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Student learning feared in jeopardy, poll shows

Power Poll members weigh in on student progress, the pandemic's impact on their budgets and the coronavirus vaccine

Chattanooga, TN  |  December 25, 2020 8:00am  |  By Chris Vass

Half of respondents to a Power Poll survey this week are “not confident” that Hamilton County students are making sufficient academic progress as Tennessee and the nation struggle to face down the devastating coronavirus pandemic.

The 10-month-old pandemic has profoundly affected families, pommeling the U.S. economy, its employers and workforce, health care system, and K-12 and higher education.

The Power Poll survey of influential local residents, conducted Monday through Thursday, asked respondents: “How confident are you that Hamilton County students are making sufficient academic progress?”

Half said they are not confident; another 14% said they are “confident” while just over a third — 35% — said they are unsure. One percent said they are “very confident.”

Presenting Sponsor

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee Logo

10 New BlueCross Healthy Place Projects Coming in 2021

By Scott Wilson

Vice President, Corporate Communications and Community Relations

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

Throughout the year, we’ve been celebrating our company’s 75th anniversary of serving Tennesseans. We realized another great way to do that would be giving Tennesseans more ways to enjoy outdoor spaces in their communities. As a result, the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation will create 10 new BlueCross Healthy Places across the state’s three Grand Divisions.

Our foundation will invest $750,000 in each of the 10 spaces, bringing the statewide total to $7.5 million.

The project sites are spread across Tennessee in communities large and small:

  • Alamo: Crockett County High School
  • Baxter: Baxter Seminary Park
  • Chattanooga: St. Elmo Park
  • Farragut: Town Hall Park
  • Johnson City: Kiwanis Park
  • Memphis: Foote Park
  • Murfreesboro: Barfield Crescent Park
  • Paris: Eiffel Tower Park
  • Shelbyville: H.V. Griffin Park
  • Woodlawn (Clarksville): Woodlawn Park

Each site will receive one of the following project packages, based on the needs of the community:

  • Thrive and Play – an inclusive, multi-generational space
  • Community Hub – a pavilion surrounded by fitness and play elements
  • Family Fun – a family space with playgrounds and adult fitness equipment
  • Fitness and Fun – a space featuring play areas and fitness elements, including a fitness station and timed challenge course


Of course, these are just the latest BlueCross Healthy Places. Four have opened in Memphis, Huntland, Kingsport and at Henry Horton State Park in Chapel Hill.


In Chattanooga, work is underway on the BlueCross Healthy Place at Highland Park. Located near the campuses of Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and Chattanooga Preparatory School, it will provide students from both schools, as well as area residents, with a new outdoor space designed for connection and recreation. The $5 million investment will create a community pavilion, inclusive playgrounds, a multi-purpose field and walking track and sports courts.


Two more BlueCross Healthy Places are underway in Knoxville and Nashville.


With the addition of the 10 new projects for 2021, the BlueCross Foundation has invested $31.7 million in community spaces across the state.

BlueCross Healthy Places are an important part of our mission to serve our neighbors, right here in Tennessee. We look forward to partnering with communities across the state to create more spaces and provide new amenities for all residents to enjoy.

Related Resources from BlueCross:

More information about BlueCross Healthy Places
BlueCross Healthy Place at Highland Park Will Serve Students and Neighbors Alike

Hamilton County Schools students are finishing up this semester in a virtual-only learning format, given the county’s increasing cases of COVID-19. At this time, district officials said they plan to welcome students back to school in January and expect a little more than 7,200 student who had opted for online learning in the fall semester to return to school in person.

Gary Behler, Hamilton County Juvenile Court Clerk, said he fears “significant repercussions in student performance resulting from this pandemic and the attempts to manage the educational process.”

He has taught for 30 years as an adjunct professor at UTC, and this year is his “most challenging.”

“Students, whether attending in-person or virtually are much less engaged than previously,” Behler said. “Other educators that I have talked with are incredibly frustrated with our current delivery of educational services. While most young people are used to ‘screen time,’ the quality of education is suffering and the social/emotional components of development are certainly being impacted.”

The Power Poll survey was sent to 145 Chattanoogans, and 78 replied, for a response rate of 54%. The poll is a monthly survey of elected officials and leaders from business, civic and nonprofit organizations, media and education. While the survey is not a scientific poll, results offer insights into the opinions and beliefs of key decision-makers in the area.

This week’s survey results on education mirror those reported in a Vanderbilt University poll 1,007 registered Tennessee voters that was done between Nov. 18 and Dec. 8. Respondents in that poll reported they are somewhat or very concerned that the coronavirus pandemic has harmed student learning, with 87% to 88% worried it has diminished learning for students at the elementary, middle school students and high school levels.

With 2020 drawing to a close and area businesses and organizations evaluating their bottom lines in the wake of an upended economy, Power Poll members assessed their budget outlook for the year.

In answer to the question: “How does your organization’s financial picture look as 2020 draws to a close?,” 14% said “significantly worse than budgeted;” 30% said “slightly worse than budgeted;” 19% said “slightly better than budgeted;” and 3% said “significantly better than budgeted.”

While the economic impact of the coronavirus was mixed, there was vast support for the virus vaccines that are now making their way across the country.

When asked if they would take the vaccine in 2021 if offered it, 91% said “yes;” 9% said “no.”

UNUM executive Tom White said he would have no problem taking the vaccine.

Political consultant and former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp was a bit more careful.

“Healthy people weigh risks associated with COVID against risks associated with a vaccine in its early debut stage,” he noted.

In the Vanderbilt poll, 75% of respondents stated they are likely to get vaccinated.

Email Chris Vass at chattanooga@powerpoll.com or cvass@timesfreepress.com.


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