Safeguard your summer sizzle with tips from the U.S. Fire Administration

It’s tough to beat a burger hot off the grill in your own backyard. But are you ready?

Grills, hibachis, and barbecues can increase your risk of having a fire according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). Every year, grill fires cause about $37 million in property damage. Prepare your grill for the summer season with fire safety in mind.

Grills should only be used outdoors where there is plenty of space around them. Place the grill away from your home, at least three feet from siding, railings, or anything else that can burn.

Follow these USFA safety tips to keep your backyard sizzling but safe:

  • Stay close to your grill whenever it is lit.
  • Keep children and pets at least three feet away. The grill exterior gets very hot and stays hot enough to burn skin after the fire is out.
  • Clean the grill often to remove grease and burned food.
  • If you cook with charcoal, put the cooled coals into a metal can with a lid. Store the can at least three feet from your home and anything that can burn.

If you use a gas grill, check the gas tank and hose for leaks before using it the first time each year. Put a soap and water mixture on the hose and connection. If there are leaks, you will see little bubbles. If you see bubbles, turn off the gas and grill. Have your grill checked by a professional. When you use your gas grill, remember the following tips:

  • Open the gas grill lid before you light it.
  • Don’t use a grill or gas tank that isn’t working properly.

For more home fire safety information, visit USFA online at Follow USFA on Twitter at @USfire and on Facebook at


Flag at half-staff

In accordance with Flag Code section 7(m) the United States flag is to be displayed at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, Monday, May 29, 2017.

Local seniors enjoy trip to New Orleans

By Paula Walter

Members of the Johnson County Senior Center recently returned from a fun-filled adventure to New Orleans.  This seven day adventure began on Sunday, April 23rd and the group rolled back into our mountains the following Saturday.
The trip was orchestrated by Sue Shupe, who has organized quite a few trips in the past. Over 40 people signed up quickly for the Diamond Tour excursion that was surprisingly reasonably priced at $585 per person.  This includes the cost of the bus ride round trip, hotels costs, breakfast each morning and five evening meals.
The group stopped for their first night in Birmingham, Alabama before heading out the following morning.  Their first outing was to Merrehope Manor in Meridian, Mississippi where they toured two Victorian mansion estates that still had all the original furnishings from the late 1800s time period, including clothing, quilt and furniture.
The group stopped at Harrah’s Casino, the only casino in the United States not on a river.  While everyone had a good time, there were no big winners, with the exception of one lucky person who won $100.  In addition to gambling, there was a lot of shopping to do and a steamboat ride on the S.S. Natchez as they viewed the historical sites along the river.
The next destination was to New Orleans where the group too a motor coach tour through the city.  According to John Mast, carriage rides pulled by mules were available to tour the city. It was explained to the travelers that they use mules because they eat less, make less of a mess, are one-third stronger than horses, and the heat doesn’t seem to bother them as much as it does the horses.
After the organized tours for the day, the group was free to go off on their own and explore. Mast found  graveyards in the city to be interesting as they are above ground.  There are burial crypts that can hold two to four bodies.  According to Mast, the bodies are lightly embalmed.  After approximately one year, the body has turned to dust and ashes, which are placed in a family crypt. In the past, a string was attached to a bell and placed in an opening where someone who had recently died was placed.  The string was tied to a foot or a hand.  People were stationed to see if the bell rang.  If it did, the person inside had not died.
The group had time to explore on their own, and although Bourbon Street didn’t seem to be in the best area of the city, it was hoping with activity at night time, including street performers and dancers.
According to Mast, the group also toured a World War II museum where all branches of the military were represented.  They toured the inside of the Destrehan Plantation that dates back to 1790. According to Mast, it was once an indigo plantation before they began to grow sugar.  Some of the Creole houses were painted in vibrant, bright colors.  Back in the day, a brightly colored house represented prosperity.  The brighter the color, the more well off the owners were.  The homes were built close together were long and narrow.  Front doors were painted red if the owners had a daughter eligible for marriage.  “We saw several red door,” said Shupe.
That last night, the group had dinner in a casino, along with 17 other busloads of people who had come to visit the area.  Early Friday morning, they were back on the road again.
If you are interested in joining the group on one of their adventures, check in at the Johnson County Senior Center for more information.  As of now, they are looking at a trip to Mackinac Island in September.  It has become a favorite for many seniors who have gone on several bus tours.  The group is also looking at the possibility of a Charleston/ Savannah trip in the spring.

Johnson County High School Class of 2017 steps out into life

By Rebecca Herman

Family and friends gathered on Saturday, May 13 to celebrate the culmination of 13 years of hard work and dedication of the Johnson County High School’s Class of 2017. One hundred and seventy seniors waited anxiously in the halls as the final chapter of their high school career came to a close.
The ceremony began with the JCHS Class of 2017 marching to their seats while the JCHS Band played Pomp and Circumstance by Sir Edward Elgar. The band then played The Star Spangled Banner by John Phillip Sousa and Johnson County Student School Board Member, Marly Eggers led the recitation of the Pledge to the Flag.
Principal Lisa Throop welcomed seniors and their families and reminisced about how quickly time goes by. “It is always surprising how quick the years seem to go by from the day we send them out to the first day of Kindergarten to today when we watch them walk the stage as graduates,” Throop said. “You have all watched these students start out as children and mature into the young adults they are today.” Throop encouraged students to remember, as Steve Jobs said, “don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your inner voice, and most important, have courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Throop introduced the seven valedictorians that gave a combined speech entitled, “Live and Learn.” The 2017 valedictorians were Kristofer Artidiello, Isabella Dunn, Joshua Dunn, Spencer Stanley, Brianne Ward, Arizona Woodard, and Montana Woodard. The speech encouraged seniors to, “look back at the journey that was high school and remember some of the wonderful times you had,” said Kristofer Artidiello. Isabella Dunn thanked all the people who helped seniors to get them to this point, and for “being our shoulders to lean on.” Joshua Dunn reminded seniors that they should not, “Waste your precious time on regrets of the past; instead look to the future, and utilize that time to search for and realize your dreams.” Spencer Stanley encouraged seniors to, “never be content in our endeavors, and we shall continuously progress and strive for wisdom.” Brianne Ward told seniors that, “we are not perfect. We mess up. We make mistakes. But that is okay. Experiences, especially negative ones, are the best teachers of all.” Arizona Woodard wished for the senior class to, “strive to learn more about yourself, as if you will live forever, so you can become a more productive, self-aware, and self-actualized individual.” Montana Woodard ended the speech with a hope that, “you will all have the opportunity to be successful, genuinely happy, and to leave your mark on the world.”
There were two special performances by school system faculty. JCHS teacher, Kasi Dishman sang For Good and JCHS teacher, Clarissa Schmal, Dr. Stephen Long, and Kyman Matherly performed My Wish.
Director of Schools Dr. Mischelle Simcox presented diplomas to the seniors with a quote from Henry David Thoreau, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” She encouraged each student to “make the most out of life. Live your dreams. Each one of you can be and do anything you want, you just have to believe!”
The ceremony ended with senior Courtney Stout leading the senior class in the turning of the tassel tradition. After turning their tassel, the graduating class marched out of the gymnasium while the JCHS Band played Mini Suite:Movement Seven by Morton Gould.

