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.”
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.”
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.
For students at Gresham Middle School, a teacher’s effort to highlight inspiring Black History Month stories has also become a chance to sharpen their digital media skills.
In January, Gresham ELA teacher Jade Jernigan was looking for ways to infuse some “joy and passion” into a unit of readings on liberty and equality.
After brainstorming with fellow teacher Alice McManus, Jernigan began interviewing professionals from a variety of fields about overcoming adversity.
The project took off, and students began pitching in to help with nearly every aspect of the production: editing videos, writing questions, creating promotional thumbnails and even conducting interviews.
“This is the first time I think in my career where I have actively reached out to students for help instead of my colleagues,” she said. “And my kiddos have just risen to the occasion.”
Gresham student Carlos Mata has been a key contributor, and said the best part is seeing the finished product: “It may take a while to get something, but as soon as you get to it, it’s like a reward.”
Jernigan said the project gives students something to look forward to at the end of class, and has served as a bridge between classroom texts and real-life stories. As an example, she said a lesson about the impact of literacy on the life of Frederick Douglass echoed the lessons recounted by MMA fighter Rampage Jackson, who talked about the challenges he faced by not understanding the details of his legal contracts.
Asia Smith got the chance to interview syndicated radio host Barbie T, but said that when she sees famous people, “I don’t exactly go into fangirl phase.” “I keep it cool, basically,” she added with a laugh.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, Jernigan and her students will be posting motivational success stories throughout March, and are planning to interview author Nikki Grimes.
And while celebrities may be intriguing, the students agreed that one of the most impactful interviews was with 6th-grade social studies teacher Vincent Dave, who talked about his efforts to promote Black history, and the adversity he overcame to become a teacher.
“I think it’s just uplifting, hearing how they’ve been able to go through many things and just come out successful,” said 8th-grader Maggie Wilson.
Riley Duval is planning to study nursing at Middle Tennessee State University after graduating from high school this spring. But when she arrives on campus in Murfreesboro, the Carter High School senior will already have credits in hand.
Duval is one of six Carter High students who recently passed a new dual credit course called “Nutrition Across the Lifespan.” The course was taught by Carter teacher Heather Wade, and focuses on topics including food safety, macro and micro nutrients, digestion, healthy cooking, and the role of nutrition in health.
In addition, it is closely aligned with MTSU’s Principles of Nutrition class. By passing a comprehensive dual credit exam, Duval and her classmates earned three hours of college credit.
Duval is hoping to become a pediatric ICU nurse, and said she enjoys the thought of helping families when their children are sick. And the ability to get a jump start on college before graduating from Carter? “It feels good,” she said.
Across the district, KCS high schools offer a variety of dual credit courses, as well as dual enrollment courses that are taught by college faculty on college campuses. These courses and other Early Postsecondary Opportunities, or EPSOs, provide an important option for students to gain exposure to college-level work and to earn credits at a significantly reduced price while in high school.
Wade, who is finishing her 13th year as a teacher at Carter, said in this case, MTSU provided detailed study materials to prepare for the dual credit exam, and that even if students don’t attend MTSU their credits may be transferable to another institution.
Wade said she is extremely proud of her students for leading the way on a new course, and pointed out that the dual credit opportunity is available for students as early as their sophomore year.
“That’s a really cool opportunity that might be life-changing for some of these kids,” she added. “Especially some kids who may be first-generation college students.”