The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission has honored Austin-East junior Tylan Baker with the 2023 Knoxville Youth Award.
The group recognizes individuals annually, and this is the first year the Youth Award has been presented to a member of the Knoxville community.
“I think it’s an honor,” assistant principal Rukiya Foster said. “It’s the first youth to ever get the award, so that’s very special. He has set the precedent and the path for youth to come.”
The MLK Commission chose to honor Baker and others based on “their commitment to continuing the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” according to their website.
“I think it’s one of the many awards he’ll be getting,” Jeff Black, another Austin-East assistant principal, said of Baker. “I think he’s driven, and he’s a great leader.”
Baker works with a number of local organizations to volunteer around his community.
“I honestly believe that I earned the award just for the service I’ve done in the community,” he said. “It was really a surprise. I didn’t know I was getting it. I just know it’s big.”
The 17-year-old is a member of the Mayor’s Youth Council, Youth Leadership Knoxville, the Urban League’s National Achievers Honor Society, National Honor Society, 100 Black Men, Young Life, Project GRAD, and the Austin-East Roadrunners football team. All of these groups allow Baker to give back in different ways.
“It’s just wanting to see the best for everybody, wanting a better community,” Baker said. “As we look to the future, the people that’s coming behind me might want to do the same thing I’m doing. I want to set a good example for them.”
AE’s head football coach, Antonio Mays, also gives credit to Baker’s parents for his success. “I know the supportive structure that they have put in place for him,” Mays said.
The Austin-East administration thinks highly of the junior, describing him with words like mentor, intelligent, powerful, empathetic, responsible, focused, gentle giant, conscientious, well-rounded, Roadrunner.
“I think it’s a manifestation of the legacy that those have laid before him, and he just picked up the torch to continue the tradition of excellence and high achievement,” said Kamau Kenyatta, an assistant principal. Visit the MLK Commission website to see the other award recipients.
Bearden High School senior Vladimir Serov is the first student in Knox County Schools to receive four certifications from CompTIA, one of the IT industry’s top trade associations.
Bearden math and cybersecurity teacher Dr. Tim Cathcart affectionately calls these certifications the “Core Four,” which includes ITF+, A+, Network+, and Security+. The exams cover a range of IT, hardware, and software basics for those getting started in the field.
Serov took the first exam in the spring semester of 2022.
“I crammed about 40 hours’ worth of video into three or four days. The test was the day after that,” he said. “I passed with a significant margin, which was surprising.”
Serov went on to pass the remaining exams during the year. He completed a fifth test, Linux+, in December.
CTE specialist Chris Tucker, who helped implement the partnership with CompTIA, is proud that Serov’s hard work has paid off.
“I see a very bright future for Vlad, but if there are other students that see this, I’m hopeful that they are encouraged that it is doable,” Tucker said.
Serov echoed Tucker’s hopes, saying, “I had no experience, no skill, which means that anyone can do the same thing I did.”
Serov and other classmates who are also working toward certifications recommended signing up for a computer science class or joining a cyber club or a CyberPatriot team for students who may be interested in the field but are unsure of where to start.
The CTE department is working to add computer science classes to more high schools in the district in coming years to accommodate the growing interest in the field.
“Knox County and Chris Tucker are really doing a good job of getting the word out to individual schools,” Stephen Schneiter, CompTIA’s Instructor Network Program Manager, said. “Bearden is really taking the lead on it.”
Earning certifications in high school, no matter the industry, helps students find employment in a high-wage and in-demand profession post-graduation.
“These certifications give you a leg up on life, and they help you be able to maximize your potential as a contributing member of society,” Cathcart said. “They are hopefully getting a better start in life.”
Bearden’s success in this field could be attributed to Cathcart’s passion for his students and Tucker’s work to establish partnerships with organizations in the industry.
Andy Benson, a senior who has passed three exams and is working toward his fourth certification in the “Core Four,” is thankful for his teacher.
“I think what Dr. Cathcart is doing is amazing,” Benson said. “I didn’t even think of computer science as something I wanted to go into until last year. He’s such a great teacher that I think I might be doing this as a job in the future.”
Cathcart came to Bearden after 32 years in the Air Force. Following his retirement from the military, he began looking for an opportunity to continue to serve in his community.
This opportunity was found in the classroom.
Local industry partners have also volunteered their time in the classroom to “light a fire in those individuals,” Tucker said.
These partnerships have also provided grants and funding, vouchers for students’ exams, and testing spaces.
Two students from Beaumont Magnet Academy are sharing the stage this month, playing the role of Tiny Tim in The Christmas Carol at the Clarence Brown Theater.
These young actors, second grader Penny Peterson and third grader Golden Littlejohn, are no strangers to performing in front of crowds.
“I’ve done a pre-show in my dad’s play, The Little Prince,” Peterson said. “Before the show started, I played in the sand with the character toys.”
Her mother, Amelia, directed this year’s musical at the Clarence Brown Theater, and her father, Joshua, is the Founding Artistic Director for the River & Rail Theatre Company.
Littlejohn has performed in school plays at Beaumont. Most recently, the school presented a show called The Greatest Snowman, a spin-off to the 2017 musical film The Greatest Showman. The year before, he was in the ensemble for The Great Big Holiday Bake Off.
“While I was doing it I was a little nervous,” Littlejohn said of his audition, set up by Beaumont theater teacher Amanda Taylor. “When I’m nervous and singing or doing a monologue, I just go faster.”
Both students were offered the role and began rehearsing in October. The pair take turns starring in the 28 performances that run from November 23 through December 18.
