Nearly every day after the final bell, students gather in the Central High library for an hour of tutoring.
Central’s program, like so many others across Knox County Schools, offers free tutoring in math, science, and English four days a week.
It’s in these sessions that math teacher and program coordinator Andrew Turner sees an impact on students and teachers.
“We talk about resilience and finishing strong a lot at Central,” Turner said. “I really feel like the tutoring program assists the idea that it’s never over. You may have started poorly or gotten behind here or there, but we’re going to help you and support you in catching up.”
Over the years, Turner has tracked student participation in the program and found that it has a deep influence on graduation rates. He said one year 20% of graduates who were on the line of eligibility were able to finish high school because of the extra support they received in tutoring.
The teachers leading the afterschool sessions also learn and benefit in their own way.
In a room full of students all needing assistance in different subjects, teachers oftentimes step in to help with courses they don’t teach. An algebra teacher might help with biology, or a literature teacher could assist with world geography. “It’s fun to watch teachers push themselves professionally and stay fresh on content,” Turner said. He added, “The hearts of these teachers are so big. Getting paid is nice, but they would do it for free. They really do care about the kids.”
As drones are increasingly utilized across various industries – including real estate, agriculture, construction, security, and the military – students are preparing for the future with the help of Central High School’s ROTC program.
One cadet, sophomore Brodie Hackworth, took an instant interest in flying drones, and has even earned his Remote Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The test is comparable to a driver’s test, according to Hackworth, with a knowledge-based section that focuses on airspace rules and regulations, weather, and aerodynamics, and an aeronautical section which requires flying the drone.
As a certified drone pilot, Hackworth has been able to work with local Realtors to take photos and videos of their listings from the sky.
“I could take that and work for Realtors or commercial tower inspectors, inspecting radio towers, or even agricultural fields,” he said.
Hackwork is also a member of the CHS drone team, which competes against other schools in the area. Central hosted a competition last weekend that included an obstacle course and a relay race. Bearden High School competed with two teams against Central’s three teams.
Photo Credit: John Valentine
“We’ve been training for the past few months to get ready for this competition,” he said. Hackworth and his teammate won the competition.
Central’s ROTC instructor Russell Bazemore introduced drones to the program in the spring of last year as a way to draw more students to participate in ROTC.
“We’ve had pretty good interest in it. I think kids are naturally drawn to this kind of technology,” Bazemore said. “We’ve tried to advertise that we will help them get the FAA drone pilot’s license, which is what Brodie got not too long ago. I think it’s helped bring in some kids.”
Bazemore believes learning this technology early on in his career will help Hackworth, whether he pursues his dream of attending the Naval Academy or decides to use his skills in the public sector.
“I think it will look fantastic on his resume because people know how much discipline it takes to pass this test, especially with someone so young,” Bazemore said. “I think Brodie has aspirations to be a naval aviator, and this is a great first step. He’s exposed to aviation terms and weather. He’s one step ahead already.”
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.
Jaxon Alford has always enjoyed working with cars, and the guidance of a teacher at Central High School has given him a head start on a career in the automotive industry.
Alford is a senior at Central, but during his sophomore year he enrolled in Maintenance and Light Repair, the first in a series of classes taught by Tracy Kelly.
Alford said the class helped sharpen his skills in auto repair, and he enjoyed the chance to work with his hands.
“It’s pretty rewarding when you find a problem, take it apart and get it back together and it’s running perfect,” he said.
But Alford’s repair work isn’t just for school credit. Central had an existing partnership with North Knox Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, which offers apprenticeships to talented students. Alford began working at the dealership’s service department a year ago, and has already obtained his Level 1 certification as a technician.
Josh DeHart, of North Knox Chrysler, said Alford is “the model candidate” for the apprenticeship program, and that he will be equipped to work as a full-time technician when he graduates from high school.
He is also on track to achieve additional certifications from Chrysler, which will provide skills that are in high demand throughout the industry.
DeHart said the apprenticeship has been beneficial for the dealership, not only because of the quality of Alford’s work but also because students bring a different perspective to the shop.
“He asks a lot of questions, he’s very inquisitive,” said DeHart. “So it changes the way our managers and supervisors present things because he’s asking questions … It’s definitely caused us to look at how we’re doing things and how do we attract students like him to get into this business?”
The partnership also reflects The 865 Academies initiative, which was launched by Knox County Schools last year and will create career-themed academies in district high schools. The goal is to prepare students for success after high school, whether that means enrolling in college or trade school, enlisting in service to their country, or finding employment in a high-wage career with an entrepreneurial mindset.
Next week, eight schools in the initiative’s first cohort – including Central – will announce the academies to be offered in the coming years.
Alford said it has made a big difference to learn from a teacher who had previous experience in the automotive industry, and who enjoys sharing that knowledge – “I don’t think I could ask for a better instructor.”
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