Over 50 Pilot Company employees donated their time on Wednesday to improve district schools, with outdoor beautification projects for Pilot Give Back Day.
Four teams went to Amherst Elementary, Pond Gap Elementary, Ritta Elementary, and West Hills Elementary to work on specific projects that were chosen by the school’s administrators.
“We’re really excited to have this community support,” said Kristen Jackson, executive principal at West Hills Elementary. “I think it builds a culture of the school helping the community and the community helping the school.”
Jackson and her team decided to spruce up the front of their building with flower planter boxes and benches to create a welcoming environment for students and the community. Pilot volunteers also built picnic tables for teachers and families to utilize on warm weather days.
The team at Amherst Elementary revitalized the outdoor classroom space. They mulched, painted benches, and brought in a podium to create a safe, beautiful area that teachers will be excited to use.
“After getting connected with Assistant Principal Beth Spence and taking a tour of Amherst we saw the need and potential for the outdoor classroom,” said Brianna Bradford, Pilot Company’s project manager in construction and development. “Children and teachers spend a lot of time in school so having an outdoor classroom is beneficial.”
Ritta Elementary saw many changes around their school as the Pilot team enhanced the look of the land with rock gardens around multiple trees, the front marquee sign, and flag poles. They also prepped a space that will be the future home of a mural to brighten their facility.
Another team worked on garden projects around Pond Gap Elementary for their students and staff to enjoy.
Knox County Schools is grateful for the partnership with Pilot Company, and excited about opportunities to work together in the future.
This week, West Hills Elementary had its first College and Career Week with a “Dress for the Job You Want” Day, guest speakers, and mobile professionals from across the county showing students their “Careers on Wheels!”
Visitors included the Knox County Sheriff’s Department with squad cars and motorcycles, KUB with a bucket truck, local radio station B97.5 with their mobile broadcast vehicle, EMTs with an ambulance, Knox County Animal Control with a kennel truck, the Knox County Fire Department with a firetruck, and two local food trucks.
“It’s really awesome to see that it’s not all stationary. You don’t have to go into an office,” said West Hills Elementary teacher Melissa Brown. “All of these careers on wheels have been great and the community coming to our school has been amazing.”
Each class went from one career to another, listening and asking questions to the professional. Earlier in the day, these students were also exposed to 36 other careers with guest speakers.
Nurses, dog trainers, government employees, and more spoke to each classroom about their chosen career field.
“I think the kids have been able to make connections, and really experience and be exposed to some careers that they maybe hadn’t thought about or wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to,” Brown said. “It really has been fantastic, and I’ve loved the variety that has come through, too.”
The idea to begin familiarizing elementary students with various College and Career opportunities stemmed from the newly implemented 865 Academies, which reimagined the high school experience to better prepare students for post-graduation life by enrolling in college or trade school, enlisting in service to their country, or finding employment in a high-wage, high-skill, and in-demand profession with an entrepreneurial mindset.
Farragut Intermediate’s Addelynn Slinger was named the Artsonia Artist of the Week out of hundreds of thousands of student artwork submissions.
Artsonia is an online gallery for student art and a hub for teacher lesson plans and resources. Out of the 247,000 pieces of artwork uploaded to Artsonia that week, Slinger’s piece was randomly selected for the Artist of the Week competition.
“We have a really great community, so our PTO put it on Facebook, and we sent it out to parents, and we voted,” Farragut Intermediate art teacher Christy Davis said. “We voted in class, so that was cool about having the Chromebooks in class because we had them log in and vote each day.”
Slinger won the competition with over 1,500 votes, which earned her and her classroom a gift card to Blick Art Materials. She said she was “really excited” to win and already purchased art supplies for her growing hobby.
“Ms. Davis really helped me create this. I kept asking her if this looked good, or if I need to fix anything,” Slinger said. “My friends helped me think of ideas to make my artwork better.”
Davis incorporated Artsonia into her classroom over a decade ago so students will be able to look back on their school art projects. The only piece of artwork she has from her childhood is a mug she keeps on her desk, and she wants her students to be able to upload their work onto a permanent database so they can hold onto their childhood memories longer.
Davis and fellow FIS art teacher Ebru Ekici have their students upload every assignment they finish in art class.
“We put everything on there, good or bad,” Davis said. “Put everything up there and be proud of what you did and accomplished.”
Uploading the work online also builds other skills, such as photography and photo editing.
