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Join Lyn Ford this Saturday, September 21 for a workshop on Educating the Mind and Heart: Storytelling Skills to Build Classroom Community.

This class aims to show how the centuries-old art of storytelling can build community and encourage communication for K-2 classroom behaviors.

This workshop is $30 but provided free to area teachers through the generosity of the Niswonger Foundation and will last from 9:30-11:30 a.m. 

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Niswonger Scholar Alumni Learn-Earn- Return

Fundamental to the design and purpose of the Niswonger Foundation's Scholarship and Leadership program is the Scholars' commitment to return to Northeast Tennessee, using their education, experiences and personal commitment to serve as the leaders of the region.  This fall, the Niswonger Foundation welcomes four more Alumni home.  Spanning careers from education, to business, to medicine, these scholars will put their Niswonger Foundation leadership training to excellent use, joining many other Alumni who are fulfilling their personal commitment to the Foundation's mission to "Create opportunities for individual and community growth through education and other sustainable projects."

Meet our most recent Northeast Tennessee Niswonger Scholar Alumni:


Ms. Hope Adkins is a Niswonger Scholar Alumna, Class of 2018.  She graduated high school at Volunteer in Hawkins County.  She earned a degree Family and Consumer Sciences Education from Carson-Newman University.  Hope is the daughter of Jeffrey and Tonya Adkins of Church Hill.  She taught Family and Consumer Sciences at West High School, in Knoxville, for one year.  Hope has accepted a position at Carson-Newman University as Alumni Relations Coordinator.

Ms. McKenzie Reynolds is a Niswonger Scholar Alumna, Class of 2018.  She received her high school diploma from North Greene High School, her accounting degree and Masters of Accountancy from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  McKenzie is currently completing the CPA Exams.  She is the daughter of Jon Reynolds and Edwina Orr of Greeneville.  McKenzie has accepted a position as Staff Auditor with Blackburn, Childers and Steagall, in Johnson City, where she resides.

Dr. Cole Seaton is a Niswonger Scholar Alumnus, Class of 2009.  He received his high school diploma from Greeneville High School, a Biomedical Engineering degree from Vanderbilt University and his Medical degree from East Tennessee State University's Quillen College of Medicine.  He is the son of Lloyd and Carolyn Seaton of Mosheim and he is married to Lyndsey Woten, of Knoxville.  They will be welcoming their first child this fall.  They reside in Greeneville.  Cole has completed his Residency at University of Tennessee Medical Center and returned to Greene County, where he has accepted a position with University Radiology at Greeneville Community Hospital East.

Mr. Matthew Widener is a Niswonger Scholar Alumnus, Class of 2019.  He received his high school diploma from David Crockett High School.  He is the son of Randal and Deena Widener of Johnson City.  He earned a degree in English with a minor in Secondary Education from East Tennessee State University.  Matthew has accepted a position as an English Teacher at David Crockett High School.

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P.O. BOX 1508





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Richard Kitzmiller, Veronica Watson, Matthew Desjardins and Sheri Nelson

By: Bekah Price

Public Relations Coordinator
Elizabethton City Schools

If you asked a high school student what his or her summer plans are, you probably wouldn't expect to hear Veronica Watson’s response – teaching teens computer coding.

The Elizabethton High School (EHS) sophomore first began coding at a week-long summer Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Camp for 5th – 12th grade students organized by East Tennessee State University (ETSU) and the Niswonger Foundation. As a middle school student, Veronica began teaching at these camps – the only instructor who wasn’t already in college or graduate school. During the school year, she continues her education independently and in high school courses.

This summer, she’s excited to help write the curriculum for a redesigned STEM Camp and to have the opportunity to get published. Her dedication to coding education has not gone unnoticed. Recently ETSU and the Niswonger Foundation presented her with a personal laptop to thank her for her continued involvement.

“The Niswonger Foundation wanted to recognize her dedication to service and her spirit of giving,” said Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO of the Niswonger Foundation. “We hope the computer will be a reminder to her that we can use our own hands to make a difference in the lives of others.”

