Colleen Ryan was named the 2019 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year and was surprised on Sept. 20, 2019 with a $20,000 check from Toyota and the National Center for Families Learning. Ryan was honored for her work with The Passage, a mobile classroom that serves students and families through out Hamilton County. Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Schools. Contributed Photo/Times Free Press
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Family and friends join Toyota representatives on stage to honor Colleen Ryan (right), a kindergarten teacher, at Rivermont Elementary School on Sept. 20, 2019. Ryan was named the Toyota Family Teacher of the Year and was presented with a $20,000 check for her work with The Passage, a mobile classroom that serves students and families through out Hamilton County. Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Schools. Contributed Photo/Times Free Press

Toyota names Rivermont teacher Teacher of the Year, awards her $20K

Rivermont Elementary School kindergarten teacher Colleen Ryan was surprised by Toyota representatives Friday when they named her Toyota Family Teacher of the Year and awarded her $20,000.

Toyota selected Ryan for her work in the community with The Passage — a retired school bus-turned mobile classroom, filled with learning activities for children and families.

Ryan and her partner Brittany Harris, an academic coach in Hamilton County, started the classroom on wheels program to help children and families outside of the regular school day.

The classroom-on-wheels visits student's homes and other community centers to provide educational assistance to families. Since the bus started its travels in November 2016, 75% of the children in families served have increased literacy skills, 80% have improved math skills, and 85% have engaged in more positive behavior in school.

"We want to buy an additional bus to make the program available to even more children so this check will help make that a reality," Ryan said, when asked how she would use the money, according to a press release. "Our goal is to eventually have a bus serving each of the five learning communities in Hamilton County Schools."

The check was presented by Toyota and the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). Ryan will be recognized at the annual NCFL Families Learning Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, on Nov. 5. Harris has previously been recognized for The Passage by Ellen Degeneres and appeared on The Ellen Show in 2018.

The Toyota Family Teacher of the Year award is in its 23rd year of recognizing educators who engage students and their families in education, according to a press release.

Wanted: TN Promise mentors for new college students

The state program, tnAchieves is looking for 5,000 volunteers across the state to support high school seniors and Tennessee Promise applicants. Hamilton County is looking for 209 mentors. Other counties in the region also need dozens of mentors.

Mentors spend one hour a month assisting students as they transition from high school to college, according to a press release. They remind students of important deadlines, serve as a trusted college resource and encourage students to reach their full potential.

"The financial support that TN Promise provides students is critical, but we know that the support from a local mentor is equally important to student success," said Krissy DeAlejandro, tnAchieves executive director, in a press release. "TN Promise students are graduating at a rate 21 percentage points higher than their non-TN Promise peers at the same institutions. The guidance and encouragement students receive from a mentor cannot be understated – they are the difference maker for many of our TN Promise students."

TN Promise, in partnership with tnAchieves, allows every graduating high school senior the opportunity to attend a community or technical college, as well as several universities, tuition free with mentor support.

Potential mentors must be 21 years of age, undergo a background check and complete one-hour of training.

For more information or to apply, visit or call 615-604-1306.

STEM grants available for teachers from TVA

The TVA STEM Classroom Grant Program sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bicentennial Volunteers Incorporated, a TVA retiree organization, is now open for applications. The program awards grants of up to $5,000 to fund science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning projects in classrooms throughout the Tennessee Valley.

"TVA recognizes that excellence in education is the key to our future workforce in the Valley," said Rachel Crickmar, TVA's STEM education program manager, in a statement. "We want to work directly with teachers to support initiatives that advance STEM activities in the classroom to develop a talent pipeline for TVA and its customers."

The 2019-20 application closes Oct. 20. Teachers and school administrators working in public schools and grades K-12 are eligible to apply. For more information, visit:

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