April 7, 2014

Have you ever wanted to travel in time?

Have you ever wanted to travel in time? Most of us have wished at one time or another that we could change the past. I can’t offer you that. But you do have the opportunity to change the future.

Right now, the future of our community is sitting in a classroom learning to read, how to count to one hundred, or how cells divide. They are learning what they love, what they are good at, and who they want to be. And you can be a part of that. We have a chance to guide tomorrow’s leaders, and to make a choice about what we want our future to look like.

You may not know it, but you have something special that you can contribute. There are a multitude of opportunities to volunteer in schools. You can volunteer as a tutor, a mentor, or a classroom assistant. Help a child learn to read, or help with their math homework.  Encourage them to apply for college and help them apply for financial aid. You can help to clean or paint an aging school building. You can volunteer for a fundraiser, or write grants. You can let a child shadow you at your job.  You can find a way to inspire a child, and to make learning fun!

Schools are always looking for volunteers. Try contacting your neighborhood school and see what they need help with. You can volunteer on a regular basis, or for special projects and events. In addition to PEF, there are plenty of other organizations in Chattanooga that support education. You can contact one directly, or browse listings at

During National Volunteer Week, remember that you have an amazing opportunity before you. You can’t change the past, but you can help create a beautiful future. Thanks you for all you do!

-Meghan Greene, PEF Intern, UTC Public Administration and Nonprofit Management

March 17, 2014

Service learning for students subject of next College Knowledge lunch workshop

Join us for the next College Knowledge lunch break on Thursday, April 24 from 12:00 – 1:00 pm. PEF Volunteer Coordinator Kate Skonberg will help participants learn how strategic volunteering can help students set themselves apart from the crowd.  It’s a competitive world, but through volunteering, students can gain valuable job skills, become eligible for scholarships, build career networks, and grow as a person.  Attendees will learn specific ways to find service learning and volunteer opportunities in Chattanooga and techniques toward maximizing each opportunity.

Register online today; a buffet lunch is available for $5 with advance registration only.

March 12, 2014

Public Education Night at the Lookouts May 3

Download a flyer to share and share our Facebook event far and wide!

PEF is partnering with the Lookouts to host Public Education Night at the ballpark on Saturday, May 3 at 7:15 p.m. General admission tickets are only $5; for every ticket sold, PEF keeps $2 and after the ticket is scanned at the entry gate, we receive another $0.50. Kids 6 and under are FREE!

We need your help to publicize this fun night to family, friends, neighbors, and anyone else in your networks. May 3 is the end of TCAP week – a night at the ballpark is a great way for teachers to recognize their students’ hard work. Businesses are encouraged to purchase tickets for their employees or donate a set to their favorite school or class.

Please call 668.2430 or email me for tickets and more details. See you at the ballpark!

- Shannon Edmondson, Development & Communications Officer

February 19, 2014

Applications open for Camp College 2014

There’s nothing quite like spending time on a college campus to jump start your plans for life after high school. For rising seniors, our Camp College initiative provides insight, guidance, support, and information for students and their families.

Camp College starts with a planning retreat on the beautiful Sewanee: The University of the South campus from July 17-19, 2014.  Admissions officers and college advisors from across the southeast work with students in small groups and one-on-one to cover all aspects of the college application and financial aid processes. Sessions include scholarship essay writing, college searches, and a mini-college fair, as well as opportunities to meet other students and preview campus life. Parents/guardians are invited to attend a financial aid workshop during the weekend – transportation is available for those planning to attend.

Students and volunteer group leaders will be housed in a dorm on Sewanee’s campus, just 45 minutes from Chattanooga. Transportation, rooms, meals, and materials are all paid by PEF, Sewanee, and other generous sponsors. For accepted students, there will be a $25 non-refundable enrollment fee.

Camp College will host up to 40 rising seniors who meet the following criteria:

  • Be on track to graduate in 2015;
  • Have a grade point average of 3.0 or higher; and
  • Have financial need and/or be the first in your family to attend college.

Applications are due by April 4 and participants will be selected by a committee of PEF staff members, community volunteers, and business leaders. Email us for more information – and apply today!

- Janice Neal, Program Associate

February 14, 2014

PEF’s Christa Payne finalist for YP of the Year

Congratulations to our Vice President for External Affairs, Christa Payne, on her selection as a finalist for YP of the Year by the Young Professionals Association of Chattanooga (YPAC).

