NASHVILLE — Four Tri-Cities school districts are among nearly 40 systems across the state to win grants from the Tennessee Department of Education.

Hawkins County led the way with the highest number of grants and highest overall dollar amount.

‘’This funding will be used to purchase VEX IQ robots for each school and teacher professional development and training,” Debbi Pressnell, grant writer for Hawkins County Schools, said Monday afternoon.

The other three systems are Washington County with two grants for the same school — giving it the most grant money of any single school in the region, followed by Johnson City and Bristol, Tennessee, each with one grant.

“This (middle schools) grant will allow teachers to address coding standards in a hands-on and engaging manner,” said Brittney Rhoton, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) academic coach for the school system.


The TDE Monday announced more than $800,000 in grant funding has been awarded to 38 districts for STEM education, middle school career and technical education (CTE) and high school school-based enterprise (SBE) projects.

In the middle school start-up and expansion category in Hawkins County, Bulls Gap School, Church Hill Intermediate and Rogersville Middle received $6,197 each, and Clinch School, a pre-K-12, received $3,948. That makes for a total of $22,539 among the four schools.

Pressnell said the lesser amount for Clinch versus the other three schools reflects the smaller size of the school.

“We are proud of each person that was involved in getting this funding for our district,” Hawkins County Director of Schools Matt Hixson said. “Any STEM training for our students prepares them for the future and makes them a competitive force within a college or career path.”

Elsewhere in the region, the new Tennessee Middle School in Bristol got $10,000 in the same category, while Sulphur Springs Elementary School in Washington County got $9,251 in that category.

In the middle school CTE career exploration grants, Johnson City’s Indian Trail Middle won $9,418 and Washington County’s Sulphur Springs Elementary got $9,251.53.

No Tri-Cities school won in the high school category.


Funding is being provided through Gov. Bill Lee’s Future Workforce Initiative, which is aimed at increasing access to CTE, STEM and Work-Based Learning (WBL) in the classroom. For the past two years, the department has awarded start-up funding for middle school STEM and CTE programs.

This year, in addition to start-up grants, schools that previously received funding were eligible to apply for expansion STEM and CTE grants, while high schools had the opportunity to qualify for SBE funding to increase enrollment in WBL courses.

To view a list of all grant recipients, visit

”Ensuring our students have access to high-quality work-based learning opportunities, STEM, and career and technical education is essential to building college and career readiness,” Commissioner Penny Schwinn said in a news release. “Tennessee has worked diligently to align STEM and CTE coursework that provides students with clearer pathways when transitioning from middle to high school. We are thrilled to now provide high school school-based learning to further improve students’ transition from high school into postsecondary education and the workforce.”

For the past three years, middle school grants have directly supported the goal of the Future Workforce Initiative to add an additional 100 new middle school STEM programs by 2022, a news release stated. Adding high school SBE grants will help eliminate barriers for students who can’t participate in off-campus WBL placements due to transportation and scheduling challenges, it said.

Districts were allowed to apply for all three grants this year. In their applications, grant recipients demonstrated ability to align courses from middle school to high school, provide meaningful career guidance and advisement and expand upon employer partnerships to create pathways for students. Grant funds will be available to districts Dec. 1.

For more information about the Middle School STEM Start-Up Grants, CTE Career Exploration Grants, or High School School-Based Enterprise Grants, visit the department’s website at

To learn more about the Governor’s Future Workforce Initiative go online to It already has impacted nearly 400,000 Tennessee students and more than 2,000 educators.

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