For nearly three decades, the Hamblen County Foundation for Educational Excellence and Achievement, or, HC*EXCELL, has promoted educational excellence and achievement.

The last calendar year might have been the organization’s best so far. HC*EXCELL has developed and grown several programs designed to boost the educational prowess of the county’s students of all ages, with the latest being the STEAM program, or Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

Thirty-five teachers from 11 elementary schools in Hamblen County participated in the program, and executive director Stan Harville said the results have been instantaneous.

“We have a very wide variety of teachers involved (in STEAM programs),” he said. “Some of the teachers have said they’re the best-developed programs they’ve ever been through.”

Founded in 1991, HC*EXCELL has evolved from the funding of scholarships and small teacher grants to assisting in systemic educational change directed at developing high school graduates who have skills to succeed in post-secondary education, work and life.

Harville said one of the biggest keys to developing strong students and even stronger high school students who are ready for college and the workforce upon graduation is getting them prepared at a very young age. The “Ready By 6” program is designed for that exact purpose. HC*EXCELL said the program “is a strategic plan which focuses on facilitating early childhood learning through community support and engagement and providing children with the tools and to needed for success.”

Parents are a child’s first teachers, Harville said. Eighty percent of a child’s brain development comes in the first three years of life, so it is important parents give all the tools needed for their children to keep pace with their peers.

“A lot of kids aren’t ready to start school whey they’re supposed to be,” Harville said. “We developed a tool kit for every parent who births a child at (Morristown-Hamblen Health System).”

Harville added more parents need to read to their children as early as when they’re newborns.

“A child who is read to (as a baby) has an advantage compared to a child who is sat in front of a TV,” he said. “You think they can’t understand at a month or two old, but their brains learn to mimic things, and as they grow, they start to learn.”

HC*EXCELL’s “Workforce and Leadership” program is a collaboration with Junior Achievement of East Tennessee that starts with fifth-graders. The organization built the middle-school program, called “It’s My Future” with assistance from the county’s business community. The program focuses on teaching students about certain careers, and the education needed to reach those goals, as well as teaching soft skills such as searching for a job, resume writing, interviewing skills and creating a personal brand. Over 400 middle school students participated in the program representing East Ridge, Meadowview, West View and Lincoln Heights Middle Schools.

“This has been a very good program to introduce students how to brand themselves on what to work on, such as how to do a resume, or how to dress for an interview,” Harville said.

Another part of the program is a trip to “Biz-Town,” which is a 12-week curriculum taught in Hamblen County’s schools before taking a one-day tour of the area’s businesses. Harville said 807 students attended the events, with over 150 volunteers participating.

Harville also said January’s Future Ready Expo at the Great Smoky Mountains Expo Center in White Pine was another educational opportunity for Hamblen County’s middle schoolers. Students had the chance to explore careers within four career clusters, including Advanced Manufacturing, Health & Public Services, Business & Information Technology and Retail Services & Trade during the one-day event, which saw 1,431 students from 10 Lakeway Area schools attend.

Ninety-six organizations from throughout the area and beyond held booths in each quadrant, including ICONEX, WSCC, Citizen Tribune, MAHLE, Colortech, Inc., Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System, Hamblen County Schools, The Dollywood Company, Van Hool Bus Company, Morristown Police Department and Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department, leaving plenty of choices for students to peruse through.

“(The Future Ready Expo) was another way of exposing students to what types of job opportunities are right here in Hamblen County,” he said.

Each student who participated in the event utilized Major Clarity, a career exposure platform for grades 6 through 12, which is meant to promote active student engagement and exploration. Harville said it is a good resource, provided the students use it correctly.

“If the kids are honest with what they want to do (for a career), it matches very well,” he said.

HC*EXCELL is also the presenting sponsor and funding body of Youth Leadership Hamblen County. Juniors from Morristown-Hamblen High School East and Morristown-Hamblen High School West toured county and city government offices, toured industrial plants, attended government and civic meetings and took part in a variety of different leadership classes.

“These kids could attend a school board meeting, a county commission meeting or talk industry with R. Jack Fishman,” Harville said. “These kids could be the future business leaders of Hamblen County for the next couple of decades.”

Last October, HC*EXCELL hosted its annual Education Banquet at The Country Club in Morristown, which was highlighted by the presentation of the JTEKT Educational Leadership Award to Dr. Earnest Walker, who served as the superintendent of Hamblen County Schools from 1988 to 1999, and was one of the founders of HC*EXCELL.

Morristown West High algebra teacher Brian McLaughlin, who was named Tennessee Teacher of the Year for 2019-2020, served as the keynote speaker at the event. McLaughlin is a National Board Certified Teacher who has been teaching for 11 years, all in Hamblen County. He is the second teacher in the last three years from the county to win the award.

In addition to McLaughlin, teachers from elementary, middle and high schools in the county were honored at the banquet. Four area teachers joined McLaughlin as National Professional Board Certified Teachers, and Hamblen County Assistant Director of Schools Buddy Smith accepted a grant for $10,000 to further develop ACT Workkeys programs at Morristown-Hamblen High School East and West.

“These teachers go above and beyond to make sure all their students’ needs are being met,” Harville said. “We’ve got an outstanding educational system, and we’ve got a foundation that honors all our education in Hamblen County.”