JCHS art students show their talent and creations

By Conner Nowak

Art students at Johnson County High School contributed various artistic pieces of their own design that were put on display in the annual art show this past Monday. The exhibit included beautiful landscape paintings to a detailed model of our own local theatre, Heritage Hall. The pieces were not only on display for viewing, but attendees at the art show were able to vote on their personal favorites. Additionally, awards were given from the judges in categories such as “most realistic” and “3D.”
However, this event was clearly more than a display or contest. To many of the students participating, it was an opportunity to put themselves out there creatively. This opportunity wouldn’t be available if it were not for supportive members of the community who both encourage and attend events such as this. The gallery was attended by young and old alike, all of whom were completely engrossed in the displays.
Each of the displays had significant artistic value and many showcased large degrees of talent. No one is more familiar with the talent and dedication of the many young artists whose work was present than their instructor, Cristy Dunn.
“I am very impressed by our students’ talent and their commitment to growth,” said Dunn. “Again, and again, I see students become involved with the arts and their grades improve, their confidence improves, and their lives find direction.”
Logan Mink, a senior at JCHS, took home multiple awards including first place for Best in Show.
“It is awesome, I wish we could do something like this a whole lot more than just once a year, said Mink. “I think there’s a lot of talent. I mean if you just look around here tonight, there’s a lot of great stuff going on and that needs to be recognized more.”
The gallery was enjoyed both by attendees and those whose exhibits were on display. Recognizing the work and dedication coming from these local young artists is important and that is what makes events like these so valuable.
According to both Temple Reece and Audra Nobles, who both served as judges, judging was difficult because of the outstanding and varied works of art.
The final placings in the various categories are as follows:

Best in Show
First Place: “Mason Jar” by Logan Mink
Second Place: “Heritage Hall” by Chase McGlamery
Third Place: “Self Portrait” by Jose Marcos

People Choice Award
First Place: “Heritage Hall” by Chase McGlamery
Second Place:  “Mandolin” by Cortney Wilson
Third Place:  “Mason Jar” by Logan Mink

Imitationalism (Realism) Award
First Place:  “Mandolin” by Cortney Wilson
Second Place: “Twenty-One Pilots” by Brianne Ward
Third Place: “Teacup” by Anna Reece

First Place: “Skin Tight” by Kaelyn Sussex
Second Place: “Our Roots” by Logan Potter
Third Place: “Track Accident” by Dante Bolognese

First Place: “Golden Gate Bridge” by Logan Mink
Second Place: “Rose Matter” by Mikayla Fritts
Third Place: “Puzzle” by Elizabeth Shaw

First Place: “The Farm” by Chase McGlamery
Second Place: “Sea Creature” by Abdielle Beaty
Third Place: “Rabbit” by Ayla Dunn

Alumni’s Choice
First Place: “Octopus” by Ayla Dunn
Second Place: “Zentangle” by Rebecca Nowak
Third Place: “Depression” by Brooke McNutt

Honorable mentions went to Tyler Earp, Maria Johnson. Sean Lewis, McLain Carlton, Jodi Baker, Chloee Graybeal, Laura Crowder, Mikayla Fletcher, Gavin Cook, and Rebecca Nowak, Elizabeth Clawson, and Lexi Forrester

Johnson County Middle School Robotics Team wins first place VEX Robotics Create Award in world competition

Johnson County Middle School Robotics Team celebrate their win in world competition.

By Marlana Ward

Middle school robotics teams from around the world gathered in Louisville, Kentucky to compete for top honors at the 2017 VEX World Robotics Competition from April 19th through the 22nd. Teams from North America, South America, and across different parts of the Asian continent came together to showcase their youths’ talent for engineering and passion for the world of robotics.
Johnson County Middle School represented our community well as they took to the world stage with their enthusiasm and professionalism. “The team had no idea what to expect from robots around the world but made sure that their robot, notebook, skills, and program were working in top notch order prior to reaching the event,“ JCMS Science Instructor and Robotics Team Coach Susan Quave shared.
The team’s hard work and dedication resulted in JCMS winning the VEX Robotics Create Award. This award was presented to the best out of 80 teams from around the world competing to prove their team’s merit.
According to the VEX Robotics Competition website, “The Create Award is presented to a team whose robot design incorporates a creative engineering solution to the design challenges of this season’s game. This key criteria includes: robot is a well-crafted, unique design solution, demonstrating creative thinking; team has demonstrated a highly creative design process and methodology; team has committed to ambitious and creative approaches to playing the game; and the team demonstrates teamwork, interview quality, and team professionalism.”
For JCMS to have reached such a high status within the short time the team has been assembled within the school system is a great testament to the students who participate and the teachers, mentors, and parents that support them. “As coaches, we feel that the team has surpassed any expectation we could have imagined for a team this young,” expressed Quave. “We realized that many schools in attendance have been participating in a robotics program as part of their STEM curriculum for some more than 10 years before ever reaching the World Competition. We certainly have never dreamed that our team would be on the stage in two years! Although, we were not surprised by their accomplishments as we saw the potential for this team to reach what seemed an unattainable goal in such a short time.”
The JCMS Robotics Team 3075B is comprised of: Isaac Brown, programmer/design; Dillon Trivette, driver/builder; Hunter Graybeal, team leader; Matthew Peake, parts/ builder/battery supplier; Lauren Paterson, student ambassador for the VEX World Competition; Robert Coffey, programmer and team scout; and Harlan Savery, team scout.
The team’s involvement at the world competition was not only about the robotics. “The team was excited about meeting the members of team members from around the world,” said Quave. “They exchanged money with other teams’ members and were excited to receive so many different types of currency.” Lauren Paterson was also given the honor of leading the parade of nations as well as serving as a student ambassador to the Australian University Team.
JCMS hopes that their performance in the VEX World Robotics Competition will inspire more STEM programs within our region. “We are hopeful that our performance this season will initiate interest to all elementary, middle, and high schools in the area,” stated Quave. “We are hopeful that they will apply for VEX robotics team grants and start more teams in Northeast Tennessee.”
As for the future of JCMS Robotics, Quave shared how she would like to see the program grow. “We would like to increase our robotics program by adding more teams. However, the cost of each cortex (brains) of the robot and the parts for each robot hinder making the robotics program accessible to more than four students per robot/cortex. There are also virtual world, products, and skills programming events that we did not enter this year. We would like to increase our program to enter those competitions as well. Our plan is to grow into these events and make robotics accessible to many more students.”
The team would like to thank all the generous sponsors within the community for their support and belief in the team. “We would not have been able to attend if it wasn’t for many businesses and individuals who generously donated funds to send us to the event,” said Quave. “We hope we made Johnson County and the surrounding area very proud!”
With wonderful, supportive sponsors, a dedicated staff of instructors and mentors, and students full of dreams and passion for science, the future of JCMS Robotics seems bright and focused on tomorrow. This year’s award is surely the first of many to come as Johnson County competes against the world in future scientific contests.

