By: Lacy Hilliard
Tomahawk Writer, Photographer
Of the five elementary schools in the Johnson County School District, Laurel Elementary is stricken with the highest per capita poverty rate. The little schoolhouse tucked behind Gentry Creek in scenic Laurel Bloomery could easily be overlooked or forgotten, but because of people like the Onks family, Principal Betty Brown, and the staff of Laurel Elementary, the students are given every opportunity to succeed academically even if they come from uncertain financial backgrounds.
Mickey Onks is the owner of Olde Town Trucking Company which is located in Johnson City, Tennessee. While in Mountain City on business, Onks heard about Laurel Elementary and what he discovered touched his heart, a little school with a lot of challenges and a lot of heart. Mickey and his wife, April, are active members of their Telford, Tennessee community, dedicating their time to local missions with the help of their church that often involve children in need. This particular mission was to bring a bit of Christmas joy to the students of Laurel Elementary School.
The Onks arrived at Laurel Elementary with 76 gift bags in hand, one for each student. Each bag contained a snuggly fleece hoodie, a pack of paper, pencils, crayons, and a chocolate bar. The Onks believe that helping others should be a family affair so with the help of their four children (Emily- 12, Derek- 8, Katie- 5, and Ridge- 2), the family organized and carried out their mission with smiles and joy. Mickey Onks said that he and April just have a heart for children and we dont believe any child should do without, especially on Christmas. Though Mickey Onks graciously accepted the appreciation of students and staff, he told The Tomahawk that he would just as soon give Principal Betty Brown the praise for the success of the event.
Betty Brown has been the principal at Laurel Elementary for the past two years. She is also the former Principal of Johnson County High School. Brown has a local reputation for her success in taking a school with an uncertain future and giving it new life and she has done just that with Laurel Elementary. The halls of Laurel Elementary are decorated from floor to ceiling and the door of each classroom is as unique as the children inside. Brown charged each class with the task of decorating their classroom door for the holiday season and it is apparent that teachers and students let their creativity run wild. Though the size of the student body at Laurel Elementary may be reminiscent of the days of one-room schoolhouses, the technology and level of education within is cutting edge. It is apparent that the caring nature of the teaching staff and the tireless dedication of Principal Brown have really made a difference in the lives of each student.
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