P-16 Council discusses EPSOs at meeting

Educational leaders from throughout the Lakeway Area gathered at Walters State Community College on Thursday for the Mid-East Tennessee P-16 Council Meeting. From left are Dr. Tony Miksa, president of Walters State; Chuck Carter, Hamblen County School System CTE director; K.C. Alvarado, CTE program manager; Julie Lewis, reference/emerging technologies librarian at Walters State; and Matthew Hunter, dean of distance education.

The theme for the Mid-East Tennessee Regional P-16 Council for Excellence in Education was clear Thursday morning.

It was all about the “EPSOs.”

“We’ve got to figure out a way to get across that EPSO finish line,” said Julie Lewis, coordinator for the P-16 Council.

“EPSO” stands for early post-secondary opportunities and during the quarterly meeting of the P-16 Council meeting, held in the Duggins Foundation Room at Walters State Community College, several area Career & Technical Education coordinators spoke on how they were implementing opportunities.

The P-16 Council is an initiative made up of 10 counties throughout northeast Tennessee. The focus is on trying to develop better teaching and learning from pre-school through post-secondary education.

Chuck Carter, Hamblen County Career & Technical Education supervisor, led off the discussion talking about how he grew up as a child of the ‘80s and heard all through his life about having to go to college to be successful.

But, he said that is no longer the case, and it’s starting to seep through to students and parents.

The decision is not always so clear, he said.

“It should be individualized to the student,” Carter said.

He said in Hamblen County there is a focus on making sure students have skills already in place when they go across the stage for the final time in their high school career.

“We’re not having students ‘ready to graduate,’” Carter said. “We’re having students be ‘ready graduates.’”

He said the school system is reaching out to parents and getting them involved and teaching the benefits of dual enrollment compared to AP classes.

Last year, Hamblen County had 43 students participate in summer internships at several different industries in order to learn more about the work force. He said this summer that number will exceed more than 50 students.

“The goal is that students will leave school with a good idea of what they want to do,” Carter said.

KC Alvarado, CTE program manager, shared her own story about growing up in a low-income, single family home. She said she graduated early, had a full ride scholarship to Tennessee State University, but was back home within two weeks.

The reason was because she had never learned how to transition from high school to post-secondary, she said.

She later went back to school at the age of 21 with the encouragement of her husband.

“When I think about these things, I think a lot about myself,” she said.

In Hamblen County, she said there are several programs in place to help with transitioning and assisting pre-school to job ready, programs such as Job & Career Day, Future Ready Expo and Junior Achievement.

Perry Schaandt, CTE supervisor for Sevier County, told the crowd about how they need to “think outside the box” and be prepared for the “snowball effect.”

He described how just years ago, when the wildfires hit Gatlinburg, he found out that senior citizens were not getting food because of a lack of workers. His CTE culinary classes stepped in and started cooking and delivering food.

The community found out, so began to chip in as well, he said. The impact is that his culinary arts students were able to network and find jobs in the community due to everyone stepping in and volunteering to help senior citizens.

“The snowball effect is real,” he said.