Local middle schools nab grant

Fort Loudoun Middle School Principal Patrick Bethel, right, helps seventh-graders Brody Russell, left, and Alex Amburn measure how much land will be needed for a small farm outside.

Three Loudon County schools have big things planned for money recently awarded by the state.

Fort Loudoun Middle, North Middle and Philadelphia Elementary schools are the beneficiaries of $10,000 grants that will help fund efforts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as career and technical education.

The Tennessee Department of Education and Gov. Bill Lee late last month awarded startup grants to fund middle school CTE, STEM and the expansion of equitable access and participation in early postsecondary opportunities. Funds became available Jan. 1.

“We are excited that our middle schools will have the opportunity to expand the CTE/STEM offerings in their schools,” Michael Garren, Loudon County director of schools, said in an email correspondence. “North Middle and Fort Loudoun Middle will be adding to their farm/agriculture programs. Philadelphia will add to their robotics and STEM initiatives. All three schools worked with CTE and high schools to make sure these efforts are aligned to the course students will take in grades 9-12.

“Additionally, the schools are incorporating community partnerships to make these programs a success,” he added. “It’s a win for all our students when the district is able to increase learning opportunities outside the core curriculum.”

Loudon County Schools was one of 29 districts to receive the STEM grant and one of 17 to get the CTE money.

North keeps farming

NMS has developed since summer a STEM farm for students to get hands-on learning. A barn will be added with the funding NMS Principal Jodi Lowery finds “extremely helpful.”

“We have been able to get a lot of donations throughout the community for various things, including animal feed,” she said. “Even the animals theirselves have been donated, fencing has been donated, but the one big piece we were lacking was the funding for the barn and this is going to be instrumental to helping kind of form the center of all of our farm to allow us to store materials there that are easier to access and to be right there with the animals.”

A structure has been chosen but will not be ordered until the school receives the money. Lowery hopes that will happen within a couple months.

“We’re hoping to be able to put our feed in the barn so that the students can take part in measuring that out every day,” Lowery said. “Right now it’s stored in the building and our teachers take a big part of preparing that to hand to the students to take out there, but hopefully once it’s out there the students will be able to maintain logs and keep data on the animals and how they’re progressing the feed and keep accurate health charting on them as well.”

Students have taken ownership of the farm.

“Every day they harvest the eggs from the chickens, they feed the chickens, they water the chickens,” Lowery said. “It’s mainly our STEM program students that are in there, like whoever’s in the STEM class at the time, but it’ll sometimes rotate through other special-area classes to allow different students time out there. They also have work days when they’re putting up fencing and other materials. They work with safe projects ... such as measuring the fence line or drawing out the fence line with spray paint or chalk to allow them to be able to take part in that building process, too.”

Only chickens are on site currently, but Lowery believes the school could eventually have pigs and goats.

Fort Loudoun joins

FLMS hopes to prepare students for high school with the construction of a miniature farm with goats.

“We’ll start that process, seeing some things that the high school would like us start initiating, so when students get to the high school and start with their ag- and business-type classes that our kids are better prepared. Kind of like a prerequisite course,” Patrick Bethel, FLMS principal, said.

STEM students have just started deciding how big the area will be. Jeana Gray, FLMS teacher, hopes to have the farm’s layout completed by the end of the month.

“They’re budgeting in and looking in how we’re going to spend our money,” Gray said. “We’ll order all of the materials that’s needed to build the habitat for the goats and the barn, and so the students are doing that. By February we hope to start building and then by March have the goats purchased and have them up on the hill. ... We’re looking at prefab right now but we’ll assemble it, and a milking stand for the goats to go up on and we’ll milk them from there.”

Plans are to partner with the school’s after-school LAUNCH program, University of Tennessee Extension, the Kiwanis Club of Tellico Village and Sweetwater Valley Farm, which Gray said will help give instruction on making cheese and the milking process.

“So when this grant runs out, the grant said that we had to have a sustainability factor, so LAUNCH will be our sustainability factor in helping us keep the farm rolling with food and things like that for the animals,” Gray said.

The effort will force students to think long term.

“In the grant there’s also a horticulture portion, so the students will learn how to grow what the goats need to eat and also learn everything about a goat from their anatomy to milking,” she said. “And, hopefully, our goal is for them to use the milk to make products like butter and lotion.”

Robotics a push

Philadelphia Elementary will receive funding to help boost the STEM program in grades 3-8.

“It’s pretty comprehensive in what we were trying to do with the grant,” Marvin Feezell, PES principal, said. “We just looked at all the way from elementary up to middle school — how can we fill in the gaps in what we’re trying to do with kids to make sure there is a program in place all the way through their career here at Philadelphia. ... So we’ve got basically two categories that we’re trying to impact and that is STEM and robotics. We have started a robotics team — we’re entered into a couple of competitions — so the grant will allow us to buy the robotics we use with our elementary students teaching them about robotics and coding.

“It’ll also add to our middle school VEX robotics that the Kiwanis Club helped us get started,” he added. “We hope to be able to eventually host some competitions here at the school by having some additional fields and robots and game pieces that are required. We not only want to build a robotics team; we want to have a robotics program and even have competitions.”

For the elementary students, Feezell said there are already a “few robotics pieces” educators have for specific lessons.

“We are picking up the things we need to boost our elementary program that gets them ready to come into VEX robotics in middle school,” he said. “... We’re just taking the next step. Instead of just having some lessons, we’re making this into something that kids can pursue just the same as you might with an athletic team or a club or anything else. This is something that they can do throughout the year and really build their skills and build a resume even for future employment.”

Hopes are also to focus on larger projects, including the possibility of building a trebuchet.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is like construct trebuchets, because it connects to our standards in social studies, also in engineering, so build trebuchets and throw pumpkins or whatever we can get our hands on across the soccer field,” Feezell said. “Having competitions to see who can throw the furthest and things like that. So we need materials, power tools and things like that.”

With the state funding, PES will also eye field trips. For sixth-graders, that entails going to Denso.

“Denso comes to us to do lessons and we’ve formed relationships with some people from there, so now we’ll get to take our kids to Denso where they’ll get to see jobs that require a college degree, maybe jobs that require engineering, jobs that may require trade school or a tech school, jobs they can even get straight out of high school,” he said. “So they’re going to get a good view of the world there and how it all works together. Then in seventh grade we’ll target things like smaller colleges, local colleges, community colleges, TCAT, trade schools, and then eighth grade we’re going to go actually this year because we got the grant to go all the way to Tennessee Tech, which is an engineering school in Cookeville.”