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Lawrence one of three in state to be named anti-tobacco ambassador

A student at Sequoyah High School, Emily “Nikki” Lawrence, is being recognized nationally as a Youth and Young Adult Ambassador by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Lawrence is one of three Tennessee students to be nationally recognized for her leadership in fighting against tobacco.

According to a press release submitted to The Advocate & Democrat, the three students were among 133 “youth and young adults” from 33 states who participated in the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ Digital Advocacy Symposium.

The symposium was a five-day online training session focused on building advocacy, communications and leadership skills. Ambassadors for the campaign will work to “advocate” effective policies to reduce youth tobacco use at the federal, state and local levels.

The policies include ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes that are “addicting” younger generations.

Lawrence has been involved with several groups, including 4-H, HOSA and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) for several years. She joined 4-H in fourth grade, SADD in sixth grade and HOSA starting her freshman year of high school.

She stated that it was difficult to describe how she feels about becoming an ambassador against tobacco use.

“I was shocked when I got the e-mail saying that I was selected as an ambassador for the campaign,” said Lawrence. “I can’t think of a word to describe it — maybe jubilant — I’m just really excited.”

Her passion to pursue countering tobacco was brought about by seeing how it has effected some of her family and loved ones.

“When I started to get involved in this, that fire started to grow and continues to grow,” expressed Lawrence. “I’m meeting with legislators every year, doing conferences, being president of SADD, all of these things have helped me to keep growing and just keep wanting to change the world when there is so much out there that people don’t realize they are exposing themselves to.”

She has recently spoken with State Rep. Lowell Russell (R-Vonore) to draft legislation to ban smoking in drive-thrus.

“Personally, I work at a drive-thru so when people come through and they are smoking or vaping right there at the window, that is getting into my lungs and that is hurting me and everyone around me,” Lawrence stated. “I just want to continue to speak my voice and keep moving and doing all I can to keep my community tobacco free.”

Other recent accomplishments for Lawrence consist of becoming one of two eastern regional public speaking champions in 4-H and regional meats judge champion in 4-H.

In HOSA this year she acquired third place in the region for the medical laws and ethics division competition. She is also heavily involved with the Monroe County Health and Wellness Coalition.

“Our work together has been focusing a lot on getting tobacco free parks, cleaning those up, and getting smoking areas stationed outside of the playground areas,” Lawrence said.

She also participates in leadership roles with two churches: Canvas Church in Lenoir City, where she teaches Pre-K students, and she is a part of overflow student ministries based out of the Englewood Church of God where she is also a student team leader to help mentor younger students.

“Church is definitely what pushes me to be my best,” expressed Lawrence. “My faith is something that I put as a priority, but everything else that I get to do is because of the faith ... Anything that I achieve I always say is credit to God because I’ve grown so much through my faith that it builds me to want to see a better world.”

According to Monroe County Schools’ Career and Technical Education Director Janie Evans, Lawrence embodies the potential of Monroe County students.

“This just exemplifies what we know our students can accomplish,” said Evans. “Emily just shows that when a student can find their passion they blossom and I believe we can expect great things from her.”

Lawrence has also been “greatly” involved with the Monroe County Health Council with several different areas of the organization.

“The neat thing about Nikki, I think, is that she sees even more of an opportunity than just what she can do in school or in her county,” said Heather Rhymes, director of the Health Council. “She has taken it upon herself to be motivated and self driven at a state and national level. She has attended many conferences with us ... she is definitely a very outstanding young person that has a very promising future.”

Her mother, Nancy Dunsmore, also expressed her feelings for Lawrence, as well as sharing her current career plans.

“I am extremely proud of her,” Dunsmore said. “She plans to be an occupational therapist and she would like to add music therapy to that component to combine both her loves. She’s very active in church and leadership and she is just an all around great kid. We are very proud of her.”

Local voters to decide on future of potential sales tax increase

As the August election approaches and early voting continues, Monroe County voters have the opportunity to decide on a sales tax increase for the county.

According to Monroe County Mayor Mitch Ingram, the sales tax increase is “essentially” matching the sales tax in the county to the sales tax already established in one of the county’s cities.

