HCS EdConnect Grant Awards Winners
Posted on 02/18/2022
CHATTANOOGA, TN — Teachers, staff and schools across Hamilton County have gone above and beyond to stay connected to their students through unprecedented times and circumstances — and now several have been nominated and honored with a new local award.

Thanks to the HCS EdConnect Partnership, lead by Hamilton County Schools, EPB and The Enterprise Center, six HCS staff and seven schools received awards for their work during the first semester of the 2021-2022 school term, which recognized each winner for the time, energy and passion they devoted to ensuring students and families had access to the resources they needed to succeed.

“I applaud each and every one of these educators and schools for their efforts,” said Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Justin Robertson. “Their dedication and commitment to maintaining connection to their students both in the classroom and online has made a profound impact on so many lives across the county.”

The HCS EdConnect Hero award specifically highlights staff who went above and beyond helping HCS families access high-speed fiber internet at no cost, powered by EPB. Front office staff, school translators, classroom teachers and other educators all played (and continue to play) a critical role in contacting families. They ultimately ensured that more than 15,000 area students were connected to no-cost internet by the end of 2021.

Begun in November, this award recognizes three inspiring leaders, nominated by their peers, each month with a $500 prize. Three new leaders will continue to be chosen each month, through the end of the school year.

The HCS EdConnect Exemplar School designation is awarded to schools who meet connective goals around the percentage of eligible families enrolled and receiving service. 57 schools exceeded the goals set for fall of 2021, with seven schools receiving competitive grants of $2,000 to $5,000.

Another seven awards, this time up to $10,000, are available to schools in Spring of 2022.

HCS EdConnect’s no-cost, in-home fiber internet, offered through the Hamilton County School system to students and their families, is provided by EPB. The program is facilitated by The Enterprise Center, a Chattanooga nonprofit focused on digital equity, access and connections that help create more inclusive futures for residents across the region.

“Providing pathways for our students to succeed has always been important,” explained The Enterprise Center CEO Deb Socia, who is also a former school principal. “The pandemic certainly has highlighted the inequities that have always existed in our communities, and this group of teachers and schools deserve to be commended for the critical role they played in paving a new way forward. Their efforts are invaluable and changed the lives – and futures – of these 15,000 students and their families.”

For award-winning Brainerd High School Principal Crystal Sorrells, the program was not only a solution to provide students with access to technology and resources in the pandemic, but also to increase parent participation in the school by eliminating access to travel as a barrier for involvement.

“This partnership was a great opportunity to bridge the gap in terms of recognizable challenges that many of our students face,” Sorrells said. “It has really helped level the playing field.”

Brody Scott, the Northside Neighborhood House Community School coordinator for Soddy Daisy Middle School, another recipient of the award, agreed. Through a combination of grassroots efforts, including knocking on doors, print mailers and more, his school was able to reach families in creative ways to notify them about the opportunity for technology and access through HCS EdConnect’s no-cost EPB services.

Scott was a personal recipient of the HCS EdConnect Hero award for his community-driven creative solutions, in addition to earning his school the new Exemplar designation.

“Access to things beyond just school homework has also been deeply impactful,” he said. “A family’s ability to access telehealth opportunities is so important, especially in a pandemic. And we haven’t had any reported internet or resource issues at our school in quite some time – and that’s huge.”

“At the end of the day it’s all about the babies,” said award winner and Barger Academy of Fine Arts Principal Andrea Johnson. “We do what we do for them.”

To learn more about HCS EdConnect or to nominate a Hamilton County HCS EdConnect Hero, visit edconnect.org.

About the winners:
HCS Hero Award winners, chosen via nomination:
Tanya Rucker – Hunter Middle School
Brody Scott – Soddy Daisy Middle School
Anthony Miller – North Hamilton County Elementary School
Lizanette Olivencia-Rodriguez – Clifton Hills Elementary School
Tracy Higginbotham – Tommie F. Brown Academy
Joanna Wallace – Lookout Valley Elementary

Exemplar School Award winners:
Wallace A. Smith Elementary School
Barger Academy of Fine Arts
Hixson Middle School
Ooltewah Elementary School
Soddy Daisy Middle School
Brainerd High School
Lookout Valley Middle High School

About The Enterprise Center
The Enterprise Center is a nonprofit economic development partner to the city, county, region and state dedicated to uniting people, organizations and technology to build an advanced and inclusive future rooted in community connection, with a focus on equity, collaboration, economic mobility and Smart City innovation.
With a goal of creating equitable, accessible and more connected communities for all, The Enterprise Center works collaboratively to promote access to technology and the internet with initiatives like Tech Goes Home, with more than 6,000 graduates and now serving residents across the State of Tennessee, and HCS EdConnect; build pathways to success in the innovation economy through The Innovation District, workforce development programming and Floor Five at the Edney; and develop Smart City infrastructure and technologies alongside the Chattanooga Smart Community Collaborative and other partners.

To learn more about The Enterprise Center’s work and resources, visit theenterprisectr.org.

About EPB
EPB serves the greater Chattanooga area by providing world-class energy and connectivity solutions as a means of promoting economic development and enhancing quality of life for our community. We deliver electricity to more than 170,000 homes and businesses across our 600 square mile service area which includes most of Hamilton County as well as parts of surrounding counties in both Tennessee and Georgia. In 2010, EPB Fiber Optics, which offers internet, TV, and telephone services, became the first provider in the United States to deliver up to 1 Gig (1,000 Mbps) internet speeds utilizing a community-wide fiber optic network which is accessible to every home and business in its service area. In 2015, EPB became the first, and to date, only American ISP to make up to 10 Gig (10,000 Mbps) internet speeds accessible to all of its residential and commercial customers as a standard offer.

EPB has also utilized its community-wide fiber optic network to deploy the most advanced and highly automated smart grid power management system in the nation. In recognition of EPB’s groundbreaking infrastructure, the Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are utilizing EPB’s smart grid as a national model for researching and developing best practices. EPB is also the first major power distribution utility to earn the USGBC’s PEER certification for having a highly automated, modernized electric power grid.

EPB is an independent board of the City of Chattanooga which began serving customers in 1939. Visit EPB.com for more information.