For Veronica, this meant a lot.

“I’m not in sports, and I’m not in band or a cheerleader. I’m in a typically unrepresented group, but I’m doing important work,” she said.

“It’s important to learn code because it is a very lucrative and rapidly growing field which most people aren't applying for,” she said. “Technology is the future, so it is amazing to be a part of shaping that picture.”

Dishner said Veronica is an extraordinary example of the power of the STEM Camp experience.

“She was not only a participant, but became a mentor and teacher to other students,” Dishner said. “She volunteered countless hours to assisting with the camp’s activities.”

And she doesn’t do it for volunteer hours or recognition. Coding opened her eyes to a world of creativity and opportunities, and she wants to share that with others.

In addition to her work the STEM Camps, she worked with the EHS Bartleby Junior program to teach 4th and 5th grade students the fundamentals of coding using a simple program called Scratch.

“It’s easy if you work hard and start with simple programs such as Scratch,” she said. “It’s similar to learning another language.”

Because of the indispensable perspective that she has to offer on helping students get plugged in to this field, she was invited to attend an XQ Live Student Roundtable in Nashville. She also attended a meeting with community stakeholders to determine the viability of a virtual reality design program at EHS. That program is expected to launch in the 2019-20 school year.

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JCHS Niswonger Scholars Accomplishing Great Things

The Standard Banner

Jefferson County, Tennessee

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

By: Mark Brown, Reporter

JCHS Niswonger Scholars Accomplishing Great Things

Jefferson County’s Niswonger Scholarship/Leadership Program alumni are spread from Dallas to Boston and from Chicago back to Jefferson County.  They are leading change through careers in business, education and the legal profession.  Two have completed their obligations to reinvest in the region that produced them.

Beginning with Nashville attorney, Trey Reliford, who graduated in 2006, JCHS produced four “Niswongers” in as many years, the first school in the 17-district region to do so, though the feat has been matched since.  (Current senior John Henry Turner will become Jefferson County’s sixth beneficiary of the prestigious award when he graduates in May.)

Steeped in what is deemed its “Learn, Earn, Return” philosophy, the innovative empowerment model was created through a foundation established in 2001 by Greeneville businessman Scott Niswonger, founder of Landair Transport, Inc. and chairman emeritus/founder of Forward Air Corporation.

Scholars are selected through a nomination process intended to identify the region’s top-drawer candidates and grant them opportunities to attend the college or university that will best prepare them for success in their field of study.  Tuition costs are covered by the Foundation, as are travel and study abroad opportunities and a companion training/support program esteemed by alumni as equally vital.

Reliford used his award at The University of the South, graduating in history and political science in 2010.  From there, he earned a Stanford law degree in 2015.  He worked in New York, amassing experience in white collar and regulatory defense, securities, antitrust, employment and intellectual property law.  He recently joined the Nashville law firm of Neal & Harwell, PLC.

While Niswonger scholars can place a monetary figure on the scholarship contribution, participants say the worth of the leadership component is incalculable.  It blends educational excellence, community service and ethics while exposing students to important but often overlooked soft skills.

“Oh, it’s on a daily basis,” said Sean McCullough, a 2007 JCHS alumnus who studied marketing at the University of Notre Dame, when asked about the regularity with which Niswonger’s leadership lessons serve him.

“And it’s everything from simple things of etiquette and just making conversation with people to how I interact with clients daily,” praised the client innovation partner for Chicago’s Bluedog Design, where his firm works to bring innovative new products to market.  “The lessons are constantly there; they have helped me become a better businessperson, a better person.”

Will Brummett works for Boston’s Brandeis University as a Service Initiatives program coordinator.  The 2009 Jefferson County graduate fulfilled his four-year service agreement while working at Carson-Newman University’s Bonner Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement.  He earned an M.A. in social entrepreneurship from C-N in 2017.

He champions the Niswonger program across the board, noting particularly the world travel component that granted him “the privilege of knowing what it means to really miss and appreciate home.”

