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Coal Creek Scholars return to Briceville to keep the circle unbroken

  • Ricky Bailet points in the direction of his home: about two miles from Briceville Elementary School. A teacher in Knox County, Bailey said he wanted to come back and live near the place that meant so much to him.

  • Coal Creek Scholar can be seen in the background on a live feed from Mannheim Baroque Palace in Mannheim, Germany, during the annual Coal Creek Scholars “Scholars Day.Pictured are the scholars, Briceville teachers and fourth and fifth grade students from the school.

They came home from far and near, always back to the place where it began: Briceville Elementary School.

“It’s the best little hole in the wall God ever invented,” Skylar Mozingo said.

As a Coal Creek Scholar she comes back every year as a condition of her scholarship.

But she doesn’t need that incentive.

“This is a special place,” she told fourth- and fifth-graders at the school last Thursday morning.

“You have an opportunity here — with Barry (Thacker) and Carol (Moore) — that no others have,” she said.

Another scholar, who now teaches in Knoxville, told the students that all he dreamed about while he was growing up was, “Getting out of Briceville.”

Ricky Bailey told the students how he lived in Chattanooga — with stores and coffee houses and big city lights — at his fingertips.

“You know where I live now?” he asked with a smile. “About two miles down the road, because this is where I want to be.”

Some scholars traveled back to the school from farther away.

When she was in the fifth grade at Briceville School in 2004, Megan Dugger attended a lecture by a Welsh scholar, Dr. Eirug Davies of Harvard University, who told her that an education would enable her to do anything she wanted to do. Little did Megan know that 15 years later, she would be saying those same words of wisdom to Briceville fourth- and fifth-graders, via video conference, while sitting in the Mannheim Baroque Palace in Mannheim, Germany, as part of the 18th annual Coal Creek Scholars Day event.

Megan is studying abroad while pursuing her doctor of philosophy degree at the University of Tennessee in German, but took time out from her studies to inspire current Briceville students.

Another Coal Creek Scholar, Kyle Leinart, set up the live feed from Germany.

Leinart told the students how he, too, was able to study abroad — living in London while attending school.

“These are the opportunities before you,” he said. “Study, do your homework. And be proud of where you are from.”

The Coal Creek Scholars program began in 2002 as a dream for an unbroken circle where Briceville students could participate in K-12 community service projects to celebrate their heritage and qualify for college scholarships.

In return, they agreed to inspire Briceville fourth- and fifth-graders to continue that tradition.

The unbroken circle was witnessed last Thursday when 13 college students or graduates from Briceville told this year’s fourth- and fifth-graders the importance of going to college.

Scholars in attendance included Leinart, Amy (Dugger) Crabtree, Samantha Campbell, Anna Braden, Noah Lamb, Joshalyn Harmon, Benny Foster, Skylar Mozingo, Jessica Housley, Hanna Sellers, Sydney Campbell, Ethan Windham and Sean Foster.

Since 2002, more than $500,000 has been invested in college scholarships to help 59 Coal Creek Scholars from Briceville go to college. Coal Creek Scholars are current and future nurses, engineers, doctors, teachers, therapists, scientists, lawyers, business leaders, and business owners, as well as medical/computer/artistic specialists.