How cranberries and a community helped this little school stay open 26 years ago

Jessica Fuller • Oct 11, 2018 at 5:00 AM

What: The 26th annual Cranberry Festival

Where: Shady Valley Elementary School, 5070 TN-133, Shady Valley

When: Friday beginning at 5 p.m. and Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. 


Twenty-six years ago, Shady Valley Elementary School’s doors were set to close. 

The community banded together to brainstorm, and came up with the idea of a festival to raise money to help the school keep its doors open. Dianna Howard was one of the parents who pulled the festival together for its first year, and have been watching it grow ever since. 

What became known as the Cranberry Festival is now in its 26th year, and the fundraiser is back this weekend to serve up free fun for the community. 

The festival kicks off Friday night with a traditional bean supper – guests can grab a plate of pinto beans, cornbread, cole slaw, a cranberry cookie and a drink for $5 beginning at 5 p.m. at the school.  The annual school auction begins at 7 p.m. alongside of a silent auction. Howard says that every year the supper and auctions pack the school’s gymnasium with folks from the community and visitors on vacation. 

Saturday officially kicks off with a parade down Highways 421 and 133 at 10 a.m., but early birds can stop by the Shady Valley Volunteer Fire Department, 10114 U.S. 421, for a pancake breakfast from 7-9 a.m. The rest of the day will have vendors and live entertainment, with a quilt show and an arrowhead display in the schoolhouse building. 

The festival is free to attend. 

The auction makes up most of the funding from the festival, and in the past the festival has garnered support from regional politicians like State Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough and former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey in addition to proclamations from former presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, Howard said.  

Thirty-two students and four teachers make up Shady Valley Elementary School. Students in pre-K through 6th grade take up the four classrooms in the 80-year-old school building – pre-K and Kindergarteners share a classroom, 1st and 2nd graders share a classroom, 3rd and 4th graders learn together and the fourth classroom houses 5th and 6th graders. 

Shady Valley is a public school, and Howard said the funding from the festival helps supplement state funding for the school. The help has allowed classrooms to stay up-to-date with technology and allowed regular maintenance on the school building. The funding has also helped provide a scholarship fund for former Shady Valley students when they graduate high school. 

“The most important thing also to me is not only keeping kids in school they deserve to be educate the kids in the community they grew up in,” she said.

So, why cranberries? 

At 3,000 feet above sea level, cranberries grow naturally in Shady Valley, which is unusual as cranberries tend to thrive in northern parts of the U.S. and in Canada. It’s just one of the many things that make the community unique, Howard says, along with the tight-knit community that comes together every year to make sure the school doors stay open. 

“When it comes to coming together for a community, anything to do with our school, the Cranberry Festival brings people together from all the roads and hollers because everyone supports this school,” she said. 

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