Beyond graduating from Elon University, summa cum laude in 2013 with a religious studies degree and numerous leadership opportunities, Brummett is grateful for a sense of expansion that transcends geography.

“I’ve traveled from the beaches of Nassau, Bahamas, to those of Normandy,
 he notes with deep gratitude.  “I’ve climbed mountains in East Tennessee, navigated busy streets in Manhattan and I’ve had the privilege to meet and dine with CEOs, basketball stars, elected officials – even the Governor of Tennessee.”

Like Brummett, Taylor Ashby Grindstaff brought her Niswonger-gifted expertise back to Jefferson County.  She went to Clemson following her 2008 JCHS graduation, finished undergraduate work at ETSU and earned a master’s in counseling from Carson-Newman.  She was a counselor in Greene County’s school system before returning home.

“(T)he one aspect that remains most salient in my memory is leadership,” she said.  “I practiced public speaking, learned how to debate hot topics with other individuals who were equally as passionate about their opinions as I was, and engaged in service projects in local communities.  (It’s) unlike typical scholarship programs that only focus efforts on academia.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have had those experiences.”

Grindstaff remembers her first winter training session and a sense of intimidation she felt as she encountered upperclassmen at the conference.  “Their intelligence, accomplishments and ease with which they carried themselves was inspiring.”

A conversation there encouraged her to look at study abroad and, within a couple of years, she was spending a semester in Queensland, Australia.  “I knew that was something I wanted to experience…and I will forever be grateful for my time there.”

Since graduating in 2016 from Vanderbilt University, 2012 JCHS alumnus Trey Dodson has worked in Dallas for Deloitte business analyst specializing in human capital.  He leads a team charged with helping Fortune 500 companies like Facebook, Pepsi and others manage change, particularly as it pertains to the adoption of new technologies.

Like his fellow Niswongers, Dodson says ideas he learned in training session and through assigned readings have become tenets by which he operates.  “It’s like wow I can’t believe I learned that and how helpful it is now.  I can nail it down to two things, and they are pretty related, so maybe not two things but more like one and a half.

“What the Niswonger experience really taught me to do was to understand and empathize with folks – through the trips, the events, the workshops and the trainings, I think the Foundation taught us how to really examine individuals at their core to understand their beliefs, the passions, values, just what drives them.”

He said he learned to use those elements to work with others – both for the project teams he leads and for clients – as they move toward common goals. And they conditioned him for the second part of the lesson; that people often have similar dreams, hopes interests and needs no matter where they come from.

“Going into college I believed the sun rose and set from the hills of Dumplin Valley but, in those four years with the Foundation, I came to realize that the world is a lot bigger than the confines of East Tennessee.”

McCullough and Dodson can relate through their mutual intent to spend a few more years garnering as much experience as possible before coming home.  Both men say they dream of establishing businesses here to sow back into the region from which they reaped so much.

“I want to be the very best that I can be before I come back,” Dodson said of his strategy.  “I’ve been with Deloitte for almost two and a half years.  I want to take that experience, traveling and serving clients around the nation, and get my MBA very shortly from a top program in the country…..Whatever knowledge I get there, on top of Vanderbilt and Deloitte and whatever else I can learn to bring it back to East Tennessee.”

As a brand strategist and marketer, the dots automatically connect for McCullough.  Without the Niswonger Foundation he is sure he would not have been able to go to Notre Dame and therefore would not have gone to Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.  Though having “fallen in love with a Chicago girl” and started their family there, he says he has East Tennessee in his sights in the next few years.

He says his commitment is rooted in thankfulness.  He remains grateful, and a little astonished, he chuckled, by the fact “the Foundation would, in effect, trust 18-year- olds with what amounts to a blank check and (let them) go across the country to learn something with the expectation, and even the trust, that they are going to bring it back.”

Brummett says he counts the fulfillment of his Niswonger commitment as the “single proudest accomplishment of my professional career thus far.”  While he has therefore paid back his obligation, he is grateful for opportunities “to pay it forward” to the Foundation, which include serving on the Niswonger Selection Committee twice and helping lead several summer training conferences.

