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A natural selection

Trousdale County Elementary School media specialist Mary Raines was recently selected to be on this year’s Educator Advisory Council (EAC) as selected by the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (GELF).

Raines is one of 28 teachers representing 19 school districts across the state, in addition to three charter schools in Memphis and Nashville, who were chosen to help the GELF determine the best resources for the K-3 Home Library program to help meet the summer literacy needs of students throughout Tennessee.

“This is a really great program that will benefit our students,” said Raines. “(The GELF) took applications and went through them one by one and chose 28 (to be on the EAC). The formatting of the application process included all of Tennessee. So, it wasn’t just centralized in Middle Tennessee.

“The council has a good mix. They’ve got reading interventionists, teachers, district specialists, and coordinators from district offices. So, they really have a good mixture across the board.”

Trousdale County Elementary School Principal Demetrice Badru added, “There were more than 60 applicants that applied, and 28 were chosen. Mrs. Raines is an integral part of the reading program here, especially with early literacy. She takes care of different programs where she receives free books and inputs that data. I can definitely see how she would be chosen (for the EAC). She would be a natural selection.”

The need for a K-3 Home Library program for students developed after test scores on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) determined that only 35% of Tennessee third-graders were able to read proficiently.

“With the early literacy law, students who are in third grade now must be proficient on this year’s TCAP test in order to advance to the fourth grade,” said Badru. “With that, there are other factors that come into play, but if they are not successful, then they may enroll in summer learning bridge camp and achieve 90% attendance. They may retake the TCAP and earn a proficient score. They may be promoted to the fourth grade, but they have to participate in after-school tutoring for the entire fourth-grade year. With that, they must participate in one of the mentioned options, or they will be retained, which means they will have to repeat the third grade. There are very limited exceptions to the law.”

According to the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation, the primary responsibility of the EAC is to select the books that Tennessee students and teachers will receive in the mail for the summer of 2023 as part of its K-3 Home Library program. The GELF, together with Scholastic, mails high-quality, age-appropriate books to kindergarten through third-grade students and teachers to help prevent learning loss and support student learning at home during summer break.

“By having Mrs. Raines on the council, she can help select high-quality, grade-level texts that actually help children read better so that fewer students are retained,” said wTrousdale County Director of Schools Clint Satterfield. “Having somebody from a school district that’s been successful ... I think their voice may have more weight.”

Raines added, “We had our first meeting, and what they explained is that we will be going through the box of books that we received. We are looking to see if the books fit our students, or if they don’t fit our students. We are looking for high-quality books that are going to engage (the students) and push them to bridge that learning gap. That means the kids have to be able to relate to the books, or they will not read them. Then, it will become a chore. My focus group is on the rising second grade, so I’m looking for books that will push them up to the second-grade level.”

Since the EAC’s function is to evaluate books for the K-3 Home Library program, each member of the council will provide feedback so that the books that are chosen will be age-appropriate and relevant to all students across the state, instill in them a love of reading, and meet early-literacy goals.

“We get the same books,” said Raines. “That way we can all form an opinion on everything, and it’s not just one person saying, ‘We need this book.’ It is a collection of people saying yes to this book, no to that book, or maybe to another.

“The goal of early literacy is to catch students before they get to the higher grades and get too far behind. It is much harder to catch up the farther behind you get. So, they’re trying to take the pressure off of students by meeting those early literacy goals. They’re trying to prevent students from becoming frustrated. We don’t want students to hate reading because reading is a foundational skill.”

Raines, and other council members, will serve on the EAC for the duration of the 2022-2023 school year. Applications will be available for Tennessee teachers to apply for next year’s EAC in the spring.

The gift of life

Hartsville resident Barbara VanRensselaer has been facing a health crisis for more 10 years.

Diagnosed with diabetes, a fatty liver, and most recently, stage four (non-alcoholic) cirrhosis of the liver, her doctors have told her that it is time for a liver transplant in order to save her life.

“I don’t drink, so when they told me that I had cirrhosis, I was dumb-founded,” said VanRensselaer. “In 2010, I was diagnosed with a fatty liver and diabetes. Back then, they didn’t make anything of it. Then, in 2014, I had been real sick and went to the doctor, and they ran tests and diagnosed me with stage four (non-alcoholic) cirrhosis of the liver. They are seeing more and more people with fatty livers turning into cirrhosis.

“Apparently, with diabetes, when your sugar is elevated, it’s like drinking alcohol. That’s what they told me.”

However, diabetes and cirrhosis are not the only health problems that VanRensselaer faces. Due to her diagnoses, she has had several very serious complications that sometimes go hand-in-hand with her health issues.