“We have to stay up late for some of them. We have to miss school for some of them,” Peterson said. “My favorite scene I do is the Cratchit scene because that’s Tiny Tim, and that’s the main character I play.”
Outside of performing, the students are active in their school. Littlejohn participated in the school spelling bee and is a Beaumont Ambassador.
“The first person I escorted around the school was the Superintendent,” he said with a proud smile.
Both are thankful for the unique opportunities they have on and off the stage.
“It’s been a really good experience of learning, but also a fun theater experience that not a lot of kids get to do,” Littlejohn said.
The Halls Middle School Beta Club placed in seven events at the Tennessee Junior Beta Club Convention last month and will compete in the National Convention next summer.
Beta Club is a service-oriented organization for middle and high school students that focuses on academics, leadership, and character. There are chapters all over the United States, and schools compete once a year at the state level with the hopes of continuing to the national competition.
The students in the HMS chapter have an impressive resume that has led them to Nationals for the past several years. So far this year, the club has volunteered at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Nashville, purchased Christmas gifts for a family in need, made a donation to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and promoted breast cancer awareness, decorated a tree for the Fantasy of Trees, and organized a 9/11 memorial assembly — just to name a few.
These volunteer opportunities are what led the club to earn first place in the Service Learning Showcase.
“They work hard, and they give it their all,” Beta Club sponsor Dina Lane said.
In addition to placing in the Showcase, HMS also placed:
1st in Color Photography (Lillian Holt),
1st in Quilling (Lillian Holt),
2nd in Living Literature (Katie Evans and Craye Newman),
2nd in Portfolio (Katie Evans),
2nd in Technology (Ben Tyson and Ben Keaton), and
5th in 7th Grade Mathematics (Ben Tyson).
The group will compete in Louisville, Kentucky, next summer.
While succeeding at this level is exciting for these middle school students, the members enjoy the other aspects even more.
“I like helping people, so that’s probably my biggest thing for Beta,” said Landon Chittum, who gave a speech at Junior Convention on “unsung heroes.”
Eight-grader Ella Miller said her favorite part of Beta Club is “probably when we do things for Children’s Hospital. It’s really nice when we’re able to do that for them.”
The next step for the eighth-grade students is to start a chapter at Halls High School.
“Beta Club can actually allow you to get scholarship money,” Lane said. “I know they would love to have one at the high school. I’ve offered to help.”
Other KCS students who placed at the state convention are:
1st in 7th Grade Spanish (Miguel Escobar, Carter Middle)
1st in Jewelry (Emmalee Long, Carter Middle)
2nd in Onsite Art Painting (Kameryn Lee, Carter Middle)
Three KCS students’ artwork will be on display at the Tennessee State Museum next year, as part of a statewide competition.
Elementary art teachers from across the state could submit their students’ work for the State of Tennessee Art Review and Showcase (STARS) competition, but only 19 pieces, the top three per grade level and one best of show, were selected. The showcase will be open to the public from January to May.
The KCS honorees are:
1st grader Joyce Hu (3rd place, Farragut Primary, art teacher Ruth Granroth),
3rd grader Leah Powers (3rd place, Powell Elementary, art teacher Jenny Snead), and
4th grader Avery Quilty (3rd place, Pleasant Ridge Elementary, art teacher Genevieve Byrd).
Avery Quilty’s piece, which she named “Ice Cream Spidey,” was nominated by Byrd, who taught the fourth grade class about Henri Matisse, an artist famous for his collages.
“I wanted them to be able to look at his art and see how you can combine different types of shapes,” Byrd said. “I gave them a really, really broad theme. I said, ‘We’re going to combine a creature or animal with food.’”
Quilty sketched four different designs and decided to combine a strawberry ice cream cone with a six-legged spider, which she constructed out of paper and glue.
“This is the first time something really big has happened in my life,” Quilty said.
She plans to travel to Nashville in January for the ribbon presentation and to view her art in a museum for the first time.
The fourth grader hopes to continue growing her artistic skills and one day become an animator.
Bearden High School soccer player Brinley Murphy received a prestigious honor this month when she was named one of two Heisman High School Scholarship winners for the state of Tennessee.
The $1,000 scholarship is sponsored by the Heisman Trophy, which also recognizes the most outstanding college football player in the country. The high school award is given to the most remarkable student-athletes in the country who make a difference on and off the field.
Murphy was nominated by Bearden college counselor Susan Bolinger, who said, “she’s got some really great accolades, but more importantly, she’s just a great young woman.”
The list of her accolades is extensive, as she has been named the 2021-22 Tennessee Gatorade Girls Soccer Player of the Year. In addition, she is three times All-State, All-Region, and All-District, a two-time Region MVP, a State MVP, MVP All-American, and she has led her team to two state championship wins.
“She always goes above and beyond,” Bolinger said. “She makes Bearden a better place to be.”
When Bolinger told the star athlete she had been nominated, Murphy said, “it’s just a huge honor.”
Her family has been an integral part of her success. Both of her parents were also successful student athletes.
“They’ve always instilled in me to work hard no matter what,” Murphy said.
She also receives a phone call from her grandfather before every game to wish her luck. Once she committed to the University of South Carolina, she started receiving an additional call to make sure she was watching the match.
This constant encouragement and support from family, friends, and coaches is the reason she stays motivated in academics and athletics, she said.
This drive also led her to South Carolina.
“They just won an SEC championship for soccer, and they have the number one honors college in the country,” Murphy said. “I see myself succeeding the most there.”
In addition to joining the soccer team, Murphy plans to take pre-med courses.
“I’ve always wanted to be some kind of doctor,” she said. “I’ve always liked helping people.”