“Everything I earn should be earned with an ethic focused on giving back to invest in others and ultimately, the call for all of us is to return and invest in East Tennessee just like Scott has,” he said.

Grindstaff has a unique touchpoint with the future.  She has seen two new Niswonger Scholars matriculate in the last five years, one at Chuckey-Doak High School and John Henry Turner this year.  “It’s exciting to see these bright, capable students get the same opportunity I had.  I can’t wait to see what they will choose to do with their lives.”

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The NISWONGER FOUNDATION has selected five high school seniors to join the Scholarship and Leadership program in Fall 2019.  Currently, there are 19 Niswonger Scholars, with the newly selected students bringing the total to 24.  The Foundation also has 72 Alumni of the program. 

Unique to other scholarship and leadership programs, the goal of this Scholarship and Leadership program is to identify and develop leaders for Northeast Tennessee. These students commit to returning to Northeast Tennessee to work in their chosen career path, one year for each year they receive our scholarship.  The plan is that by enabling these students to pursue their academic passion and by cultivating their leadership abilities, they will be committed to returning to the region as catalysts for the growth and improvement in their home communities. 

Niswonger Scholars are selected through a nomination process that seeks to identify the region’s best and brightest future leaders.  They are given the opportunity to attend the college or university that will best prepare them for success in their field of study, while participating in a four-year leadership program. Through an emphasis on leadership, educational excellence, business management, community service and ethical decision making, the Scholars are provided travel, training, internships, and personalized support to become model leaders and citizens.  

The five new Scholars are Makayla Davis, West Greene High School; Trent Dickerson, Morristown East High School; Aisling Hagan, David Crockett High School; Erica Seal, Hancock County High School; John Turner, Jefferson County High School.

Makayla Lashay Davis
attends West Greene High School. She served as an officer in FCCLA and president of the Blue and Gold Club.  She is a member of the National Honor Society, National English Honor Society, Tennessee Tomorrow, and Future Business Leaders of America.  She is a cheerleader; and is a student athlete, playing both soccer and tennis at West Greene.  She is active in her community through her church. She is employed at Food Country USA.  Makayla is the daughter of Carolyn Dean, Greeneville.

Trenton Chase Dickerson is a senior at Morristown East High School. He is class president, Ambassador for the Student Congress on Policies in Education, and captain of the cross-country team. He has served as president and librarian of the school choir. He is a member of the School Board Advisory Council, 31+ ACT Club, and DECA. Trent’s awards include the National Merit Scholarship, recognized as Commended Student; All East Tennessee Honor Choir; All State Tennessee Honor Choir; 1st place Regional DECA Conference; and 3rd Place State DECA Conference.  He serves as a Youth Worship Leader, Bible School volunteer, and through COPE. He completed a summer internship with Morristown Utility Systems.  Trent is the son of Phillip and Tina Dickerson, Russellville.

Aisling Grace Hagan is a student at David Crockett High School. She is president and former secretary of the David Crockett FFA Chapter. She serves as president, previously vice-president, of the Student Council; and is the Student Representative on Washington County School Board. She was chosen by the faculty to attend the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Conference and the Student Congress on Policies in Education.  Her awards include 1st place State Nursery/Landscaping, 2nd place National Forestry, 1st place State Forestry, and 1st place State Floriculture. Aisling participated in a Rotary Club Student Exchange to Austria.  She is a member of National FFA Organization, Student Council, BETA Club, Junior Civitan International, French Club, Creative Writing Club and the Washington County Youth Soil Conservation.  Aisling is the daughter of James and Kate Hagan, Jonesborough.

Erica Brooke Seal attends Hancock County High School.  She is president of her 4-H Club; and has served as vice-president and reporter of the Future Farmers of America. Erica is a student athlete, playing soccer at Hancock High. She serves her community through 4-H, the Adult Education Offices in Rogersville and Sneedville, and through Sneedville’s Annual Fall Festival.  Erica is the daughter of Jennifer Greene and Shane Seal, Sneedville.