“They need to write, come up with a creative title, artist statement,” Ekici said. “It’s not only making art and putting it there but learning how to communicate and share it with others.”
The longstanding relationship with Artsonia may be growing in the coming years.
“We are going to be a pilot program in the district for Artsonia,” Davis said. “It’s the first time they’re going to have a gallery for our district because we’ve been involved a lot.”
Davis hopes more schools in the district will use Artsonia in their classrooms and believes this pilot program might be just the encouragement they need.
Sarah Wharton started Little Chefs, Big Change out of her own passion for healthy eating and a healthy planet.
“We are teaching kids how to cook healthy food and a variety of veggie-fueled recipes that employ different cooking tools and different methods,” Wharton said. “Kids are building confidence and independence while expanding their taste and preference and familiarity with healthy food.”
Wharton started cooking courses at Pond Gap Elementary in 2017 with the University of Tennessee’s University-Assisted Community Schools program. Little Chefs, Big Change became an incorporated non-profit in November 2022.
Little Chefs, Big Change has accumulated blenders, food processors, electric griddles, and more through grants to teach the students about technique and safety so they can translate these skills when cook at their homes and in their futures.
Students follow recipes with an emphasis on “healthy foods that are so often under-consumed, like whole grains, vegetables, and legumes,” she said.
Wharton hopes to expand to more schools in the next year.
“We focus on communities that historically lack access to fresh and healthy food choices, thereby serving as a counterbalance to existing unjust food systems,” she said.
Wharton and Little Chefs, Big Change do not just want to encourage healthy eating, kitchen safety, and environmentalism for the time the students are in the classroom, but create a lifelong relationship with healthy food and a healthy world.
To follow along with the Little Chefs, Big Change journey, visit their social media on Facebook and Instagram.
When the award-winning Broadway show Hamilton announced last summer it was coming to Knoxville, Vine Middle Magnet School dance teacher Jana Cartee jumped on the chance to win tickets for her students.
The Tennessee Theatre Youth Arts Alliance provides tickets for students to “attend world-class performances in one of the most well-known theaters in the region,” according to their website.
Cartee applied for tickets on the last day applications were open and was awarded 50 tickets for chorus, dance, and technical theater students.
“It was amazing,” she said. “Getting to see some of the kids that it was their first time getting to see it, and the first time for some of them to see any live theatrical performance, it was really great.”
Sixth-grader Hope Harlow attended the Saturday afternoon performance with her classmates. She has been a long-time fan of Hamilton.
“It was really fun because not a lot of people get that chance to go see Hamilton,” Harlow said. “They did really good, and Thomas Jefferson was hilarious.”
Now, the Vine theater program is preparing for a show of its own. Theater lovers can see The Little Mermaid, Jr. in May in their auditorium.
“It’s really cool seeing the kids that have been able to do theater in elementary school learning and watching them grow,” Cartee said. “Some of the kids that are in the musical are also in my technical theater class, so they are getting to make their costumes for the show.”
The show follows the major plot of Disney’s The Little Mermaid with a more condensed runtime. The group began working on stage after weeks of rehearsing the music and dialogue in the chorus room.
“It’s a really good show with what we’ve done so far,” Harlow said. “We do a really good job.”
Knox County leaders have launched a new initiative to increase the percentage of high school graduates who go on to college or trade school.
The 70% x 2024 effort was unveiled at a panel discussion on Monday, which included leaders from Knox County Schools, the University of Tennessee, Pellissippi State Community College, the Knoxville Chamber, TNAchieves and ProjectGRAD.
The initiative strives to increase the percentage of Knox County graduates who attend college to 70 percent by 2024. Knox County has seen a decrease in the college-going rate in recent years, dropping to 59 percent in 2021 from 67 percent in 2015.
That decline has also drawn the attention of elected officials, including Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, who attended Monday’s kickoff.
“Education and workforce development are two of the main pillars in supporting the idea this community creates opportunities for everyone to thrive in an engaged and vibrant community,” Jacobs said.
By attending a high-quality technical, two-year, or four-year college, Knox County students will be better prepared for their futures.
According to research from Georgetown University, an estimated 70 percent of jobs in 2030 will require some form of postsecondary education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, graduates who earn a postsecondary degree could earn approximately a quarter of a million dollars more in their lifetime than if they did not attend college.
While the 70% x 2024 threshold is an ambitious goal, leaders who attended the event said they believe it is attainable and will make a lasting impact on the future of Knox County and its students. Read more about this project here.