The passion of Christ is our eternal hope

By Dr. Billy Holland

This is the time of year when Christians remember the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a season when His followers are focused on how He suffered and died on the cross and after 3 days He arose from the grave. To be honest, holy week is not really a jolly time of celebration but rather calls for serious meditation and being grateful for the gift of salvation. It is bittersweet because it’s never pleasant to imagine a person being brutally tortured (especially when they are innocent), but the fact that Jesus miraculously came back to life, is a demonstration of His infinite power and authority and why we are so filled with humility and encouragement. Jesus Christ did not just talk about love, He demonstrated His passion by suffering and surrendering His life so that we could live.

I admit I am an emotional person. I remember going to see the Passion movie a few years ago and I was disturbed to say the least. It is not uncommon for me to cry when I witness something that moves my soul and this was no exception. Recently, I was watching a story about the “Make-a-wish foundation” and how they provide a way for very sick children to experience a happy but most likely a last request and it seems I cried through the entire program. As the scenes of what Christ went through was presented before me, I kept thinking how could someone watch something like this and not be deeply stirred? I am not ashamed to wear my feelings on my sleeve, as I have no desire to hide behind a mask to pretend I am strong and not emotionally influenced. Actually, I believe if we are not careful, we can become hardened by the harshness of life and lose our spiritual sensitivity.

I think about His life and the reason why He came to earth which is explained so clearly in the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of John. I think about how He was betrayed by those He trusted and was denied by His closest friends. The religious community rejected His message and the legal system along with the demands from the general population, overwhelmingly agreed to publicly execute Him without a reason other than they hated Him. Sadly, things have not really changed that much.

We notice that He was constantly approached by those in desperate need and it was His character to be concerned and compassionate. The world has always been filled with human suffering and He is always ready to respond in love and mercy. Being emotional and even knowledgeable about the Bible is fine but that does not necessarily mean that someone is following Christ. It is what they do with what they have learned that transforms emotions into spiritual obedience. When we see someone who needs help or even an encouraging word, what good does it do to just look at them with pity? Christ was always ministering to those who would reach out to Him by faith and two thousand years later He is still pouring out His grace and forgiveness to anyone that will call upon His name.

As His followers, we have been called to focus our attention on becoming more like Him in spite of a troubled world that justifies walking over the wounded and being self-centered. His command to take up our cross includes letting go of our natural way of selfish thinking and to willingly embrace the empathy of heaven. It seems the more I learn about His life, the more I can sense what was being felt by those who knew Him. As we meditate on His message, we are given a deeper understanding of who He is, and what He wants to do through us. The reverential fear and awareness of who Jesus is and why He came is our hope for heaven and it is now our responsibility to keep our spiritual eyes focused on our mission. Beyond the new clothes and the Easter festivities, may we spend some time focusing on the one that loves us and came to save us from our ourselves.

Dr. Holland lives in Central Kentucky with his wife Cheryl, where he is a Christian author and community outreach chaplain. Request a free copy of his new CD at:



Xavier Chapa finds his voice

Xavier Chapa uses his Nova Chat to communicate with the world.

By Paula Walter

The Tomahawk has previously reported several times on Xavier Chapa, a little boy who has suffered from multiples seizures, sometimes up to 80 a day, since birth.  Most recently, a vagus nerve stimulator was implanted in his chest that would give him a slight jolt in an attempt to halt these episodes.  Between adjustments in his medication and the new device, his family has noticed a reduction in the amount of seizures, but he was still having severe difficulty communicating.  In addition to being epileptic, Xavier is also autistic.
Despite being six years old, Xavier’s communication skills were minimal, at best.  According to his mother, Julie Chapa, his vocabulary consisted of just a few words that included night night, banana, help, Mama, O for his sister, Olivia, and hi.  “For years he wouldn’t even try to talk,” said Chapa.  Xavier attends all day kindergarten that is modified for his needs.  The classroom consists of six students and three teachers.
After waiting for one year to get approval from Xavier’s insurance company, he recently received a unit that he can use to communicate. “We were denied twice,” said Chapa. “We appealed twice and we then were approved.”  The device, Nova Chat, is a speech-generating unit that looks much like a small laptop that speaks for those who can’t.  “I think of it as a souped up tablet,” Chapa said.
According to Chapa, one of the best features is that there is an amplifier on the back so Xavier can be heard in noisy places.  “It’s important that he is able to be heard,” she added.
The device comes with its own carrying case and is used strictly for communication.  According to Chapa, there are lots of vocabulary files that can be chosen that fit Xavier’s needs.  He can choose just a picture, and the unit can also be programmed to show the picture and the matching word.  Eventually, it can be just a word for him to choose.  “The fact that we can customize it is amazing,” Chapa added. At first, Xavier would talk thru the device just one word at a time and he is now speaking full sentences with the help of Nova Chat.  “I knew he would pick up on it,” Chapa added.  Xavier is also beginning to talk without the device, and has added four new words in the last month, including “help please” as he was struggling to plug the charger in the wall.  “I know that sounds like nothing, but it’s great for him,” Chapa added.
Right now, there are approximately 12 to 15 buttons on the screen.  Xavier will tap a picture or a word that takes him to another screen with more pictures and words.  Xavier has been using a Kindle for years, and he has taken to Nova Chat like a pro. “We take it everywhere,” Chapa added.
One of Xavier’s favorite activities is eating.  While he was exploring on the Nova Chat not long after the unit arrived, Xavier said his first sentence all by himself thru the device, “I want, I need, I need cookies.” Chapa credits a lot of Xavier’s success to his teachers and aides in his all day kindergarten class.
Chapa has seen changes in Xavier in just the short time he has been using Nova Chat.  Recently he came to his mother on his own and stated, “I need a shower” thru his device.  In addition, Xavier uses some sign language.  “He’s getting it,” said Chapa.  According to Chapa, Xavier is not as frustrated as he used to be.  Recently, Xavier had an eye infection and it took his mother, father and sister to get the eye drops in his eyes.  Afterward, Chapa took the tablet over to him and asked how he felt.  “I feel sad,” he said.  It’s one of the first times he has been able to express in words how he feels.
“Never hearing your son and hearing what he has to say is a miracle,” Chapa said.  “It’s been amazing.“

