Rotary wraps up great year with Ridgedale

Tom KingFarragut, Feature

It’s the school that’s easy to miss when you pass by it on Oak Ridge Highway. Ridgedale School. For a long, long time it was known as Ridgedale Elementary School. Today it is known as Ridgedale Alternative School.

One floor has classes for middle school students who for various and sundry reasons need to be in an alternative school setting for behavior issues. The other floor is special education for students in grades 1-12 who have developmental or intellectual disabilities. It is, to say the least, a challenging environment for principal Diana Gossett and her dedicated and busy staff. The students come from all over Knox County. This is not your typical neighborhood school. It has no PTA, for example.


Three years ago, Rotarians from all of the clubs in Knoxville met there on a chilly Saturday morning for a World Rotary Day project to spruce up the place – mostly landscaping and overdue painting projects. It was the Rotary Club of Farragut’s first encounter with this school. Chris Camp is our club president this year and she was there for this project three years ago. The school struck a nerve with her. She has an adult daughter with Down Syndrome.

That experience, with Chris leading the way, led to the Rotary Club of Farragut’s board of directors unanimously voting in the spring of 2017 to adopt Ridgedale as our Partner In Education school. Two of our members who are co-chairs of our Projects Committee – Teri Jo Fox and Val Privett – got busy coming up with ways our club could support and help this school. With the school year coming to a close, it’s safe to say this has developed into a great partnership.

Last week and as school winds down this year, it was “Teacher Appreciation Week” at Ridgedale and Teri Jo and Val were there every day. Each day they had different treats prepared and ready for teachers and staff. On Wednesday, they helped serve the faculty and staff a full BBQ lunch with the trimmings, prepared by fellow Rotarian Alex Barnwell. It was complete with a huge cake.

Here’s what the club has done throughout the year:

  • Participated in the school’s Fall Festival, with a group of Rotary “witches” there to help students decorate Halloween pumpkins and talk with the students.
  • Helped sell coupon books, raising $600 for the school.
  • Not long ago a group of 20 Rotarians and a few of their kids spent half of a Saturday painting lockers inside the classrooms.
  • The club also provided $20 gift cards from various restaurants for a monthly drawing for the school’s educational assistants. “We depend so much on our assistants to provide support for our students. This gave us an opportunity to provide an extra morale booster each month,” Gossett said.
  • And Teacher Appreciation Week, which also included a $5 gift certificate.

I asked Gossett about her thoughts on the Rotary-Ridgedale partnership. “Because we serve students from all over the district, it is a challenge to obtain community support for our school. Having the Farragut Rotary Club adopt us through the Partners in Education program has been such a tremendous benefit for our students, our staff and our school this year,” she said. “This is a partnership we treasure and Rotarians are awesome.”

After Teacher Appreciation Week, here are comments from four Ridgedale staff and faculty members:

  • Amy Crisp, teacher: “Wow, we have never received so much from a community group!”
  • Carrie Balent, school counselor: “This is such a morale booster for our staff. They work so hard every day, it is nice to see them recognized.”
  • Tyler Smart, educational assistant: “This has been so nice. Something every day has been way more than we expected!”
  • Chris Kimel, teacher: “These Rotarians know how to do Teacher Appreciation. They are awesome!”

It’s pretty clear the admiration is mutual. Teri Jo had this to say: “Seeing their smiles, hearing them say they haven’t ever been treated or given anything like this. Knowing that our efforts and giving means so much to them, was so fulfilling. We all like to be treated great and spoiled a little – they are no different. Ridgedale is special to me. Everything we have done at this school, whether for the teachers, the students or the building, I felt like a million dollars walking out. This is what I want to do as a Rotarian – give back, love on others and love on our community. Rotarians call it ‘Service Above Self.’”

Thanks to Teri Jo and Val for a great year of coordinating things with our Partner In Education school. What a great job these two Rotarians have done!

There’s another Rotary motto that comes to mind when I think about this partnership – Making a Difference!

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