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.”

A-E Educator Receives National Teaching Award

A-E Educator Receives National Teaching Award

Melody Hawkins, an assistant administrator at Austin-East Magnet High, was honored on Tuesday as the National University Teacher of the Year. (Photo credit / Justin Johnson)

A Knox County educator was in the spotlight after earning a national award, a $50,000 prize and an appearance on a daytime talk show!

On Tuesday, Melody Hawkins, an assistant administrator at Austin-East Magnet High, was recognized as National University’s Teacher of the Year. Hawkins previously served as a teacher at Vine Middle Magnet School, before joining A-E as an administrator last fall.

The announcement was made on “The Drew Barrymore Show”, and Hawkins was able to celebrate with her students after watching the episode in a classroom at A-E.

In the televised interview, Hawkins talked about her passion for teaching, the lasting impact of a former student, and the influence of educators in her own life – including her mother, who was also a teacher.

During the celebration at Austin-East, Hawkins showed students the replica $50,000 check that she received, and highlighted a scholarship to pursue a doctoral degree which is part of the award.

Lazaire Nance, a 9th-grader at A-E who was previously one of Hawkins’ science students at Vine Middle, said she wants to pursue a career as a doctor and a biochemist, adding that Hawkins has played a big role in her life: “She really inspired me to be who I want to be and let me know I could do it.”

Students also talked about Hawkins’ encouragement to pursue academic achievements in fields like science, where women of color are often underrepresented.

Hawkins said Tuesday that she was happy to see students have been listening to that message: “I encourage them to be themselves unapologetically, without question, without shame,” she said. “Be who you are, show up as who you are and everything else will take care of itself.”

Fulton Courses Give Insight Into Criminal Justice Careers

Fulton Courses Give Insight Into Criminal Justice Careers

Caleb Andrist, who helped launch a Criminal Justice curriculum at Fulton High School,
gives students instruction on how to make an arrest.

As the City of Knoxville builds a $57 million Public Safety Complex in North Knoxville, the facility is expected to provide hands-on learning opportunities for students in a new criminal justice program at Fulton High School.

The program is led by teacher Caleb Andrist, a former law enforcement officer with agencies including the Brentwood Police Department. Three courses are currently offered:

  • Level 1, an introductory course that focuses on policing, the courts and corrections;
  • Level 2, a hands-on course that covers topics including handcuffing, traffic stops and vehicle searches; and
  • Level 3, a forensic science course.

Eventually, students who complete all three courses will be able to enroll in a work-based learning course in partnership with the Knoxville Police Department, which will move its headquarters to the new Public Safety Complex when construction is finished.

  • “When you’re talking about any high school anywhere in America, getting kids to a work-based learning opportunity in criminal justice is going to be difficult,” said Jonathan Egert, principal of the Skilled Professions Small Learning Community at Fulton. “For us, it’s a crossing of the street when that KPD office is open.”

On a recent afternoon, Andrist walked students through the basics of using handcuffs in an arrest situation, then gave pointers as they took turns practicing.

And while issues related to policing can be challenging, Andrist said in an interview that he doesn’t shy away from “the hard stuff”, and that approach builds trust within the classroom.

  • “If there’s a bad situation in police work we will absolutely talk about that, just as much as we’ll talk about the good stuff. And the kids see that and they know that, and that’s where that trust comes from.”

The approach appears to be paying dividends. Egert said there is a buzz around the program among students, who are seeing a different side of policing than they get on social media.

Alayna Roberson, a Fulton senior who is hoping to study criminology, said Andrist has a way of making the material interesting, and that she has enjoyed the class a lot.

“It made me want to know why people do what they do.”

Powell High Earns Renaissance Recognition

Powell High Earns Renaissance Recognition

The Renaissance Program, at Powell High School, supports activities such as Winter Wishes, which provides a holiday gift to every student. In 2019, principal Chad Smith, facilitator Julie Liford, and teacher Beth Mooney took a moment to celebrate a successful Winter Wishes celebration.

An effort to build positivity has resulted in national recognition for a Knox County high school.

Powell High School was recently designated a Platinum-level School of Distinction by the Jostens Renaissance program, which celebrates schools that are making a positive impact on their climate and culture.

Beth Mooney, a science teacher and Renaissance faculty sponsor, said PHS has participated in the Renaissance program for more than two decades, but has renewed its focus on the initiative recently.

Renaissance emphasizes six R-themed priorities: respect, recognize, reward, reinforce, relationships and results. To that end, Mooney said Powell sponsors a variety of activities, including pep rallies, positive messages and events such as Winter Wishes, in which every Powell student receives a holiday gift before Winter Break.

To earn the Platinum distinction, Powell met 14 benchmarks, in areas including social media messaging; recognition of students and faculty; and a commitment to graduation.

Mooney said PHS teachers and staff are focused on students, adding that “We want to make this an inclusive place and promote a family feel where everyone is welcome.”

Top Wrench Contest  Fosters Auto Skills

Top Wrench Contest Fosters Auto Skills

Bryson Harvey, a senior at Gibbs High School, works on a vehicle during a CTE class on Oct. 15, 2019.

Hundreds of students from across East Tennessee will gather in Powell for a regional tournament this month, but they won’t be scoring goals or making tackles.

Instead, students from KCS and other school districts will be participating in the 2019 Top Wrench competition, which tests the skills of CTE students in a variety of challenges related to the auto repair industry.