Gov. Bill Haslam’s Monthly Column

February 2017

This month I announced “NextTennessee,” policy proposals to build and sustain economic growth and competiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans.

At the end of the day, there is no higher potential for providing more opportunity for our citizens than increasing access to high quality education.

This month we proposed that Tennessee become the first state in the nation to offer all adults access to community college free of tuition and fees. Just like the Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Reconnect would provide last-dollar scholarships for adults to attend one of our community colleges for free – and at no cost to the state’s General Fund. With the Reconnect Act, Tennessee would be the first in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school students and adults – access to a degree or certificate free of tuition and fees.

We also proposed the STRONG Act, Support, Training and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen. It is a four-year pilot program for eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard to receive a last-dollar tuition reimbursement toward a bachelor’s degree at our public universities and colleges. If we can help our soldiers and airmen who protect us at home and abroad, I believe we should do it.

The second area our legislative proposals address is infrastructure. The Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunity for a Vibrant Economy (IMPROVE) Act proposes cutting taxes by $270 million while addressing important infrastructure needs in our state.

The tax cuts include reducing taxes for individuals on groceries and the Hall income tax, and on manufacturers to make Tennessee more attractive to industries that may want to relocate or expand here.  We propose an increase of 7 cents on the gas tax and 12 percent on diesel fuel, which will mean road and bridge improvements in 962 projects in all 95 counties, both urban and rural. It will also mean $78 million annually in increased revenue for counties and $39 million annually in increased revenue for our cities.

Insuring the future health of our state is not just about roads and bridges. Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access, with 34 percent of rural Tennessee residents lacking access at recognized minimum standards. From the farmer and the accountant in West Tennessee whose businesses are stifled, to the East Tennessee student who can’t complete her schoolwork at home, a lack of reliable internet access is preventing too many rural Tennesseans, rural communities and our state from reaching its full potential. The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act provides a reasonable, responsible path to improve access in a meaningful way through investment, deregulation and education.

Our plan allows Tennessee’s private, non-profit electric co-ops to provide retail broadband service and invests $15 million in grants and tax credits annually to help spur deployment in rural unserved areas. Of course, accessibility without adoption doesn’t accomplish very much, so we’re also focusing on digital literacy so interested Tennesseans can maximize the benefits of broadband.

We live in a world where if you have a strong internet connection you can just about work from anywhere. If we’re serious about putting our rural counties on a level playing field, then opening up broadband access is one of the largest steps forward we can take.

The Tennessee we can be provides not only access to opportunity but the tools to be successful. Good roads that take you to good jobs.  Broadband access to conduct and grow your business anywhere in Tennessee at the speed of the 21st century. A high quality education system that educates all.

We can do that in Tennessee. Because of the fiscal responsibility we have shown, the Tennessee we can be is a state with a safe and reliable transportation network that supports long-term growth, one of the best K-12 systems in the country and free access to a degree for all Tennesseans. And we can still be the state with the lowest taxes and the lowest debt.

For more information on these proposals, please visit

Girl Scout Cookie Booths Are Open for Business

Local Girl Scouts are selling Girl Scout Cookies at booths across the southeast from February 24 – March19. Customers can enter their ZIP code at to find a list of local cookie booth locations, dates, and times. There is also a Cookie Finder available for both iOS and Android devices.

Girl Scout Cookies play a huge role in transforming girls into G.I.R.L.s (Go-getters, Innovators, Risk-takers, Leaders)™ while they learn essential life skills. The cookie program also helps girls earn money for activities and community service projects.

In 2016, the Girl Scout Research Institute worked to better measure the impact of the Girl Scout Cookie Program and understand the extent to which Girl Scouts develop essential business and leadership skills. Survey responses from 40,000 Girl Scouts, representing all Girl Scout levels and various regions of the country show:

  • 85% of girls learned how to set goals and meet deadlines
  • 88% of girls learned how to think through different choices and make decisions
  • 88% of girls learned how to count money, make change, and create and manage a budget
  • 85% of girls learned how to be comfortable talking to and being around new people
  • 94% of girls learned how to be respectful of others, take responsibility for what they say and do, keep their promises, and not lie to get out of trouble
  • Two out of three girls (66%) are developing all the above skills

Almost one million girls participate in the annual Girl Scout Cookie Program, generating nearly $800 million in sales during the average season. The entire amount of net revenue raised through the cookie program stays with the local council and troops.

On a diet? Donate to Operation: Appreciation, our council’s Gift of Caring program. The Girl Scout troop will receive the proceeds from your donation and the council will send the corresponding amount of boxes to the U.S. Armed Forces.


State highlights ways to build upon strong foundation to impact more students in future years

Tennessee Department of Education Showcases Positive Statewide Momentum in First Year of Read to be Ready 

State highlights ways to build upon strong foundation to impact more students in future years

Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen today celebrated the strong movement forward in year one of Read to be Ready, a statewide campaign with multiple initiatives focused on helping our youngest learners build a strong foundation in reading, and she shared successes and key practices from individual classrooms, as well as how the state is helping to take those to scale.

