Cookie Company Teaches Real-World Skills To Gibbs Students

Cookie Company Teaches Real-World Skills To Gibbs Students

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.”

Carter Academy Coach Has A Business Background

Carter Academy Coach Has A Business Background

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 to learn more!


Middle School Student Wins Apple’s Swift Student Challenge

Middle School Student Wins Apple’s Swift Student Challenge

Dominick Pelaia was only nine years old when he began programming robots at the Apple Summer Camp. From there, his interest in coding only grew.

Now an official app developer, Pelaia learned the Swift programming language with his dad. His creative spirit led him to create his first game, Chicken Rumble

“I wanted to make something fun that me and my friends would like to play,” Pelaia said. “I used a chicken theme because when I was younger, the first thing I built out of LEGOs was a chicken sitting on top of a house.”

The chicken theme would continue throughout his successive games, including the one that led to his success in the Swift Student Challenge.

When the then-eight grader’s inaugural app was accepted to the Apple App Store, he became a member of the Apple Developer Program. Just a few months later, they would invite him to participate in the Swift Student Challenge–a worldwide competition for student developers.

“The fact that my app was able to win because I know there were so many college students that participated … just really amazed me and showed how much hard work could help me do my thing,” he said. “I didn’t have that long to make the app. It was right in the middle of school testing, so I had to find a way to balance studying with actually making it.”

Pelaia and Egg Drop was one of 375 winners worldwide.

Now entering his freshman year of high school at L&N STEM Academy, he’s looking forward to continuing his education in computer science. 

His advice for anyone also interested in coding: build a good foundation in math, take advantage of free resources, and never give up.

“Persistence is very important, no matter what goal you’re trying to achieve,” he said. “That was really instrumental when I was developing my first apps. There were a lot of bugs I had to deal with. I would just take a step back, think about it, then come back to it.”

Educator Prep Program Trains Second-Career Teachers

Educator Prep Program Trains Second-Career Teachers

Griffin Vann has been a registered pediatric nurse for 21 years, and last fall began teaching at Fulton High School as part of the Educator Preparation Program. Vann said that as a mother of young children, she wanted to be on their schedule, and that she has always loved working with kids. 

On a recent morning, 18 people from a variety of career fields – including auto repair, construction, nursing, and culinary arts – gathered in a South Knoxville classroom.

While their professional backgrounds varied widely, their goal was the same: Learning to be an effective teacher.

The attendees were part of the KCS Educator Preparation Program (EPP), which trains industry professionals to be teachers, and provides financial incentives to help them receive certification.

The goal is to not only cast a wide net in identifying and recruiting outstanding educators, but also to find non-traditional candidates with expertise in career fields that are in high demand among employers.

A good example is Griffin Vann, who has been a registered nurse for 21 years and last fall began teaching health science, medical therapeutics, and nursing education at Fulton High School.

Vann said that as a mother of young children, she wanted to be on their schedule, and that she has always loved working with kids. As part of the Educator Prep Program, she works as a teacher at Fulton, while attending several after-hours classes each semester. During the summer, her cohort also attends a week of intensive training.

Vann said the program has been challenging, and helped her realize how hard teachers work.

“There’s a lot of organization behind the scenes that you don’t think about when you just go sit in a class,” she said. “When I was in school, I had no idea how much behind-the-scenes work goes into a lecture or a lab or a class session … This is teaching you how to do that, so that when I stand up in front of a classroom I am confident and organized and I know what I’m doing.”

The EPP training sessions are designed to help participants sharpen skills that they’re already using in the classroom, and gain insights from their peers.

During a recent session at the Sarah Simpson Center, instructor Ulla Carr – the district’s EPP supervisor – asked about the best way to re-engage students who have been working in small groups. The attendees joked about bad ideas – an air horn, for example – while also discussing serious strategies, such as a raised hand or short clap that would prompt students to respond with a similar action.

At the end of the discussion, participants took several minutes to journal on laptops, answering discussion questions about issues and challenges related to problem-based learning.

Carr said participants in the KCS program join the district – or work for other school districts – using a practitioner occupational license, but after three years they move to a regular professional license.

The KCS program is less expensive than many traditional college programs, and teachers who work for the district for three years are reimbursed for the full cost – which not only benefits the participants, but helps KCS meet its retention goals.

Carr said the program is also aligned with the district’s 865 Academies initiative, which aims to prepare high school students for enrolling in college or trade school, enlisting in service to their country, or finding high-wage employment immediately after high school.

Whether a student is interested in a college-bound pathway such as Information Technology or STEM, or a career pathway such as automotive repair or cosmetology, Carr said teachers with industry experience can help instill a sense of passion for that field.

Moving from an industry position to the classroom is also an investment in the broader community. Lauren Longmire, director of regional enhancement for the Knoxville Chamber, said the EPP is an important way that Knox County is taking tangible steps to retain and prepare the future workforce.

“By providing a high-quality, low-cost training option, the KCS EPP is making it possible for professionals to leverage their industry experience in a K-12 setting,” Longmire said. “At a time when the nature of work is shifting, it’s exciting to see the school system find new and dynamic ways to invest in both our current workforce and future workforce.”