John Henry Turner is a senior at Jefferson County High School.  He is president of Leo Club and a member of National Technical Honors Society, Scholars Bowl, Beta Club and Jefferson County Youth Leadership.  He was named Sophomore Business Student of the Year and was a Scholars Bowl competitor. John has completed 130 hours of community service.  He is the son of John and Crystal Turner, New Market.

Established in 2001, the Niswonger Foundation has a mission “To create opportunities for individual and community growth through education.”  In addition to the Scholarship and Leadership program, the Niswonger Foundation supports educational programs in seventeen Northeast Tennessee school systems. With the motto of “Learn-Earn-Return,” the programs of the Foundation are supported by charitable donations, grant funding and personal contributions from Scott M. Niswonger.

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News Release

Office of University Relations

Contact: Amanda Mowell

November 15, 2018

JOHNSON CITY – Building on strong histories of providing quality educational opportunities, East Tennessee State University and the Niswonger Foundation are partnering to provide online dual enrollment opportunities for high school students in East Tennessee and beyond. Through Niswonger Online, students can earn both high school and college credit at ETSU with application and qualifying course fees waived as part of memorandum of understanding between the two entities.

With this new partnership, which is aimed to support the state of Tennessee’s “Drive to ‘55” initiative, ETSU, through Niswonger Online, will provide an extensive inventory of college courses and career pathways. Participating students will not be required to pay an application fee to ETSU and those who meet eligibility requirements will be admitted as first-time freshmen.

“We at ETSU believe this partnership is a unique opportunity to address college affordability, access for many students who have not previously had dual enrollment course opportunities, and an aggressive strategy for supporting the state’s Drive to ‘55 initiative,’” said Dr. Bert Bach, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at ETSU. 

Dual enrollment students may also choose to participate in Buc Start, a predetermined set of course pathways that allow students to obtain up to 24 hours, or two semesters worth of college credit prior to entering college as a full-time student. There are over 12 pathway-focused course plans available to choose from such as digital media, health sciences and computing.

“Buc Start provides students with a pathway to get ahead, explore fields of study and start working toward their careers early,” said Dawn Bridwell, assistant director of Admissions.

Scholarship and grant opportunities make ETSU one of the most affordable dual enrollment institutions in the region. High school students dually-enrolled at ETSU through the Niswonger Foundation will not pay qualifying course fees. The Dual Enrollment Grant and the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship funded by the Tennessee Lottery are available to cover a portion of tuition costs, and high-achieving students will be eligible for ETSU scholarships to assist with additional courses.

“The Niswonger Foundation is focused on ensuring that all students have the opportunity to see post-secondary education and a fulfilling career as a goal for their lives,” said Dr. Nancy Dishner, Niswonger Foundation president and CEO. “While students across Tennessee can be served by this partnership, I am particularly proud that it can greatly benefit rural high schools and economically disadvantaged students and families.”

To learn more about dual enrollment opportunities at ETSU, visit or email For more information about the ETSU and Niswonger Foundation partnership, contact Dawn Bridwell at or 423-439-6873.

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What started as a Niswonger Foundation program to expand course offerings for high school students in Northeast Tennessee, is now spreading across the State, increasing academic opportunities and providing flexibility in course scheduling for hundreds of students. 

Niswonger Online began with funding from a U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) grant in 2011. The focus of this effort was to serve students in high-need, rural Northeast Tennessee high schools. “Developing and providing quality online curricular offerings ‘levels the playing field’ for our students,” states Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO of the Niswonger Foundation. “Our goal is to ensure that the size or geographical location of our schools does not determine the ability for a student to have access to a robust curriculum that can best prepare him or her for postsecondary education and a successful career.”  

Over 15,000 course credits have been earned since Niswonger Online was established. This fall term, alone, the program is serving 624 students in 30 high schools across the State. “As a rural high school, the Niswonger Online courses have not only strengthened our course offerings but opened doors for our students,” said Dr. Catherine Edwards, assistant principal of Unicoi County High School. “Courses that we cannot possibly offer to our students in our brick and mortar building are now available.” 

