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

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.

“We focus now on high school kids to get them ready for the real world through a good post-secondary education,” said Stan Harville, HC*EXCELL executive director.

Harville also said the organization’s previous “Cradle through Career” campaign was to align academic achievement with workforce needs and skills.

“Hamblen County has made tremendous progress by developing a workforce/community partnership across the county to focus on: increasing the number of student internships and teacher externships, raising the awareness of the importance of preschool readiness and the impact of arts in the elementary schools (of Hamblen County),” Harville said. “Although the aforementioned steps are positive, they required nurturing.”

As a foundation, HC*EXCELL has learned that many of the children of Hamblen County enter kindergarten unprepared for success. According to Harville, they are deficient in the critical thinking and problem solving skills needed to transition through school successfully and many lack motivation and skills for workforce and post-secondary opportunities.

To combat the problem, HC*EXCELL has developed the SUCCESS program in order to prepare students for successful transitions into high-paying careers, starting from kindergarten. The first step in the program is “Ready By 6,” which is designed to increase the number of children mastering basic skills before they enter kindergarten.

“Basic human needs have to be met but it goes deeper than that. Many times the problems are generational,” Harville said. “We have delved into brain research and the effect of Adverse Childhood Experiences on brain development, and found we needed to attack this problem from many different angles. Health equity, housing security, financial stability and early learning are the four main areas of concentration.”

Another step in the program is “Art Builds Skills,” designed to broaden the critical thinking skills of the county’s children. Harville said all of Hamblen County’s 11 elementary schools have been participating in the program for years, and all four middle schools have been active in the organization’s “Art & Industry” program giving them access to various businesses and industries.

“Since Hamblen County does not have elementary art classes, we have partnered with Crayola to deliver art integration training to selected teachers for redelivery at all elementary schools,” he said. “By integrating art in the regular curriculum, we expect to impact students and their learning through creativity.”

HC*EXCELL’s “Workforce and Leadership” program is a collaboration with Junior Achievement of East Tennessee that starts with fifth-graders. The organization wants to build the middle-school program, called “It’s My Life” 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.

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.

“We have a lot of parents and teachers helping us put this together,” Harville said. “Business leaders regularly come down to help us as well.”

HC*EXCELL has also assisted to ensuring post-secondary success by being tasked to lead the way as one of 12 counties in Tennessee recently selected to be designated a College Completion Community. The organization also supports Tennessee Achieves, Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Reconnect, Complete Tennessee and the SCORE program.