“From there, I went through a lot of complications,” said VanRensselaer. “I have what they call esophageal varices that bleed in the esophagus, like polyps. I have to have scopes done frequently, and when they find them, they band them so I don’t bleed out. With the cirrhosis, my platelets are really low. I’m a bleeder. My white count is so low that I’m at risk for catching infections, between having diabetes and a fatty liver.

“I also have portal hypertension, and I’ve ended up with clots in my portal vein. I’m at risk for blood clots. As well, I have severe fatigue and sleep problems. Sometimes, I have confusion. I get encephalitis (inflammation) of the brain where the toxins build up, and it causes some confusion.”

Having been registered nurse, VanRensselaer understands just how critical her diagnosis is.

“With my confusion, the doctor said I shouldn’t work anymore,” said VanRensselaer. “Being a registered nurse, I was scared that I was going to give somebody the wrong medicine or something like that.”

Since leaving her nursing job, VanRensselaer’s doctors have told her that she is going to need a liver transplant in order to save her life.

“I just went through the transplant evaluation,” said VanRensselaer. “They started it in September because I’ve been in the hospital four times since February. I kept getting sepsis with bacteria in my blood. They don’t know why. They just think that my immune system is so low that I keep getting infections.

“I went to see the surgeon for the transplant evaluation, and he said they are beginning to look away from the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) scores because (of) people like me. My MELD score isn’t too bad, but with all my side effects and all the problems I’m having, it is looking like end-stage cirrhosis as to where I need a new liver.”

VanRensselaer is being treated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Although Vanderbilt does partial liver transplants, VanRensselaer was told that she was not a good candidate for a partial transplant, but instead, needed a total liver transplant because of all of her risk factors due to bleeding and blood clots.

“They, now, do living donors at Vanderbilt, but the surgeon said I’m not a candidate because I have too many risk factors due to bleeding and the clots,” said VanRensselaer. “My grandson was going to donate a portion of his liver to me, but the surgeon said, because of all my risk factors, I have to have a whole liver and not just a partial.”

But for VanRensselaer, finding a donor is only part of the battle.

“To be on the transplant list, you have to prove that you’ve got the money to pay for medications and other stuff, or else they won’t do it,” said VanRensselaer. “I have insurance, but it is the co-payments that are quite high. Being on a fixed income, I don’t have much money to spare. I do have a little bit put away, but it’s not going to be enough to pay for everything.”

Knowing time is of the essence, VanRensselaer and her husband Richard have started a GoFundMe page in order to raise enough money for VanRensselaer to qualify for the surgery.

“I’ve been putting it on Facebook,” said VanRensselaer. “I opened up an account at my bank. That account is specifically for money that comes in through the GoFundMe.

“My husband goes down to Twice Daily in Hartsville for coffee once in a while. One of the girls said he looks like her grandpa. The girls down there asked him how I was doing. He told them that I was on the liver transplant list, and they all came down and gave money. They are just so wonderful.”

VanRensselaer went on to express gratitude for her neighbors who have been there to lend a helping hand throughout her lengthy health crisis.

For anyone interested in reaching out to VanRensselaer with assistance, a link can be found on her Facebook page, which is directly connected to her GoFundMe page.

Leaving a legacy of leadership

Some believe that if you want to have a winning football program, you need to make sure you have a good band.

And for years, the Trousdale County Marching Yellow Jackets have stood alongside of the Trousdale County High School (TCHS) football team and its rich tradition of success.

“(The band) is one of the faces of the success of Trousdale County, an academic system, an athletic system, and an arts system ... we have it all,” said Trousdale County Schools Band Director Rob Joines. “We represent success and excellence.

“I’m very proud of our kids. They have been working very hard all summer. We had to rely on our own student leaders for most of the summer, and it was great teamwork from everyone involved.”

Although teamwork is central to the band’s success when performing, the collaboration of its members helps to provide a well-orchestrated community experience.

“We all work together,” said Joines. “At the home games on Friday nights, the ba--nd marches down the hill with a police escort. The cheerleaders greet us at the gate, do a cheer, and form a tunnel as we come in. We march in and do a pre-game show. It’s all well-orchestrated. It’s really a community experience.

“(For example), it’s like going to a (University of Tennessee) football game, where the band plays a huge part in it. It’s great scoring touchdowns, but it is even more fun when the band is playing ‘Rocky Top.’ ”

What is uniquely different about the Marching Yellow Jackets is that the band is made up of students in grades 7-12 due to the school district’s small size. This year, the band has 34 members, 19 of which are in middle school and high-school underclassmen.

