Punctuating passion

Alcoa City Schools Foundation puts spotlight on 20 years of innovation

It is not difficult to find folks who are passionate about their high schools. However, backing up that passion with more than $200,000 in funding and 20 years of dedication to a foundation board is something worth celebrating.

On Friday, Sept. 18, the Alcoa City School’s Foundation will celebrate 20 years of supporting excellence in the education.

The foundation will hold a celebration at 5 p.m. on Sept. 18 in the Alcoa Middle School gymnasium. Highlighted will be some of the programs that would not have been possible without funding from the Alcoa City Schools Foundation.

The celebration will also include live music, a band performance, art and photography displays and highlights from other projects funded by the foundation. Two teachers will receive Innovative Teacher Awards for initiating projects that stress innovation, creativity, community involvement and academic cooperation.

The fact that the foundation wants to celebrate 20 years of service isn’t surprising to foundation board chair Sharon Hannum.

“There seems to be something really unique about Alcoa alumni,” Hannum said. “They are very passionate about the school.”

Board member/secretary General Sessions Judge David R. Duggan said most everyone who is on the board is either an Alcoa graduate or educator or parent or otherwise have a connection with the Alcoa educational system. “We’re all very passionate about Alcoa schools,” he said.

The foundation was formed in December of 1989. Hannum said that from 1990 to 2008, the foundation has allocated $216,000 to the Alcoa City School system.

“Our primary fundraisers are the Tim Bledsoe Memorial Golf Tournament held the last weekend in May or the first weekend in June -- around Memorial Day. Three years ago we started a second fundraiser that really started as a focus on health initiatives,” she said. “We became concerned with poor health of young people, particularly obesity, and we started a triathlon. The Springbrook Sprint has turned out to be a phenomenal fundraiser for us, beyond our expectations.”

Board member Bill Proffitt said he got involved with the foundation primarily because he’s an Alcoa High School alumnus. “I feel a need to give something back to the community,” he said.

Board member Ken White said he was on the school board in 1989 when Alcoa City Schools superintendent Dr. Bill Simons suggested the foundation be formed. The foundation was initially headed by Pete Pasqua, a professor of nuclear physics at the University of Tennessee. After White left the school board, he was asked to be a member of the foundation board.

Hannum said she got involved 15 years ago when Ralph Kidd, who was an Alcoa commissioner, and Sharon Williams asked if she would be on the board.

“My primary focus in church was youth and children. I’ve always had a passion for education, even when I was in school. I come from an African-American background and many of us didn’t get the same opportunities for equal education across the board, and that was always a big deal,” she said.

Hannum said one of the qualities she has always admired in how the foundation works is how the board is willing to fund grants that may not be for strictly for academic projects or initiatives.

“We have funded some very unique programs. We started 20 years ago, and what we still do is innovation,” she said. “We want teachers to be creative and innovative. Education doesn’t have to be a chore. Anything that brings life, spark and creativity to the classroom is what motivates us.”

This is the reason the foundation will be recognizing two teachers with the Most Innovative Teacher Award, said Hannum. Candidates for the award are individual teachers who have had projects funded by the foundation through grants over the past 20 years.

“We’re selecting two teachers who have been the most innovative,” said Hannum. “It puts innovation in people’s minds. We want teachers to do more than shoot a grant to us to buy more widgets the school board couldn’t fund. We are looking for things that truly aid teachers, the classroom and students.”

At the celebration, some of the projects funded by the foundation over the years will be showcased. Among them are:

• Alcoa Singers - Trent Gilmore leads the choir/chorus programs at the middle and high school. “He has entered them in competitions, and they have gone across the state in music competitions,” said Hannum. Gilmore submitted a grant to buy uniforms, which the foundation funded. “They look classy. The girls are in floor-length, formal gowns, and the guys are in tuxedos,” Hannum said. “The whole presentation is not only how they sound, but how they look. They will sing selections for us in uniform.”

• Cameras for the photography department - “Those kids take some of the most fantastic pictures you’ve every seen. A part of what’s going to spotlighted on the Sept. 18 is examples of their work,” said Hannum.

• Band - Hannum said participation in the band had dropped off some but the school system and foundation board put money into the music department and aband and things began to turn around. “We have a new band teacher, Bryant Adler. Because of his youth, energy and exuberance, the kids have come back to band. We’ve been able to fund instruments for the band. The band is going to do a pre-game show featuring instruments the foundation has funded.”

