Vols in the Classroom

Category: News

Educators who learned their craft at UT are uniquely prepared to meet the needs of young people during challenging times.

Despite the difficulties of COVID-19, alumni have demonstrated leadership and perseverance in the service of our future leaders. They have deconstructed the traditional classroom and put in its place innovative and equally effective solutions featuring virtual learning, homeschooling, and in-person hybrid teaching. Here are four of the many exemplary Vols teaching today.
David Leventhal
David Leventhal (’07, ’20) is a full-time social studies teacher with Tennessee Connections Academy, an entirely online public school. He completed his master’s degree during COVID-19, spending a year teaching as an unpaid intern. During that time, the educational sector was upended by the pandemic and Leventhal’s prospects of finding an in-person position teaching social studies in Knoxville, where his school-age daughter lives, all but disappeared. The UT Student Emergency Fund and the Center for Career Development and Academic Exploration helped him navigate the situation to reach a positive outcome. Now, as a high school teacher, Leventhal brings all of his skills to bear in helping his students succeed. Read more »
Kami Lunsford
Over the past 14 years, Kami Lunsford (’06) has grown the Karns Middle School choir program to reach thousands of students. Her efforts were recognized recently by the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, which named her Tennessee Teacher of the Year for 2020–21.

In fall 2020, Lunsford adapted her choir classes and performances for a COVID-19 world. Her ensembles—one for advanced singers and others for theater and CODA, a mishmash of learning instruments like the bass guitar and singing harmonies and solos—meet online after school, where in-person and virtual students can interact. She keeps drumsticks and a ukulele at her kitchen table for her livestreams. Read more »
Becca Kubo
Becca Kubo (’04) has homeschooled her children for five years now, using her UT education to create a nurturing learning environment. Kubo didn’t initially set out to homeschool, and she was a third-grade teacher until the first of her four children was born.

During a recent Home Sweet Home—an online event organized by the UT Office of Alumni Affairs—Kubo shared advice on homeschooling based on her experiences.

What Kubo found when the time came for her first child to start school was that homeschooling provided the perfect match between her experience teaching and love of being a mother. She has enormous respect for her colleagues teaching in schools but wanted to be there with her children during all of the moments they experience on their educational journey.
Skikila Smith
When Skikila Smith (’18, ’19) first graduated from UT at the age of 40, she had traveled a long road as a single mother but also enjoyed the opportunity to attend UT at the same time as her son, Rudy Pirtle.

Now, with her master’s degree in secondary education in hand, Smith is an English teacher at Austin-East Magnet High School in Knoxville. A graduate of Austin-East, which is designated a Flagship School as part of UT’s Tri-Star Scholarship program, Smith is also an advocate in her community.

She has spoken out against the violence that challenges her school and organizes efforts to bring justice through cooperation with Knoxville municipal leaders.