Founded in 1991, Top Wrench is designed to foster teamwork and technical skills for students who are interested in pursuing an auto-related career after high school. Program director Maria Richardson said that while interest in CTE-related fields has grown in recent years, the auto repair industry needs more workers.

The competition, she said, not only offers networking opportunities, but provides a community for students who may not be interested in activities like band or sports.

“I think they enjoy being around other students who share their interests and their passion, and they get to interact with businesses … so they can possibly make connections with future employment opportunities,” she said.

Students compete in six categories:

  • Engine Start, in which competitors work to fix a “bugged” engine;
  • Computer Control, using scanners to diagnose an engine problem;
  • Pit Crew Challenge, a timed, NASCAR-style wheel-changing competition;
  • Welding Fabrication, a judged contest featuring pre-made pieces that demonstrate welding skills;
  • Custom Paint, a judged contest featuring pre-made pieces that demonstrate paint skills; and
  • Valve Cover Race, a soapbox-derby style race using modified engine valve covers.

James Miller, a senior at Gibbs High School, participated in last year’s Pit Crew competition, as part of a team that earned a third-place trophy. He’s part of a Maintenance and Light Repair course at Gibbs that’s taught by Rick Honeycutt, and said it’s one of his favorite classes because it relates to his interests.

And when it comes to career role models, he doesn’t have to look far. Honeycutt worked for 37 years in auto dealerships, starting as a Mercedes technician and working his way up to supervisor at a Toyota dealership before making the shift to teaching.

Honeycutt said that for some students the class will provide a foundation for a good career. But even for students who don’t work in the auto field, learning the basics of maintenance “could save them a lot of money in their lives, just doing the small things.”

That’s part of the appeal for McKenna West, a Gibbs senior who enjoys using computer systems to diagnose engine problems. While she doesn’t expect to work on cars as a career, she knows the skills will come in handy later.

“I enjoy the class because it allows me to learn how to do stuff myself so when I get out of high school and something on my car breaks, I can just buy the parts and fix it myself instead of spending an arm and a leg on the parts and labor,” she said.

This year’s Top Wrench competition will take place on Oct. 31 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Crown College.


West Football Captain  Stresses Team Unity

West Football Captain Stresses Team Unity

Tyrell Ragland comes from a family of basketball players, but the West High School senior chose football at an early age.

That’s good news for West. The team is off to a 7-0 start this season, and as they prepare for a highly-anticipated showdown with undefeated Powell High School on Friday, Ragland has become one of its most important leaders.

“We’ve got four freshmen starting on the varsity,” Coach Lamar Brown said during a recent practice. “And Tyrell and the other seniors … have really taken a young football team underneath their wing and really guided and directed them and showed them what this football program is about.”

Ragland plays left tackle at West, and his football career may continue beyond high school. He’s received offers from schools including Culver-Stockton College and Mississippi Valley State University, the alma mater of former NFL wide receiver Jerry Rice.

Asked about his leadership philosophy, the offensive co-captain emphasized the importance of being responsible for your own actions, or your own “20 square feet” of space. Once you understand yourself, he said, then you can figure out how to lead others.

“Because everybody doesn’t handle situations the same way,” he added. “So you have to know your players, you have to know your brothers, you have to know your family … to figure out what would help them and make them better.”

After finishing 4-7 last year, West opened this season with a dramatic overtime win against Bearden, and hasn’t looked back since. The team is averaging more than 28 points in the first half of its games and is currently ranked 4th in the Knoxville area by PrepXtra.

Ragland said the turnaround has grown out of the team’s commitment to playing together as a family, and that sense of unity is part of what drew him to the sport. While his father and his siblings always loved basketball, Ragland said he enjoys the physicality of football and the sense of brotherhood.

But while his success on the field gets most of the attention, it’s not the only place where Ragland stands out. He’s a leader in West’s chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and his goal is to eventually become a teacher and coach.

Ragland cited the example of assistant coach Nate Martin, who is also a social studies teacher at West. “He will push you until you get it. He will encourage you to finish … He’ll tell you all these stories, and it just inspires you to do good and do better,” he said. “That’s what I want to do for kids in high school, kids in middle school … is help them find a way in life that they can succeed.”

The senior is already having an impact in the classroom. Amanda Sharp, a social studies teacher, had Ragland in a class last year, and said she has looked to him this year to help manage one of her larger classes, adding that “kids will … follow his lead.”

Sharp emphatically agreed that Ragland would be a good teacher, not only because of his aptitude for math but also because of his ability to relate to students.

“I’m so excited for him to become a teacher and see the relationships that he can form with kids,” she said. “Because I know that he’s going to be able to change some lives.”

In fact, that ability to relate to his teammates is already paying dividends. Ragland acknowledged that he’s not someone who leads with tough talk or a raised voice, but said that when a teammate is struggling he tries to help them figure things out.

After one recent game, he said, a teammate was frustrated by their own performance. “I told him … we all have bad games. Even the best players in the world have bad games, but they’re going to find a way to fix it and that’s what you’ve got to do.”

This story is part of a series highlighting student leaders within KCS. The first article in the series profiled Board of Education Student Representative Noah Kelley.

Tyrell Ragland, center, participates in offensive line drills during a practice at West High School on Oct. 15, 2019.
Tyrell Ragland, center, participates in offensive line drills during a practice at West High School on Oct. 15, 2019.