Rob Stivers, market executive of Regions Bank and the Knoxville Chamber’s vice chair of talent, said the 865 Academies are the future of secondary schools within KCS, adding that “I’m excited to see that KCS has a program to help people translate their industry experience to catalyze the impact of the 865 Academies.”

Jess Sherrod worked in the manufacturing industry for more than 20 years, and now teaches welding at Carter High, as part of the school’s advanced manufacturing pathway.

At Carter High School, one educator who is leveraging that hard-earned experience is Jess Sherrod, who teaches welding as part of the school’s advanced manufacturing pathway.

Sherrod worked in industry for more than 20 years, eventually becoming a certified welding inspector and working in management positions at facilities in Jefferson City and Morristown. 

He said it’s difficult to find good employees with the necessary skills for success – showing up on time, using tools like a tape measure efficiently, and working respectfully with colleagues “even in situations where it’s not really that calm.”

But Sherrod also has been impressed by the leadership qualities of students he’s worked with in the classroom, and is excited about helping give them a foundation for success. 

“When given the chance and the opportunity and the understanding, these kids will take the lead, most of them will,” he said.

Interested in moving from an industry position into the classroom? The KCS Educator Preparation Program is accepting applications, and candidates who enroll by July 21 can participate in the 2023-24 cohort. For more information, visit our website.


So-Kno Robo Goes To Worlds

So-Kno Robo Goes To Worlds

So-Kno Robo at the 2023 Smoky Mountains Regional competition that qualified them for Worlds.

So-Kno Robo, South-Doyle High School’s robotics team, returned from the FIRST Robotics Competition in Houston with a winning robot and an energized perspective to encourage STEM in South Knoxville.

Often referred to as “Worlds,” the FIRST Robotics Competition welcomes over 600 teams from across the globe to compete in a robotics game.

FIRST releases the game guidelines to the participating teams in January, and the teams have until mid-March to design and build their robots before regional competitions begin.

This year, the game called for the robots to move cones from the floor onto poles and inflatable cubes onto wooden boxes. Several teams crafted robots with arms or elevators to lift and place the game pieces, but So-Kno Robo thought outside the box. 

“What we figured out really early is that we could be really consistent if we launch it,” said engineering teacher and So-Kno Robo sponsor Kathleen DeVinney.

This spark of ingenuity led the team to win the Creativity Award in their division at Worlds and a nickname around the competition: the Cube Experts. 


While the team performed well at the competition, DeVinney’s favorite moment of the trip had nothing to do with robots.

“They have this block party and seeing the kids have so much fun with kids from a completely different team from across the country was a moment like, it’s more than just robots,” she said. “It’s the connections that these kids get to build with these other people that they’ve never met before that are just like them.”

DeVinney hopes that the success of the team invigorates the students and the South Knoxville community around robotics and STEM.

So-Kno Robo has been involved with nearby schools to mentor their LEGO Leagues, an international robotics group for elementary and middle school students. They also attend the schools’ STEM nights to show off their robots to create interest in robotics. The involvement and exposure at an early age will prepare them for robotics when they enter high school, DeVinney said.

She also believes more students at South-Doyle will be inspired by their peers and find an interest in robotics. 

“We have a lot of diverse kids here, so this gives them the opportunity that they maybe never would’ve had to get them excited for STEM and engineering and wanting to keep going with it,” DeVinney said.

Watch videos of their FIRST Robotics Competition matches and more information on their season here.


Farragut High Mock Trial Competes At State Once Again

Farragut High Mock Trial Competes At State Once Again

Photo: Tennessee Bar Association

Another competitive season has come to a close in the district, as Farragut High School’s Mock Trial team placed tenth at the state competition last month. 

Samantha Garner, a senior and the Mock Trial captain, led the team to several state and district competitions during her time at FHS.

Her passion for Mock Trial began years ago when she was in 5th grade, and her brother participated with his high school team. Ever since she watched him compete, she has been looking forward to her chance to plead her case to the court. 

Mock Trial is organized by the Tennessee Bar Association, which creates a unique case every year with different scenarios, witnesses, and experts. The team hosts auditions in November when the case is released to place its members into their roles.

“We take people who are interested in public speaking, law, acting, theater, forensics, and criminal justice. Just so many different people,” Garner said.

Garner, who is interested in becoming a lawyer in the future, was placed as the District Attorney and met with her team over the next few months to discuss the details of the case.

“It’s so cool because you get so close to your teammates over Mock Trial season. You get to work with your teammates over developing your character,” she said. “We get very passionate, so you’re like, should I cry on the stand? Or should I scream, ‘It was her!’ and point to her dramatically?” 

Senior and FHS Team MVP Rani Patel joined the team last year to support her friend, Garner, in rebuilding their team. 

She said she initially had no interest in law, but once she joined, “I absolutely fell in love with it. That’s actually one of the reasons that I want to go into law. Mock Trial has been an eye-opener for me.”

Farragut’s team is sponsored by teacher Christopher Hampton and is coached by two practicing lawyers, Wesley Eke and Jeff Arms. These lawyers teach the students the legalities of the courtroom and different necessary procedures and help them form their arguments for the competitions. 

As the seniors prepare to pass their team on to the next group of Admirals, they know this season is not their last with Mock Trial, as they hope to one day return as coaches for a new generation of Mock Trial competitors.