Initially, this effort was designed to provide support for an enriched curriculum in the school systems served by the Niswonger Foundation in Northeast Tennessee.  Fundamental to the mission of the Niswonger Foundation is supporting educational opportunities in rural schools. A dedication to this mission, and a strong desire to position Tennessee as a national model for quality rural education, led to the Foundation reaching out to rural school systems across the State, allowing an opportunity for access for their students. Currently, students in Hardeman, Claibourne, Lauderdale, Haywood, Grainger and McMinn Counties are participating. A grant from the Care Foundation of America is assisting with support for this initiative. Additional partnerships are currently being planned.  A total of twenty-eight school systems are currently participating in Niswonger Online.

The program allows students to take classes during regular school hours or at the convenience of the students. Students can choose from 40 online course options, including Advanced Placement (AP), career/technical education (CTE), language arts, social studies, science, fine arts, math, physical education and world languages (French, Spanish and Latin). The program is supported by the Niswonger Foundation, the Consortium of Northeast Tennessee school systems, and the systems from across the State that have joined the effort.

The Niswonger Foundation has recently partnered with East Tennessee State University to offer online dual enrollment courses. Beginning in Spring 2019, students will be able to use Niswonger Online to take an array of courses from ETSU, earning both high school and college credit.  As many as 200 ETSU courses will be available by Summer 2019.  These dual enrollment opportunities are supportive of the State of Tennessee’s “Drive to 55” goal of seeing that every student has Early Post-Secondary Opportunities (EPSO’s).  

“The Niswonger Foundation has allowed me to take a class that has never been offered at my high school,” said an 11th grade student in the program. “I know this will help me when I start college, and I’m so thankful for that.”  A David Crockett High School student (Jonesborough) had a perfect score on the ACT exam.  He credited his success to having completed four Niswonger Online courses, including Latin I and II. 

Niswonger Online can serve any student, especially those who perform better in online settings, need to retake classes to graduate or want to take advanced classes to prepare them for careers or higher education.  “Not only is [my daughter] improving her GPA by retaking the course, she raised her ACT Math score by several points,” said one parent of a student taking geometry online. “Seeing her ACT score raise is proof to me that she is learning this skill.”  A school counselor credited the online program as positive intervention for a struggling student: “I believe that the alternative environment of online classes provided her with opportunity to be successful that didn’t exist before, and it certainly has positively impacted her life in ways far beyond academics.”

In addition to gaining course credit, Niswonger Online helps students learn time management skills, online course structure and college readiness. Instructors understand that their students are young, and they can help guide them through new experiences like learning proper email etiquette and uploading assignments online. Instructors are selected because they are noted as being among Tennessee’s best educators. They are provided guidance and support in moving their successful classroom skills to an online format.

The courses can also help students gain better study skills as they work independently through the online structure. Success with online course-taking is an excellent “life skill.” Online courses are becoming more popular in post-secondary education, so Niswonger Online gives students the advantage of knowing how to succeed in a virtual environment.

One student from Cherokee High School (Rogersville) was admitted to Princeton University because of her excellent transcript that had six online courses through Niswonger Online, including three different world languages. “She came out of this small high school, but she had a transcript that could go up against any student from across the nation,” said Gina Pavlovich, Director of Learning Resources. I love hearing our students’ success stories. A lot of these kids just needed a push to help them see that they are good enough, they can do this. We take great pleasure in knowing that they did this online with us.”

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Students in grades six through eight, across 14 Northeast Tennessee school systems, are beginning to experience the benefits of the Niswonger Foundation’s Rural LIFE program after a year of strategic planning and implementation.

Rural LIFE (Literacy Initiative Focused on Effectiveness) is designed to improve literacy for middle school students in eighteen Northeast Tennessee school systems. The grant serves approximately 19,700 students and is funded through an $8 million-dollar Education Innovation and Research federal grant awarded to the Niswonger Foundation by the U.S. Department of Education.

