s advanced creative writing class last year, and said the ELA teacher has been a constant support by attending her events, helping her craft a speech and staying after school to prepare for the Youth Poet Laureate competition.

“Being a teacher and really making that extra effort for one of your kids was a huge part in my journey here,” she said.

Toth said Dalili’s work is insightful and creative, and that when given a writing prompt during class, she would often ask if she could complete the assignment in poetry. 

“She is definitely immensely talented, she really draws from her own personal experience and her own feelings about people that are important to her and that have shaped her life,” Toth said.

Earlier this month, Dalili and Knoxville Poet Laureate Rhea Carmon shared a poem as part of Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon’s budget address, the first of many appearances she will make as a literary ambassador for the city.

Asked why she loves poetry, Dalili said it is a universal language: “Poetry is just something with its arms wide open, and it’s just waiting for people to come in and join and to be united through our language. I really think that it’s just such a privilege to be able to be a part of that and to commemorate that in what I’m doing.”

Video: Watch Melody give a spoken-word performance on the KCS YouTube channel

Twin Sisters Share Academic Honors At Karns

Twin Sisters Share Academic Honors At Karns

Jeanne Seibel (left) and her twin sister, Emily, will be honored as co-valedictorians when the Karns High Class of 2022 graduates on May 27.

Jeanne and Emily Seibel grew up singing together in church, they’ve performed in musical theater productions together at Karns High School and in the fall they’ll attend Freed-Hardeman University together.

  • But before starting the next chapter of their lives, the fraternal twins will be honored together as co-valedictorians of the Karns High Class of 2022!

The achievement caps a stellar academic career for the sisters, who said they have always been best friends even though they aren’t exactly alike.

  • Emily Seibel has an aptitude for math and plans to major in the subject at Freed-Hardeman, while Jeanne Seibel was more inclined toward science and plans to pursue a career in physical therapy. 

And while both are efficient, they agreed that Emily’s highly organized approach to tasks – “I’m a total perfectionist” – is a contrast to Jeanne’s more laid-back style.

We help to bring out each other’s strengths and we complement each other in a lot of ways,” Jeanne said.

“Hopefully we cover up each others’ weaknesses too when we can,” Emily added.

Karns principal Brad Corum said that while the sisters are competitive they also cheer for each other, and described them as good ambassadors for their school.

  • “They’ve always been very good students and more importantly than that, they’re great people,” Corum said.

Emily and Jeanne Seibel, pictured holding childhood photos, said they have always been best friends.