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Photo by Jason Sung on Unsplash.

The College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, received over $2.8 million in grant funding from the Tennessee Department of Education to continue support of educational priorities in Tennessee.

Programs supported by the grants include the Grow Your Own Initiative (GYO), which provides financial support for individuals who are currently serving as an educational assistant or teacher’s aide to become a licensed teacher. The grants also support the professional development and learning of existing Tennessee teachers through two innovative programs that will allow existing teachers to earn endorsements in special education or secondary mathematics.

Almost $600,000 of the funding will support educator preparation and licensure through the GYO initiative, which creates partnerships with counties across the state to address teacher shortages by creating innovative pathways to teacher licensure. Grants focus on increasing the diversity of the Tennessee educator workforce through recruitment, preparation, and support of teachers of color. UT has expanded the program to include Shelby, Monroe, and Blount County school districts in addition to its original Knox County site.

Charles Lowe, a special education paraprofessional from Memphis, is enrolled in the GYO program in Shelby County. “The GYO program so far has provided me with extreme knowledge and content in the field of special education,” he said. “This has been a dream come true to me and my career as an educator. The advisors have done an immaculate job at being available as well as putting me in the perfect position to succeed. I feel like we are family, and they definitely have my best interest at heart in becoming a future licensed educator.”

Ellen McIntyre, dean of the college, said, “This program demonstrates an accessible pathway to become a teacher for all who aspire to teach anywhere in Tennessee.”

Many of those enrolled in the program have worked as educational assistants in Tennessee for years. Upon completion of GYO, they will be licensed to teach in high-demand areas including special education and STEM fields.

“The University of Tennessee has an established record for preparing teachers who make a significant impact on student learning,” said Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joris M. Ray. “Reimagining university–school partnerships create new learning opportunities and environments for career advancement for SCS employees and improves the academic futures of our students.”

In Knox County, the second round of GYO funding focuses on increasing the percentage of certified staff of color within KCS, which is a goal of the district’s five-year strategic plan. “Working as a teaching assistant is highly rewarding in itself, but it can also act as a platform for a career in teaching,” said Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas. “We appreciate our partnership with the University of Tennessee and are excited to be part of another innovative program to pursue teaching as a profession.”

Two additional grants included in the funding support UT-PLAYS (Personal Learning at Your Own Speed). Funded for $1.98 million, the first grant focuses on expanding and providing flexible, no-cost professional learning for Tennessee educators to complete additional endorsement programs at their own pace, providing them with the knowledge and skills to support students with diverse needs in a variety of educational settings. Coursework is adapted from the approved special education interventionist and special education comprehensive specialty areas and made available to educators statewide in an accessible fully online format.

The second UT-PLAYS grant will focus on addressing mathematical learning loss and the unavailability of highly qualified math teachers in Tennessee with a similar online program that will allow current teachers to add a mathematics endorsement to their license.

The remainder of the grants focus on enhancing classroom academics and support of the state’s Best for All initiative—a five-year program focused on elevating the teaching profession and improving academic performance and mental health through the “whole child” approach.

According to the 2021 Educator Preparation Report Card, UT graduates rank highly and continue to be rated among the best-prepared educators in the state.

Teachers aides and educational assistants who are interested in becoming a licensed teacher and licensed teachers who are interested in adding an endorsement to their license can learn more at the website for UT’s Bailey Graduate School of Education,


Heather Peters (865-974-8674,

Bonnie Maples (865-974-3499,