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.
Hardin Valley Academy Celebrates Future Teachers

Hardin Valley Academy Celebrates Future Teachers

Hardin Valley Academy senior Amaya Martin, who plans to become a teacher, celebrates at a college signing ceremony with her mother, Tiffany Martin; former teacher Suzanne Sherman; and her father, Chris Martin.

Hardin Valley Academy held a college signing ceremony on Monday – to celebrate a group of future educators!

The event celebrated 10 HVA seniors who are planning to return to the classroom as educators when they graduate from college.

  • Amaya Martin, who will attend Middle Tennessee State University, participated with her parents, Chris and Tiffany Martin, along with former teacher and school librarian Suzanne Sherman.

Martin said her former teacher made sure that students were always heard, and during a lesson on children’s literature she incorporated a book that featured a Black family – helping Martin feel that she was represented. “That really stuck with me,” she said.

  • Knox County Schools has made it a priority to identify and support high school students who are interested in pursuing a career in education. In some cases, college students who participate in the district’s “Grow Your Own” program can receive a salary, health care and credit toward retirement while completing their college degree.

Hope Johnson – whose mother, Maria Johnson, is a former teacher – is planning to attend Tennessee Tech, and has already spent many hours in the classroom as part of the district’s Teaching as a Profession program.

The HVA student particularly enjoyed working with elementary students, because they are just starting to learn how the world works and where they fit in:  “It’s so cool to be the avenue that opens that up for them.”

During a ceremony on April 11, HVA student Hope Johnson and her mother, Maria, celebrated Hope’s decision to attend Tennessee Tech.

Fundraising effort helps Karns students take AP exams

Fundraising effort helps Karns students take AP exams

Karns teacher B.J. Arvin and junior Lyndsey Dodge helped raise funds to offset the cost of Advanced Placement exams at the school.

A fundraising effort at Karns High School is working to broaden access to Advanced Placement classes. 

The initiative was sparked last year, when social studies teacher B.J. Arvin heard about a Karns student who had completed an AP class, but chose not to take the exam because of the cost. 

When he learned of the situation, Arvin recalled later, he thought to himself “We’re not going to have this happen again.”

The result was a fundraising campaign which led to:

  • A $1,500 donation from TVA Employees Credit Union;
  • A $500 grant from the Junior League of Knoxville; and
  • A Homecoming campaign by KHS junior Lyndsey Dodge, which netted $750.

Dodge sold items including hair ties and bracelets as part of her campaign, and has also taken several AP classes during her academic career.

While the classes are more rigorous than a standard high school course, a good score on the AP exam can lead to college credit for high school students.

  • I know how beneficial AP programs can be for college and for peoples’ future,” Dodge said. “So I figured I would help out.”

AP exams cost $96, although discounts – at a price of $62 – are available for students in financial need. But Arvin pointed out that many students take multiple AP classes in a year, and the testing costs can add up.

He said that in his AP Human Geography class, every student was able to take the test this year, and another fundraising campaign is planned for next year’s Homecoming.

  • “The ultimate goal is we do this for a few years, word gets out, and then we start getting kids who maybe wouldn’t normally take an AP class because of the financial aspect of it – they start enrolling.”

Digital Upgrades Improve Accessibility For ELL Families

Digital Upgrades Improve Accessibility For ELL Families

Several new features on the KCS website and YouTube channel will make it easier for students and families to receive updates, find information and learn about their school.

Earlier this month, “Translate” buttons in Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Swahili were added in the upper left-hand corner of, as well as on school websites. This enhancement makes it easier for users to access those languages, while a drop-down menu with dozens of additional languages continues to be provided.

In addition, KCS recently launched, a condensed version of the district website that highlights areas of high importance, including:

  • Enrollment;
  • The Family Portal;
  • District governance; and
  • School zone maps.

The district has also launched a series of videos on YouTube that highlight Spanish-speaking students and families; profile Spanish-speaking employees; and provide updates about important topics.

“It is very important that all families have access to important information about their child’s education, even if they are still learning English,” said Superintendent Bob Thomas. “This enhancement of our website will make it easier for families to stay informed, and I am grateful that we are able to implement these changes.”

More than 5,400 students within KCS are from families where these languages are spoken at home:

  • Spanish – 4,740
  • Arabic – 326
  • Chinese – 204
  • Swahili – 186
Gibbs Students Earn DECA Honors

Gibbs Students Earn DECA Honors

Gibbs High School teacher LeeAnne Kepper, freshman Mary Anne Cooper and senior Sidney Vass helped the school’s DECA Club gain national recognition this year.

A campaign to promote Career and Technical Education (CTE) helped students at Gibbs High School earn some national recognition in recent weeks.

The school’s DECA club — which prepares students for business-oriented careers — was the only one in Tennessee to earn the DECA Advocacy Award, in honor of a promotional campaign to highlight the value of CTE programs. The campaign included:

  • Digital marketing on the school’s electronic marquee;
  • Social media marketing;
  • Interviews with CTE teachers; and
  • Promotional messages on the school’s morning announcements.

Sidney Vass, the club’s president and a senior at Gibbs, said it’s important for students to find activities they’re passionate about, and that the club has helped her make new friends.

  • DECA’s helped me reach out to other people and experience a whole new, different world — finding other people that are passionate about wanting to help people and also go into the marketing field or the business field.”

The Eagles also gained recognition for their Chapter Campaign and took steps to boost school spirit this year, including a Valentine’s promotion that provided candy to faculty and staff, and a carnation sale — in partnership with the Future Business Leaders of America — which benefited cystic fibrosis philanthropy.

9th-grader Mary Anne Cooper said it can be hard for students to find their place in high school, but DECA helped her make connections.

  • “I’ve met a lot of really diverse, different people in our group. It’s not just like one grade, it’s not just centered around one certain group of people … I’ve gotten to meet all kinds of different people that I wouldn’t have gotten to meet otherwise.”

Students do not have to enroll in marketing classes to join DECA, and teacher LeeAnne Kepper said she tries to emphasize that students can participate in the club while also participating in other activities such as sports or dance.

Kepper said she is also proud of the efforts club members make to show kindness and to reach out, adding that “We just have a lot of fun.”

South-Doyle Students Explore Career Options

South-Doyle Students Explore Career Options

Students from South-Doyle Middle School explored careers, practiced elevator speeches and learned how to dress for success at a career-themed event this week!

The “Get Hired” field trip included a career fair at the Sarah Simpson Center and programming at UTK’s Haslam College of Business, along with a scavenger hunt.

8th-graders Tamahj Martin and Benjamin Collins learned about careers including professional photography, and Collins said he wants to be a lawyer if a basketball career doesn’t work out.

  • Asked about his elevator speech, Collins had a strong pitch to potential employers in the legal field: “I’m very good at arguing. I like to help people get through stuff that’s hard for them.”

The event was led by the KCS CTE Department, Junior Achievement of East Tennessee and the Haslam College of Business, and the Tennessee Department of Education provided grant funding.