Planning to pursue a degree in political science following graduation, Bearden senior Celeste Urdal is getting a taste of government proceedings as the new Board of Education Student Representative.
The Knox County BOE Student Rep serves as a voice for the students and gives insight to board members. Urdal saw this as the perfect chance to represent her classmates.
“Students work really hard to accomplish our goals, and I felt like I needed to jump on the opportunity to be the student rep,” she said. “The students work hard, so I feel like the school system needs to work for them at the same time.”
Only a few weeks into the job, Urdal has learned about how change is made “up top” and said she has seen how dedicated KCS is to students.
“As a student, when you’re just one of thousands of others, it’s hard to know that people are looking out for you and have your best interests at heart,” she said. “When I became the student rep, I saw that these members really care about the students and care about increasing their chances of success.”
Urdal stresses that she is working for all students and encourages them to come to her with any issue or concern.
“I just want to be able to fully advocate for what the students need,” she said. “I am a very approachable person, and I will always be willing to talk to you.”
Just as with most seniors, Urdal is busy juggling classes, sports, and extracurriculars. She represents her classmates on the school level through SGA and Senior Committee, and she just began her final season of volleyball, a sport she’s played since third grade.
She looks forward to continuing on to college and hopes to one day attend law school to further be a voice for others.
“Growing up being around involved people and helping people has just kind of come naturally,” she said.
The first cohort of The 865 Academies revealed their new career-themed Academies at a celebration hosted by Central High School on Thursday.
The 865 Academies initiative launched in the fall of 2022, and is designed to transform the high school experience in Knox County. The goal is for every KCS graduate to be prepared for enrolling in postsecondary studies; enlisting in service to their country; or finding employment in a high-wage, high-skill, and in-demand profession, with an entrepreneurial mindset.
By establishing career-themed academies, the initiative will create small learning communities within larger schools, allowing students to participate in career exploration activities and take a deep dive into areas of interest while also building strong connections with teachers and other students.
“We’ve got to prepare students, and school systems are uniquely positioned to do that,” said Superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk. “Our job is to have students prepared for when they graduate.”
The celebration was attended by community leaders and industry partners, including Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, who said 865Ready graduates will ultimately benefit Knox County and East Tennessee.
“This is just wonderful to see a really intentional, strategic effort to in some ways customize the student experience,” Jacobs said. “They get the tools and the skills that they need to excel in areas that they’re either naturally drawn to or things that they love.”
Gordon Heins, the president and chairman of the A.G. Heins Company, said industry partnerships positively impact both organizations and students. By working together, KCS students are provided valuable opportunities for work-based learning and career exploration.
“As an employer, we want students to come to us looking for good-paying jobs, and that they’re prepared, and they have the tools,” he said.
Central High School is in the first cohort of The 865 Academies, and Principal Dr. Andrew Brown said student performance in Algebra I has improved, while discipline referrals are down.”
Brown credited Freshman Seminar, a new class that focuses on helping 9th-graders identify interests, aptitudes and professional skills, adding that “we are already beginning to see great results out of that work.
CHS senior Justus Hayes was involved in the early stages of launching the Academies initiative, and is also an entrepreneur. He started his own business, Blended Clothing, and during the ceremony presented shirts to several local leaders.
“Entrepreneurship is a very important thing to me. I love creating, and bringing new apparel and things to our generation,” Hayes said. “It has been my honor to help build and show my support for something that will impact our current and future generations.”
Student Ambassadors from each school presented their new Academies alongside their principals. Below are the Academies for the first cohort.
Carter High School and South-Doyle High School will be joining The 865 Academies as the second cohort in the fall.
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.
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.”
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.”