And with so many young band members, including first-year individuals, the seniors have stepped up to assist their band director.

“In football, they have probably close to 10 coaches, but here, we only have two,” TCHS senior tuba player Isaiah Towns said. “So, we (the seniors) kind of have to fill the gaps. At some schools, they have a higher faculty-to-student ratio, but here, it’s not that high. So, the older students have to step up. We are basically like the assistant coaches in football.”

In their steadfastness, the student leaders have helped the band establish a solid foundation for the future.

“The seniors really wanted to do well this year,” TCHS senior trumpet player Brayden Shoulders said. “One way to do well is for us to teach well.”

TCHS senior flute player Hunter Simpson added, “I would hate to see the people under me not have a good future in band, because I quit and didn’t help teach them.”

Part of what the seniors have helped teach the younger members is unconditional support for others.

“Our job is to support the team unconditionally,” TCHS senior field commander Cecelia Araiza said. “That means whether they win or lose.”

Towns added, “I have a bunch of friends who are football players. They say that when they hear us play, they always know they have support behind them. They like the backing. They like the energy. When you are down two scores in the fourth quarter, you need something that will kind of give you that pep after you’ve been playing for 45 minutes.”

But being a small band comes with its own set of challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic only added to those challenges for the Marching Yellow Jackets.

“COVID made our band smaller, because we didn’t have that extra year to get kids from the younger grades to join us,” Simpson said. “But now, our band is mainly young kids, because we just now started getting them again.”

Towns added, “If you look at the band since COVID, there is almost like a new band and an old band. The old band would be the juniors and seniors. It is like we are missing sophomores. There are a bunch of middle schoolers, but only one sophomore. The sophomores are our missing piece.”

As the seniors have worked hard to fill the gap, all of their hard work and the work of their directors and fellow band members has paid off as the Marching Yellow Jackets recently competed in two Middle Tennessee competitions that both afforded them multiple awards.

On Sept. 17, the band took home fourth place in Class D at the Hendersonville Golden Invitational, narrowly finishing behind Watertown High School by 1.7 points.

Later that day, the band was off to Clarksville to compete in the Northeast Eagle Invitational, where it took first place in Class A for percussion, guard, and band.

Nevertheless, until the football season ends, the Marching Yellow Jackets will continue to unconditionally support the football team.

New retail option for Castalian Springs

On the heels of the opening of the DG Market in Hartsville, the Dollar General Corporation announced that it will soon be opening a Dollar General store in Castalian Springs next to the Marathon gas station on Highway 231.

The store is currently under construction with plans to open this winter barring any delays.

“(Dollar General) is currently under construction on a new location at Highway 231 in Castalian Springs,” the Dollar General Public Relations office shared via e-mail. “At this time, (the) store opening is slated for winter 2022, but understand that construction progress may alter this date.”

According to the public relations office, the company carefully selects the sites for new store locations based on multiple factors, including careful consideration of what other retail options exist in the area.

“In selecting store sites, we take a number of factors into consideration, carefully evaluating each potential new store location to ensure we can continue to meet our customers’ price, value, and selection needs,” the public relations office wrote. “We further strive to provide convenience for customers who may not have affordable nearby retail options.”

Though Dollar General’s mission, in part, is to offer affordable and convenient retail options to the community, the company also strives to be a good corporate neighbor through its support of literacy and education.

“Dollar General is deeply involved in the communities it serves and is an ardent supporter of literacy and education through the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, which awards grants each year to non-profit organizations, schools, and libraries within a 15-mile radius of a Dollar General store or distribution center to support adult, family, summer, and youth literacy programs,” the public relations office conveyed. “The Dollar General Literacy Foundation also supports individuals in the communities that Dollar General stores serve, who may be interested in learning how to read, speak English, or prepare for the high-school equivalency test.”

For those who are interested in working at the Castalian Springs store, Dollar General plans to hire between six and 10 people for the new location, based on the store’s needs.

Although this will be the second Dollar General store in Trousdale County (not including the new DG Market location at 40 Hickory Ridge Road in Hartsville), the company plans to keep its older store on McMurry Boulevard open in order to continue serving the community of Hartsville.

The new DG Market opened in Hartsville on Sept. 6.

Trousdale County High junior quarterback Kobyn Calhoun carries the football as Harpeth junior A.J. Boyd pursues. Calhoun had a hand in four touchdowns as the Yellow Jackets suffered a 29-28 loss at Harpeth last Friday evening.