• Microsocopes - “The scopes at the high school had gotten antiquated. They were still useful, but they were not new technology. The microscopes used at the high school were passed onto the middle school. They’re fine for that level, but teaching more advanced science, the high school needed more powerful scopes. By funding new microscopes for the high school, we were able to help two schools with one grant. That is pretty awesome,” said Hannum.

• Smartboards - “We started getting grant applications from teachers and had no idea what a Smart Board was intended to do. The teachers had done a lot of research and gathered a lot of information and made an impressive presentation to us about Smart Boards,” said Hannum. Today, all the classrooms in the Alcoa city schools system have Smart Boards.

• Cultural Museum - This is a “living” museum that started out as a Black History project. All the characters were African Americans, and it enabled the students to be excited about doing research. “Now it has evolved,” said Hannum, “and is a living museum with a variety of characters portrayed. This year, we had characters who are still living and working here in Blount County who were chosen to be a part of the museum. For example, one young man portrayed Gen. Fred Forster (Blount County Chamber CEO) and gave a mini-biography of his impact on this community.”

• Books for Candlelight School - About three years ago a collaboration formed between the English and Art Departments and the Government classes to write, illustrate and publish a reading book for students at the Candlelight School in Kenya, Africa, where students had few textbooks. The foundation funded the project. “It took a year to get it together,” said Hannum. “By the time the students wrote it, got it printed and bound, it went through the entire school year. The whole board was impressed,” he said. “They’re doing a second one. We haven’t seen that one yet, but we may have a hard copy by Sept. 18.”

• Struggle for Equality: “Ken Brown is a government teacher and thinks of some very innovative projects for the kids to learn about history and be active and involved in history,” Hannum said. One project was a collaboration with English Department. Students researched, contacted and found all of the original African Americans who integrated Alcoa High School in 1965. “They interviewed them, compiled those stories, printed it into a book and invited them to come to the school.” The second project Brown led was research on World War II and the Holocaust. A Holocaust survivor was located and brought to the school for a program. The foundations part in both projects was paying for the printing the book about the original African Americans who integrated Alcoa High School and paying to bring those individuals to the school for a program. The foundation also paid to bring the Holocaust survivor to the school for a program. “It was very well received,” Hannum said.

• Freshmen Academy: The Alcoa City School Foundation also helped fund the Freshmen Academy. “All the systems have freshmen academies. It’s a really good way. Freshmen are around 14, they don’t know their place in life and coming from the middle school to the high school is a huge transition. They often they get lost in the shuffle,” Hannum said. “They’re not as successful when they’re all mingled into the whole student body. In an effort to ensure freshmen students succeed in high school, they’re isolated and have their own classrooms in a certain wing. We’re not keeping them apart from everyone the entire time, but they’re getting more one-on-one attention to prepare them for life in high school.”

Hannum said the Freshmen Academy takes the pain and misery out of being a freshman. “It gets them better prepared as far as social skills. All those things are taken into account. They don’t feel so self-conscious when they’re interacting with individuals their own age,” she said. “It gives them a chance to gain confidence and know who they are and know the difference in rules and regulations without sticking out like a sore thumb. It prepares them to be a more well-rounded teen.”

Hannum said the foundation has been blessed with good sponsors throughout the years. “The Chamber Foundation has given mini-grants, Denso has contributed greatly, and Alcoa, Inc., has made good contributions,” she said.

Hannum said that after October, those interested in helping the foundation will be able to make donations online. “We’re moving more into a technology phase, getting our own web presence and will be able to take online donations,” she said. “Hopefully, we will also be able to generate more awareness.”

Alcoa City Schools Foundation board members are:

• Richard N. Borden

• Missy Riddick

• William ‘Bill’ Proffitt

• Sharon Hannum

• Bob Hasentufel

• Bill Baird

• Ken White

• Sharon Williams

• Rob Tingle

• David R. Duggan

• T. O. Hester

• Nelda Kidd

• Johnelle Jackson

• Michael P. Pasqua

• Pete Simmons

Ex-officio, non-voting directors are:

• Tom Shamblin, director of Alcoa City Schools

• Harry B. McClurg, Alcoa City School board chair

• Paul Talley, teacher

• Joe Lambert, media representative

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