A key mission of YPAC is to cultivate emerging leaders. Each year YPAC honors outstanding young professionals and YP-friendly businesses in the Chattanooga area.

The 2014 YP Awards will be held on Friday, February 21 at The Chattanooga.  We look forward to celebrating with Christa!


January 31, 2014

Spring College Knowledge series continues

For many, the road to college seems confusing, intimidating, overwhelming and costly. Have no fear! PEF is here to help with our College Knowledge Lunch Breaks.

These FREE monthly sessions from noon to 1 pm offer knowledge about college to adults who work with or advise students on their journey to post-secondary education (parents, guardians, mentors, coaches, counselors, etc.).

Topics include:

  • Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - Resume Writing & Interviewing Skills
  • Thursday, March 13, 2014 - ACT/SAT: That is the Question
  • Thursday, April 24, 2014 - The Importance of Volunteering
  • Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - Support Students with Disabilities
  • Tuesday, June 17, 2014 - Parents, You Are Now A Passenger

Register online for these sessions – we can provide lunch for $5 or you may bring your own.  For more information, contact Stacy Lightfoot, Vice President of College & Career Success by email or 423-648-4443.

We’d love your help advertising these events; download a copy of the College Knowledge Flyer to distribute. 

January 28, 2014

The Learning Lab: 2014 hot education topics

With almost a whole month of the year under our belts, I thought it would be nice to step back for a moment and reflect on some topics that are likely to emerge or continue to emerge in 2014. The first of these items is, of course, how we plan to measure the new Common Core reading and math standards.

Attitudes toward the new standards range from pure hate to unconditional love, with most folks roaming cautiously around in the middle. Despite how you feel about the standards, they are heading our way; and tentacles from accountability, professional learning, and funding models and sources are wrapped around how attainment of the standards will be measured. Last week, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers released some sample items. Tennessee is a “… governing state in the PARCC consortium,” so the look and feel of the released sample items are likely very close to those that will eventually make up Common Core assessments.

Because we are talking about assessment, let’s talk a little about using assessment to gauge student learning AND as part of accountability and performance measures for education professionals. Ideally, we would be able to use a test to measure student learning and to hold educators accountable for students’ results. It would also be ideal if I were a left-handed catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. More than ever, we are seeing how biases introduced when tests and assessments are misused and/or overused for educator accountability are tainting what were once useful and relatively valid feedback tools. One of the most accessible discussions of these challenges may be accessed here.

Education leadership will also be a major conversation point this year. More importantly, we will see the typical conversation—focused on principals and superintendents—shift to include education leaders at all levels. In order to meet the challenges of molding all students to be college- and/or career-ready, it will be essential to understand that shared leadership is more important than top-down initiatives that are likely to fade away when leaders move on. It will be exciting to see an increase in the understanding of how important it will be to recruit, through traditional and alternate routes, educators who can serve as classroom, school, district and national education leaders. 2014 will bring strategies to legitimize and realize multiple paths to education leadership on which educators who want to remain in the classroom are valued just as highly as those who wish to move out of the classroom to assume roles with more management responsibilities.

Finally, we will continue to see more and more implementation and research of and on, respectively, the use of technology to facilitate and/or augment learning. From one-to-one initiatives to professional learning and feedback tools based in “the cloud,” we will get deeper into the weeds of applying technology to the classroom while becoming more and more aware that technology is a wonderful tool for promoting student learning—but that it is not a replacement for excellent instruction.

I am sure other interesting and innovative things will happen in education this year, but I have no doubt the topics mentioned in this blog will be related, even if peripherally. It is an exciting and fulfilling time to be part of the education landscape, and I am confident we will leave 2014 in a better position to educate and nurture our educators and our students.

Director of Research and Effectiveness Keith White tells the stories behind the data.  Keith’s columns will be featured on every other week as part of “The Learning Lab” series.

January 14, 2014

Fund for Teachers highlighted; 2014 deadline is Jan. 30 – info sessions coming up

Some of Chattanooga’s 2013 Fund for Teachers fellows have been featured on the Tennessee Department of Education’s Classroom Chronicles website:

There’s still time to apply for a 2014 Fund for Teachers fellowship! Applications are due Thursday,  January 30 by 5 pm Central time. Information sessions will be held:

For more information, visit PEF’s FFT section and the national Fund for Teachers site and online application.

