Fulton Students Blitz College Applications With Community’s Help

Fulton Students Blitz College Applications With Community’s Help

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.

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.”

Meet The 2023-24 BOE Student Representative, Celeste Urdal

Meet The 2023-24 BOE Student Representative, Celeste Urdal

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.

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.”

Northwest STEM Team Returns To Nationals In Historic Year

Northwest STEM Team Returns To Nationals In Historic Year

Northwest Middle School students load the bus before heading to Lexington, Kentucky, on June 28, 2023, for the 2023 TSA National Conference.

A team of bright minds from Northwest Middle School competed this summer at the Technology Student Association (TSA) National Conference in Lexington for the first time in nearly two decades. 

STEM teacher Tracy Anderson restarted the Northwest TSA chapter in 2017, after a five-year break. The team has seen major triumphs at the local and state level since the program has been back, and is one of several KCS schools that participated.

In addition to accomplishing their goal of attending the national conference this year, one eighth grader earned a special recognition, adding to their historic year.

Anderson Vasquez Francisco was the only middle school student in the country to receive the TSA Gold Achievement Award this year. 

Gold Achievement requires students to immerse themselves in STEM education, community service, and personal development. 

“It was hard. It took a lot of dedication, but I knew that if I got it, I’d be happy,” Vasquez Francisco said.

He was recognized during a ceremony for his outstanding achievement, along with three other KCS high school students. 

Vasquez Francisco, along with many of his classmates, competed in several events, like data science and analytics, website design, robotics, chapter team, and foundations of IT. 

Although the team didn’t place in the top 10 of their events, Anderson was thankful to have the opportunity to take her students to Lexington. 

The team qualified for the national competition last year, but they couldn’t afford the trip to Texas. 

While a college and career grant covered the bus fee for the trip, students sold chocolate bars to raise additional funds. After a year of hard work, they were finally able to attend the conference earlier this summer.

“I’m so proud of them for completing and entering projects, doing their best work on events, and working hard to ‘wow’ judges in interviews,” Anderson said. “They now know what has to be done in those finals and plan to work hard for next year in Orlando.”


Several KCS schools competed at the TSA National Conference this year. Below is a list of results for the schools in attendance. A full list can be found here

Farragut High

  • 7th place in Engineering Design
  • 8th place in Fashion Design and Technology

Hardin Valley Academy

  • 7th place in Chapter Team

Hardin Valley Middle

  • 3rd in Chapter Team
  • 8th in Video Game Design
  • 9th in Data Science and Analytics
  • Middle School Chapter Advisor of the Year – Riley Speas

Karns High

  • 1st in Debating Technological Issues
  • 3rd in Chapter Team
  • Gold Achievement Award – Eli Hicks
  • Gold Achievement Award – Meredith Morgan
  • Technology Honor Society – Eli Hicks

Powell High

  • Gold Achievement Award – Brian Galvan
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.