At an event in Nashville that brought together state leaders, educators, and community members, the Tennessee Department of Education released Building the Framework: A Report on Elementary Grades Reading in Tennessee, which provides recommendations to ensure Tennessee continues to move toward achieving its Read to be Ready goal for 75 percent of third graders to be reading on grade level by 2025. The most recent statewide assessment indicates that only 43 percent of students are proficient in reading when they leave third grade. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) shows that only 33 percent of Tennessee’s fourth graders are proficient in reading. This year’s TNReady test results for grades 3–8 are predicted to also show a proficiency drop as the state sets a new baseline from which to grow.

With the launch of Read to be Ready in February 2016, the department planned for a multi-year, multi-strategy approach to improving reading outcomes for our students.  This new report explores the meaningful action taken throughout Tennessee’s education system to support the goals of Read to be Ready. At the outset of the Read to be Ready initiatives, classroom observations in more than 150 elementary classrooms across the state showed that most educators had a narrow instructional focus on building students’ foundational reading skills—like phonics and word recognition—and little time was spent on equally necessary knowledge-based competencies, such as building vocabulary and listening and reading comprehension. Through Read to be Ready, the state is focusing educators on the integration of skills and knowledge-building as reflected in the state’s standards.

“Over the past year, we have seen a tremendous commitment to Read to be Ready across the state, and now we want to build on this enthusiasm to go deeper with teachers and strengthen instructional practices. The results of this report are both encouraging and a reminder about the work that lies ahead,” Commissioner McQueen said. “From the beginning of Read to be Ready, we have known that these deep and meaningful instructional shifts in our standards will take time. As a state, we are committed to supporting our teachers in this work for the long haul.”

While improving statewide reading proficiency will take time, the report notes that meaningful outcomes have already been observed in response to the focus brought through Read to be Ready. Based on case studies of districts experiencing initial success, the department offers takeaways for districts to improve literacy in their schools:

  1. System-level change is most likely to occur when there is a district-wide commitment to the work.
  2. Instructional improvement benefits from a specific focus and a commitment to iterative learning.
  3. District ownership and external expertise are not mutually exclusive.
  4. Individual programs should be aligned in support of the broader district improvement efforts.

Since the launch of Read to be Ready, more than 200 teacher-coaches and two-thirds of Tennessee school districts have participated in a coaching network that is designed to provide intensive support and professional learning opportunities for educators focused on early grades reading, and the coaching network is expected to expand in the next year. These reading coaches work directly with more than 3,000 teachers to improve reading programs and practices in schools across the state.

A second initiative, the Read to be Ready summer grant program, started last year with 20 summer camps that targeted rising first, second and third graders who were not on grade level in reading. The state departments of Education and Human Services are partnering to expand the Read to Be Ready summer grant program through an investment of $30 million over the next three years. As many as 10,000 kids in up to 350 programs are expected to be served this summer alone.

For more information on Read to be Ready, contact Paige Atchley, Read to be Ready program director, at For media inquiries, contact Sara Gast at (615) 532-6260 or

Spring travelers should take precautions against Zika virus

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In 2016, 63 travelers returned to Tennessee infected with Zika virus. In each of those cases, the Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee medical community worked quickly to ensure the virus would not spread to others.

Many Tennesseans are now planning for spring breaks, mission trips and other travel to warmer locations where mosquito populations are known to transmit Zika. TDH reminds Tennesseans that mosquito bite precautions are vital to protecting their health and the health of others where they live, work, play and pray when returning.

“We are concerned some may assume Zika is no longer a threat to their health or a threat to others if they bring the virus home with them,” said TDH State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD.  “All travelers should know there is still no vaccine to prevent Zika and no drug to cure it. To prevent this harmful virus from spreading in Tennessee, travelers must protect themselves from mosquito bites, avoid unprotected sex with someone who may have the disease and report quickly to their medical provider if they suspect a Zika virus infection when they return.”

Zika virus can affect people differently.  Some won’t have symptoms or only mild symptoms that may include fever, rash, red eyes, joint and muscle pain and headache. These may last only a few days to a week.

In most people, the virus will cause little to no harm. Those at most risk from severe illness and complications from Zika infection are pregnant women and those trying to become pregnant, who may have a baby with severe brain defects including microcephaly. Microcephaly is a condition where the baby’s head is smaller than normal and a child may experience other health challenges, including physical and speech functions, seizures, hyperactivity, coordination problems and other brain and neurological disorders. Pregnant women should follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and TDH recommendations to avoid travel to areas with Zika, be extremely cautious in avoiding mosquito bites if travel is necessary and abstain from any type of unprotected sex with a partner if they traveled to an area with Zika.

“All travelers should know the mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus can bite night or day, both indoors and outdoors,” said TDH Vector-Borne Disease Program Director Abelardo Moncayo, PhD. “’Fight the Bite’ strategies should include use of repellants approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Repellants containing 20 to 30 percent DEET, picaridin and IR3535 are safe for pregnant women when used as directed on the product label.”

Other mosquito bite prevention tactics include wearing long, loose and light clothing; not using items with fragrances that may attract mosquitoes and using permethrin-treated clothing.  Permethrin is a commercially available product that can be used to treat clothing to kill mosquitoes and other insects. Used properly it is safe and effective.

The CDC provides a list of locations where Zika virus is known to be spread at

In addition to Zika virus, travelers should understand they may be at increased risk for other mosquito-borne illnesses, including dengue and chikungunya. There is no vaccine to prevent either of these diseases and no specific antiviral treatment. Both can cause severe pain.

“We don’t want to put a damper on anyone’s enthusiasm for travel, but we also don’t want anyone being harmed by a preventable disease,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner. “A little forethought and a few simple, inexpensive precautions by travelers to affected areas can help prevent diseases from being spread here when they return. So far we’ve been able to keep many diseases like Zika and other diseases that used to be significant threats in our state, like malaria and yellow fever, out of Tennessee’s mosquitoes, and with the help of travelers, we can continue that in 2017.”

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments. Learn more about TDH services and programs at

TN Fish and Wildlife Commission sets 2017-18 waterfowl hunting seasons; elects new officers

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission established the 2017-18 waterfowl and other migratory bird hunting seasons at its February meeting. The TFWC also elected its new officers for the coming year.

The actions occurred at the TFWC’s two-day meeting, which concluded Friday afternoon at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Region II Ray Bell Building.

The TFWC approved the TWRA’s recommendation to establish an operational Sandhill Crane hunting season. For the past four years, an experimental Sandhill Crane hunting season has been held in a limited area in East Tennessee. TFWC also approved the TWRA’s recommendation to expand the season statewide.

