By: Jessica Whitmill, Manager, Policy & Outreach

Tennessee is innovating in education.

I have the awesome opportunity as leading the outreach at Tennesseans for Student Success to visit schools across the state. During my travels, I’ve met hardworking teachers, seen progress and growth in-action, and experienced world-class programs.

World-class programs are peppered across our state in forms of career and technical education programs that are helping students build real-time skills for 21st-century jobs. These programs are helping students gain academic skills so they are better prepared for high school, college, career, and the future.

Cleveland High School in Bradley County is heavily invested in ensuring students are engaged with hands-on learning that is preparing them for their futures. Cleveland High School’s career and technical programs include Health Science where students get direct experience in their Raider Rescue, an ambulance simulator and health science training classrooms equipped with medical instruments that stimulate an actual hospital. Students also take flight in their Aviation Lab which allows them to use a Redbird FMX flight simulator, one of only two Tennessee high schools to have this tool for teaching. The flight simulator is used to provide students with a real-life feeling of flying in different weather conditions before they pilot an actual airplane. Cleveland’s STEM program was also highlighted during my tour, where community service and science are combined to create Project Malachi. This project was spearheaded by the robotics team and creates custom motorized wheelchairs for children with disabilities and has since expanded to be called the Malachi Movement. Learn more about this venture at themalachimovement.com.

In Nashville, at KIPP Academy, they are helping students succeed through their innovative math program. KIPP Academy is located in East Nashville where students are historically underserved. I had the opportunity to sit down with Brittany Middlebrooks, the Assistant Principal over math, to learn more about how they are assisting students who enter their middle school deficient in math and help them graduate on or above grade level. KIPP Nashville uses strategies like Opening Tasks, which are grade level tasks that allow students to think through their previous knowledge of math by making connections, build on their learning, and engage in higher-level thinking. Seeing this in real time was incredible. This program is helping students think differently about their learning and preparing them for their future college path or career.

Lastly, Coffee County Central High School boasts robust CTE programs of study fulfilling 15 out of the 16 state focus areas. Of the 15 focus areas, Coffee County Central HS offers 23 programs of study which speaks to the high caliber of diversity students have access to in their studies. As I spoke with Richard Skipper, CTE Director for Coffee County Schools, he shared a student success story about a specific student who turned a corner in his academic studies because of his co-op program. These types of stories are common as I talk with teachers and am able to hear first-hand about how Tennessee’s students’ lives are being changed because of the innovative opportunities and programs they have access to across the state.

Innovation is a key ingredient to Tennessee’s historic success in recent years. Programs like the comprehensive CTE courses at Cleveland High School, Coffee County Central High School, and the innovative math program at KIPP Academy, highlight that Tennessee schools are helping students succeed. As we look at education policies moving forward, we should strengthen and invest in opportunities for all students to have access to programs that help them prepare for their futures.