Most high school courses offer plenty of classroom learning, but not all provide students with the opportunity to apply that learning to real-world situations with the help of business professionals. For students at one Chattanooga-area school, that’s all about to change.
“BlueCross is opening a whole world of possibilities for our students,” says Karyn Cox, assistant principal of Soddy Daisy High School. Beginning this fall, the school will be home to a BlueCross Technology Academy, the second in Hamilton County.
Both BlueCross Technology Academies are part of Hamilton County Schools’ Future Ready Institutes initiative, established by superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson. Combining core classes required for graduation with a focused, intensive curriculum, these programs prepare area students for careers in high-demand fields.
The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation has awarded two $250,000 grants to Hamilton County Schools that will be used to support the academies.
Paving the way for futures in tech
The state of Tennessee says the number of computing and mathematical jobs is projected to grow statewide by 24.75% through 2026. The BlueCross Technology Academy at Soddy Daisy High School will ready local students to pursue these jobs.
“We’re really excited about this partnership,” said BlueCross Director of Community Relations Scott Wilson. “BlueCross is basically a technology company. Health insurance doesn’t take place in folders and on paper anymore – it’s all technology. Many of the relationships we have with doctors, pharmacies, our customers – all of these things are electronic.”
Around 1,400 of the 6,500 employees at BlueCross work in the technology sector. And Wilson acknowledges that hiring for technology positions presents a challenge for many local companies. “According to the chamber, the state only produces about 20% of the talent for the tech jobs that exist. That’s why our institutes are technology focused. It’s a part of the workforce development process that we want to support.”
Through its unique curriculum, the BlueCross Technology Academy at Soddy Daisy High School will ensure local students become part of a workforce that is able to meet the demands of this growing field.
Wilson adds, “The BlueCross Technology Academy will develop talent right here in our hometown, improving the lives of students and supporting the whole community.”
Combining classroom learning with real-world experiences
But it’s not just BlueCross leadership that is enthusiastic about the possibilities of the BlueCross Technology Academy at Soddy Daisy High School. From the beginning, teachers and administrators at Soddy Daisy were excited, engaged and ready to hit the ground running.
“I bought into this wholeheartedly because I see it as a real opportunity for students that there has never been before. It’s not just teachers teaching. It is community involvement, and it’s businesses buying in and investing in students,” Cox says.
And it’s this partnership that will be at the core of the curriculum and student experience at the BlueCross Technology Academy.
The team at Soddy Daisy High School will be led by Mike Ballard, who teaches state dual-credit algebra 2, AP calculus and statistics, as well as Maureen Clark, who teaches computer science and web design and previously worked in IT for the city of Chattanooga. Teachers for core courses like English, math, science and social studies, will also incorporate technology into their curriculum. To support this process, these teachers will meet with members of the BlueCross technology leadership team to discuss classroom strategies and real-world business issues to share with students. Students will partner with BlueCross staff members who will serve as their mentors and provide additional guidance throughout their time in the academy.
“Teachers don’t know the business world, and the business world doesn’t know the education world. This connection is really going to change things, and for students, that’s invaluable,” Cox says.
Ultimately, in addition to increasing their exposure to the field of technology, Cox hopes the experience helps students develop soft skills, like collaboration and listening, and understand how real-world professionals use these skills to solve actual business problems.
“I hope students realize the world they live in is not just technology for fun and technology for communication, but it is technology for jobs and the possibility of opening up their world to see opportunities they’ve never seen before – that information technology is in every part of society and that it can propel them into the future in a way they’ve never imagined,” she adds.
That’s something students are looking forward to as well. “I’m really excited to learn more about computers and technology in general,” says ninth grader and BlueCross Technology Academy student Sonny Carter. “Technology is kind of where society’s going. There are more and more technology-based jobs and opportunities, so it’s a good option for my future.”
Part of an ongoing commitment
The BlueCross Technology Academy at Soddy Daisy High School is the latest initiative to be announced as part of the BlueCross Foundation’s ongoing commitment to public education. It joins its sister program at Red Bank High School, which launched in March. Classes are underway there, and students and teachers visited the BlueCross Cameron Hill campus over the summer for teambuilding exercises and tours of the company’s technology facilities.
BlueCross and its foundation have also supported local education initiatives like Chattanooga 2.0 and STEP-UP Chattanooga.
“We know how important public education is to our communities, and we’re excited to continue supporting innovative programs for students,” Wilson adds.