For the East Tennessee Sandhill hunting zone, there will be 1,200 tags issued to 400 hunters. For statewide, there will be 1,119 tags available at one tag per hunter. The East zone will have a hand-held drawing in early August while the statewide season tags will be issued by computer drawing at a date to be announced later.

The commission approved the TWRA’s proposal for a two-week shift in the American Woodcock season. The change moved the season from an October start to the second Saturday of November. Other traditional migratory game bird seasons will remain intact with only date changes and these will be posted on the TWRA website in early May.

There is a change in bag limits for Northern Pintails. There will be a reduction from two to one pintail daily. The black duck bag limit will see its first increase in more than 30 years going from one bird to two per day.

The commission had asked the TWRA to investigate the potential cost of implementing a big game harvest survey, and a tagging program that was once used statewide. The agency presented four tagging options with no action being taken.

The Information Technology Division’s 2016 Professional of the Year, Zainab Latiff, was introduced to the commission. She serves as a lead programmer analyst for the division and was chosen from three other quarterly winners.

Joe Benedict, Assistant Chief of Wildlife and Forestry, provided an overview of several alternative big game harvest tagging options and a harvest survey along with cost estimates that could be considered to achieve the goals of improved game check-in compliance and more precise harvest data.  The commission chose not to take action on any of the options.

Budget expansions passed by the commission included a five-year contract with the University of Tennessee for services of an extension wildlife veterinarian to address the growing demand of professional wildlife disease work. Also approved was a two-year increase in funding to Ducks Unlimited/Canada for wetlands restoration work that helps breeding waterfowl that migrate through Tennessee. In addition, other expansions were a black bear research project expansion in the Gatlinburg-Great Smoky Mountains National Park area, and another to accept funds from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for private lands habitat improvement for species of conservation concern.

The TFWC elected its new officers for 2017-18. Jamie Woodson (Lebanon) will now serve as chair. David Watson (Lookout Mountain) moves from secretary to serve as vice chair. Kurt Holbert (Decaturville) was elected as the TFWC’s new secretary.

Chair Woodson replaced Harold Cannon (Lenoir City) who served in the role this past year. He was presented a plaque of appreciation for his service as chairman.

The February meeting was the final for five commissioners who were recognized near the conclusion of the meeting. Along with Chairman Cannon, also concluding their appointments are Jim Bledsoe (Jamestown), Dr. Jeff McMillin (Bristol), Jim Ripley (Sevierville), and Trey Teague (Jackson).

William King Museum of Art presents ‘Home: One Family, 200 Years of History’

HomeImagePressRelease.inddABINGDON, VA – William King Museum of Art is pleased to announce the opening reception of Home: One Family, 200 Years of History on March 2, 2017 from 6 – 8 p.m.
In 1859, David Droke built a farmhouse in Piney Flats, Tennessee, as part of his carpentry apprenticeship. From that time onward, the house and its history have been passed down from generation to generation of Droke children who have lived in the house, worked the land, and remembered and added to the story of their family.  is exhibit traces the last two hundred years of Appalachia and America through the story of one family—from the Civil War to the Great Depression and beyond.  is house is our history— it’s American history, regional history, and family history but it’s more than that. It’s home.
The exhibit opens on March 2 and runs through July 10. Admission is free and the Museum is open to the public.
For more information on v Home: One Family, 200 Years of History, visit or call 276-628-5005.

Tennessee Disability Determination Services Ranked First in the Nation for Quality and Accuracy

NASHVILLE – Tennessee’s Disability Determination Services Unit at the Department of Human Services is ranked first in the nation for quality and accuracy by the United States Social Security Administration (SSA).

Disability Determination Services (DDS) processes thousands of Disability Insurance Benefit (DIB) and Supplemental Security Benefit (SSI) applications each year through an agreement with the Social Security Administration. The highly detailed process requires coordination with medical and psychological professionals, the community, and other state and local organizations. The quality accuracy rating means all of the cases reviewed by SSA for quality assurance were processed correctly by Tennessee’s DDS.

“Congratulations to our DDS team for their continued focus on quality and accuracy,” said TDHS Commissioner Danielle W. Barnes. “We appreciate their commitment to getting it right for the Tennesseans we serve.”

Three Disability Determination Services employees received national recognition from the Social Security Administration for their exemplary service last month.  Nevein Ayoub was named National Adjudicator of the Year. Broderick Bayless and Olubunmi Olakunle were awarded a 2016 Associate Commissioner Citation.

“We’re very proud of our DDS employees for their hard work and dedication. To be recognized by the Social Security Administration multiple times for their commitment to accuracy, efficiency, and program integrity is an amazing accomplishment,” said TDHS Chief Officer of Program and Services Cherrell Campbell-Street.

In August 2016, SSA also recognized DDS employees for their contributions to effectiveness and efficiency with a People Responsibly Influencing Decision Excellence, or PRIDE Award. The Quality Assurance (QA) Streamlining Workgroup tasked with making the QA process more efficient and paperless consisted of Chris Allen, Jeremy Edwards, Stephanie Flick, Cristi Heughan, Sherry Holt, Kim Joseph, Marcella Morgan and Sheila Romines.

For more information on Disability Determination Services visit:

Spring train excursion through the beautiful East Tennessee mountains

Hiwassee River Gorge Autumn TrainThe Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum is pleased to announce its Spring 2017 Rail Excursion through the scenic Hiwassee River Gorge in East Tennessee. Excursion date is set for Saturday, April 1, 2017. The excursion offers an opportunity to ride the rails through one of the most beautiful river gorges in the United States as the railroad tracks travel along the Hiwassee River. The rail trip will take a 50-mile, 3-1/2 hour round trip rail excursion along this beautiful river to the famous “Hiwassee Loop”.

The special attraction of the trip is traveling through the Narrows, where the Hiwassee River flows through rock channels, and the Bald Mountain Loop. The track actually passes over itself on a high trestle during a corkscrew climb up the mountain near Farner, TN. Tracks along this route parallel the river for most of its length, providing views of the lower gorge.
This will be a unique opportunity to ride on this historic railroad. The railroad was originally built to haul ore from the copper basin in Copper Hill, TN. Regularly scheduled passenger trains operated over this line until 1968; the last freight train traveled the “Old Line” in 2001. The Tennessee Overhill Association took over ownership of the rail line in 2004.

