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Oak Ridge Education is Centered Around Looking Up and Reaching Out

Schools known for academic excellence, service and mentorship.

By Laura Hill on June 5, 2020

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Oak Ridge Associated Universities

Outstanding programs and teachers have long been hallmarks of Oak Ridge Schools (ORS). Among the most honored school systems, it boasts ACT scores among the nation’s highest and a No. 1 ranking statewide. It is only the second school system in the world to achieve AdvancED STEM certification. With excellent private school options, as well, Oak Ridge students have exciting options.

Oak Ridge TN
Oak Ridge / Michael D. Tedesco

Salute to Service

Oak Ridge High School (ORHS) students are reaching high by serving here on the ground. The school’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps provides color guards at events and volunteers in a variety of community service projects as part of its mission. Part of the Navy National Defense Cadet Corps in 2018-19, its first year, the ORHS corps attracted 107 students; in 2019-20, it boomed to 150 students. It is one of only 16 groups to earn a Distinguished Unit Award in an area that ranges from East Tennessee to New Mexico. And the Oak Ridge unit will represent Tennessee in the 2020 Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade in Hawaii as ambassadors of the USS Tennessee.

Discover Oak Ridge, TN

“We have all kinds of kids in the unit, and I think what draws people the most is our stress that this is a family,†says Master-at-Arms Chief Petty Officer (SW) Ryan L. Nicholls, U.S. Navy (retired). “Too many kids are told you can’t be part of something because of how you look or where you come from. We don’t judge you by your past, by where you come from. We accept you for who you are.”

The appeal was straightforward for Cadet Commanding Officer Ryan Register. “I like the social skills I’ve learned and enjoy the people I’ve met,†Register says. “The work we do at the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) is fun and very fulfilling.”

Oak Ridge TN
Oak Ridge / Michael D. Tedesco

Higher Goals

When it comes to learning, Robertsville Middle School students are looking to the stars – literally. In October 2020, a student-created satellite named RamSat – in honor of the school’s mascot – will launch into space aboard the NG-14 Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station. The satellite was designed and built by students in STEM teacher Todd Livesay’s class.

The project began in fall 2015, and in 2017, the students submitted a proposal to NASA for its CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI). They received an acceptance letter in March 2018. The satellite will observe reforestation since the devastating 2016 fires in the Gatlinburg area. A camera and radio in the tiny satellite will broadcast images and data back to the students’ computer on Earth.

Oak Ridge: Stars are Made Here

Among a team of adults who mentored the project was scientist Peter Thornton from Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“This is such an exciting opportunity for the students,†Thornton says in an ORS press release. “They’ll be working as a team to identify and solve problems, and they will be working with NASA professionals. I can’t think of a more exciting project to ignite the students’ curiosity and passion for science and engineering.”

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Oak Ridge Associated Universities

Richly Rewarding

Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) offers exciting opportunities for teachers and students. The organization sponsors summer and school-year programs for students, professional enrichment for teachers and more – all part of its overall mission to “advance national priorities in science, education, security and health.”

“Our primary purpose is to develop the future STEM workforce, and K-12 education is the place to start,†says Jennifer Tyrell, ORAU section manager of K-12 STEM outreach.

Beginning with “math and movement†classes and advancing to coding classes for older elementary grades and other academies, ORAU offers kids the chance to learn important skills while having big fun. Forensic Chemistry Mini-Academy, for example, lets kids hone their CSI skills as they figure out the source of a mysterious skull. ORAU also hosts the annual Tennessee Science Bowl, which draws more than 300 young STEM whizzes from across the state.

Oak Ridge is Setting a Global Precedent

Teachers are a big part of ORAU’s mission. The winner of the Extreme Classroom Makeover competition receives $25,000 to update and enhance classroom technology. And Extreme Teacher competitions give winners Chromebooks and other tech goodies. ORAU also earmarks more than $20,000 each year in donations specifically to Anderson County schools.

“We are trying to help out teachers in as many ways as we can,†Tyrell says. “They are the force multipliers.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Oak Ridge area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Oak Ridge, TN

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