KINGSPORT — In case you were grocery shopping Tuesday afternoon at Food City on Eastman Road and saw a bunch of folks overdressed for canned food shopping and followed by television cameras, that was Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and his entourage wandering the aisles.
However, the focus of the afternoon was on folks like Parker Stephen White, Jadin Warner and Caleb Peters, who as special education Dobyns-Bennett students bag groceries and in one case prepare hot food at the grocery store.
The three Food City workers are among 17 Dobyns-Bennett students in the Transition School to Work Program or TSW this school year, and Peters formally presented Haslam with the 2017 Expect Employment Report.
What does Caleb think of the event, the program and his job?
“Thank you all so much for making me famous,” Peters, a senior who will graduate this spring, said to a reporter after the event.
He began working at Food City as a bagger but took a culinary arts class last spring and wanted to train in the deli. After less than a month, he is an assistant cook, has received a raise and hopes to keep working there after graduation. He presented the report to the governor “on behalf of all the students” in TSW statewide. Peters is among two of the 17 students paid for their work at D-B. In addition, two more who graduated D-B are still working.
“All means all,” Haslam said about 10 minutes after his store tour, referring to the idea that all Tennesseans are able to have gainful employment and should have that opportunity. “It (the report) really does become the guidebook.”
He said the TSW program indirectly but positively impacts all 6.6 million Tennesseans.
White interjected that the governor “not forget me.” Haslam replied: “I will not forget about you, ever.”
Aside from Food City, other partners with D-B for TSW this year are Walgreens, Golden Corral, Shoney’s, Goodwill, Texas Roadhouse and Rick Hill Imports.
What does TSW really mean, and how did it come about at D-B?
“People with disabilities are no longer content to hear employment is outside their reach,” said Debbie Payne, state commissioner of intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Burns Phillips, commission of labor and workforce development, said TSW proves that all Tennesseans have strengths and skill sets that can serve them, businesses and their communities.
Danielle Barnes, state commissioner of human services, said more than 5,800 students across the state this year participate in the program, which has its roots back more than 20 years.
Ben Robertson, TSW coordinator for D-B, said the program in Kingsport City Schools was the vision and brainchild of special education teachers Jimmy Burleson and Bill Darnell. In addition, he said a big thank you went out to David Crockett and Daniel Boone high schools in the neighboring Washington County School System, which helped KCS launch the program at D-B in 2016. In a nutshell, he said it prepares students for work after high school.
Robertson also thanked D-B Principal Chris Hampton and KCS Special Education Director Jacki Wolfe, who also came to the event. Hampton said the two teachers Robertson mentioned “moved mountains” to get the program going at D-B and that Assistant Principal Richard Brown also took an interest in TSW. Interim Superintendent Dwain Arnold said the whole program is “opportunities for success” supported by the students, teachers, administrators, community and businesses.
Robertson also said thanks goes to folks like Mark Hubbard, then manager of the Eastman Road Food City. Hubbard gave Peters the chance to train in the deli although TSW students normally train only as baggers.