General Deluxe Coach seating is offered on this excursion, providing passengers with comfortable cushioned seats with large windows. Historic 1950’s-era diesel locomotives will pull the vintage enclosed climate-controlled coaches with rest rooms in each car. We are excited to offer seating aboard the luxury car “Algonquin Park” which offers two seating options: high-level Dome and comfortable Observation Lounge seating. Dome seating allows passengers a panoramic view of the passing scenery from high above the car. Observation Lounge seating gives passengers a unique view of the railroad over which we pass from the end of the car that will be on the rear of the train. Both seating options in the “Algonquin Park” provide passengers with the opportunity to experience the “glory days” of rail travel in the United States. Each option includes complimentary snack service.

Passengers will be asked to move from one side of the aisle to the other before the return trip to ensure that every passenger will be able to view all the scenery in secluded areas along the line. 

Snack items are available for sale on the train including: soft drinks, coffee, water, chips, crackers, and candy bars. Souvenirs are also sold onboard including: t-shirts, caps, and books.

Our trip will begin in Johnson City, TN at 7:15 am on the morning of April 1 at the Liberty Bell Middle School parking lot at 718 Morningside Drive in Johnson City, TN where passengers will board a motor coach to Etowah, TN. We will also pick up passengers at the Sleep Solution Mattress Gallery parking lot at 2030 E. Andrew Johnson Hwy, Greeneville, TN at 7:45 am as well as passengers in Morristown, TN at 8:15 am at the Expo Center parking lot near the exit of I-81 and US 25E. This year we have added a pickup in Knoxville, TN at at 9:15 am at the Walmart parking lot at 8435 Walbrook Drive, just off Walker Springs I-40/I-75 exit 379A . (A map will be included with tickets to your designated parking area.) Lunch will be on your own at restaurants in Athens, TN prior to boarding the train in Etowah at 12:45 pm for a 1:00 pm departure. The train will arrive in Farner, TN at 3:30 pm for a short layover, leaving Farner at 3:45 pm. Upon arrival back at Etowah, passengers will board their motor coach for the return trip home; anticipated arrival back at Knoxville is 6:45 pm, Morristown at 7:15 pm, Greeneville at 7:45 pm and Johnson City at 8:15 pm. The motor coaches will make a food stop (again on your own) during this return trip
Deluxe Coach Seating cost is $92.00 per adult and $82.00 per child (ages 2-12), Observation Lounge seating cost is $130 per adult and $120.00 per child (ages 2-12), and Dome seating cost is $160.00 per adult $150.00  per child (2-12)   Ticket includes train ride and motor coach to and from Etowah, TN. Meals are not included. To order tickets, send a check or money order (sorry, cash or credit cards not accepted) along with the number of tickets you’re purchasing to Spring 2017 Rail Excursion, Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum, P. O. Box 432, Johnson City, TN 37605-0432. A printable order form is available ON LINE at Please be sure to tell us whether you’re boarding the motor coach in Johnson City, Greeneville, Morristown or Knoxville. For questions about the trip e-mail or phone our ticket office at (423) 753-5797 between the hours of 9am and 4pm Monday – Saturday, closed Sunday.


Carbon Monoxide – The Silent Killer

With the onset of colder weather, the poison center learns of preventable deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning. A common scenario is the family who uses a generator indoors to produce heat in the home. The generator creates carbon monoxide into the air that the family breathes and fatalities occur.

Carbon monoxide is a gas that is released from the incomplete combustion of a carbon containing substance such as gas, kerosene, wood or charcoal. Common sources include wood fires, gas generators, car engines, and charcoal grills. Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless so it does not have properties to warn people that they are being exposed. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can mimic flu-like symptoms except that the flu-like symptoms improve after the affected person leaves the area with the high concentrations of the carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide detectors can be used in the home as warning devices. Carbon monoxide detectors are not the same as smoke detectors and most smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. The carbon monoxide detector gives an alarm when the levels of the carbon monoxide in the environment rise. This alerts the people in the environment to leave the building and open windows to ventilate the area. Symptomatic patients should be evaluated by a health care provider. Do not operate any fuel burning appliances until the source of the carbon monoxide has been identified and repaired.

  1. Have a carbon monoxide detector in the house. The detector should meet the requirements of the Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  2. Don’t use a generator or other gasoline-powered engines in an enclosed space.
  3. Don’t bring burning charcoal grills into the house.
  4. Make sure the chimney flue is clear before using the fireplace. Do not close the damper of the chimney until the fire is completely extinguished and the embers are cold.
  5. Don’t run or idle the car engine in the garage.

Additional useful information about carbon monoxide poisoning and its prevention can be found in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website:

History Harvest aims to preserve regional history of tobacco farming

JOHNSON CITY – This spring, the East Tennessee State University Department of History is sponsoring its first History Harvest, an effort to locate and digitally preserve documents, photographs, artifacts, and personal and family histories. The title of this year’s harvest is “Preserving Southern Appalachia’s Tobacco Heritage.”

From the early 20th century to the early 21st century, tobacco shaped the lives of the people of East Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Southwest Virginia, according to Dr. Tom Lee, ETSU associate professor of history. Tobacco growing, or culture, set a rural rhythm of planting, harvesting and marketing that regulated work and leisure over 13 months, for by the time the wagons, and later the trucks, packed with tobacco rolled into warehouses in early winter, farmers were already preparing seed beds for the coming year.

The rituals of tobacco growing and sales bound together the interests of country and city, not merely in a pattern of work, but a pattern of ideas and of living. So integrated into the lives of the people of this region was tobacco that it became part of the culture, giving form to celebrations like the Burley Festival in Abingdon, Virginia; the Burley Cubs minor league baseball team in Greeneville, Tennessee; or Johnson City’s annual football kick off of the opening of the tobacco marketing season, the Burley Bowl. Come winter, city streets and stores filled with shoppers flush with cash from the sale of the crop, and bills unpaid through the year were settled so that a new season could begin. Tobacco, it has been said, paid for many a country youth’s college, cars, and Christmas.

By the late 20th century, Lee says, economic and legal forces reshaped the tobacco landscape, and by the early 21st century, many tobacco growers had stopped growing tobacco. The seasonal patterns had changed, the community celebrations had been halted or were to be renamed, and the lingering signs of what had once been such a potent economic and cultural force in the region had begun to fade.