“The sales tax would go from 9.5% to 9.75%, so the rest of the county would be brought up to the same level as Sweetwater,” said Ingram. “That additional funding would go into the county general budget, but all sales tax regardless of if it is collected in the county or in the city will have half of it go straight to the school system.”

The remaining 50% will then go to the county general budget or to the city that it was collected in.

“This is something that the commission considered last year,” Ingram stated. “They feel that sales tax is the fairest of any tax because you can collect from people who are out of town or out of state and everybody pays sales tax. So they felt this was an opportunity, especially since we have one town that is already maxed out on that level.”

Ingram stated that he can understand voters being potentially upset by the proposed increase.

“I can understand their concern and that is one reason that it is on the ballot,” Ingram noted. “The voters will get to decide on if this tax goes through or not.”

Ingram hopes that the citizens will be able to help decide on any future tax increases.

“This is how the commission decided to go about it and let the people of Monroe County vote on it one way or the other,” Ingram said.

“Hopefully more of the tax increases can be done this way too.”

MCS announces details of virtual learning program for the fall

Monroe County Schools’ virtual learning program officially launched on Monday.

According to information submitted by Monroe County Schools Director Dr. DeAnna McClendon, families will select one of two options for their children to continue their education as school starts back next month.

Those consist of an in-person option or virtual learning option as a response to COVID-19.

“Families exercising the virtual learning option will enroll their children at their traditional assigned school to participate in virtual learning,” stated the submitted documents. “With either option (in-person or virtual learning), all students are expected to maintain satisfactory attendance and academic progress.”

Parents can register their students for virtual learning through the Monroe County Schools website.

Once the application has been reviewed, the school will send an e-mail to the applicant containing information regarding registration, course selections and a required orientation course.

Students with no internet access or who have learning disabilities may not qualify for virtual learning.

“We may have to provide some sort of homebound services or something different because they may not be able to sit in front of a computer (with certain disabilities) or they may not be able to work through any of the problems independently,” said McClendon. “They probably have their own individualized education program (IEP) and depending on what is in their IEP would determine if they qualify or not.”

“New student orientation will also be conducted virtually,” the document continued. “The student and at least one parent/guardian must participate in the orientation.”

For virtual learning students in Madisonville Primary School, Madisonville Intermediate School, Tellico Plains Elementary School and Vonore Elementary School, orientation will be scheduled by the assigned teacher.

Students enrolled in virtual learning for Coker Creek Elementary School, Madisonville Middle School, Rural Vale School, Sequoyah High School, Sweetwater High School, Tellico Plains High School and Vonore Middle School will participate in an online orientation course through Edgenuity.

“Complete understanding of the 2020-21 Virtual Learning Program will be crucial to ensure student success in the distance learning environment,” the documents stated. “Monroe County Schools is committed to providing a high degree of support and resources for students and families.”

Virtual Learning Model B: MIS, MPS, TPES, VES will consist of students participating in classes focused on English Language Arts, Writing, Math, Social Studies, Physical Education, Art, Music and Library.

Virtual Learning Model A: CCES, MMS, RVS, SQHS, SHS, TPHS, VMS, which is facilitated by Edgenuity, will participate in classes focused on English Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Physical Education, Arts, Music, Library and Career Technical Education or other specialized courses.

“Virtual learning teachers will facilitate students’ progress in their classes through online written feedback, video-based lessons and communication with parents. Attendance at sessions, engagement in online work and progress for our students are closely related,” according to the documents. “Virtual Learning teachers will prioritize communication with parents of these students on a regular basis and will closely monitor the engagement of students in their online work.”

The school system will still hold high academic honesty expectations of their students. Attendance will also be monitored, with the schools seeking daily visual, verbal and/or written verification of student participation.

McClendon believes this virtual learning is the best option to choose during the current pandemic.

“Here is a way for students to still be engaged in the academic learning with their teachers,” said McClendon.

One of the biggest challenges the school board has faced with virtual learning is the amount of homes in the county that lack internet or the proper equipment to support virtual learning.

“Families that choose the virtual option will have to either purchase a device or obtain internet service if they don’t already have that available,” said McClendon. “The state department has been very clear about the structure of academics and the academic lessons ... They have to put some accountability measures in place and guidelines that we must follow.”

Parents who initially choose to send their child back to school in-person will have an opportunity to switch their child to virtual learning every nine week period.