- Leslie Graitcer, Fund for Teachers Coordinator


January 14, 2014

The Learning Lab: Common Core fact and fiction (part two)

MONEY capitalized
The final standout moment in this video caused me some confusion. At one point, the speaker seemed to claim that Common Core Standards are a clandestine effort of big government and industry leaders to create a socialist, automaton workforce. This is confusing because, if we wanted to create socialists, we would likely select a much more prescriptive set of less complicated, student-specific standards. In short, these are not even close to the kinds of standards we would want to put in place. As they are, the English language arts and mathematics standards are very much open to interpretation. They do not come with a curriculum, a standardized test or battery of tests, or skill-tracking mandates. Also, if Microsoft, Dell and other multinational companies rooted in the U.S. wanted to go Clone Wars-style, they have the resources to do so in a more efficient way.

The U. S. is a mixed economy—a little government over a lot of free market capitalism—and within that economic setup, businesses exist to provide a good and/or service AND to turn a profit doing so. Not only are many jobs offshored because of wage demands, but many American companies express more than a little dissatisfaction with their new hires’ deficient skillsets (check out these two articles here and here). Moreover, even students who appear to have their academic lives in good working order tend to struggle with postsecondary realities. According to a recent National Center for Education Statistics study, attrition rates for students entering science, technology and mathematics postsecondary pathways were as much as 69 percent, and attrition rates for non-STEM fields were even higher (if you only read page IV of the executive summary, please get a copy of this study). The Common Core Standards have a fighting chance to provide educators with an end road to academic and noncognitive college and career skills.

A quick one
I want to address the whole “government tracking” theory as it relates to Common Core Standards. Big Data—huge information sets gathered for the purposes of policy and report creation, as well as monitoring—predate the Common Core Standards initiative by several decades. In fact, every state is doing what they can to build an adequate and relational infrastructure for longitudinal tracking and linking. It is NOT a secret mission or sneaky effort. We should be much more concerned with how the data are used than if it exists. It has existed for many, many years. Only in the age of accountability has it transformed from a tool to a weapon.

This is my take. I have a child who is learning the standards put forth by Common Core, and her homework is far from prescriptive or automaton-like. Most of her assignments require a little old school reading, writing and math work, AND she usually gets to choose how she goes about completing assignments. Sometimes, she draws her answer; and sometimes, she writes it out. Her teacher works with us to find the best fit for our precious, special angel.

If you really want to form your own opinion of the Common Core Standards and what they may mean in your country, state, district and school, I urge you to do your homework. Find out for yourself that the standards are not a curriculum. Are testing companies slobbering over the possibility of creating a bunch of new Common Core instruments? You bet they are, and they should be. If you owned a pizza joint and a huge skating rink opened up right next door, wouldn’t you be salivating over the possibility of selling pizza to hungry skaters? I should hope so. Do businesses and companies want workers with better cognitive and noncognitive skills? Of course they do. Technology made the world tiny, and today’s students are competing with the rest of the planet for jobs and resources. Will folks try to capitalize on the standards by developing new assessments, test prep courses, career readiness inventories, student and teacher evaluation systems, and all the other potential products? Yes. It is America, and thankfully (in my opinion), we long ago chose our hybrid economic model. Although modifications have come and gone with different political administrations, we still have a free market with some safety nets built in. If you do watch THIS video, at least watch THIS ONE, too; and remember, Glenn Beck made more than Oprah last year. It’s his job to entertain you, not inform you; and though he still has problems, all that money probably makes them a lot easier to stomach.

Director of Research and Effectiveness Keith White tells the stories behind the data. Keith’s columns will be featured on every other week as part of “The Learning Lab” series.

January 3, 2014

College Knowledge workshop series continues with Financial Aid 101

A new year means new opportunities to learn! Our FREE College Knowledge lunch breaks resume at noon on Thursday, January 16 with Financial Aid 101.

Applying for financial aid is a very important step for many students. There is no escaping the fact that college costs are rising. Financial aid is intended to make up the difference between what your family can afford to pay and what college costs. More than half of the students currently enrolled in college receive some sort of financial aid to help pay college costs.

At this hour-long workshop, you’ll learn how the financial aid system works and how it can bridge the gap between what families can afford and the rising costs of college.

Rebecca Smith from the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga is the guest presenter and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this session for parents, advisors, counselors, and anyone wishing to support students as they plan for post-secondary education.

As always, you can reserve a lunch for $5 or bring your own.  Register online today to reserve your space!

- Stacy Lightfoot, Vice President of College and Career Success

Page 1 of 9