Celebrating u-turns

Turn Around Achievement Awards mark life changes

With a sluggish economy, expenditures for non-essential activities and charitable contributions sometimes get dropped from company budgets.

Attorney Steve Greene with the law firm of Costner and Greene said he and his law partner Joe Costner knew they didn’t want to cut funding for the annual Turn Around Achievement Awards.

“It's very important,” said Greene. “It’s the highlight of our year to see these kids who never get recognized for anything but the bad they do get prizes and awards as their parents watch. To me, it is a very worthwhile endeavor. Joe and I both have talked about budget cuts, and both of us have agreed this is something we need to go ahead and still have. It has been a great thing in both of our lives.”

As in past years, the award recipients were situated at tables with parents and loved ones as well as their nominating teacher and principal. The nominating teachers then take turns when called up to explain how their student changed.

• Lisa Schwartz of Alcoa High School was introduced by teacher Ken Brown.

Brown said Lisa made a mistake her sophomore year. “But she’s not here because of what she did her sophomore year. She’s here because of what she has done since then. She worked as hard as she could and was learning German while in alternative school,” he said. “She has a work ethic that is so good.”

Lisa recognized how much her parents helped her. “I want to thank my parents for pushing me to be all I can be,” she said.

• Johnathan Olson of Alcoa Middle School was introduced by teacher Joel Kirk.

Kirk said he met Johnathan when he was in sixth grade and spending a lot of time in in-school suspension. “He has come such a long way,” Kirk said. “He’s active on the football and wrestling teams.”

Johnathan said he wanted to thank everyone, especially his teachers. “(My experiences) have made me that much better a student,” he said.

• Alexis Zook of Carpenters Middle School was introduced by teacher Cheryl Chambers.

Chambers said when she first came to the school, then principal Rob Britt gave her a challenge to get Alexis to do anything production. Today, Alexis has changed, said Chambers. “I wish you could have seen her yesterday. She had a smile on her face and had a gleam in her eye,” she said.

• Alejandro “Alex” Garcia-Hernandez of Eagleton Middle School was introduced by teacher Sally Jo Witty.

Hernandez said he didn’t expect to get an award and said as he got to know more people his grades improved. “I started to meet more people, started making friendships and started doing my work,” he said.

Principal Becky Stone said Alex has come a long way. “Alex has grown tremendously throughout the school year,” she said.

• Jessie Warren of Heritage High School was introduced by teacher Chris Clift.

Clift said Jessie, a senior, was in his choir class and had potential to excel in the class and compete on a state-level. “I’m proud to see Jessie overcome some of the obstacles in his life,” Clift said.

Jessie thanked his parents. “I never thought I would get to this point,” he said.

• Lindsay Caldwell of Heritage Middle School was introduced by teacher Marie Richardson.

Caldwell said she was happy to get the honor and worked hard to turn around her grades. “I paid attention more and listened more to what the teachers had to say,” she said. “As I learned, I realized it was easy, and my grades improved.”

Richardson said Caldwell was a retained student who didn’t get promoted to high school. “She didn’t have momentum. Now she’s making ‘A’s and ‘B’s and has a positive attitude,” the teacher said.

Principal Jessie Robinette said it is gratifying when a student can make a turn around. “In this case, it’s the effort of the student working with peers and teachers,” he said. “She has a strong support system of great teachers and faculty. It takes everyone.”

• Richard Hutchens of Maryville High School was introduced by assistant principal Brett Coulter.

Coulter shared how Richard got into a bad relationship that distracted him so much he ended up at alternative school. “We worried about him because the relationship put stress on him. He earned his way back to Maryville High School,” Coulter said.

Richard thanked his parents. “Without them, I would not be where I am today,” he said.

• Allen Hurst of Maryville Middle School was introduced by guidance counselor Kim Taylor.

Taylor said she first met Allen a year and a half ago and learned he could be defiant. “In the past year and a half, he has made a major turn around,” she said.

• Jared Rendon of William Blount High School was introduced by principal Steve Lafon.

The principal said Jared was never really bad, he was just held back by obstacles. “With speech problems and Attention Deficit Disorder, he was ridiculed,” he said. “He began to act out to get attention.”

Lafon said Jared attributes his change to his relationship with God. “He says getting close to God made it happen. He’s finally happy and finally himself,” the principal said.

• Brandon Sparks of Union Grove Middle was introduced by guidance counselor Carol Witt.

Witt said Sparks simply matured. “It’s not about going from bad to good but about going from being painfully shy,” she said.

Brandon said, “I’d like to say thanks to my mom and dad and friends for pushing me to do my best.”

Keynote speaker Scotty Hicks shared his story of how he made a turn around in his own life. “I was such a slacker, and I made a turn around,” he said.

Hicks said that when he was growing up he decided to try just hard enough to get by. Eventually, as he grew older, he began to accept lowered expectations. “I barely passed. Maybe you tried and had struggles and someone has said something negative and you gave up,” he said. “That’s what I did. I just coasted by.”

Hicks said that when he was going through school in the 1980s, he chose not to try too hard in class but he did focus his interest on break dancing. “I may not know the quadratic formula, but I knew how to do a back spin,” he said, drawing a cheer when he demonstrated his dance moves for the audience. “I started making a habit out of slacking and by the time I got to high school, I had begun to think I couldn’t succeed. People didn’t have a lot of confidence in my future. I was a break-dancing slacker.”

Hicks graduated high school by the skin of his teeth, worked in a factory for a while and then joined the Army, and they changed his slacker mindset. “In the Army, they broke the mold,” he said. “It was rough, but I graduated basic training.”

Through his experience in the Army, Hicks continued to pursue higher education and eventually earned four college degrees. He then earned a teacher’s certificate but also was deployed to Iraq at about the time his wife had their first child.

In Iraq, Hicks said he witnessed how desperate the people there were. “These Iraqis were standing two feet away from our machine guns trying to sell us trinkets,” he said.

Hicks said it made him appreciate what many take for granted. “So many kids do not take advantage of the opportunities of this country because they believe they can’t,” he said. “Your upbringing, your family do not determine your future. You’re the one who makes that decision.”

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