On a recent Wednesday morning, students from Karns High School gathered in the school’s commercial kitchen as teacher Jacob Neblett gave a countdown: “Your time starts NOW!”
With that cue, a flurry of activity began as two groups of students opened packets of military-style MREs and rushed through the kitchen to gather additional ingredients.
The occasion was an Iron Chef-style competition at Karns, which was sponsored by the Tennessee Army National Guard and that offered hands-on training for students in the Culinary and A/V Production programs.
Students were challenged to transform the MREs – or “meals-ready-to-eat” – into a culinary creation by using the secret ingredients in the packets along with fresh ingredients from the kitchen. As they worked, Neblett offered advice and guidance, at one point reminding them to “Always be tasting, always be plating!”
At the same time, students from teacher Chris Wade’s A/V Production class gathered video, photos and interviews, which will be used in digital media content promoting the school.
The competition also served as a recruiting tool for 9th-grade students from the KHS Freshman Seminar, who watched from one end of the kitchen and got a pitch from Neblett that emphasized the hands-on, high-energy vibe in his classes.
The event parallels the goals of the district’s “865 Academies” initiative, which aims to provide strong connections between classroom knowledge and workplace success. Launched with support from Knox Education Foundation, the initiative’s ultimate goal is to make students “865 Ready” for college enrollment, enlistment in service to their country, or employment in a high-wage, high-demand field.
Julie Langley, the academy coach at Karns, said the culinary program aims to give students a vision for entrepreneurial career options, including work as chefs, restaurateurs or caterers.
“We want students to be able to imagine themselves in a high-paying, high-demand field,” said Langley. “We’re not trying to turn out food-service workers, we’re trying to emphasize the ‘art’ in Culinary Arts, or the entrepreneurship of Culinary Arts.”
As participants energetically stirred sauces, shot video and chopped vegetables, the appeal of a hands-on class was apparent. And when the winning dish was announced — taquitos with homemade tortillas, and fried churros with chili chocolate sauce — the room erupted in cheers.
Haley Matthews, a 9th-grader who observed the competition during her Freshman Seminar, said she enjoyed watching students work together as a team, adding that she thinks culinary arts “would be a cool class in high school.”
The event had the frenzied feel of a cooking competition on the Food Network, and Wade said his long-term goal is for A/V Production students to produce a full-length show similar to “Iron Chef” or “Chopped”.
In the meantime, the content they produce is providing valuable experience. The video production industry has a robust presence in East Tennessee, and Wade said there is strong demand for employees including production assistants, camera operators and lighting directors.
And even before they graduate, the participation in dynamic, work-based learning helps to promote student engagement.
“Getting to see the advanced students do all that cool stuff, that’s just a great way to get younger students excited about coming to school,” Wade added.
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.”
Journalism students at Karns High School are using a new platform to help their classmates stay informed.
This fall, ELA teacher Rachel Monday’s class launched “Dispatches From The Dam”, an interview-style podcast that highlights students, school leaders and local celebrities with a Karns connection.
Senior Caleb Jarreau is the show host, and got his start by working as a sportswriter for the school newspaper. Jarreau said that when he first was approached about the new role, he was concerned about the challenges that were involved.
“Now I realize that it’s not easy, but it’s definitely not impossible,” he said. “And I didn’t realize how much fun I would have doing it.”
Jarreau’s interview subjects have included fellow students, KHS principal Brad Corum and WBIR anchors Leslie Ackerson and Heather Waliga, who are Karns alumni.
Jarreau said that before launching the project, he mostly listened to sports podcasts, but more recently his listening consumption has broadened. Since creating his own show, he also hears professional podcasts with a greater attention to detail.
“It’s kind of like I’m thinking of it from an analytical standpoint,” he said. “Yeah, they’re talking about a current event but I also understand what’s going on in the production, or if they played a newsclip I know how they did that. It’s kind of cool to think about now, understanding it from basically behind the scenes.”
The project was made possible by a $500 grant from the Junior League. Monday, who also facilitates the school newspaper, said she enjoys listening to podcasts while commuting or working around the house, and was excited to explore a new media trend. “This gives them something that, really, if they had $500, they could do a podcast on their own,” she said of her students. “You don’t have to necessarily be hired at the News Sentinel to be covering news in your backyard.”
“Dispatches From The Dam” – whose name refers to the school mascot, the Beavers – is available on Apple and Spotify, and can also be found on the website of The Karns Chronicle. The most recent episode included interviews with Monday and other KHS Teachers of the Year.
While Jarreau will be graduating in the spring, other students are ready to take the reins next year, including junior Emily Moore and sophomore Violet Whitson.
Moore writes the entertainment column for The Chronicle, but said she’s excited to try a different medium.
“A podcast is so different, it’s just having a conversation that you then put out to the world, and it gives the creator a place to be creative and it gives the person they’re interviewing a pulpit to give their two cents from,” she said. “And I think especially with the school that we have, there’s a lot of people that deserve a pulpit.”
Recent Stories: Knox County Schools Hall Pass Blog