For several years now, Lee has been researching Southern Appalachia’s tobacco heritage. A native of the Tri-Cities, he saw the transition away from tobacco beginning and initiated his work in hopes of capturing some of the memory of the region’s tobacco heritage before it was gone.

The first step leading to the new History Harvest was a course designed and taught by adjunct faculty member Kim Woodring during the fall 2016 semester titled “Digital History: Preserving and Presenting the Past Digitally.”

The goal of the course was to provide a hands-on experience intended to familiarize students with the increasingly important assortment of digital tools, new media and methods used by historians to preserve traces of the past.  The course is connected to ETSU’s quality enhancement plan through the INtopFORM fellowship program.  The History Harvest is also supported through an Instructional Development Grant, which provided funding for some additional digital equipment.

For the History Harvest, individuals and families currently or previously involved in tobacco farming who have tobacco-related stories, photos, tools, baskets, setters and more to share are invited to contact the Department of History by Feb. 28.  The department may be reached by email at, by phone at 423-439-4299 (leave a voice message), or by mail at History Harvest/History Department, Box 70672, ETSU, Johnson City, Tennessee, 37614.

Those contacting the department are asked to share brief summaries of their stories and descriptions of memorabilia.  Several of these will be selected, and those who submitted them will be invited to the ETSU campus in April, when history students from Woodring’s fall course will use the technology of the present to preserve these memories of the past.

Students will digitally scan or photograph documents, images and equipment brought to campus.  All original materials will be returned, and participants will receive their own digital copies of their memorabilia

Following this collection, the department expects to have students construct an online exhibit with the results of the History Harvest and possibly construct a physical, traveling exhibit that could help share the story in communities across the region where tobacco once played so significant a role.  Participants would have the opportunity to loan their tobacco-related tools and equipment to be part of such an exhibit.

TWRA investigating shooting of two bald eagles

Bald Eagle as found on roadside in Meigs County. Credit, Chris Combs.

Bald Eagle as found on roadside in Meigs County. Photo by Chris Combs.

CROSSVILLE, — Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating the shooting of two bald eagles in the Tennessee River Valley. The first injured eagle was reported on January 30 around 2:00 p.m. in Meigs County.  TWRA Wildlife Sergeant Chris Combs responded to the call and found the bald eagle alive, but injured off of State Route 68 near State Route 58. The female eagle was transported to the Avian and Exotics service at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center.  After examination, it was determined the eagle had been shot with size eight to eleven shotgun pellets. It was also determined the eagle had been shot up to one week prior to the report. Injuries sustained were incurable and the animal was euthanized.

The second eagle was reported after noon on February 1. TWRA Yuchi Refuge Manager Bernie Swiney responded to find the eagle on the side of Abby Lane, just north of Highway 60 in Rhea County. Swiney found the eagle alive but in poor condition. This bird was also transported to the Avian and Exotics service at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center. A suspected entrance and exit wound were found and thought to be caused by gunshot. Injuries sustained were incurable and the animal was euthanized.

Tennessee currently has 200 active bald eagle nests. Bald eagles historically ranged throughout most of North America. However for environmental reasons and a lack of regulations, their numbers dwindled in the 1900’s. Bald Eagles were placed on the endangered species list in 1978. Eagle populations recovered after changes in environmental practices and protection and the endangered status was removed in 2007. However, bald eagles are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Violations of these statutes carry a maximum criminal penalty of up to $100,000.00 and/or one year in federal prison. State charges will also apply.

Bald eagles are biparental, meaning it takes both parent birds to raise young. Losing one eagle likely means failure of a nest. Wildlife Sergeant Chris Combs shared, “We are especially angered by these actions because it is nesting season. This is our national symbol and it’s an atrocity to see them senselessly shot.” Anyone with knowledge regarding these two shootings is asked to contact the TWRA, Region III office at 931-484-9571 or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at: 615-736-5532.


Feed backyard birds this season for the greater, global good

image001When you fill your bird feeders and put fresh water in the birdbath this season, you’ll definitely be giving your feathered friends a helping hand. But you could also be serving the greater good!

Take note of the birds that visit your yard, and you’ll be ready to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), Feb. 17-20, when thousands of people around the world will record information about the species of birds they see. The information backyard bird-watchers gather assists scientists in better understanding the movement of species around the globe, how well different species are — or aren’t — doing and how factors like climate change are affecting bird populations everywhere.

“We enjoy birdwatching and feeding birds because they brighten our backyards and entertain us with their antics, especially during long winters,” says Richard Cole, co-founder of Cole’s Wild Bird Products. “But birds also play an important role in maintaining environmental balance around the world. They pollinate plants, scatter seeds so new plants can grow, help control insect populations and recycle nutrients back into the soil. It’s critical for us to have a greater understanding of how bird species are doing around the world, and to do our part to help take care of them.”

What you can do

You can support bird populations year-round by making your backyard an oasis for birds. A few simple steps can get you started:

* Offer a variety of feeders; different species prefer different styles . Tube feeders are versatile and appeal to a wide range of bird species. They can also handle large (think sunflower) or small seeds (like petite mixes) equally well. Some birds prefer to cling to feeders while dining, rather than perch, so use a versatile Mesh feeder; or try a Bowl feeder, perfect for serving suet in kibble form, dried mealworms and fresh fruit. You can find a variety of feeders from Cole’s. Be sure to keep all feeders clean and in good condition to help prevent disease and injury.

* Serve a variety of birdfeed. In winter, seeds with a high fat or oil content are best for birds, so offer black oil sunflower seeds, niger, raw peanuts and suet. To attract the greatest variety of birds, try Cole’s Blue Ribbon Blend, which incorporates black oil sunflower seeds, sunflower meats, white proso millet and cracked corn. Special Feeder is a high-energy blend that also attracts large numbers of birds, with the perfect mixture of black oil sunflower, sunflower meats, black stripe, raw peanuts, safflower and pecans. Birds also need (and love) suet, Cole’s offers no-melt suet cakes, specialty suets and a seed and suet mix, Nutberry Suet, to help ensure birds get the fat stores they need to weather winter.

* Be sure to also offer birds plenty of fresh water; it can be very difficult for them to find unfrozen water sources in winter.

By feeding backyard birds and participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count, you can be counted on to help protect the wellbeing of wild bird populations. What’s more, the work you do prepping your yard for the count will benefit you — and your feathered friends — throughout the year. For more information about birdfeed and how to attract birds to your yard, visit