Unlike Hawkins County's two main high schools, tiny Clinch School, located on the north side of Clinch Mountain, doesn't have facilities for a vocational program.
That didn't stop Tennessee's smallest K-12 school from shocking the region by winning the prestigious solar Go-Kart challenge last year at Bristol Motor Speedway and then following that up last month with a second-place finish.
Clinch science and STEM teacher Josh Couch, who coached the solar Go-Kart team, was awarded the Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant to be used for the school’s vocational initiative projects.
The entire school averages about 140 students, and rarely is there more than a dozen in any one grade.
Couch told the Times News the unique location as well as the size of Clinch limits what elective classes, including vocational classes, can be offered to students.
This grant will allow him to purchase tools and materials so he can incorporate vocational skills into STEM lessons.
"The only vocational class that we offer here at Clinch is the STEM class," Couch said. "This program is a series of four classes governed by standards from the state for reinforcing areas of science, technology, engineering and math. I have felt as if our students have not been provided the learning experiences that other students in the country receive due to their school having a full vocational program."
Couch said he has dreamed of being able to teach some of the skilled trades curriculum offered at larger high schools within the STEM curriculum.
After reviewing the state standards, he realized he could incorporate welding, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, agriculture and auto mechanics into his class.
"Though the students would not be able to have a full semester or yearlong class devoted just to skilled trades, I believe that it would help them make a decision of if they would like to pursue a career in skilled trades," Couch said. "Currently the United States is a deficit of being able to fill 3 million jobs in the skilled trades sector. The majority of the current work force that are skilled trades workers are 45 years and older. Hence, the need for a skilled trades worker is only going to grow in the years to come."
Couch added, "My hope is to have a vocational building in the near future so that I can efficiently and safely educate these students in these skilled trades. These students are the future of our country, so I think that we owe it to ourselves and them to try our best to equip them to be successful in life."
The application that Couch sent to Lowe’s was entitled "Clinch Vocational Initiative."
"I am going to be purchasing equipment that I can use in the classroom to provide these students at Clinch a taste of what is offered at a vocational school," he added. "Just because they attend a small school in a rural area should not mean that they don’t deserve the opportunity."