“That literacy component is so empowering in all the subjects that children are involved in,” said Rural LIFE Coach Sarah Kitzmiller. “Improvement of students’ quality of life is the ultimate goal for all of us here.”

The program aims to implement technology-enabled and literacy-focused personalized learning for students to help improve their academic performance in all subjects. This includes: strengthening literacy development across the content areas; literacy intervention for struggling readers and writers; implementing school policies, structures and culture for supporting literacy; building leadership capacity and helping teachers to improve instruction.

A primary focus of the program is personalized learning. Each school has developed a plan specific to the student needs, and the funding provides additional resources to accomplish those goals.

“If you’re going to maximize literacy instruction, you need to personalize it a little bit,” stated Dr. Richard Kitzmiller, Niswonger Foundation vice president and the grant’s executive director.

Part of personalized learning is restructuring regular, whole-classroom teaching to incorporate small group settings, more technology-based learning and afterschool supplementation. Personalized learning settings cater to students’ individual needs and learning styles.

To date, schools have used Rural LIFE funding to purchase educational subscriptions, classroom libraries and online resources, as well as, technology like Google Chromebooks and NOOK tablets for digital reading.

Rural LIFE’s nine Coaches support school-created literacy plans and work with principals and teachers toward specific goals. These Coaches visit the schools one day a week to assess progress and help with implementation. Each school selected at least one lead teacher who acts as a contact with a Rural LIFE Coach.

“Obviously, we want to see greater outcomes for students,” Rural LIFE Coach Ben Willings said. “One thing that has been really personal for me is thinking about not just teaching students to read but really teaching students to want to read. We want to cultivate that love for reading as a way for building knowledge, as a way for interacting with the world.”

The grant will be used over the course of five years. The first year saw planning and implementation in 36 of the 72 schools benefitting from the program. Now, in the second year, schools will evaluate what works best for students to improve literacy. In the fourth and fifth years, the remaining 36 schools will join in the implementation of the program. The majority of the 73 schools in this project are designated rural, and 85% are Title I school-wide.

Ongoing research and data collection through test score analysis, observations, surveys and interviews by research partner ANLAR will evaluate the success of Rural LIFE as well as areas for improvement. Additionally, the Friday Institute, at North Carolina State University, is assisting with coaches’ training and providing additional resources.

The federal grant was awarded to only 16 organizations out of 379 proposals for funding from across the country. Commenting on the receipt of this grant, Niswonger Foundation president and CEO, Dr. Nancy Dishner stated, “We are uniquely positioned to receive national attention because our region’s educators have an extraordinary commitment to teamwork, excellence, and ensuring that every child in Northeast Tennessee has the best opportunity for success.” 

Schools benefitting from the grant in Northeast Tennessee include: Carter County: Central Elementary, Cloudland, Keenburg; Elizabethon City’s, T.A. Dugger Junior High as well as Sullivan County: Holston Middle, Sullivan North; Bristol City’s, Vance Middle School; Kingsport City’s, John Sevier Middle and Ross N. Robinson Middle. Johnson City’s Liberty Bell Middle School along with Washington County’s Boones Creek Middle School, Fall Branch Elementary and Sulphur Springs Elementary are participating. Additionally, Greeneville City Middle School and Greene County’s: Camp Creek Elementary, Nolachuckey Elementary and West Pines Elementary are included. Hawkins County schools working with the Rural LIFE grant are: Bulls Gap, Church Hill Middle School, Clinch School, East Ridge Middle School; Surgoinsville Middle and Rogersville Middle School. Jefferson County has two schools involved: Maury Middle School and Rush Strong Elementary, while Cocke County schools include: Bridgeport Elementary, Centerview Elementary, Cosby Elementary, Edgemont Elementary, Grassy Fork Elementary, Northwest Elementary and Smokey Mountain Elementary. Participating in Sevierville are Sevierville Middle School and Pittman-Center Elementary, with Hancock County High School and Unicoi County Middle School representing these respective counties.

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Scott M. Niswonger speaks about his "footprints" at his alma mater, Purdue University.

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