In addition to having 34 years of experience as an educator in Rutherford County Schools, all three of Lisa Ezell's daughters attended and graduated from the same district.
She's seen public education inside and out.
Like many parents and educators alike, Ezell, who is currently an assistant principal at Christiana Middle School, used to think "to get anywhere in life you have to have a college degree." She encouraged her daughters — "sometimes against their will" — to do just that.
However, in recent years, Ezell has seen the need for a change from the way education was taught when she started her career in Fall 1984.
"Not every child is able to and not every child — regardless of their ability level — even wants to go to college," Ezell said. "We have very high-functioning students who will probably go the vocational route. They want to go the CTE route."
She added, "We have children who are very academically able to go to college but want to do a career path. We have children from low income that won't go to college. … We've got to somehow keep our students and families in Rutherford County, providing jobs for them and training them."
That is what drew Ezell to participate in the Rutherford Works Teacher Externship Program last summer and again this summer.
"It was a life-changer," she said. "I've always wondered what we were going to do next with these children and it gave me a new insight of what we need to do today."
Ezell and a former student, Jackie Lee, who is now working with Rutherford County Schools, were two of the 22 educators who participated in the program this summer.
Rutherford Works Teacher Externship Program is a partnership with the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce and Rutherford County Schools that provides middle school teachers access to employers in the five high-demand, high-wage industry sectors — advanced manufacturing, supply chain management, health care, information technology and construction — found in Middle Tennessee.
Externs are placed in STEM-related fields with the intention that administrators, teachers and counselors are then able to speak from firsthand experiences when advising students on educational and career goals. Potential externs are chosen based on their potential to impact student-decisions regarding which programs and pathways they will study in high school.
In its second year, the program grew from three to five teams with a total of 22 externs.
Like other Rutherford Works programs, the externship is part of a strategic plan when it comes to building tomorrow's workforce.
The extern program benefits employers by helping to grow brand awareness along with increased awareness of industry-specific career opportunities with participating externs and in turn with their students and their parents throughout the school system.
While working with Calsonic, Lee gleaned firsthand experience with everything from the recruiting process to job fairs to taking a skills and YouScience test, much like a prospective new hire.
At Calsonic, she learned how to use a welder and, at Nissan, she spent a whole day watching problem solving sessions and listening to representatives talk about how Nissan fixes issues that arise within the company.
Employer benefits of the program as well as extern benefits are ultimately designed to benefit Rutherford County students.
"They were sitting there, and they're telling us that there are administrative assistants being hired on to Amazon, who are making over $100,000," Lee said. "That's crazy. We're sitting here in a room full of teachers and, really, we don't even make $50,000 and this is someone who didn't go to college, doesn't have a degree, and they're working at Amazon making this amount of money."
Lee added, "I want to be a support system for (my students) and let them know, ‘Hey, I went and did this. You can do this. There are so many avenues that you could take.'"
The following is a complete list of teachers participating in this year's program:
Mattison Ayers; CTE-Career Exploration Teacher; Siegel Middle School
Jason Baird; Assistant Principal; Whitworth-Buchanan Middle School
Kaitlyn Benavides; School Media Specialist; Rocky Fork Middle School
Wintress Bennett; Special Ed Interventionist; Christiana Middle School
Dara Busard; CTE Teacher; Whitworth-Buchanan Middle School
Katelyn Conner; School Counselor; Siegel Middle School
Chris Duez; Computer Literacy; Christiana Middle School
Lisa Ezell; Assistant Principal; Christiana Middle School
Emily Fish; 7th Grade Teacher; Christiana Middle School
Courtney Jones; School Counselor; Whitworth-Buchanan Middle School
Dennis Jungman; 8th Grade Teacher; Whitworth-Buchanan Middle School
Sydney King; ELA Teacher; Siegel Middle School
Hunter Lee; Science Teacher; Siegel Middle School
Jackie Lee; Instructional Technology Coach; Blackman Middle School
Taylor Moses; 8th Grade Teacher; Blackman Middle School
Rachel Nichols; 8th Grade Teacher; Christiana Middle School
Pamela Parker; Special Education Interventionist; Rocky Fork Middle School
Kristin Pena; School Counselor; Blackman Middle School
Breonica Porter; SPED Interventionist; Blackman Middle School
Christopher Prince; Media Specialist; Whitworth-Buchanan Middle School
Amanda Serrano; School Counselor; Rocky Fork Middle School
Justin Usery; Assistant Principal; Blackman Middle School
PHOTOS PROVIDED / JACKIE LEE